How safe is Safe City at the cost of Rs 19 billion?

Political Caricatures

By L.E. Pep

The Prime Minister recently spoke about the Safe City project, which plans to install 4000 smart cameras at 2000 sites across the country. “It’s revolutionary. I live with my time. I am concerned about your safety, as well as that of your wives and daughters. The crime rate will drop once the Safe City project measures are taken,” he said. Will it? Despite the presence of surveillance cameras in police stations, some hooligans stormed a police station at Phoenix or “New York City” (courtesy of Shawkat). And at Bambous, some anti-social elements stole the cameras – and the police are still looking for the culprits!

A growing number of cities across the world have installed networks of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras. Police monitor the videos in an effort to prevent crime and catch lawbreakers in the act. These crime cameras do not come cheap. In fact, our Safe City cameras are being financed by a loan of Rs 16 billion from Export-Import (Exim) Bank of China, payable over 20 years, taken by Mauritius Telecom. So far, Rs 455 million have been paid back. With all the money being pumped into these mechanized eyes, you might wonder how well they would curb crime. Law enforcement officials generally support them, citing significant drops in violent crime. On the other hand, comprehensive studies by the American and British governments have shown the contrary. We could have achieved the same outcomes by spending less. We have fallen head over heels for this project on the advice of some part-time advisers without a proper cost and benefit analysis and a prioritization of our expenditure needs.

The first issue we have with the Safe City project is the displacement of crime to adjacent areas without cameras and, second is the fact that video surveillance has to be integrated with existing police patrols to render it more effective in public streets, car parks or bus stations. This shows that by investing more on police patrols, which would have created more employment, and with more sophisticated police equipment and less costly video surveillance we could have achieved the same outcomes. But with this regime, the advisers, whether it is at MOFED or the PMO, Mauritius Telecom or Ministry of IT… they know best.

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Opposition parties pepped up by their May Day rallies

While the incumbents, with all the means and the State apparatus at their disposal including a partisan MBC, were expected to win over the crowd game for the May Day rallies by quite a margin, it’s surprisingly the opposition parties which fared much better than expected. More than any of the other parties, the Labour Party (LP) seemed to have benefited the most from the May Day political battle of the crowds. LP partisans appeared to be more enthusiastic in supporting and rallying behind their party; they were more vocal and fiery, waving their flags, and cheering and clapping kindled by the orators’ slogans and catchphrases. This festive atmosphere seemed to have fired the orators in finding the right sound bites and catch lines like “Si Vacoas inn vin New York. Porlwi inn vinn Pari, Dubay, Mumbai, tou melanz;“tin pot dictator, rogue state” and the “tan ki pas pu ena confiance pa pu ena kroisans” for maximum impact.

The MMM crowd was not far behind and all fired up, dipping in their reserves to support what may be one of the last electoral jousts of their “historical leader”.

The MSM gathering, on the other hand, was more of a tamed-down version, less colourful and raucous, and at times too vulgar (the sexist language which we condemn utterly) and monotonous. They were more like a team that were simply out of their depth, having been caught off-guard by the recent surge of protests and recriminations and that were trying to reconnect with an increasingly disenchanted and dismissive public. The speeches, arguments and even the new proposals were quite stale and lacked the verve and ideas to infuse greater passion and fervour from hardcore fans.

But what really marked the Labour Day was the unity shown by trade union movements and leftist parties. Rezistans ek Alternativ and several other trade unions opted for a peaceful march with the theme “Drwa travay, lanatir, nou lavi”. The kick-off was given at the St Jean cemetery with wreath laying on the tombs of Emmanuel Anquetil and Guy Rozemont. The General Workers Federation, GSEA, CARES, JNP and 30 other unions joined the march, which ended at the Ebène garden with a musical program and lunch. Waving placards and chanting slogans, such as “Sel solisyon se, revolisyon”, or “Dominer, Nou Pale”, the unions denounced the problems that continue to affect workers. Ashok Subron is convinced that the day that “we workers re-appropriate the May Day as our Workers Day, we will be invincible.”

If these overhyped political meetings are to have any meaning and lead to some concrete developments, it could be the beginning of new political equations which would have a far-reaching effect in neutralising opponents and effectively checkmating them.

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Bank of Mauritius awarded Best Central Bank for Corporate Governance?

The International Business Magazine has conferred upon the Bank of Mauritius its Award for ‘Best Central Bank for Corporate Governance Indian Ocean 2019’. Following a rigorous assessment, the selection team and judging panel comprising the Head of Research and Editor… have commended the Bank of Mauritius for its unflinching focus on adhering to the highest corporate standards, ethics, and for its world-class policies and procedures.

Reacting to the announcement, Bank of Mauritius Governor Yandraduth Googoolye stated that “winning this prestigious accolade shows that the Bank is right on track. This year again, the Bank has been rewarded for adhering to the highest standards of corporate governance. It comforts us that our sustained hard work to be a forward-looking and innovative central bank is not going unnoticed.”

We also have the feeling that some of the corporate governance issues at the Bank have gone unnoticed. The International Business Magazine seems to have overlooked some of the issues we have highlighted in these very columns like the independence of the Central Bank where its deputy governors act more like government spokesperson that gives a perception of partisan behaviour.

A Deputy Governor wearing two hats does affect the credibility of the BOM’s policies for the financial sector, as readers do recall that the Banking Act was amended in 2016 to transfer the authority to issue Investment Banking Business licences from the Central Bank to a more pliant FSC.

Moreover, questions were raised on the Central Bank’s management of our foreign reserves and the large capital inflows that are turning out to be quite ineffective and costly. And lately, it was dictating the rate at which banks should be selling their foreign exchange. All these are not sound banking practices which affect negatively the credibility of the Bank. Fortunately, these issues have gone unnoticed by the awarding magazine.

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Immigration Act: “We must sanction to set an example”

At the inauguration of the new Camp Devil police station on Saturday, 4 May 2019, the Prime Minister spoke about the consequences of the amendments to the Immigration Act. “I was criticized by members of the opposition when amendments were made to the Immigration Act. We welcome foreigners who marry our compatriots, but they must respect our laws and they cannot go about disrupting the good functioning of our institutions. We must sanction them to set an example,” he explained.

Are we being selective in setting examples for misbehavior or misconduct? What about the cases involving the likes of Tarolah, Soodhun, Rutnah… and others? Were the appropriate sanctions applied? The people consider that more serious offences were committed, but the lucky ones got away. One of these despicable acts was carried out in the precincts of our National Assembly; another Honourable Member almost put at risk the communal harmony in the country… And the PM dares talk about the sanctity of our institutions!!!

In all the cases referred to, we did not see him taking strong, exemplary and drastic actions against his Honourable colleagues for their abusive and sexist language or for showing disrespect to Parliament with ‘sexto’ messages, or when one went to the extent of threatening the unity of the Nation. They should have been booted out of the National Assembly.

If you are quick to get on your high moral horse to lecture others on what is permissible and what is not within the boundaries of your kingdom, you cannot afford to have double standards. One disgusted blogger commented: “The rotten republic has reached an advanced stage of decomposition.” Cry my beloved country!

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The development of a nutraceutical industry

Instead of wasting taxpayer’s money, touring the world to sell Mauritius as a business destination, and which has succeeded in only attracting investors in the real estate market, the Economic Development Board (EDB) could do well to target some major investors and pharmaceutical companies in the development of our nutraceutical industry. (‘Nutraceuticals are products isolated from foods that are generally sold in medicinal forms. They are defined as any food (or part thereof) which provides health benefits – including prevention and treatment of disease – in addition to the basic nutritional value found in foodstuff.’)

Today, the global nutraceutical market is estimated at 117 billion USD. Personalization and customization are current trends in the development of nutraceuticals, especially in developed markets of the world. Investment in research and development to find innovative approaches, verifying health claims of the products and market research represent key strategies for the industry. Local research at the Centre of Excellence for Biomedical and Biomaterials Research (CBBR) on endemic plants in Mauritius has shown that they can be used for the treatment of cancer. “A boon for the country as long as the plants concerned are protected and cultivated on a large scale,” argues Professor Theeshan Bahorun, Head at the Biopharmaceutical Unit, UOM. One focus of the research was on pharmaceutical and biomedical products funded by NRIC and other collaborators.

“We will try to develop further studies to go in depth to show the effectiveness of these plant extracts. Only then will we be able to say that we have put our finger on something and that we can go forward with the development of pharmaceutical products and carry out clinical studies to exploit these extracts,” adds Prof Bahorun.

 It is here that EDB has a crucial role to play in finding the financial resources and in attracting some pharmaceutical companies to move to the next stage of much more advanced and applied research.

We are still at the initial stage but we need policies and roadmaps for the development of existing products and for those that need to be developed, lines of applied research and especially a targeted approach to attract investors or pharmaceutical companies.

If only we had put our billions in the promotion of such product developments rather than in non-priority prestige projects – the Metro, Safe City, Cote d’Or Stadium…, Mauritius would by now have positioned itself on the world scientific map.

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MTPA pinned for “mismanagement”

The tourism industry is going through a difficult period with a drop in the number of tourist arrivals since the beginning of the year. The Minister of Tourism, who has not been successful in bringing everybody on board, holds the national airline responsible for the reduction in airlift capacity and acknowledges that he cannot rein in Air Mauritius. He is for an open skies policy and cannot do much to further liberalise our own air access. He appears to have become an incapacitated Minister and similarly is the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority (MTPA), so far unsuccessful in reversing the declining trend.

At a time when greater efforts are needed to make a greater impact in our traditional markets, the MTPA is bungling with the allocation of PR contracts. Thus, the contract which was granted to a firm for the promotion of tourism in an important market like Great Britain had to be cancelled. The reason given was that it would have been a case of conflict of interest because the services of the firm had allegedly been retained by a large hotel group of Mauritius. The MTPA did not see that coming!!!

The allocation of the Tourism Desks is also disputed. The largest markets, those of France, India and China, are under the responsibility of new recruits, while the most experienced are being side-lined. Should we be surprised if these are the countries from where we are experiencing substantial decreases in tourist arrivals? What can you expect if you keep stuffing key institutions with loyalists, friends and relatives? We are dismayed that one regime after another keeps undermining this core institution in the tourism sector by packing it with a new generation of inexperienced friends and relatives while our more seasoned and experienced talents are forced to look for other green pastures abroad or elsewhere.

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Tilt towards authoritarian rule: The climate of repression intensifies

Is Mauritius gradually sliding towards a repressive State? After the arrest of the two Labour Party leaders and some residents of St Paul, the case of the airline pilot Patrick Hoffman deemed “prohibited immigrant” and now the summons for the two leaders of Rezistans Ek Alternativ. Ashok Subron and Stéphane Gua went to the Central Criminal Investigation Department on Tuesday, May 7th. They were questioned about a demonstration that ReA held at the Jardin de la Compagnie on February 11, 2017 to denounce the handover between SAJ and his son and other government scandals. Kugan Parapen, a member of the party, said the summons was yet another case of political persecution against opposition parties.

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Growfish Aquaculture project rejected: Wolves at the door

The Environment Tribunal has ruled in favour of the ‘Association des Hôteliers et Restaurateurs de l’île Maurice’ (AHRIM), which had challenged the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) granted by the Ministry of the Environment to Growfish International Ltd for an aquaculture project off Bambous.

The Tribunal focused on the risk of shark proliferation in the vicinity of the Growfish Aquaculture farm. It has thus been found that this risk had not been seriously studied or sufficiently evaluated by the authorities. There’s also the perception of conflict of interest or lack of independence of the Ministry of Fisheries and Ocean Economy. The authorities have lacked rigour in their approach.

Readers will recall with what conviction the Minister of Fisheries and that of Tourism were arguing against any link between aquaculture and the increasing number of sharks in the region.

Let us hope that there will more of such rulings in the future to put a stop to the havoc to our rich marine biodiversity.

* Published in print edition on 10 May 2019

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