Electoral reform: Checkmate!!!

Political Caricatures

By L.E. Pep

Politics is the art of the possible. And so compromise seeks the “best possible” solution. But not so with the current government. All along it has been “Government is Government, and Government decides!”, without any room for compromise whatsoever. They were not interested in finding the “best possible” solution because they have become almost entirely focused on positioning themselves and their party for the next election with the slogan “Le GM a tenu sa promesse.”

They have held the country hostage by their obduracy, and History will note that they did not make any effort to find a way out of the impasse for they had lined up against the very idea of compromise. As it is being proposed for Ethiopia (as reported in this week’s issue of The Economist), there is scope for reform in Mauritius as well by eliminating ethnicity from the constitution and reduce its weight in politics. In the same breath, one could consider mitigating the effects of the winner-takes-all voting system through the introduction of such system that would allow for better representation of minority groups. But the latter must be encouraged to campaign on matter of national interest rather than merely focussing on identity-related issues.

As a stalwart of the opposition put it: “The PM will remain stubborn, but humility, Mr Prime minister is the soul of the wit.” That’s expecting too much from a government intent on just displaying a pretence of reform.

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Lalanguegate: No sanctions against Tarolah!!

This can happen only in a banana republic. The Commissioner of Police passed on the matter to the DPP, and the latter forwarded it to the Speaker, who in a long-winding and repetitive statement to justify her inaction, rakes up something from the Standing Orders that says that the written notice to the speaker to deal with the offence had not been made in due time. But a prima facie case of contempt of the National Assembly has been found by the DPP.

No walk-out by the opposition when the speaker said that the matter was not subject to debate and that her decision was final! They are thus all condoning the indecent acts committed in the sacrosanct premises of the National Assembly. For them it is business as usual. What about the dignity of the National assembly? What about the lady who reported the case? What are her feelings now? These MPs do not represent us anymore; they represent themselves and they are in good company.

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NMH Deal ‘Tuftu’ – The Investigator made to capitulate!!!

Would you believe that the FSC board was not aware of the NMH deal that has let the main parties off the hook? (Complainants ENL, Swan and Rogers have pledged not to proceed with claims for damages against the investigator. In return, the latter Kriti Taukoordass will not submit his final report. An agreement has been reached in the presence of the FSC legal representative.) Yet, according to our information, the FSC Board was not informed of the management’s decision to seek mediation between the parties – ENL, Rogers and Swan, and the investigator Kriti Taukoordass. Why did such an important decision not go through the board of directors of the FSC?

The FSC owes us some explanations. First, how can the regulator’s decision to mediate in the NMH case be explained? Kriti Taukoordass’s interim report had contained six alleged breaches under the Securities Act and the Securities (Takeover) Rules during the NMH stock market trading in February 2016. What is the FSC’s position on these interim findings? As a regulator, is the FSC not called upon to shed light on this case? In their testimony to Kriti Taukoordass, Rene Leclézio and Collin Taylor, who both sold their shares, said that there is indeed a case of concerted action (‘acting in concert’) in the NMH transaction.

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The Labour Party’s commissions of inquiry

The LP leader has taken the commitment to reform the current political system, which he said is not serving the interests of the country. But once in power, the LP will have less time forging our future, because they will have to spend most of their time on commissions of inquiry in relation to different dealings including the purchase of gas turbines by the CEB to the tune of Rs 8 billion, the supply of tablets to school students, the alleged fraud at the SIFB, the sale BAI’s shares in Britam and on the dismantling of the BAI itself.

Of course, how could it miss the BAI! But the forthcoming commission of inquiry will have to start as far back as 2006 on: a) the period of recovery of the BAI from bankruptcy to the expansion of its risky business in financial accounting opacity without allegedly complying with prudential requirements, b) the grant of a banking licence to the Group in 2006, despite having knowledge of the reservations held about its insurance activities, c) the appointment of a Deputy Governor at the Bank of Mauritius allegedly influenced by the financial conglomerate, and d) the amendments to banking legislation to facilitate its business.

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Ombudsman for Financial Services Bill: A botched-up Bill

The newly-voted 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 has been badly designed. A better option would have been the establishment of a new independent regulatory body for dealing with consumer protection in financial services under the aegis of both the BOM and the FSC, with a Board comprising top executives from both institutions, as well as a number of independent members, and employing well-qualified staff with past experience in financial regulation, especially from the BOM and FSC.

Moreover, instead of being limited to consumer protection, financial regulation could be split into financial business conduct regulation and prudential regulation. The first relates to the regulation of the conduct of business by financial institutions and consumer protection while ensuring well-functioning financial markets. A new body could be made responsible for financial business conduct, on the lines of the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority. Prudential regulation, which is about adequately controlling risks and holding adequate capital of financial institutions, would remain as the focus of the BOM and the FSC. Again, a missed opportunity to go beyond the amateurish thinking on financial regulation.

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Safe City project: Another doubtful prestige project

Now that there have been queries on the huge investment needed for the Combined-Cycle Gas Turbine project without any certainty about lower production cost in the short run, we should equally question the Safe City project. Can we afford the huge amount of investment in the Safe City project? Another prestige project! While its effects in terms of crime prevention and/or law enforcement and community reassurance are not demonstrated, we can achieve equally good results by spending more on our police force. At such cost, to go for a system that is not that foolproof is mere folly.

What will be the role of Mauritius Telecom and the Chinese company, Huawei? Huawei has been banned from involvement in the installation of 5G mobile networks in India, New Zealand and Australia, and blocked from making acquisitions in the US. In the UK, BT has confirmed it is removing Huawei equipment from key areas of its 4G network after concerns were raised about the Chinese firm’s presence in critical telecoms infrastructure. While these countries perceive Huawei as a threat to security, the Chinese company is very well rated with Mauritius Telecom.

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NPCC: More of government support and leadership needed

War of powers, clashes, allegations of favouritism – all seem to be present at the National Productivity and Competitiveness Council (NPCC). Is it because the Director is trying to kick it out of its lethargy? He is, however, sparing no efforts to build up NPCC as an important institution for promoting productivity and quality enhancement and a shift towards high-technology through projects like Innoved 2018 or internationally with the 6 Gold Awards that Mauritius won in Singapore.

One would recall the national élan towards excellence that was started some years back. Both the private and public sectors had adopted Total Quality Management techniques and established Quality Circles. This enabled firms to innovate by reducing slack, putting downward pressure on costs and providing incentives for the efficient organisation of production, reorganisation of working systems and the adoption of state-of-the-art technologies. These have brought substantial improvements in total factor productivity (TFP), which relates to qualitative factors such as training, management, technology, institutions and policies. Government must support this institution and show greater leadership in a new dynamism to boost TFP growth which has contributed around 23% to the 3.8% average annual growth in GDP over the past ten years.

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Coze Cozé ki bizin cozé !!!

Mauritians tend to squirm at a style of politics so reminiscent of days long past, especially of those politicians trying to reconnect with an increasingly dismissive public and taking advantage of the frustration and groundswell of anger of some specific groups and communities. They usually pick up some fashionable terms of the day like, for instance, affirmative action for deprived areas… (instead of lowering entrance requirements for all our sturdy applicants to a bare minimum), and end up proffering simplistic solutions to complex socio-economic issues.

This has raised eyebrows for it is suspected that this is not being done with the noble hope of sowing an idea to nudge the debate forward. It is not even an outpouring of solidarity for their closeness to the community aspirations has waxed and waned over the years. As we approach the polls, we will be hearing more of these dazzling, potent slogans that appeal to the gut and not the head from our standout so-called militants.

A word of caution from renowned social workers and experts: “When it comes to such complex and consequential issues, we should beware of facile reasoning. Targeting a group or category or a region as a victim of exclusion may ultimately be counterproductive because it can validate stereotypes that people already have.”

* Published in print edition on 14 December 2018

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