Where do we draw the line between a Department and a Board? Have we got to throw more light on the CEB to show why we are averse to having a Board?
Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago
Last week Mr Bott, General Manager of the Central Electricity Board held a press conference at the headquarters of the CEB. The purpose of the conference was to inform the press that the CEB had come to an agreement with the General Electric Supply Company. The GES Co has accepted Rs 11, 960,000 for all its property.
This agreement brings to an end the exploitation of electricity by private companies. Now that the CEB alone is responsible for the production and development of electricity for the whole island, we hope that every effort will be made to prepare and execute a master-plan by means of which electric light will brighten the home of every Mauritian.
Public ownership of all important means of production and distribution which affect the economy of a country and the well-being of its people is considered a prime necessity in progressive states. The nationalization of electricity concerns is a step in the right direction.
But the CEB must be careful to behave as a public concern. It must be above class, colour and communal prejudices. It must be above political considerations. It has to serve the public wholeheartedly, having all the time good in view.
Why are we laying so much emphasis on the national and official character of the CEB? It is because we were made to feel last week that the CEB is moved by some undesirable considerations. Mauritius Times and some other papers were not invited to attend the press conference. Why? Was Mr Bott afraid of being put embarrassing questions? The policy of excluding a section of the Mauritian press will but do harm to the prestige of the CEB. Take good note of it, Mr Bott.
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We have received this week the first annual report and accounts of the Central Electricity Board. The report covers the period from December 8, 1952 to December 31, 1953. Presenting the report to his Excellency the Governor, the Chairman, Mr G. Taylor says: “The delay in submitting the Report is much regretted, but no doubt your Excellency will be aware of some of the reasons for this.” His Excellency may be, but the public is not. The text of the report, excluding the tables and appendices, covers 21 pages. And we are left to guess the cause of the delay of the publication of the report of 1953 in the middle of 1956.
The historical background of the CEB is quite simple. We quote from the report: “In 1948 Government had asked the Colonial Office to arrange for an investigation into the electricity services of the Colony with a view to preparing a Report and making recommendations for improvement and development. Messrs Preece, Cardew and Rider, Consultants to the Crown Agents, were accordingly appointed to carry out this investigation and Mr Brazel, one of the Senior partners, visited Mauritius during early 1949, for the purpose. Mr Brazel’s Report, which covered all aspects of the electricity supply situation in the colony, was completed on the 30th of June 1949 and was published in February 1950.” It was following that report that the Central Electricity Board Ordinance was passed in 1951 and it was in accordance with the provisions of that Ordinance that the Central Electricity Board was constituted in December 1952.
According to Section 5 of the Ordinance, the Board must consist of a Chairman, one ex-Officio Member (the Financial Secretary) and not less than 3 or more than 5 other members. A look at the names of the members composing the Board is enough to convince the most skeptic that the CEB is a white man’s preserve. After the MBS, the CEB!
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Apart from the appointment of members of the Board, there is general dissatisfaction as regards appointment to posts carrying decent or substantial salaries. People are wondering why all vacant posts are not advertised in the press. They are also wondering whether it’s always merit that opens the door to the CEB. The presence of exclusively white men at the top is bound to create the impression that the CEB is a public concern only in name and that in fact it is the sanctuary of the privileged class.
While the favoured few are thriving on fat salaries, men who have to dig holes, carry poles and unload materials are offered provisional and temporary employment on a day to day basis at the inclusive rate of Rs 2.78 per day! And if the nationalized electricity industry proves to be a failure, the blame will be laid at the door of nationalization. What more, socialists will be laughed at.
We are tempted to quote names and figures. But we shall refrain from doing so. Suffice it to say that the fat salaries of the men at the top make one think that the CEB is a private concern bent on evading the payment of Income Tax.
We know that the CEB has the power “to appoint and employ such persons as it may deem requisite, to pay them such remuneration and allowances as it may deem fit.” Does this mean that the CEB can act in an arbitrary manner?
The word Board carries with it the flavour of favouritism and privilege. We should like to see the CEB functioning as a government department. We had the Electricity & Telephone Department. Now we have the Telephone Department but Electricity Board. Where do we draw the line between a Department and a Board? Have we got to throw more light on the CEB to show why we are averse to having a Board?
* Published in print edition on 18 May 2018