By Nobel P. Loser
The tears and the hunger strike implied lots of emotion. But we need to move beyond that. Against this background, there are some unhidden facts – like the cost of a wrist watch and of a car, a small cheque bounced, Rs 135 million in stimulus bonus and a deal around Rs 375 million worth of a real estate, apart from successful or failed business ventures.
These were enough to support the theory of a public scandal, as perceived by the employees-cum-strikers and the general public. The fact that so much of public funds were involved opens the doors for legitimate public scrutiny on the ground of public interest.
And we won’t challenge “la bonne foi”, the professionalism and integrity of any of the organisation’s cadres. We take it they were bona fide persons involved in putting Mauritius on the world BPO atlas or IT related business ventures. But the sudden explosion of uncontrolled bitterness towards the organisation and part of its management team has unravelled the state of dissatisfaction within, including mismanagement. So much so that among those concerned, the word “trust” came out battered and could not hold ground anymore.
First, let’s revisit the good days prior to the hunger strike. Making history as the first tenant to set foot in Ebene Cyber City, the most enviable and prestigious 21st century business address on the Island; growing business activities followed by growing profits a few years ago; business expansion and setting up of independent business entities; and finally it went into real estate investment. For a dream project – construction of its own Tower, certainly not made of Ivory but sand and rock and concrete construction material.
On the social and leisure front, the organisation displayed its totally legitimate interest in horse racing; car racing; arts, culture and music at the historical site of Citadel; and also support for the less fortunate.
All in all, its rapid growth attracted attention. Conservative corporatism kept watching. Well-placed well-wishers and mainstream media were helpful.
A few, some powerful bureaucrats among them, now acknowledge having had to deal with the organisation’s representatives on and off on diverse matters. They now suggest unsolicited advice was sometimes tendered in a friendly manner and oral requests were made for action. Access to officials at Finance was made easy, occasionally under the umbrella of good friends close to the powerful.
Why exactly things have turned out so sour for the organisation is yet to be investigated. Tears and hunger strikes are no answer to that. The litigation process on a few issues brings no comfort either.
So we are left with other facts and statistics.
As confirmed by the organisation’s representatives, and as supported by documentary evidence available, profits surged and remained quite constant during several yearly accounting periods. There are a number of legitimate questions that one can ask. Why an organisation amassing such reasonable levels of profits had not acquitted its financial obligation towards its landlord? For a second, let’s forget about all other debtors! Is this good governance; sound management; sound financial management, good policy choices?
In 2008, the financial crisis in the US gave birth to a worldwide phenomenon of stimulus financing by governments. Mauritius was no exception. This was specifically designed to stop the crisis developing into an economic cancer that would have signed the death warrant of many economies.
Under the local stimulus scheme, Rs 135 million were allocated. It was well said and understood: the scheme was not meant to salvage lame duck organisations that, as underscored, would have to stand on their own, meaning die their own natural death or fight their way to survival. It was understood that good public money would be put only into organisations whose future are unquestionable. And this was apparently backed by reports from economic and financial experts and the wise submission of political nominees.
But who can tell us how much was spent, if any, under item travelling, entertainment, per diems, salaries, bonuses and miscellaneous expenditures and how these were met since then? Where have the Rs 375 million gone?
Now the big chunk. And this may concern many organisations, particularly those involved in the IT/BPO sector. Under item training for job seekers, training and reemployment of entrenched workers and job creation generally, the question is whether, as alleged, this has not served as a mechanism to defraud public funds in favour of private interests, administratively established and legally operational? What was the cost paid per head; how many millions were paid under item training to IT/BPO companies; how much was retained by IT/BPO companies and how much was paid as allowances to trainees; to trainers and facilitators and who they were; costs for renting of premises, if any, and other expenses incurred thereon; the exact number of trainees for each IT/BPO company and the professional whereabouts of those trained. En passant, do you know of any private organisation that, for free, would train an average 7 000 individuals in three years? And this includes the risk of having them crossing the floor to work for competitor companies!
The main public organisations supervising this alleged mechanism are the National Empowerment Foundation prior to the arrival of the current Minister; the Human Resource Development Council, the Mauritius Qualifications Authority, the ministry of Finance prior to May 2010, amongst others. Only a government investigation can shed light on this issue.
A small anecdote though. During job fairs it was left to canvassers — not marketing managers of IT/BPO companies – to persuade potential candidates; their unusual argument to convince would-be trainees was – “you need no certificate to access the world of IT technology”. We have gone through the training material and other stuff. We make no comment on this or the repeated headlines referring to labour shortage in the IT/BPO sector and the reasons thereof.
We will end with this example. A young lady residing in Baie du Tombeau was paid an allowance and followed the incriminated course that was supposed to take her to the wonder world at Ebene Cyber City. She ended up as a waitress in Port Louis.
* Published in print edition on 11 February 2011