Editorial

The Road to 2015

Results from village council elections which took place on 2nd December show that nearly half the registered voters decided not to cast their votes. This may be a historical trend. But it shows that despite the government and opposition parties having raised the stakes for these elections, this did not provoke a strong response from rural voters.

Post the elections, the Labour-PMSD alliance has claimed that 104 out of the 130 village councils returned to power are affiliated to it; Paul Bérenger has claimed on his part that 48% of the newly elected village councils belong to the MMM-MSM fold. Despite the relative indifference of the rural population in the village council polls, as shown by the high rate of abstention of voters, the two sides want to prove that they have solid grounding in rural constituencies. We can leave it at that.

Municipal elections are scheduled for Sunday 9th December. Here again, the two sides are putting all their weight for securing a win in the five municipalities. It is assumed that a win in a majority of municipalities by either side could set the pace for general elections due in 2015. This should explain why the two sides are spending so much of their energies in the relatively short campaigning time available to win over municipal councils.

While general election results can impact directly on municipal council elections, one cannot in normal circumstances depend on the outcome of municipal council elections to project the outcome of general elections. This is more the case when there is quite some time between current municipal elections and general elections. Many things can happen between now and 2015, no matter what the outcome of municipal elections. Political alliances are not cast in stone. So, shifts can take place as perceptions of support from voters change in the minds of political leaders. The encrypted message that municipal results could send in this regard, no matter how low the turnout of voters, should explain all the emphasis being placed on the municipals currently by both sides.

Just like the government considers that rural constituencies are a determining force for it in general elections, the opposition parties assume that winning municipals amounts to a consolidation of their vote base. This is why the stakes are raised. This is why the MMM opposition would like to see urban voters give it a vote of confidence despite its erratic meanderings over so many years in quest of a political alliance. If, on the other hand, the government demonstrates, despite liabilities accumulated due to its incumbency in municipal councils over the past seven years that it can win over municipal elections, it will look like a potential winner in 2015 at the national level as well. That will be an outcome that could shatter existing political alliances.

Municipal council elections have a dynamics of their own. As demonstrated in the case of recent village council elections, many electors do not see much of a stake in them just the same. They believe that local administration hardly has any impact on their day-to-day except from the negative side in the sense of council administrations not doing what ought to be done. They prefer to abstain from voting in the municipals as they cannot sway the inefficient administration which camps in urban councils. They prefer to come more forcefully in general elections.

With political parties concentrating on municipals mostly as stepping stones to secure power in 2015 under whatsoever configuration of alliances, it should not be too difficult to understand the eminently subsidiary consideration councillors give to local administration once they are in place. It should not be difficult also to understand the indifference of quite a number of urban voters in the circumstances. They don’t like in the present case to be reduced to the level of being consulted, as it were, for opinion polls by political parties in anticipation of general elections. People recall that, during past decades, apart from a temporary flash in high profile local administration back in the 1980s, hardly any municipal administration has focussed on important issues like urban planning and cultural enrichment of urban areas for decades. So, what’s in the deal, after all?

For a small place like Mauritius faced with increasing centralisation in towns, connecting from one town to another has become an increasingly strenuous and thorny issue for road users year after year with no enduring solution in sight. Ad hoc decisions on a project by project basis, without a comprehensive plan to deal with problems before they emerge, are no substitute for decisions steeped into the long term. Are our urban centres becoming nicer than what they were before? Not at all. A lot of disfiguring has actually been taking place, increasing the stress of daily living rather than allaying for it. This should have been the fundamental concern of municipalities by intelligently defining their own functionality to address problems before they become disproportionate and too big to handle. For now, however, political parties on both sides do not see the municipalities in this light. They have set their sights on 2015.

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Competition Commission: let the good work continue

The Competition Commission hosted yesterday a workshop to mark its three years of existence. This was an occasion for stocktaking on the progress made by the Commission so far. This kind of exercise is quite helpful inasmuch as it gives organisations the opportunity to evaluate the direction they have taken, what they have on their balance sheet already and which are the other areas calling for attention towards the accomplishment of the mission entrusted to them.

It will be recalled that the Commission recently came to the conclusion that certain of our commercial banks were limiting customer choice in the matter of linking up their housing loans to predetermined insurance providers. In other words, this amounts to a restrictive practice imposed on customers availing of housing loans from the banks. This decision is important not inasmuch as it liberates bank customers from the decision imposed by the concerned banks. It serves as a signal for institutions not to build up associated networks favouring the concentration of business unfavourable to consumer interests.

Yesterday, the workshop delved into issues such as the influence of cross-shareholdings in companies participating in public bidding processes, the ‘leniency program’ initiated by the Commission with regard to those operating in cartelised market situations, abuses by businesses exerting monopoly power on the market and the impact of business mergers. These are useful discussions that will serve to give a feedback into the extent to which one can practicably pursue anti-trust arrangements in a limited marketplace like that of Mauritius.

It is hoped that the presentations yesterday of competition commission practitioners from other jurisdictions combining with our local expertise, will show the way as to what is do-able and what is not in terms of regulating competition. The more sources of abuse of market power are identified and dealt with in a pragmatic manner, the more sound domestic business growth can be fostered with a strong element of social justice accompanying this evolution.

M.K.

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