Elections were held on Sunday 12th February for the Rodrigues Regional Assembly (RRA). There was an 80% turnout of voters numbering in total some 28,000. This speaks highly of not only mobilisation of voters on the island to choose between the two main protagonists in the elections. It also indicates that democracy is not on the wane in our outlying smaller island.
Two major currents of opinion clashed in the polls, one led by Serge Clair, leader of the Organisation du Peuple Rodriguais (OPR) and outgoing Chief Commissioner. The other mainstream current was the combined force of the Mouvement Rodriguais (MR) and its new-found ally, Front Patriotique Rodriguais (FPR).
Election results show that the OPR was winner in 5 out of the six constituencies of the island. Even the single constituency in which the OPR lost, notably in La Ferme Constituency No 1, the difference of votes was only about 100 between the MR-FPR winner and the top OPR candidate. As a result, OPR bagged 10 out of the 12 Assembly seats on the occasion of the 40th year of the foundation of the party, while the newly formed MR-FPR alliance secured two seats on the First Past The Post (FPTP) basis. These results bore some resemblance with what we had seen before in the December 2014 National Assembly elections in Mauritius.
There was an overturning of the election results after the allocation of additional seats under the Proportional Representation system (PR). Accordingly, five additional seats were allocated to the MR-FPR alliance and none to the OPR. Thus, a remarkable first round electoral victory of 10-2 in favour of the OPR under the FPTP system was diluted to a 10-7 majority in favour of the OPR after the PR seat allocation.
This means that the opposition led by Minority Leader Nicholas von Mally of the MR-FPR will not be dwarfed by the larger representation originally secured by the OPR in the RRA. But the thinned down majority in favour of the OPR after PR has not pleased Serge Clair, who has attributed this disproportionate allocation of additional seats to the MR-FPR alliance to the PR system recommended last year by a team headed by Xavier Duval, then a member of the National government tasked to look into the issue.
The majority secured under the FPTP has not been overturned thankfully by PR allocations. It has however added to the uncertainty of what was otherwise a strong representation in the RRA. This is the risk when one system of voting is diluted by a superimposition on it of another. No doubt that will call for more profound reflection on the proposed introduction of PR in Mauritius, being advocated as a replacement of the Best Loser System under our national electoral system.
Despite all differences of opinion there might be on PR allocations, Rodrigues has a constituent assembly to govern itself. Various challenges stand in the way of the Chief Commissioner, such as increasing the self-sufficiency of Rodrigues, improving its infrastructure, including ensuring a better water supply, and expanding the scope of the economy to provide meaningful jobs to its youth in particular.
As usual, there are implementation problems, especially in terms of resources needed to raise the production structure. If enough time and energy are given to addressing such issues collaboratively with the national government, Rodrigues will emerge a winner, far away from the electoral rhetoric of the past few weeks. It might even preserve its pastoral innocence and win friends to collaboratively grow upwards its potential in simplicity. It may even prove to be a path maker for the constructive way forward to our local authorities.
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An improving outlook at Air Mauritius
When one speaks about Air Mauritius, it is difficult to disregard the unceremonious manner its Chief Executive, Megh Pillay, was sent away by the company’s board, hardly sometime after his appointment with the brief to put the company back on a good track. It was hoped that he would steer the company to better conditions thanks to rigorous management, after serial failures the company had encountered in the previous period. It would be recalled how it went into deep losses after engaging in serial near-fatal flawed hedging transactions for oil and a possible over-manning of the personnel.
Redress of this ungovernable situation, on account of political interferences involving wrongful appointments and non-strategic decisions taken, had to be effected to restore the company’s financial and commercial health. The company’s results for the 9 months ended 31st December 2016 show that improvement of its condition is actually on the way. Over the nine months ended 31st December 2016, the company’s profits soared to € 28.1 million (approx. Rs 1.1 billion) from € 6.4 million (approx. Rs 0.25 billion) in the comparable period the year before. Operating revenue increased whereas operating expenses came down. The number of passengers transported by the national airline increased 9.4%; the number of seats offered on flights to diverse destinations also increased.
These results are encouraging. One can wish that the momentum gained by the airline is stepped up in the coming period. Air Mauritius’ earnings are denominated in euros and there are risks that the euro might slip further against the US dollar; in 2008, the euro exchanged for almost $1.6; it has now fallen to €1.05 to the dollar so that oil bills which have to be paid for in dollars will demand a larger number of euros to be paid than before, especially if the euro, under fears of a Euro zone dismantling, might go towards parity with the US dollar.
Another risk facing the airline is the price of oil. While oil has stopped moving towards unprecedented peaks as in 2103 and 2014 ($150-200 a barrel), recent concerted action by the oil cartel, OPEC, along with non-OPEC oil producers like Russia, has prevented its price falling further. For the moment, the price is hovering around $56 a barrel, having gone up from its lows of $30 a barrel in the earlier part of last year.
There are risks that geopolitical tensions may hike up the international oil price. If that happens, traffic may decline and operating costs of the national airline may go up. Besides, intensification of international competition doesn’t favour non-hub airlines like Air Mauritius. Hub airlines like Emirates, Turkish, Etihad are however benefited. To remain in good health, Air Mauritius will therefore need to keep watching its waistline by not indulging in futile temporary non-productive pursuits. In light of the factors alluded to, Air Mauritius should continue governing itself with the same rigour to keep up its market and to maintain its profitability for rainy days, which can come at any time.