After drain works, maintenance!

By TP Saran

For several decades the elected representative of Constituency No. 7 in Parliament has been none other than SAJ, now Mentor Minister who has served as Prime Minister for many years. The cynic will ask why did he not see to it that proper drains were laid all this time

In Parliament this week, Hon Rutnah fielded a Pariamentary Question B/563 to the Hon Prime Minister as follows:

‘Whether, in regard to Constituency No. 7, Piton and Rivière du Rempart, he will state the number of drain works carried out in the flood prone areas thereat, region-wise, since January 2015 to date, indicating the total cost thereof?’

Given the serious problems that have been encountered by the inhabitants of that constituency, which saw a Minister being booed when he went to meet the crowds that had amassed there to voice their grievances during the crisis, it is worth reproducing the PM’s reply in toto:

‘In order to address the flooding problem in Constituency No 7, Government has carried out the following works since January 2015 to date:

(a)        113 drain projects have been completed in 16 regions for a total amount of about Rs 185 M;

(b)        13 drain projects are under construction in 7 regions for a total amount of about Rs 232 M; and

(c)     design of 39 drain projects in 16 regions is in progress. These projects are estimated to cost about Rs 1 Billion.

I am tabling the number of projects being implemented region-wise along with the total cost thereof in Constituency No.7.’

There are a couple of interesting points regarding this issue. The first one is the fact that for several decades its elected representative in Parliament has been none other than Sir Anerood Jugnauth, now Mentor Minister who has served as Prime Minister for many years. The cynic will ask why did he not see to it that proper drains were laid all this time.

The fallacy in this argument is that accelerated development comprising private houses, infrastructure for industrial purposes, big real estate development projects went into accelerated mode much later in his mandate, so that the drain problems didn’t surface until then. By then he had also become President and was not directly involved with the concerns of the inhabitants, which other representatives had to address.

Besides, it is only in the past decade or so that the vagaries of the weather have become acute, impacting the built environment – and by extension the inhabitants — in different, more damaging ways.

In this reply, we do not get any idea of what works if any were done before 2015; it would nevertheless be relevant to have that information if only for the sake of completeness – and comparison.

Next are the sums that have been allocated, which add up to one billion. Given the way that projects tend to overshoot deadlines with consequential increase in the costs that we have seen over the years, the people trust that there will be a rigorous supervision so that this money is well spent and the drains be ready in good time to prevent any further suffering on the part of those who are affected every time that there is heavy rain.

And finally, perhaps the most important aspect is the maintenance of the patency of these drains once they become operational. There must be local teams that oversee their cleanliness so that they are not obstructed by debris accumulations from natural or human sources. A major component of this exercise is education of the public so that they don’t throw all manner of litter in the drains. Their participation in this maintenance is very vital indeed.

The next elected representatives from No. 7 must follow this matter up by regular on-site visits and further PQs in due course.

* * *

Bringing the GDP ratio down to 60% by 2021

This matter is raised in PQ B/562 by the Hon Osman Mahomed who asks the Hon Prime Minister and Minister of Finance:

‘Whether, in regard to the public sector debt as a ratio of Gross Domestic Product, he will state the measures being taken to stop the increasing trend thereof?’

In his reply, the PM states that ‘This Government is firmly committed to bringing the public sector debt to GDP ratio down to 60 percent by end of June 2021 if not earlier’, adding that ‘Our strategy to bring down public sector debt to a more sustainable level is multi-pronged and is spelt out in the 2019-2020 Budget Speech and in the Budget Estimates document’.

He goes on to detail that the ‘first strategy is to boost economic growth and expand our GDP at a faster pace leading to a reduction in the debt ratio. For the past three years, the GDP growth rates have been higher at 3.8% compared to a low of 3.4% in 2013. For 2019, Statistics Mauritius has forecasted a GDP growth rate of 3.9%.

He calls this the ‘growth momentum’ to sustain which ‘we are providing the necessary support to our productive sectors to overcome the challenges that they are currently facing and seize the opportunities ahead’. By turns, he takes up the sugar sector, the manufacturing sector, the tourism sector, and the financial services sector. About the latter, he adds that ‘we are now fully compliant with the standards of the OECD on transparency and exchange of information for tax purposes. We have also made tremendous progress towards complying with the FATF recommendations on AML/CFT. Our financial services sector is now attracting more and more investors in fintech. We are further diversifying the product base of our international financial centre’.

As regards the second strategy, it’s about keeping ‘the budget deficit at a low and sustainable level’, positing that it will ‘stay around the 3 percent benchmark’ by measures to be taken on the revenue and the expenditure sides.

The ‘third strategy is to restructure our public enterprises so that they are less dependent on the budget’. Finally, ‘Our fourth strategy is the early repayment of expensive external debt. It may be noted that some 97.8 percent of the Rs 18 billion foreign debt that we are prepaying were borrowed by the former Government. With the prepayment of the foreign debt, we will save the country some Rs 400 million of interest payments yearly’.

The PM ends on a note that should reassure the future generations, ‘We aim to achieve total adherence to the golden rule in public finance, that is, borrowing only to finance investment expenditure. This will ensure the sustainability of public finance and bring public sector debt below 60 percent of GDP in the years to come’.

However, there have been several articles both in this paper and other publications which have not sounded as optimistic about the possibility of achieving the goal of 60%. They have pointed to creative accounting practices that distort the true picture. All this goes above the head of the common man who must implicitly trust that those responsible for leading the country are genuinely convinced about being able to meet the goals they have set.

Only time will tell…


* Published in print edition on 12 July 2019

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