More than the deaths

There is a complex amalgam of good and bad drivers on our roads, daily, at any moment. It is not evident that the good ones are having the upper hand

There are painful reports in the media almost regularly now of road traffic deaths. Others are maimed for life due to road accidents, if not killed outright. Families remain distraught for the rest of their existence due to the trauma of separation from loved ones on account of road accidents. This kind of carried-forward suffering is worse than death.

We can go on pleading against all this terrible loss of lives on our roads. Yet the calamity seems to be accentuating, not diminishing, despite the heavy toll taken by roads, even against people on sidewalks. Everything gets shattered within seconds. The irreparable happens and there’s not even the chance of an appeal.

Personal indiscipline is the cause of our failure in numerous walks of life. It will eventually exact a heavy penalty from society if it is not tempered on time. It is on roads however that we see it manifested the most. For, road traffic, in a bid to avoid cluttering up on major connecting roads, or escaping from it, has migrated to side roads in the hope to gain lost time.

At 5 am in the morning, when many people are going for a health walk along roads, there are some drivers driving in excess of 90 km an hour on those residential roads. There is neither speed camera nor traffic police in such places and at such time to bring those rushing drivers to their senses. Someone is late, even at such a time, on some appointment or is simply catching up with time. At the risk of other peoples’ lives.

With the enormous increase in our vehicle population, it had become clear that dissolute driving would be on the rise. The evidence was here for anyone to see. Belatedly, the authorities reacted by intensifying speed checks and stopping other forms of misbehaviour such as drunk driving and answering mobile phones while on the driving wheel. The unsustainable increase in vehicles on our roads has however not been attended to till now.

Measures taken to improve driving behaviour had started to bite and curb excess liberties certain drivers had been taking on our roads. Deliberate tinkering with silencers of vehicles to make one’s presence known was slowly being tackled. Drivers started stopping at junctions before engaging. Full lights at night were on the decline. Savage parking of vehicles was diminishing. Ways were being devised to bring motorcycle drivers under restraint against their unruly road behaviour. Some amount of responsible driving was coming back. Hopes that the deterioration of driving behaviour would be arrested started coming.

Unfortunately, that was the time the abusers complained politically about the “severity” of the law, taking advantage of a change of government. Suddenly, the check on dangerous driving that had started biting was relaxed due to so-called temporary “reliefs” given to bad drivers. The situation aggravated. The number of road accident deaths and injuries multiplied.

But the phenomenon goes beyond deaths caused by poor or dangerous driving. Irresponsible driving appears to be here to stay. Any mindful observer will acknowledge that distracted driving is back. That possibly is not only because some people who have become first-time owners of a vehicle want to show off. Personal character is also responsible. Our roads have thus become the breeding place for stress due to all these factors.

Those who have been hard put to wait for long in the traffic before engaging again see their nervousness increase as they resume. When the roads are blocked due to vehicles parked on part of the main road, the pressure mounts among drivers to regain the time lost due to such blocked roads. Every second gained becomes precious. Tension is up while driving. Everybody else is put at risk in the process.

Nerves are sorely frayed while driving due to such roadside parked vehicle traffic blocks or due to disorderly stopping mindless of the traffic behind or deliberate slow-driving unduly holding down the traffic flow. It gets worse if someone driving from the opposite direction answering or making a mobile phone call is heading for you in the opposite direction, realizing suddenly that he/she is distracted enough at the driving wheel to put your life in danger. Undisciplined driving/parking/stopping of vehicles is the fundamental reason behind the huge amount of stress driving is producing daily in our society.

It is the lasting effect of the consequences of stress that is worse than even the numerous deaths caused by faulty driving or running vehicles unfit for the roads. A life lost in a road accident is only the visible distress of people caught in this maelstrom of increasing indiscipline on our roads. A system of unending stress has come in place and no one appears to be in a position to stop its disastrous course. How many will say today that “driving is sheer pleasure” which is what used to be said time back when driving was really a civilized activity? Those days will never come back even if technology makes the roads safer. There is a complex amalgam of good and bad drivers on our roads, daily, at any moment. It is not evident that the good ones are having the upper hand.

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Sharing National Income more equitably

US National Income data for third quarter of 2016 show that the share of national income going to labour was 62.2% of US GDP. It was 61.2% in the 2012-14 period. Despite this, it is dissatisfaction with the pressure put on labour by the US corporate sector that determined the outcome of the last US presidential elections. The labour share of GDP had been higher in past years: an average of 64.6% of GDP in the post 2000 period.

National Accounts data published by Statistics Mauritius as of December for 2016 show that the share of GDP paid as ‘Compensation of Employees’ was 36.1% of our GDP in 2016. It was 36.7%, 36.1% and 35.9% in 2013, 2014 and 2015. All in all, it barely budged from the 36-37% of GDP range in past years. From Rs 141.4 billion in 2014, ‘Compensation of Employees’ was at Rs 156.8 billion in 2016. All this in nominal terms.

The other main claimant of National Income is the corporate sector. Statistics Mauritius’ data show that earnings of corporations, called ‘Gross Operating Surpluses’ of enterprises, amounted to Rs 203.7 billion in 2014 and Rs 225.8 billion in 2016. Corporate gross earnings thus represented about 51-52% of GDP, much higher than the 36-37% share of GDP going to labour.

This should not be interpreted to mean that all enterprises have healthy profitability. There are those that are highly profitable and those which barely remain at the fringe of profitability, where they are not in losses already.

What the figures tell however is that corporates are doing well, but the 36-37% GDP share going to labour in our case, remains well below the US labour share of above 60% of GDP.

Tax was assumed to redistribute in favour of workers. Government finance data show however that total direct taxes collected from corporates have barely changed these past years with a total collection of 2.5% of GDP from the corporate sector. Individuals contribute up to 1.8% of GDP, not much different from corporates, by way of direct taxes.

Besides, government total tax collections (net of subsidies) have remained stuck at the level of 12% of GDP, not dynamic and powerful enough to play the redistributive role. Out of this 12% bound, the bulk is collected from indirect taxes like VAT (contributing up to 7% of GDP), which impact directly on individual consumers.

It is generally assumed that tax is a key factor playing in favour of promoting business investment. We have seen that private investment has not gone up these past years despite our low tax regime for corporates, our falling interest rates and government facilitation of business through a variety of incentives.

So, what is it that could make a difference to the prevailing situation? Economists have long debated on the factors which contribute to higher investment and across-the board prosperity in economies. It is not taxes, interest rates, government regulations, etc., per se that do so; it is the “accelerator” effect of sustained demand for what industry produces that triggers business uptake more than any other factor.

A better sharing of the National Income as a factor contributing to demand along with our industries spotting new businesses for which there is demand, should help us get off from the plateaued situation we appear to be stuck in. It is easy to see the key role of demand from the frantic daily marketing efforts being made by established suppliers to keep up and, as far as possible, arouse new demand for their products.

Anil Gujadhur

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