By Farooq Mohamed Hassan*
Tomorrow Mr. Mohamed Nasheed will take oath as the 4th President of Maldives. Needless to say that he is taking over the stewardship of our government at a time when the world is facing a series of unprecedented challenges, ranging from a financial crisis, food safety, energy security, poverty and climate change to environmental deterioration – challenges that are directly related to our very survival, development and security. Mr. Nasheed's stewardship will certainly be judged by his ability to maneuver his government through the troubled waters.
And more specifically, we have a huge budget deficit to deal with. Then, there is the tsunami affected population, the non-performing public companies, including STELCO which has run into huge debts. Then there are the on-going projects and the numerous other projects that are in pipeline, whose loan and contract agreements have already been signed and ready to be implemented. All these issues and challenges are over and above the promises made by the MDP-Iththihaadhu during the election campaign. And of course, we should not forget the prevailing high expectations of the population, and the presence of a responsible opposition to hold Nasheed's government accountable.
There are also the external factors that necessitate prioritization of issues. The on-going global financial crisis and the unpredictability of the oil market being the most worrisome. Therefore, getting the priorities right should be the new government's first and foremost priority. Others, though not in order of priority are;
- Respect human rights. This is important because of the on-going discussions with respect to the reforming of the international institutions, including their rules and mechanisms of governance, which are placing a much higher emphasis on making the principles related to human rights as the basis of international relations.
- Maintain peace and security. Maintenance of peace and security is essential to ensure the smooth functioning of the government in the difficult times ahead. Our disadvantages in terms of lack of skilled labor and developed legal systems, high costs of energy, transportation, water and sanitation, etc., will have to be offset by maintaining peace and security.
- Promote and strengthen democratic governance. According to the UNDP's Human Development Report 2002, countries that have good governance systems that are fully accountable to all people, and in which people can participate in debates and decisions that shape their lives, are more successful in promoting human development for all. According to this report, democracy not only helps to protect people from economic and political disasters, but also contribute to political stability. The report also states that democratic governance that includes tolerance for political opposition and smooth transition of power initiates a continuous cycle of development, because of the fact that political freedom empowers people to press for policies that expand social and economic opportunities.
- Maintain economic stability. This is important to attract foreign direct investment to the country. Government planners and economists across the world agree that at a time when the world is going through financial tsunami, maintaining economic stability is the key to avert a down spiral of a country's economy. The vulnerability of our economy lies in our narrow economic base - tourism and fishing, which are heavily dependent on the economic performance of foreign countries. It is important therefore, that the government makes a strong resolve to take a responsible attitude and work together to maintain our economic stability. Any significant drop in anticipated or projected income will severely restrict the government's ability to deliver its promises.
- Maintain good governance as defined by budgetary discipline.
By good governance I mean better budgetary discipline at national level, and more realistic forecasting and more reliable statistics. Since fiscal and monetary policies are interdependent, government needs to formulate clear, transparent and consistent monetary policy to know how to conduct fiscal policy. Here, national institutions could play an important role in budgetary surveillance through increased attention to the development of public finances in public opinion. It is also necessary to have rules for fiscal policy that limit deficits and debt, and to follow these rules in a credible manner.
- Strengthen the office of the Auditor General and the Anti-Corruption Commission. International best practices teach us that transparency and goals help form expectations and behavior, and in enlisting the public in the struggle for macroeconomic soundness. As evident in the recently released audit reports of the various government offices and public companies, the Auditor General's office and the Anti-Corruption Commission could act as advisory bodies and watch-dogs over government offices and public companies. They could also create a continuous national dialogue with warnings and recommendations to politicians - a measure that would boost transparency, and put long-term fiscal goals at the heart of the debate, and thereby improve fiscal soundness.
As mentioned in the beginning, Mohamed Nasheed's government is inheriting a financial mess created by the out-going government. Mr. Nasheed is also taking charge of the government in the midst of the worst financial crises after the Great Depression of the '30's. Therefore, for this and other reasons discussed above, it is important that the new government keep a short list of priorities to ensure the smooth functioning of our economy and that the election promises are delivered. Finally, I would like to once again emphasize that, in this crucial moment, a solution to the economic and other challenges confronting the new government can only be achieved by getting the priorities right, and by working with strong confidence, concerted efforts and shared responsibility.
Note: I will be leaving Xiamen, PRC, tomorrow to continue the rest of my course work in Beijing. Dr. Waheed , thank you very much for being so kind and generous to post my writings on your personal blog, I also like to say a very warm 'thank you' to all those who read this blog, and especially to those who by means of their valuable comments enriched my knowledge and broadened my understanding. Cheers!
[*Faarooq Mohamed Hassan is a former shadow cabinet member of MDP and is also the Deputy Director General of the Environment Research Center.]