Floods: Frustrated outbursts of the public

Political Caricatures

By L.E. Pep

In the current polarized political climate, the “Nou mem nu pu la” slogan was badly dented by the frustrated outbursts of the public affected by the floods in several places in the wake of heavy showers in some areas. A national crisis can easily discredit the prevailing leadership and the present regime. Many of the people affected by the floods have been criticising their elected representatives for not doing enough for their regions in terms of land drainage and maintenance; others have been questioning the order of priorities set by the government for development projects. Is the Metro, Côte-d’Or Stadium and Safe City (smart cameras) Project more important than providing basic facilities like drains in different regions and concentrating on improving the lot of citizens?

Danisha Sornum notes that “We do need to build a network of drains across the country. But that’s not the happy end to the story. We also need to make sure that our policies promote green development. Erecting supposedly smart cities while neglecting existing villages and towns that are falling in decrepitude under the weight of over-crowdedness and lack of planning, will only make risk disaster management harder.”

According to Vasantt Jogoo, a consultant in sustainable development and member of Mouvement Patriotique, says that, apart from climate change, unstructured urbanization is one of the major causes of floods in the country. He believes that Government has abdicated its role in land use planning – “We have several potential flood zones, which are not conducive to infrastructural development. 25% of the country has been earmarked for infrastructural projects…” He also points out that the Land Drainage Authority (LDA) and the National Development Unit (NDU) are ridiculously blaming each other, while the secretary and the chairman of these two institutions are the same person. He asks the Prime Minister to assume his responsibility as the LDA falls under the purview of his ministry. “He has to explain why the LDA has no qualified personnel and to date there is not even a director at the LDA.”

This reveals the continuous slack and inefficiency of this government in the implementation of projects. The Land Drainage Authority Act 2017 was gazetted on April 29, 2017, but came into effect only on June 1, 2018. Besides an understaffed LDA, one may legitimately ask what is the need for a Land Drainage Authority when the present Master Plan for land use/drainage at the national level is still pending.

 Meanwhile people are suffering and some of the distressed people are refusing to take any compensation from this government which they are blaming for their present plight.

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ReA’s proposals to address food security challenges

Food security and food production are one of the main concerns of the Rezistans ek Alternativ (ReA) movement. According to Michel Chiffone, Mauritius “should not be importing food products when it can produce them locally”. Government should be providing financial aid to farmers and young people with a view to encouraging them to turn to the agricultural sector, especially organic farming. Among other things, ReA proposes the creation of an agricultural bank and that the responsibility of delivering organic certificates be entrusted to the Ministry of Agro-industry, in which case planters will not have to pay the “exorbitant” sum of Rs 70,000.

Regarding the ‘chenille légionnaire’, Michel Chiffone believes that the government has failed in its responsibility because this invasion “could have been avoided if it had heeded the warnings of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).”

As regards food security in the country, he says the situation is “alarming”. The latest figures published by Statistics Mauritius indicate that local production of vegetables has fallen from 106 000 tons in 2017 to 96 000 tons in 2018. Same trend for meat, chicken and mutton production, among others: it’s going down from 90 tons in 2017 to 78 tons in 2018. We import 80% of our food products which amounted to some Rs 36.4 billion in 2016. Michel Chiffone is of the opinion that the government practises a “deliberate policy” that favours importers.

ReA is therefore putting forward ten proposals to the government to re-boost the food sector in Mauritius: seek the help of the FAO to set up a surveillance system for the ‘chenille légionnaire’; introduce a financial plan or grant to support local planters and extend financial assistance to organic-food planters as well as a subsidy to growers, who have abandoned their lands, to restart cultivation; set up an agricultural bank for planters. Other proposals include a plan to help planters go for agro-solar; the setting up of a centre for storage and conservation of vegetables; subsidy for breeders; the re-negotiation of the fisheries contracts; the setting up of a fishing fleet to encourage Mauritians to go into fishing activities; and the construction of five new dairy plants for milk production.

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The Ministry of Housing and Lands: IRP cancels a contract of Rs 72 M

This is becoming quite alarming. It is yet another case that is being reported of the decision of the Independent Review Panel (IRP) to cancel an award by the Central Procurement Board (CPB). This time it is the Ministry of Housing and Land that is concerned. Following an international call for tenders for consulting services for the National Development Strategy review, the Rs 72 million contract was awarded to a Dubai-based company, Place Dynamic ME LLC.

The IRP’s decision came following the challenge of an unfortunate bidder. In their decision, the Review Panel’s assessors evaluated the four bidders that had been pre-selected following the call for tenders. Among them, Haskoning DHV was Nederland BV/Mega Design Ltd. It is on February 11 that the Ministry of Housing and Land informed the latter that its offer had not been accepted. On February 14, the company sent a letter to the ministry stating that, based on the exchange rate, it should have obtained the highest score. The bidder sought to know if the CPB used a conversion rate higher than the exchange rate on sale issued by the Bank of Mauritius on December 13, 2018, thus changing the ranking of the proposals. Or if the department has unilaterally adjusted upwards its financial proposal without asking for clarification.

On February 25, Haskoning DHV Nederland BV/Mega Design Ltd decided to take the matter to the IRP for a judicial review. The rejected bidder is dissatisfied with the decision of the CPB as the reasons given as to why the contract was not awarded to it are neither relevant nor rational, and therefore should not be taken into account.

Is this another of our top institutions that is being affected by cronyism? With such an increasing number of cases that are being referred to the Independent Review Panel by unsuccessful bidders and the increasing number of reviews of the decisions/awards of the Central Procurement Board, the CPB cannot be said to be a model for an efficient and effective public procurement in Mauritius.

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Unpleasant and persistent odours on the St Jean Road, Quatre Bornes

If it is not the noise and the dust of the numerous works in the City of Flowers which are inconveniencing the inhabitants, it is the unbearable strong putrid smell in the air.

With the recent rains and consequent period of strong heat, a foul odour hangs over the St Jean Road.

It is with a tense and disgusted look that passers-by have been bearing the emanations that seem to be coming from the sewers for the past week. The patience of the businessmen and traders is wearing down and they deplore the lack of responsiveness of the authorities to resolve the problem as quickly as possible. They fear the proliferation of rats in such an environment and claim that this foul smell is scaring away their customers. A week has elapsed and nothing seems to have been done. The smell is still very much present.

One would have thought the municipality of Quatre Bornes would have taken the necessary steps to sort out the matter immediately. Is this a matter of lack of competent people and expertise to address many of the emerging problems and challenges facing the city?

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Budget submissions: Measures for small planters

The Small Planters Association (SPA) has submitted a list of requests to the Ministry of Finance in view of the forthcoming budgetary consultations. The members of the association are mainly involved in the production of vegetables, sugarcane and fruits – an activity that is fast disappearing because of a lack of manpower, of the significant drop in revenues and a lack of funding to modernize their activities, among others. Here are their proposals:

To support sugarcane planters who are facing difficulties despite the measures taken to restructure this sector, the SPA proposes a price mechanism for products derived from cane. It offers two choices to the government: that for an initial period of three years, the planters receive Rs 2,500 per ton of cane delivered to the ‘balance’ (weigh bridge) or Rs 2,000 per ton of cane but that the costs of cutting, the loading and the transport are at the expense of the millers. They want these amendments to be introduced before the 2019 harvest.

The secretary of the SPA, Kreepalloo Sunghoon, points out that in Reunion Island, a planter receives Rs 4,000 per ton. In the event that the Government finds this proposal difficult to apply, the SPA proposes that small/medium sized sugarcane planters sell their products directly to the sugar companies at the best possible prices and that they have the same facilities as the sugar industry so that they can add value and market their various products.

To support the planters, the SPA insists that they benefit from loans at interest rates of less than 3% from the DBM and that the institution bears more of the credit risks and supports planters with advice and monitoring. SPA has also asked that the liquidation of mortgages be at the expense of the bank because several planters have found that these were not removed years after repayment. Other demands are the creation of a land bank so that agricultural land is available to those who want to go into agriculture, the exemption of tax on the income of planters, measures to combat the theft of vegetables, a form of compensation to the planters to make up for their losses, and the cancellation of the planters’ debts to meet the irrigation costs.

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Religious celebrations: Political speeches

As our electoral process begins to accelerate, religion and politics will become more and more inextricably linked. Recent events at the religious celebrations at Grand Bay and Blue Bay took an awkward turn. The events demarcated from the long tradition of politicians of all stripes courting and meekly obtaining the support of the religious bodies and their congregations. We were heartened to see some activists, wanting to get their voices heard, assert that their religious bodies should no longer be cogs in the politician political machine. We salute these people who have had the guts to walk out or protest when the politicians started making their insipid and inappropriate political speeches.

But there are others – the presidents of some NGOs and religious organisations — who still believe that they are indebted to the government of the day and that they have no choice given the governmental support extended to their organisations. Some federations, on the other hand, have a more give and take relationship with the government that borders sometimes on cronyism where chumminess with the powers that be forms part of the game.

Most Mauritians who attend these religious celebrations expect to find solace – with talks on liberation, morality, and the wisdom contained in the Scriptures – and escape the political madness that now permeates our daily life. They don’t anticipate hardball political endorsements. They are disgusted when their religious leaders or representatives turn their sermons into political ads for candidates. Nor can they allow the politicians to cross some established red line which, if broken, would force the people to speak out against them or walk out. Indeed, political discourses should remain in their own space, allowing our spiritual people to speak about traditional religious values without having to mention current events or politicians. Otherwise, we have every right to interrupt them, and to remind them that they were not invited to give a campaign speech.

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Tourism’s poor performance – Where is the Minister?

Some four months back, in December last, whereas the minister was satisfied about the sector’s performance, we had sounded the alarm bell that the tourism sector was performing much below potential; we have been saying that the sector’s growth had kept on dipping and the expenditure per tourist in dollar terms was lower than that of 2014.The sector was lagging behind the 5% growth in international tourist arrivals. We also highlighted the fact that despite all the expectations about our famous air corridor, arrivals from the People’s Republic of China had continued to decrease and our relatively more expensive air fares have had an impact on the Reunion market with arrivals declining by 6.4%. We had thought those mixed results would be a wake-up call for the MTPA to “commence bouger”. Zot bouge fixe, it would seem!!!

Now four months later, when Mauritius is the only country in the Indian Ocean where the tourism sector is experiencing a decline during the first quarter of 2019 and Sri Lanka, Seychelles and Maldives are again outperforming us in this first quarter with above 4% growth rates, they seem to have come out of their lethargy and organised a workshop atHennessy Park Hotel, Ebene, to thrash out some of the issues and challenges facing the sector. But we are not convinced. It turned out to be more of a blame game with some recommendations for a bunch of petty patching measures that will not lead to much. The sector needs a minister who can take bold decisions for a rethink of our product. Our tourism product “ne fait plus rêver”. It is no more “un plaisir”. The tourism sector is gradually losing its competiveness, a net effect of filling it up with cronies, with the MTPA apparently topping the list!

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MMM’s participatory approach for its electoral program

The MMM Policy Unit held consultations with the fishing community in Mahebourg. This initiative was part of the party’s method favouring a participatory approach to the elaboration of its electoral program.

They expect that the interactions with actors in different sectors will help to better understand the situation and to take into account their needs. The MMM says it will prepare its electoral program in consultation with the people. The party “will not make false promises,” it is in dialogue and reflection that they will identify problems and seek solutions.

On marine pollution for example, they are proposing the creation of a fund under the CSR. Those who pollute will have to contribute to the fund to help fishermen suffering from the pollution. Several professionals, mainly researchers from the University of Mauritius, also intervened on this occasion. Valérie Uppiah spoke about the importance of Marine Special Planning. Nadeem Nasurally intervened on the protection and regeneration of corals. Meghna Rughoobar talked about plastic pollution.

The fishermen had expressed concerns about marine pollution, the presence of invasive corals and on the situation of the Fishermen Investment Trust. The proposal to set up a fund for fishermen, as is the case for planters, was also mentioned. Similarly, it was suggested that the Bad Weather Allowance be aligned with the minimum wage, as well as a pension for fishermen who have reached their retirement age. The practice of aquaculture is also of concern to the fishing community, who feel that it is harming their activities. It will be equally important to have the views of the MMM on aquaculture and on the re-negotiation of fishing contracts/licences with other countries fishing in our seas.

Exemple à suivre… for the other mainstream party – the Labour Party! Will it wake up?


* Published in print edition on 19 April 2019

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