Betamax Verdict: They are all guilty

Political Caricatures

By L.E. Pep

It’s not every day that members of the government have the opportunity to cheer at their opponent’s discomfort. Even the discreet Ashit Gungah had stepped in to rejoice that a cast-iron contract (“contrat béton”) has been broken into a thousand pieces. “The contract with Betamax is concrete and its content is scary,” he said. He mentioned in particular the exorbitant cost of freight but also the binding clauses which he said were against the public interest.

Minister Gungah also made it clear that the population is “angry … because it is taxpayers’ money that has been used”. He got it only partly right. Yes, the population is angry. Here are some comments: “Whether it is Betamax or MedPoint, Lepep pé encore nage avec bane Requins affamer. Ki pe continué détripe zot sans anesthésie. “Je me demande pourquoi les journalistes n’ont pas demandé à ses messieurs du même MSM pourquoi en 2011 ils ont défendu bec et ongles Betamax… est-ce parce qu’ils étaient en alliance et que le pouvoir comptait avant tout?

Indeed, the population denounces “the hypocrisy” of the MSM to pillory the Labour Party as the only guilty party in the Betamax affair, when it had itself defended the project in the National Assembly when they were together in government. They had argued then that “the advice of the SLO was that the agreement is legally in order… and that STC was exempted from the Public Procurement Act…” as stated by then Commerce minister Showkutally Soodhun on 24 May 2011.

One commentator has noted that when the deal was hastily signed with the Bhunjun group in November 2009 – allegedly even before the ministerial committee chaired by Xavier Duval was able to submit its recommendations — there were several other actors besides Navin Ramgoolam and the Jugnauths: Labour Ministers Anil Bachoo and Mahen Gowressoo (who were at loggerheads on the issue), the Minister of Finance was Rama Sithanen and the Attorney General, Rama Valayden. The MSM did not say a word at the time because there was a “rapprochement” with the PTr in the wake of the 2010 elections. The population is not that dupe. Its verdict is that: “They are all guilty.”

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Live Debate: The youth in the fight against communalism

There is a long struggle and debate that is taking in place in Mauritius regarding the mandatory communal classification of candidates for general elections in Mauritius. Rezistans ek Alternativ has won landmark victories at the national and even international levels. Right now, the Republic of Mauritius is failing to respect the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s pronouncement in bringing about an effective solution to the rejection of a candidate for non-classification.

For its second live debate, Resitans ek Alternativ took up the main theme of “Empowering the youth in the fight against communalism” – the crucial role that the youth have to play to combat communalism’. ReA believes that if we seriously want to tackle the problem of communalism, we have to get the youth on board. Youth constitutes some 40% of voters and can make a difference if our politics is based on new realities and is in “rupture” with the existing mainstream politics. We will have to tackle the communalist political system if we want to do politics differently.

We believe that the key to interfaith harmony lies in education – a multi-cultural education that encourages pluralism. The right education is that which creates a reverence for diversity in nature and a sense of belonging with the whole world. Opening up a youth’s mind to respecting other religions and cultures, bringing up a young person in a world that encourages human values, like a sense of oneness with others, trust and compassion is the only sustainable solution. When youths begin to understand that human values exist in all the great traditions; when the young glimpses the humanity of believers of other faiths; and when they know that truth is expressed outside their own religion, then narrow-mindedness will not survive.

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Protest against the British: Renouncing Knighthood

The British High Commission in Mauritius cancelled celebrations for the 93rd anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II due to because of “unforeseen circumstances”. But it is believed that the recent remarks by the Prime Minister to the United Nations General Assembly wherein Pravind Jugnauth qualified the Chagossians’ “forced displacement” as “a crime against humanity” prompted the cancellation.

Mauritius needs to react promptly to this attempt to humiliate the Mauritian government. Armed with the vote at the United Nations, Mauritius should maintain the pressure on the United Kingdom. One of the options taken up was to question the presence of the British on the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission. They are there because of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), name given to the Chagos. This same BIOT is now officially illegal under international law. The expulsion of Great Britain, at the request of Mauritius, at the next meeting of the Commission, in India, will have considerable diplomatic and media repercussions all over the world.

Another fitting way of maintaining the pressure and attracting international media and world attention is for Sir Anerood Jugnauth to be renouncing his knighthood – the famous “sir”. Sir Anerood should renounce his knighthood and thus join the likes of John Lennon, Rabindranath Tagore and Subramania Iyer who have gone down in history. As one commentator puts it, it will be a moment of pride for Mauritians when the global media will be breaking the news that the “Mauritian leader renounces British knighthood”.

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Alteo: Extension of contract for a period of three years

Was Alteo at the Ministry of Energy and Utilities to negotiate the extension of its Power Purchase Agreement (PAA)? Normally, negotiations are done at the Central Electricity Board (CEB) level. However, an official correspondence between the CEB and Alteo indicates that there was indeed a meeting on February 18th at the Ministry.

The letter is signed by CEB General Manager Shamshir Mukoon and dated 19 February. It is addressed to the CEO of Alteo Energy Ltd (AEL), André Bonieux. It begins: “Further to the meeting held on Monday 18 February 2019 at the level of the Ministry of Energy and Public Utilities (MEPU), in the presence of CEB officers and representatives of Alteo Energy Ltd…” The letter confirms the extension of Alteo’s PPA for a period of three years.

Why at the ministry? Alteo said it would explain it in the coming days, while CEB GM Shamshir Mukoon has provided some clarifications that CEB is the interlocutor of Altéo for the contract, but that the meeting at the ministry was also about bagasse and cane. The MCIA, the Ministry of Agroindustry, as well as other stakeholders were present. We do not want to have another “contract béton” that will end up like Betatmax. Will the contract be made public? Another coal-powered station?

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Resistance to the waste treatment plant at Riche Terre 

The residents of Baie-du-Tombeau and the surrounding have set up a committee to make their voices heard. They are protesting against the planned construction of a waste treatment plant in the region. The company, Veolia Recycling & Environmental Services (Mauritius) Ltd, based next to the Riche Terre industrial area, has recently applied for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) license. It will be dealing with remnants of hydrocarbons (including fuel residues in tanks), disposal of medical waste, animal carcasses, contaminated soil and other plagues. The project will cover an area of ​​three hectares, or 30,000 m2. Provision has been made for storage space for six types of hazardous waste.

The inhabitants are unhappy with such a project in their region and deplored that “éna boukou dimounn res otour. Kifer sak fwa zot swazir zis nou landrwa? Isi mem ena Waste Water Management, depotwar Roche-Bois ek lizinn Tuna Fishing “. They are against the project and intend to make it known. As a first step, a letter will be drafted before June 20 and will be sent to all concerned ministries as well as members of the opposition, to prevent this plant from coming off the ground. Residents also rely on the help of engineers and specialists in the field, to analyze this project and report on any of its harmful impact on the environment and the inhabitants of the region. “This report will give greater weight to our fight.” A petition is being circulated in all the concerned regions which will then be sent to the office of the Prime Minister,

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Raiding the Central bank’s reserves

The economic advisers at the Ministry of Finance have the habit of scouring the budget documents and policies of different economies and picking up some of those that are applicable in the local context. One of these was what the administration in New Delhi has been pushing for months for access to surpluses from reserves or excess reserves of the Reserve Bank of India so that it could step up pre-election spending without overshooting its fiscal deficit target. This led to a lot of opposition from different quarters to the Indian government’s proposal to get a large one-off transfer of what it feels are ‘excess reserves’ in the Reserve Bank of India’s balance sheet. Many of India’s top economists argued that markets valued independent central banks that could stand up to populist government demands, and that the erosion of such independence could at some point lead to disaster.

There was also the controversy on the whole concept of excess reserves which is certainly open to debate. The Indian government had to appoint a high- powered expert committee chaired by a former Governor to look into the economic capital framework and identify the level of surplus reserves that the RBI should hold.

In our case, has there been any study carried out on the appropriate Economic Capital Structure of the Bank of Mauritius (BOM) to determine the adequate level of capital that it should maintain as a safeguard against adverse risks, and without compromising its ability to carry out its statutory objectives? No transfers of capital reserves should be made without this study on the BOM’s capital structure, especially as the magnitude of the proposed transfers is important, and also because the BOM is currently incurring losses.

Most economists agree that an independent central bank should on its own, free from government pressures, set its own level of required reserves which are crucial to protecting the country from external shocks especially in the context of recent dips in the Balance of Payments and the Global Business sector. Can we expect that much from the BOM?

* * *

The Presidency shaken by another embarrassing affair?

It is being alleged that the acting President of the Republic would have allowed his office to be used to favour a business friend, a wealthy South African, K.M. Back in November 2018, KHL – a holding company of K.M. – organized a two-day road show in Durban and Johannesburg for South African investors. KHL obviously wants to be a bridge between the South African investment and the Mauritian destination. At the event, the organizers broadcasted a video shot in the presidential office at the State House a few days earlier. We can see the acting President at his desk addressing the camera: “I have members of the EDB, the SBM and other people of the business trail. They come to meet you to convince you to invest in Mauritius. You will meet Mauritian representatives of KHL, the company of Mr K.M. I met them all. We talked to each other. They have my blessings. I am sponsoring this team.”

There are also pics of the acting president being driven in a Rolls Royce in South Africa. The businessman K.M. is meticulously publishing the photos of his appearances with the acting president on social networks. Is the President so naïve to let himself and his office being taken advantage of by businessmen? Is that his role? Why do we have an EDB then, even if it is underperforming?

* Published in print edition on 14 June 2019

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