Weak Links and Excess Baggage

Last week, 135 kg of the heroin drug worth approximately Rs 2 billion were seized by the police. The despatch was made from a South African port. One Mauritian currently in South Africa is suspected to have consigned the drugs, concealed in what looked like gas cylinders, to an addressee in Mauritius. Police have asked Interpol for assistance to track him and help bring him up for investigation in Mauritius.

On the other side, police has arrested one Geanchand Dewdanee, who is allegedly at the receiving end of the drugs despatched from South Africa. Other than being a businessman, the latter is also a member of the MSM, which is currently in power together with the Muvman Liberater.

Questioned by journalists, the leader of the MSM, also the Prime Minister, has stated that Dewdanee isn’t a member of either the Central Committee or any regional committee of the MSM. He has conceded however that Dewdanee is known to him for being an MSM supporter.

Yesterday’s l’express newspaper published a photograph taken last year in May in the precincts of the Supreme Court when Pravind Jugnauth was freed by the Court of the case of conflict of interest in the MedPoint affair. It shows, amongst others, Dewdanee in the crowd surrounding the MSM leader on this occasion.

The Prime Minister made a public statement in the wake of this drug case, that he fully supports actions taken by the police to deal with drug trafficking in Mauritius and that the support he has provided to the authorities has actually helped to intercept the 135kg of the heroin drug brought into the country.

He went on to say that, irrespective of who is involved, people who go against the law have to be prosecuted. Not many people would disagree with the PM for the stand he is taking against law offenders.

This episode unfortunately adds up to destabilising others which have been happening one after the other of late. The Alvaro Sobrinho case came out in public recently and not yet out of the public radar. The public is still looking for clarity in the matter. Other cases were being subtly filtered out one by one, such as the case of the Mauritius Duty Free Shop at the airport. This succession of negative stories must be having a telling effect on the newly appointed Prime Minister in the delivery of results at the higher level.

In a rule of law country, one will expect that all these matters which have been catching public attention almost unendingly will eventually be dealt with under due process. For the moment, however, all of this is highly destabilising to the overall governance of the country. It is interfering with the normal work of government intrusively enough to distract those in charge of running the affairs of government – as well as the public – from what should have been their major preoccupations at the macro level.

It is high time we should make a sparing use of such distractions. The question however is whether the recurrence of similar trends with different governments, past and present, is of a structural nature. It looks like it. For, under each government, we’ve seen upstarts, cronies, self-seekers taking undue advantage by stitching close links with those who are in power at the material time.

The roder-bouttes (self-seekers), as they are called in local language, have changed faces depending on which coalition is in power. But they have gravitated in one form or another around successive governments. They have employed their proximity to political parties in power to extract personal advantages they wouldn’t have been entitled to in the ordinary course of business. It is a parasitic class that has kept perpetuating itself. Only faces have changed.

The current events show that all this has become too much of an excess baggage. It is disrupting government business and contributing to creating instability of all sorts. The urgency of the moment is for the present government to quickly jettison all the excess baggage it has gathered around it, for the sake of the country.

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Spokes in the wheel

The light railway project has been on the agenda of several governments. It has been highly spoken about as a major project to undertake in the country for a score of years. But it hasn’t been implemented as an alternative means of public transport by any government to date.

One wonders why, despite all the rhetoric employed by past governments contemplating to implement the project, it has remained in the starting stalls over such a long period. Was the budget too high? Was it thought that the system would, as it is the case of several places, require to be government-subsidised for cost overruns? Were governments yielding to lobbies all and sundry (car importers, public transport owners, employees in the public transport sector) caught up in the fear of losing elections were the project to be implemented? Or, was it simply a question of the package on offer not being to the liking of politicians in power?

We do not know the weight of each one of these factors resulting in the long-standing government indecision about the project. Whatever it was, there were many spokes in the wheel, to prevent the project taking off. One or more of these would have influenced the indecision at different points in time. The fact is that nothing has been done till now, except commissioning studies after studies on the subject and shelving them neatly in cabinets.

The present government has awakened from the long slumber of decision-makers on the project. It is now sought to be implemented. The Metro Express will ply between Curepipe and Port Louis. Financing is expected partly from a grant provided by the Indian government. The latter is also expected, along with experts from other places, e.g., Singapore, to help implement the project in a span of four years.

If the project materialises soon enough, it will be a breakthrough. We have seen how cane lands have changed the development profile of Mauritius, e.g., Bagatelle, displacing shopping from former street corner shops to big commercial centres. A similar impact should be expected from implementation of the Metro Express which will create new activity hubs in alternative locations or shift them to more convenient locations for rail travellers and residents living in the vicinity.

It is by changing its physical profile that Mauritius has moved from a smaller range of activities at a point in time to something more intense. From cane lands, we moved on to textile manufacturing units in different parts of the country. Then came the new residential-cum-business centres like Ebene Cybercity.

The Metro Express should likewise develop thriving new hubs of activity around its major stations, provided we keep the economy growing. This project will challenge governments therefore to restore the economy’s dynamism, overriding smaller considerations people may have about the project’s finance-ability or its cost-effectiveness. Well managed, the project should not only take care of our increasingly suffocating road traffic congestion problem; it will create other positive spin-offs that are not yet in view but should materialize over time. We should look at the bigger picture.


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