Is the Government at a Loss?

Drug trafficking, ID cards and Alvaro Sobrinho

As a nation, we cannot cut corners. We also have to be uncompromising in respect of the country’s international standing, standard of ethics and probity

What the blazes is happening in the country? Despite repeated pledges to clean up the Augean stables with a self proclaimed competent team, the signs are not good.

Let us take drug trafficking which of late seems to be proliferating on an even larger scale than before and has been making even bigger headlines. Despite repeated government undertakings to end the scourge of drug trafficking in the country and a Commission of Inquiry on Drug Trafficking holding its sittings since July 2015, the country seems to continue to witness an ever increasing scale of drugs related hauls and arrests.

The recent interception of 135 kgs of heroin worth a whopping Rs 2 billion covertly shipped to Mauritius, the spread of synthetic drugs targeting the youth and students as well as the increasing number of persons including policemen being arrested in drug related offences are all distressing evidence that drug trafficking is on the rise and spreading rather than being ruthlessly hounded and crushed.

Reports of capture of drug consignments also show that these seem to enter Mauritius with considerable ease from countries such as Reunion, Madagascar or South Africa. It also raises the disquieting question of how much more drugs are surreptitiously entering the country under the nose of the border control authorities and anti-drug squads, thus putting at risk our young.

To crown it all, drug traffickers serving long term sentences in purportedly highly secured jails seem to be blithely running their deadly businesses from prison as attested by the official records of large number of calls regularly made on mobile phones by incarcerated drug traffickers from the prison to trusted accomplices outside. One of these alleged phone accomplices, who works as a housemaid, when questioned recently by the Commission of Inquiry on Drug Trafficking on her lavish lifestyle including the use of a luxury car responded with surrealistic aplomb that she regularly gambles and keeps winning! Is it not time to put an end to such galling masquerades?

Against such a backdrop, the country learnt this week that Rs 2.7 million are spent by the State every year to allow convicts to phone to their families every month. In another surrealistic development, the prison inmates have protested that the Rs115 earmarked per month for their calls is insufficient. A committee is examining their request.

Despite the proclaimed intent of successive governments since Independence and the recommendations of various commissions of inquiry, the growing evidence is that drug trafficking is on the rise and has spread its tentacular reach not only in the suburbs but also among the young and in the rural areas causing tremendous havoc among the addicted and the young.

In the absence of tougher laws and severe sanctions which deter, drug trafficking seem to be spreading as new players seem ready to join in, fuelled by the greed of quick enrichment, a nexus of collusion involving bad apples in the system of border control, defence barristers and incarceration.

There are no half measures if we are to quash drug trafficking .Those who poison and destroy our youth deserve no quarter. Countries like Singapore have deployed an arsenal of strict laws and punishments which signal to drug traffickers, smugglers or peddlers that they do so at their own risk and peril. The risks to the young of the country and the attendant social hardships of addiction as well as the long and costly rehabilitation it entails are too heavy a toll for any country to carry.

It is time for bold measures to eradicate the drug evil from our society by reviewing and modelling the legal dispositions against this scourge on those countries such as Singapore where laws and punishments meted out act as a powerful and effective deterrent. The safety of the young from drugs demands a much more robust and efficient protection.

 * * *

 The ID card queuing hassle

For a host of quite genuine reasons including as conscientious objectors to being finger printed, a few thousand citizens are yet to convert their ID cards into biometric ones by the 31 March deadline. There is now a last minute rush to convert their ID cards. However, as there are only two centres where the conversion can be effected, there are long conspicuous queues at both locations with people from all walks of life and every age having to wait for long hours in the open, in many cases having to take leave from work or even having to return on the following day to be able to carry out the required formalities. This is the more so as a relatively small number of persons are serviced everyday at each centre.

Anybody with some common sense should be able to understand that the daily hardships faced by these citizens while queuing up for long hours in the open are due to a flawed approach to resolve what is basically a queuing problem. Distributing tickets to citizens not serviced on a particular day for priority queuing on another day only adds to the hassle. It does not cut queuing time nor expedite the ID conversion process. It only compounds the waiting problem and does not resolve it. Why should a resident of La Lucie Roy have to commute twice to Rose Hill to convert his ID card?

For decision makers not familiar with the queuing theory in mathematics applicable in a host of areas such as telecommunications, departures and arrivals at airports, dams, the migration of birds, the design of shops, factories or hospitals, logic should have dictated that the only way forward to diminish queuing time and alleviate the unnecessary hassle endured by citizens is to increase the number of locations and desks to service the remaining citizens with the least queuing time per applicant before the deadline.

People must always be at the centre of government action. Will the authorities show consideration towards the people and do the only sensible thing of urgently opening other locations for the conversion of the ID cards in the country and put in more desks to drastically reduce the queuing time and the man hours lost in long queues away from work?

It would be short sighted for government not to alleviate the hardships faced daily by people by facilitating the procedures to ensure that every citizen can smoothly convert their ID cards with minimum queuing time. The daily long queues are already creating legitimate ire and exasperation. If such simple micro-management issues cannot be handled with alacrity and goodwill for the comfort and benefit of the people, how can the more difficult issues facing the country be tackled?

* * *

An air of desperation

Since the coming into office of the new government in December 2014, policies and actions have from the outset not matched promises made to the people. The promise of a new economic miracle got quickly scuttled by a significantly more modest level of ambition in terms of growth rates aimed at and realised in 2015 and 2016.

Desperate to deliver on its programme, the government has from the beginning shown an unprecedented dependence on the private sector in respect of growth and employment. The government has bent over backwards to accommodate the hiked up business facilitation demands of the private sector without imposing any legitimate conditions or socio-economic targets in terms of the employment of the qualified young, inclusiveness, a diminution of the widening inequalities and the benefits accruing to mainstream Mauritius.

This subordination is also evidenced in the tenor of government policies ranging from those applicable in the sugar sector causing the exit of small planters to the potentially lucrative 2015 smart city/real estate development schemes whereby six promoters are estimated to benefit from more than Rs 5 billion of state revenue forfeited through exemptions from the payment of a wide range of land related taxes and duties. The outcome of this skewed model of economic liberalism while being potentially gainful for promoters hasn’t delivered in terms of robust growth rates and is far from being satisfactory for the multitude. Growth rates of 3.5 % in 2015, 3.8% in 2016 and a forecasted rate of 3.9 % in 2017 says it all. It will certainly not deliver an inclusive economic miracle as it is generally recognized that a sustained growth rate of at least 5% is required if Mauritius is to meet its ambition to become a high income economy.

Poor growth results have therefore heightened pressure on government. This has been compounded by the patent incapacity of the government and its coterie of advisors to come forward with innovative strategies to boost growth. Boosting growth certainly does not mean being desperate to do so at all costs. The case of Alvaro Sobrinho is a case in point. A government is above all expected to defend the interests of the country and its institutions and certainly not those of wealthy foreign investors, however rich they are. The first cardinal rule of a financial services sector of international repute is ‘In doubt don’t’ as the potential risks to such a sensitive sector of doing otherwise are extremely damaging. The second cardinal rule is to keep far away from any investor or company facing allegations or is mired in controversy. Full stop.

This is the more so in the case of somebody who holds a selective and curt press conference which fudges the many legitimate interrogations being raised. It is equally important that the regulators also beef up their due diligence procedures and acumen as well as upgrade their supporting financial market intelligence network.

Is government losing the plot?

Under these circumstances, why on earth should the top brass of government repeatedly meddle in a matter and a compromised situation which has already caused enough embarrassment to all those embroiled in it, instead of allowing the regulators with probably the seasoned assistance of the Bank of Mauritius to do their job?

Is the government in such a desperate mode to show results as not to realise that country and its economic interests in key pillars of the economy come first? Are they at a loss to uphold the highest principles when it comes to safeguarding the standing and reputation of the country and its financial services sector?

This sorry incident should be an eye opener and a singular object lesson for the future for all involved. Whatever the scale of investment by foreign investors, the rigorous exercise of due diligence and cross verification must always be very thorough and be seen to be so.

As a nation, we cannot cut corners. We also have to be uncompromising in respect of the international standing, standard of ethics and probity of investors and economic partners. In these troubled times let this message carry loud and clear to all and to the political class.

An Appeal

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