More Poise and Less Noise

By Jan Arden

Few expected the MSM round-trip of the various regions, which did include the urban areas after the rural tour, to go astray in its final meetings and keep its ammunition dry or bring its attacks to a level worthy of a ruling regime. At least it has given notice to the “traditional” parties and leaders how far it would go in the quest to retain power with a probable amplification of its well-tested formula of 2019.

The only element of some amazement was the series of questions levelled against Sherry Singh about business deals and companies the latter and his wife controlled and, even more surprisingly, over bank accounts they might be holding overseas.It was a curious venue for public questioning from a soapbox, if only because most lawyers will avoid questions to which they do not already have the answers. The PM may therefore have digged for the relevant financial information unless, of course, the answers were – or should have been — pretty much known to him.

Querying the overseas accounts of Mr Singh also brings back to mind the heady days sometime in 2016 when Vishnu Lutchmeenaraidoo, then Minister of Finance under SAJ, only saved his skin (and a ministerial posting to Foreign Affairs) by stating that he did not have an overseas bank account in Hong Kong. That warning allusion served its purpose then. Those throwing stones at other houses should tread cautiously unless they would be prepared to stand the same test of transparency.Meantime we read in the press that all the country’s financial watchdogs (MRA, FIU, FSC, with ICAC sniffing around) are hot on the Singh couple’s trails while a US firm of consultant auditors are reviewing in depth Mr Singh’s activities as CEO of Mauritius Telecom where, we may recall, MrNayenBallah as Chairman and some of our administrative top guns were Board members appointed by the PM himself.

Be that as it may, the PM wrapped up the series of ‘congrès’ and confided at the MSM politburo Saturday last his satisfaction and that he felt confident of completing his mandate. Some might have been relieved that government could get back to running the country’s affairs and the state of duress facing consumers and taxpayers and an internationally downrated economy with more poise and less noise.

* * *

On the Opposition front much was awaited on the Labour Party (LP)exercise in the rejuvenation of its executive cadres and leadership structure, postponed due to the Covid pandemic last year, at the party’s Congress held Sunday last. The first part of the exercise was expected to hear key messages from its leader Navin Ramgoolam on at least two fronts: the political alliances in the offing with the parliamentary opposition parties and other forces, and the relevance of the values and principles that should guide the LP itself and that future alliance for a credible assault on what looks like an MSM fortress.

The Trianon Convention Centre was jam-packed without bussing and distributed goodies to hear those key messages while the second half was expected to be taken up by the internal election exercise to the Executive Committee and restricted to party activists. That crowd was in itself a clear vindication of the leadership stance reiterated at the Congress by both the party president Patrick Assirvaden and the leader Dr Navin Ramgoolam that only the LP had the demonstrable popular support and grass-roots anchorage to lead any Opposition alliance for major transformations in the country’s setup, particularly in light of numerous failings witnessed since 2015.

There was also confirmation that the LP leader and the party were not heading for the 2024 fray for some concoction of transition arrangement mentioned here and there but for a full term to implement the changes mandated by a political alliance.

The expectations of the Congress from the party leadership were aptly summed up in last week’s MT editorial as follows:

“When the LP congress meets on Sunday, it would be most appropriate and timely for the party to reflect on its past and its future…The foundations of a just, caring and democratic society through the establishment of the welfare state, free education, appropriate constitutional safeguards for all irrespective of class or creed, among other such critical fundamentals, were laid down by the Labour Party.”

The Congress was obviously not a party meeting destined to mobilise the crowds. The LP leadership had therefore a more poised atmosphere in which to expose for the party loyalists, the press and the representatives of the MMM, PMSD and RM in attendance, how the party intended to connect its rich past with the challenges facing Mauritius. In particular, what key structural and governance reforms would be needed and how it planned the reunion and mobilisation of all democratic forces around those ideals for the sake of party, country and the younger sections of the population.

The past could be no more than a beacon to light the future and, in view of the wide canvas of social, political, and economic challenges, there would expectedly be little time for Dr Navin Ramgoolam to delve in depth on any issue beyond key fundamentals, particularly as the freshly elected Executive Committee and the yet to be elected Politburo have to be involved in the party’s brainstorming.

To that extent and under those limiting constraints his delivery was posited to suit the occasion while the dynamics of the larger political context are still work in progress.

* * *

Meantime in what must have been an unforeseen twist by the PM on his mediatised Rodrigues infrastructure investment tour, it appears that the Agence française de développement (AFD), announced as lead funding agency for the Rodrigues airport extension and/or port jetty works, has balked out and desisted from the project for reasons which obviously call for no commentary from that agency. Whether the overriding concerns of the main French aid instrument are related to the overall galloping indebtedness of government or the conditions surrounding such a major development we may never know.

After decades of buoyant French and EU assistance to Mauritius, and the several meetings between AFD and central government here since 2018 concerning the project, that decision has left government spinning. The PM has announced that he will earnestly look for alternative sources of external loans to take up the AFD backout.

There are very dire needs in Rodrigues most notably to tackle permanent water shortage and connectivity with mainland Mauritius as reported in an informative article in Le Mauricien (19 Nov 2018). Since then, internet connectivity has improved, and an Indian expert team was expected to analyse and make recommendations on the water shortage front although we are not aware of its suggested plan of action.

As for the airport extension and port civil works, we must wonder whether a fraction of the $300m loan proffered from the government of India (some Rs14 billion) for a Cote d’Or metro line extension cannot be used to satisfy the Rs4 billion earmarked for airport extension in Rodrigues as per the foreclosed AFD budget. That extension has been slammed in many quarters as unnecessary at this stage, with poor expected returns while massively costly on a per km basis.

Do we really need to replace AFD with another source of foreign exchange loans when some modest reshuffling of priorities and a reduction of public wastes might attend to those specific needs in Rodrigues using a fraction of the Indian proposal for $300m?

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 2 September 2022

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