Democratic Renewal

Democratic Renewal

While some peoples are overthrowing dictators in favour of a democratic dream, traditional democracies are facing popular calls for fundamental reform. Representative democracy was widely adopted in the post-industrial revolution era and now the internet era is revealing its flaws. But what could replace it? Before redesigning the system, it is essential to reflect on the foundations of good governance.

Laws

Laws regulate how society functions, define how citizens should expect to be treated and set limits on individual freedoms. Fundamental laws, such as human rights, have longevity and apply universally, some laws may be relevant only to specific segments, while others need to evolve to take account of changing circumstances and aspirations of the population. Law reform should be a fundamental societal process involving the citizens that the laws affect, facilitated by legal experts and tested, when necessary by referenda.

The process of resolving alleged of violations of laws could follow the current adversarial court system or reflect a new legal framework more appropriate for the consensus-driven, collaborative society of tomorrow.

Strategy

If laws determine the way society functions, then the strategy defines how it will develop. The apex should be a vision of society that captures the aspirations of its members and towards which they collectively strive. The strategy should be the roadmap to develop the systems necessary to support this future community. While everyone should be consulted about the vision, experts must take the lead in detailing the components of the strategy, which need to be woven together into a coherent whole by systems-thinkers. In an age of rapid change, it should be a living document with processes for adapting and improving it in response to local and global developments.

Public services

Public services (education, health-care, waste-management, law enforcement, etc) are the fundamental support systems that meet society’s evolving needs. Their purpose is to benefit society as a whole rather than make profit for a few shareholders. To ensure responsiveness and accountability, management should be as localised as possible, with national coordination to ensure consistent delivery, the propagation of best practices and the provision of non-local services such as defence. For small countries like Mauritius, a single, publicly owned company with semi-autonomous regional units would be sufficient to manage this and could realise economies of scale, exploit synergies and run a network of ambassadors to promote our interests overseas.

Accountability

Accountability of public services has two levels: performance compared with targets established in the strategy and resolution of individual complaints. Performance is best measured continuously at the point of delivery to rapidly detect and correct deviations. Periodic reviews determine whether the systems need to be re-designed or strategic targets reviewed. Oversight committees or councils could serve this function and adjudicate on unresolved complaints.

Selection and election

The managers of the public company should obviously be selected based purely on merit and where competence is lacking locally, international candidates should be sought who can transfer their skills and knowledge. Transparency in this process will reveal favouritism, accountability will eliminate it and short term contracts will encourage cross-fertilisation between the public and private sectors. The councils on the other-hand must represent the diversity of the population both geographically and socially. Any number of approaches can be used to achieve this but an example will be given that meets the specificities of Mauritian society.

With public services managed as semi-autonomous regions, regional councils would be the fundamental mechanism to provide oversight and to ensure accountability. If Mauritius was split, say into 10 equal regions and each council had 20 members, then each resident could vote for a candidate they know and trust, either because they live nearby or have some a common social connection. In the latter case, groups which feel they are in a minority could pool their votes across a region to ensure that at least one of their members is elected. Gender equality could easily be achieved by selecting the top 10 male and the top 10 female candidates. If a councillor needed to be replaced mid-term, the next candidate of the appropriate gender would be chosen.

A national council could be comprised of a male and a female councillor seconded from each regional council on a rotating basis. If the members changed every 6 months then the cycle would be complete every 5 years. The regions need not have their elections simultaneously, they could be staggered. By eliminating the need for national elections, the “costs of democracy” would be significantly reduced.

Reform or revolution?

Westminster-style democracy is dysfunctional in Mauritius because undemocratic, unaccountable entities dominate what should ideally be the separate processes of law reform, strategy development, implementation and accountability. Fortunately the heads of these entities have not been strong enough to form a dictatorship, instead, a feudal system has arisen where weak “kings” must win the support of popular “lords”. Moreover, the similarity in the policies of these different entities suggests that many are serving the interests of occult lobbies.

The Maurice Ile Durable project made the radical promise to place the reigns of power into the hands of the people. When launched it was comprehensive, with environmental, economic, social and political dimensions. Since then, the initiative of political reform has been usurped by the undemocratic entities, while the dream of democratising the economy has been trampled into dust by the economic elite. History teaches us that when reform fails, repression follows – with revolution close on its heels.

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