The newly constructed highway from the Cyber city to Arsenal and thence to the North is impressive.
If anybody doubted about the pristine natural beauty of our country, this highway in its present stage should be a convincing argument that we haven’t lost it all.
Other than the roadsides, there are no ugly concrete structures to spoil the view. It was the same when the new road to Plaisance airport was built years before. With time, concrete structures surged up here and there and we no longer enjoy the vast expanse of uninterrupted lush greenery, a delight for the eyes, it used to be.
We can only hope that, if only to preserve the natural beauty of the highway to the North, any permit to construct is very sparingly given and, that too, removed from sight of the highway as it is done in other respectable countries. It will be a treasure worth preserving in its present state.
If that were to be the case, this new link road should achieve other objectives: a useful shortcut from and to the North, saving the time usually taken to go through Port Louis; improving the security of traffic in the country by decentralising from the capital city and making for a far more pleasurable ride than having to confront the increasing congestion that we’ve been seeing for years now.
An important shortcoming has already surfaced up. It appears that at some point in the valley traversed by the highway, there is a natural habitat for wild waterfowls (poules d’eau), a rather slow-moving but harmless creature living in and around marshes. This habitat must be lying on both sides of the highway with the consequence that these poor creatures have to cross it instinctively.
The speed at which these creatures move is no match for some reckless high-speeding drivers already plying in this new part of the country’s road infrastructure. Drivers’ speed has already claimed the lives of quite of a few of the creatures, as it was evident from several dead bodies of the unfortunate birds strewn on the road. Better planning would have saved them, such as by providing a safe passage for the birds away from the traffic, something that would have been easily achieved by means of multi-disciplinary involvement in road building.
Adequate and proper infrastructure is the hallmark of a country which is chalked out for making progress. The highway project goes no doubt in this direction. It contributes to the essential need to decentralise Port Louis. It caters to the ever increasing volume of traffic on our roads even though one would have thought that limiting the number of vehicles in the country by putting in place a dependable, convenient, safe and comfortable alternative public transport system would have helped just as much by reducing a lot of wasted expenses and preserved the environment as well.
Other roads have come up and still others are on the way to completion. No doubt, they will ease the traffic problem which has gone on increasing from year to year. Will the infrastructure being put in place now be overtaken in the span of a few years? And necessitate the construction of even more roads? As it is happening now? Past experience shows that this could well be the case. What is the root of the problem, in such a case?
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Long Term Planning
It appears that all this boils down to what the Governor of the central bank was referring to in his annual dinner speech of 6th December. He stated that the time has come to project a vision of where we want to be some decades hence. This kind of future positioning of key drivers of growth and development must be consciously laid down to give a clear sense of direction to economic agents.
The Governor referred to a recent report made by the IMF on Mauritius’ future prospects. Unless Mauritius acted proactively to put in place the grounds for a spurt of growth in the future, things like a higher rate of economic growth and a shift in the economy’s potential won’t happen by themselves.
The IMF report has suggested that for Mauritius to sustain its development and not be stuck at relatively modest rates of economic growth, it should address factors acting to constrain the growth of investment, redress the country’s falling saving rate, institute labour market reform, reform education and reduce bottlenecks which stand in the way of growth of productivity in the economy.
All this is not the job or responsibility solely of a government. It calls for steps being taken to improve productivity in the economy overall. The Governor is right and it goes without saying that achieving this sort of improvement is the responsibility of individual companies which have to compete against international firms on global market places.
The companies will automatically identify the structural factors which prevent them from cutting costs and thus be even with other international operators. It is they who will be able to spot out what, in our environment, is preventing them from entering a new line of business with brilliant prospects for the future.
It is by formulating policies which should take the economy the further mile on the basis of a healthy debate among stakeholders that we may reach out to what forms the backbone of a long term vision for the country. Having such a vision would avoid a situation in which we end up tackling a problem in the short term only for it to come back shortly afterwards with more force and greater demands upon our limited resources.
The long term doesn’t happen by itself. We hope that steps are being taken to round up all the rough edges and evolve a coherent and cohesive conversation for Mauritius as a whole, not in its bits and pieces but as one entity having common challenges to face. A lot more is at stake than what appears on the surface.
* Published in print edition on 13 December 2013