No ‘mai ke lal’ can dismantle in five short years the edifice of Inequality that has been built and consolidated over centuries by the rich and powerful oligarchy
By Ramesh Beeharry
Much nonsense has been said about Pravind Jugnauth since he took over as Prime Minister (PM). Sour grapes, perhaps? But much to his critics’ dismay he has shown his mettle by achieving in 2+ years what others before him did not or could not in a decade — the latter part of which was replete with much frivolity.
To those people who have observed the PM closely in action since his initial entry into politics in 2000 when he acceded to the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA), this is no great surprise. During his time at the MOA, he not only presented the crucial Sugar Sector Strategic Plan, but also managed to negotiate a most generous Voluntary Retirement Scheme package for 8000 sugar workers which consisting of a substantial compensation, 7-perches of residential land worth Rs 1m+ today and an old-age pension straightaway irrespective of age.
From Agriculture, PKJ moved up to Finance (2003-2005), where he reduced taxes on hundreds of commodities, increased the subsidy on basic commodities and awarded COLA rises well above the rate of inflation. As Finance minister under the LP-MSM government in 2011, he re-established tax relief on home loans, abolished the infamous National Residential Property Tax (NRPT) and re-introduced tax relief for parents whose children were studying for a degree, inter alia. Lest people forget, NRPT and the abolition of many tax breaks were the legacy of Rama Sithanen, who was FM during the previous LP rule (2005-2010).
As soon as it won the Dec-2014 elections, the Lepep government had to start repairing the Port-Louis Ring Road and the Terre Rouge-Verdun Link Road which had started to crumble only a year after completion, at a cost of Rs 2bn and Rs 4bn respectively under the previous LP government. Any hint of corruption is vehemently denied, but the people can draw their own conclusion!
Besides these repairs, the Lepep government has been busy enhancing the road network, undertaking several new projects to alleviate the daily log-jam that working people have to endure daily. The Phoenix fly-over is just one such example.
We can argue about the nomenclature, or indeed whether it is the right model. But the simple truth is that names can be changed and models upgraded or modified. So whatever their political colour, every true patriot knows that the Metro Express is a vital infrastructural project to alleviate the daily gridlock on our roads, regain productivity, reduce the stress and disease on road users, reduce our reliance on fossil fuel for transport, reduce noise and air pollution and drag Mauritius into the 21st century. Alive and kicking!
The Chagos case is perhaps the most important episode since Independence. Led by the last of the Mohicans, this is in a way SAJ’s (it had to be him, didn’t it?) swansong and greatest achievements. Valiantly, he took our case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) which ruled in our favour.
Envious cynics from the opposite side may well sneer, but it is no mean feat for a small gnat like Mauritius to stand up to the mighty British and, by ricochet, the world power that is the USA. It is agreed this is only an opinion of the ICJ, but some people deliberately forget that this is an opinion of the World Supreme Court and, no matter what they say and how much they wriggle, the British will have to answer to the UN General Assembly where the whole project got kick-started by the intrepid SAJ.
On the Home Front
Housing for the Poor. Since 2015, Government (GM) has been built and delivered 1979 units to people who have limited means, at subsidized rates. The subsidies range from 1/5th to 2/3rd of the selling price.
Presently 2703 units are ongoing projects whilst a further 7506 units are planned for which the new sites have already been identified. When the program is completed, the total added to social housing will number 12,188.
Social Empowerment. The GM has to be congratulated for setting up the CSU which enables ordinary citizens to have direct access to the to the PMO. Many problems have been addressed by this unit.
Mind the Gap
For many years economists and our own FMs have been wailing that the gap between rich and poor is widening every year quoting the ubiquitous Gini coefficient. But no one so far has done anything to lessen this gap. On the contrary reducing the corporate tax by 50pc (from 30 to 15pc on profits) has helped exacerbate the disparities. That is, until this GM came into power.
Keeping its per-electoral promise, it increased the old-age pension (OAP) from Rs 3500 to Rs 5000. With subsequent increments, OAPers will receive Rs 6710 pm as from Jan 2019 — this is a record increase of 92% over the past five years! If the Lepep wins the elections in November, they promise to increase the OAP to Rs 9000. Further down the road, there are plans to increase this to Rs 13,700 over the next five years.
And there is more! In Jan 2018, GM introduced a National Minimum Wage (NMW) of Rs 9000. Straightaway this policy measure lifted some 140,000 workers out of the poverty trap, which indicates the depth of poverty the NMW has helped fill in one fell swoop. In order to narrow the rich/poor gap further, GM introduced a Negative Income Tax (NIT) whereby GM pays anything from Rs 1 to Rs1000 to bring NMW Rs10,000.
Those of my generation bear witness to the cruelty of a paying system which kept many bright youngsters (especially girls) out of secondary education because their parents could not afford to pay the school fees. Introducing free secondary education in 1977 remains one of Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam’s most precious gifts to the nation.
In Jan-2019 the PM announced that henceforth tertiary education will also be free for all our children. This bold step puts Mauritius on the same plane as many European countries, where children receive free education from kindergarten all the way to university. In years to come people will come to think as fondly about Pravind Jugnauth’s legacy as they now do about SSR’s — especially the poor — for his democratization of education, the passport to social mobility!
Today the cynics are mocking and sneering at the new Multisports Complex at Cote d’Or as well as the Liverpool Football Academy. But in years to come, when Mauritius begins to churn out athletes and football players of world standard who can compete at world and Olympics level, they will be laughing from the other side of their faces
No other GM has done so much in so little time to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor. However those people looking at the glass half full will probably say “but this is not enough!” Agreed, but no mai ke lal can dismantle in five short years the edifice of Inequality that has been built and consolidated over centuries by the rich and powerful oligarchy and, more recently, by the new bourgeoisie. But, this GM is on the right path and has shown that it means business!
* Published in print edition on 25 October 2019