The MMM and the Water Saga of Mauritius

By K. Murali 

The water supply in Mauritius is today in a deplorable state. For this the MMM bears a great responsibility. One has to go down memory lane for a constat. Immediately after Independence, SSR, realising that the development and modernisation of the infrastructure in Mauritius were a sine qua non condition for the way forward, launched the country upon a plan of massive construction of roads, airport and of course water supply projects. The Consulting Engineers, John Taylor and sons in association with Economic Consultants Limited were commissioned to submit a report on the future development of water supply in Mauritius and they did so in July 1973.

In their letter forwarding the report to SSR and the government of Mauritius, Messrs John Taylor and sons explained, and it is necessary to quote:

“… In the Island as a whole there is no shortage of water. What is required, however, is the effective harnessing of the available water in the most economic manner to ensure consumers obtain the water they will require in the future… Our proposals envisage an end to the interruption of supplies, which now prevails in all urban areas. This will, of course, be of considerable benefit to the population in reducing the risk of epidemics (which are an ever present risk when supplies are interrupted) as well as in improving the general standard of living, and in reducing fire risks and losses.

“We foresee the broad pattern of development of resources as follows:

(a) Port Louis should continue to be mainly supplied from Grand River North West with an enlarged treatment works at Pailles, and with the construction of a new regulating reservoir on the River Moka. Pierrefonds tunnel water should be diverted to supply the short-term requirements of the proposed industrial areas around Port Louis but later reverted to overhead irrigation in the western coastal plain.

(b) The water resources of the Mare aux Vacoas system, upon which the Plaines Wilhems’ urban areas and the southwest coastal region rely, should be augmented by continued development of ground water in the Curepipe Aquifer. Only in this way can the system continue to provide water for hydropower at Tamarind Falls and Magenta and for irrigation in the western coastal plain.

(c) The rural areas are mainly served now from Piton du Milieu reservoir. A new impounding reservoir should be constructed at la Flora by 1977 and Piton du Milieu Dam raised in the early 1980s. Wherever possible, ground water resources should be developed to supply local needs in the coastal plains…”

The government approved the plan. Works were detailed to be carried out in phases. By 1982, considerable progress had been achieved. It is a fact that without the availability of water resources generated by these works the industrial development of the 80s would simply not have happened.

However, in 1982, when the MMM came to power the program was stopped. Most importantly La Flora Dam, the reservoir on River Moka and the raising of Piton du Milieu banks never saw the day. In effect for reasons best known to themselves, the MMM leaders put a stop to an integrated approach in the water sector. And they did not come up with an alternative.

Today the MMM leader is raising a hue and cry – a “mega-scandal”, he said – with regard to the approach taken by the present government towards the financing of the Bagatelle Dam. The hypothetical Rs 300M savings is being made an issue. However he should also be able to tell us of the savings that would have been made had the original programme been implemented.

The aversion of MMM leadership towards water works did not stop there. In the late 80s, under the prime ministership of Sir Anerood Jugnauth, Mahen Utchanah, the Minister of Energy, commissioned the Japanese, under the JICA program, to submit a plan towards the construction of the SAJ Dam. Works had reached an advanced stage, including detailed engineering designs, geotechnical studies and finalisation of Tender Documents. However the MMM opposed the scheme and in 1993 the SAJ Dam project was shelved. Paul Bérenger himself or Mahen Utchanah is in better position to enlighten us as to why this particular dam did not materialise. The SAJ Dam was primarily intended to supply Port Louis, but the construction of a dam anywhere in Mauritius brings an improvement of water supply throughout the island. This is achieved by a redistribution of the water resources.

The Midlands Dam was yet another episode which sheds light on the approach of the MMM. This dam had remained a dream for nearly a century when the labour party of Navin Ramgoolam came to power. When the Ministry of Energy, driven by Dr Beebeejaun, was about to award the contract, the MMM came with a PQ, reference B 330, on 18 May 1999. The MMM leadership wanted the contract to be awarded to a local firm, inspite of the fact that no local firm had any experience in such works.

Mr Bérenger even went on to add that …if we make this blunder of handing this huge project over to a foreign firm we will be doing terrible harm to Mauritius for years and decades to come…” His objections were cast aside. The construction of the dam went ahead and suffice it to say that once more history has proved the MMM wrong. Navin Ramgoolam laid the foundation stone and Paul Bérenger went to inaugurate, if my memory serves me well, the waterproofing of the Dam – while he was opposed to the contractors!

We are now embarking upon the construction of the Bagatelle Dam. It appears that the MMM is trying to create the impression that the dam, estimated at Rs 3.1 Billion and quoted at Rs 3.4 Billion by the Chinese firm selected by the Chinese government is not a good deal for us. For those familiar with the appraisal of such tenders, this difference of Rs 0.3 Billion, that is 9.67%, is indeed, flattering to those who have worked on the estimates.

It is also known that the final cost of the works when completed will be different from either the estimated figure or the award value. What is important is that everything be done in a transparent manner and above all that we get value for money. In this respect neither Navin Ramgoolam nor Rashid Beebeejaun has given us cause for concern. In the interest of the country it is important that they be allowed to do their job without hindrance.

* Published in print edition on 22 April 2011

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