Combined-Cycle Gas Turbine: Ivan Le Terrible disappoints us!

Political Caricatures

By L.E. Pep

Ivan le terrible disappoints us. Up to now we had felt that he was on the right track, but his latest stand shows that he has derailed and has moved far away from the tracks. Now we are being told that the project will be implemented in two phases – the first phase being the 35-40 megawatts of two turbines, running on diesel; phase two – the Combined Cycle — will either be using LNG or continue on diesel if LNG is not available. And, at the same time, LNG is being envisaged for other uses: transportation, bunkering, inside cities.

The original plan was to bring in the Combined-Cycle Gas Turbine in phase I. The combined-cycle power plant uses both a gas and a steam turbine together to produce up to 50% more electricity from the same fuel than a traditional simple-cycle plant. This combined-cycle technology is most cost-effective for larger plants. It would have reduced our costs substantially though it would still have been costlier than coal for power generation. In the long term, it would have enabled us to move more easily to Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and smoothed the way towards the development of renewable sources of energy that would also have been beneficial for us in terms of sale of carbon credits under the Clean Development Mechanism.

Thus the combined-cycle gas turbine would have been a bargain and thus easier to sell if it were implemented in phase I itself. The cost advantages would have been evident. Last but not the least, it would have reduced the country’s dependence on the local IPPs. But now the advantages in the short term are not clear-cut, and the two-phased approach requiring a huge investment upfront will become more difficult to sell to other stakeholders and the public.

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Cacophony on our roads

The present government has been struggling with the Terre Rouge/Verdun Motorway for 4 years now and the situation is as bad as when current works started. And our famous prestige project, the Metro Express is turning out to be one of the worst planned and executed projects. It is causing significant disruption to the lives of people – worsening of traffic congestion, residents disturbed day and night by the noise, businesses and traders affected and customers having difficulty reaching the shops, dirty sewerage flooding all houses in Sir Virgil Naz and businesses closing down and households concerned about the water quality, the invasion of rats and proliferation of mosquitoes.

It has brought total panic in some regions. The situation may become even more chaotic as we progress, especially at some critical junctions like the Beau-Bassin roundabout. The chaos we went through at the opening of the Decaen flyover aimed at decongesting the Place d’Armes is just one example of the kind of amateurish management of some of the infrastructure projects. Proper planning that is both effective, economical and that minimizes the environmental impact would have helped. Something that Minister Bodha has yet to learn, it would seem.

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Electoral reform: a semblance of reform

Government has agreed to the introduction of The Constitution (Amendment) Bill into the National Assembly. Why the haste? We already knew that it would be asking too much from this regime to carry out a sweeping overhaul of the electoral system. The reform is just for the gallery – a precautionary gesture in view of the constitutional case entered by Resistans ek Alternativ and that’s coming up next year, and the ruling of the United Nations Human Rights Committee. It has also been suggested that should the PM have to step down following an unfavourable ruling of the Privy Council in the MedPoint case, he would thus have something to say to voters — at least he tried – even if it is only a pretence.

The nexus between corporates and political power is still there with the same opacity in political funding. Corporates will only need to record just one item in their books with respect to political funding without a breakdown on contributions to specific political parties. Political parties will not have to disclose the names of the generous corporates. This means there is not going to be any significant change in our system of crony capitalism with corporate donors being rewarded with major government contracts.

As regards the selection of the six to ten deputies for additional Seats, why should this be the political leaders’ prerogative — not the voters’? In any self-respecting democracy, it is the people who should have the final say in such matters. Moreover, why should the qualification threshold be 10% and not lower? Why should Government be reimbursing political parties after the elections? Why should we convert the ESC into a kind of an investigative agency, knowing very well that it will not be able to shoulder such a responsibility? Is this its role? And the cream of it all is the “puny” sanctions: is this a “sour” joke?

If we want to see a genuine reform of the electoral system, we need to launch a comprehensive public consultation process and aim to achieve the ‘broadest possible’ consensus on changing election rules.

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IBA: Radio Zorang, undermining our institutions!!!

This happens only in our banana republic. Instead of a due process of public audition examining each request and listening to each applicant thoroughly, the servile IBA has hastily granted radio licences to two alleged political sympathisers of the regime – First Talk Ltd and Mayfair and Purely Communications Ltd – with a view to have them ready within the next six months, that is, at the beginning of the forthcoming campaign for the next elections. Several of the other applicants are contesting this selection process, and it seems that First Talk Ltd should not have obtained a licence as it did not meet one of the basic criteria. First Talk Ltd was incorporated on March 19, 2018, three days after the deadline of March 16, 2018 to submit applications to obtain a radio licence.

The chairman of the board of the IBA is a political activist and a close friend of some politicians in power. What about those who sit on the IBA board? Are they not accountable? Many economic historians have credited our economic success story to the strength of our institutions which enabled our past governments to play an active role in economic management. Look what they are doing to our institutions! With this trend, it will be no wonder if our future growth prospects get compromised.

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Financial services: The transformation challenge?

The assessment process under the OECD/G20 Base Erosion and Profit Shifting Project has found that Mauritius has delivered on its commitment to introduce legislative changes to abolish or amend the harmful tax practices with a focus on improving transparency, including compulsory spontaneous exchange on rulings related to preferential regimes, and on requiring substantial activity for preferential regimes.

Our efforts to play by the rules and amend our legislations to ensure greater substance and tax transparency and to combat anti-money laundering and the financing of terrorism (AML/FT) have borne fruits. The sector has now a report on the Fintech and Innovation-Driven Financial Services and, with the help of international counterparts, FSC has undergone a major restructuring exercise. We also learn that the Chief Executive of the FSC has undertaken 15 official trips abroad and the amount of per diem paid for these missions stood at Rs 2,715,214.90, whilst entertainment allowance totalled Rs 197,300 for the 15 missions.

We hope that these activities and brainstorming – local and abroad – will ultimately bear fruit and we will thus be having a meaningful blueprint, not a damp squid, to map out our strategy aimed at innovating and transforming Mauritius’ international financial centre by 2030.

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Ombudsman for Financial Services: A cosmetic change

As pointed out by the opposition, the Banking Act already provides for the protection of customers of financial institutions. Moreover the Financial Services Act also provides, in section 32, for the protection of consumers of financial services and of financial products. In what way will the Ombudsperson office, staffed by officers approved by the Permanent Secretary of the ministry of Financial Services, or civil servants designated by the head of the civil service be an improvement?

What stands out as a sore point is that the Ombudsperson office will have lesser powers than those provided by section 96(5) of the Banking Act. Compare this with the Financial Ombudsman Service in the U.K., which is an impartial and independent body, with a non-executive board appointed by the Financial Conduct Authority. The Ombudsperson for Financial Services Bill will not create an improved environment for ensuring consumer protection, and could probably lead to a worse outcome for consumers of financial services. It does not go far enough in its thinking on financial regulation – split into financial business conduct regulation and prudential regulation – as it is now being practised, for example, in UK and Australia. Whether this Ombudsperson office presents a better and stronger scope for redress is thus arguable!

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Madam the Ex-President: Quel culot !!

“I have quit in the best interests of the country”! In an interview with BBC Africa, the former President of the republic stated that she had quit in “the best interests of the country”! She admitted to having committed “a mistake” by using Planet Earth’s bank card!

Is the ex-President fit and proper to represent the country abroad given that she has already done so much to discredit the high institution of the Presidency and that she is under investigation by the Caunhye Commission? Judge Caunhye is getting impatient while our dear lady is being made Honorary Maasai in Kenya.

On top of that, the lady is still benefiting from all the privileges – non-taxable Rs 244,000 per month, an office, a secretary, a bodyguard and a car and a driver. The taxpayers have to pay for all these. C’est aberrant!!!

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A mini-demonetisation to crackdown on black money?

If it were an attempt to regain some of the lost credibility due to a proliferation of scandals and blunders over the past four years and to curb counterfeiting, it might have been worth the trouble. As for a demonetisation exercise to curb money laundering and deal a severe blow to the scourge of black money in the economy, that would be asking too much…

There is no element of surprise, no surgical strike. The defaulters have been waiting for such a move for quite some time now and they do not keep their black money in high denominations anymore. Most of them have long converted their black money into either shares and real estate or placed them in safe havens abroad, especially in Dubai.

Demonetisation will hit only small-time concealers of income who keep their money in cash; it will hit such people hard, not the big fish. This mini-demonetisation exercise has been played down by the authorities because they know very well that it will not achieve much. Bureaucratic and political corruption and money laundering will be back just as before but in the new currency denomination.

* Published in print edition on 7 December 2018

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