Ever since Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth came back to Mauritius from India, having obtained a loan from the Government of India to finance certain projects, which loan has been factored in into the budget that he presented to the National Assembly, there has been a wave of comments which is quite in order in a democracy. However, what is unacceptable is the hue and cry that has also been raised, especially in the form of clips on social media that clearly display prejudice towards India and anything Indian.
It seems that some people have not yet got rid of the bateaux langoutis mindset that in the pre-Independence days posed a great threat to social harmony. In his intervention on the budget in the National Assembly, the Minister Mentor Sir Anerood Jugnauth even felt compelled to talk about the equivalent of a smear campaign being led against India.
About the loan itself, there are two main issues: one is that it was needed, and the second is where it was going to come from. The need for it is known: miscalculation and poor governance despite a full-fledged Ministry of Good Governance having been set up to clear the Augean stables, as was promised at election time in December 2014, resulted in a gaping hole in our national finances. A bail-out became necessary, and the options were loans from the local banks, sponging up the excess liquidity through e.g. issuance of government bonds, or seeking from outside. Clearly, the first two options were not considered viable – for whatever reasons –, leaving only the last one.
The IMF and World Bank would definitely not have taken a commitment to loan to Mauritius given the background that led to it being needed. This therefore left only one option, namely seeking help from countries that would be willing to advance the loan. It is not rocket science to shed our jaundiced blinkers and realize that the list of countries that we could potentially source from is very limited.
For a start, any African country is clearly out, even though we are supposed to form part of the African bloc. Perhaps the only one that could have given assistance is South Africa, the richest of the lot. But with its own internal problems dating from the pre-apartheid days not resolved yet, would it have been fair to place an additional burden on that country?
And we can also forget the USA: not after it has been responsible for the largest financial crisis in history. Further, with its ongoing dysfunctional government that is embroiled in its own politico-legal mess, the chances of receiving the Prime Minister of a country which they do not even connect with – confounding it with Mauritania – are absolutely nil.
When we come to Europe there are only two countries. The UK does not even have a proper government yet. France has a young and dynamic new President who is yet to assume the responsibilities fully. Beset with their own problems of the rise of anti-politics and populism, having been the target of repeated terrorist attacks with citizens living in a state of fear not knowing where the next attack will take place, besides their poor growth rate – what incentive will they need to consider the Mauritian case? They certainly don’t need us as a DOM-TOM: they have enough burdens of their own.
As regards China, its energies are focused on the OBOR initiative and on controlling the South China Sea.
So this leaves India, whose economy is growing at a steady rate of above 6%. It is politically stable, being headed by a Prime Minister who was elected in a landslide victory that gave him a clear mandate, who is cool-headed and a past master at handling internal crises, and whose global credibility is uncontestable. But more important still, he knows Mauritius very well – even intimately one could say – and has much empathy for this country.
Everything being equal, India was the only country towards which the government could turn for help. And that help was forthcoming. The benefits that ALL the citizens of Mauritius have received through the multitude of projects that assistance from India has made possible in Mauritius are too many to be enumerated. And this assistance has been ongoing. There is no altruism in international politics, and it would be foolish on our part to expect that from any country, including India. But what India will never fail to do is to support Mauritius in its time of need. It has come to the rescue again.
Under the circumstances, it is up to us to negotiate the best terms of any loan or grant that we obtain from India so that it is a win-win situation for both parties. Moreover, the government must inform the people appropriately what is on the table, to gain credibility for itself and to clear any misunderstandings that may be perceived about what is happening. And as this column pointed out last week, act responsibly in the management of the loan given.