By NOBEL P. LOSER
Let’s get straight into the subject. Certain media commentators are either intellectually highly dishonest or glaring lobbyists, or both. This is most evident on the energy issue. The common man of this country should not believe all that they say or write on this issue. All the facts and all the truth on this matter of national importance should come out of the bag for all to see and understand fully. Half-truths or half-baked arguments offer little by way of the required standard of public disclosure in public debates on such critical issues, which is often the case.
In Goodlands, during the last general election campaign and quite late in the evening, the leader of the Alliance de l’Avenir strongly stated that he needed another mandate to continue his reform programme. One of the main issues he personally canvassed and on which he laid much emphasis was about reform in the ‘energy’ sector. He referred in this context to the existing unjust contractual agreements in favour of producers that are against the national interest and that of consumers in general.
In matters like this, the problem with certain public commentators and analysts is that they either genuinely forget too easily and too quickly, which is bad for them, or they deliberately fail to look at the facts, for reasons best known to them.
Without hinting at the subject by name, some of them squarely suggest, without an ounce of decency and unsupported by a valid argument, that the Sugar Estates (SEs) should be allowed a field day in big investment projects being undertaken by the Government. There is no harm in that per se. But at least, for God’s sake, please bring us some reasons, some arguments, why a, b or c, and whatever be their DNA, should be left on the side track, just to let the SEs exclusively invest in lucrative projects and prosper with the silent connivance of the Republic and its lawful representatives. It seems this should not matter even if the projects of SEs go against national interest, that is, against the interest of one million less well-off Mauritians.
It should be considered as an act of betrayal against the higher interest of the country if the government of the day, or any government for that matter, be allowed, even if legally empowered, to do things or promote things that are contrary to the public interest. The ‘faux’ privatisation of the telecommunication sector is one such case; the ‘mari Illovo deal’ is another; the IPP contractual agreements are yet another; and we can go on and on.
In the first case, the glaring truth is this. On behalf of Mauritians, during the most difficult years after the June 1982 elections, the government of the day borrowed huge sums to reorganise the telecom sector. The reorganisation ranged from taking over the telephone activity from British Cable and Wireless to providing telephone lines and services to every nook and corner of the island so as to facilitate investments, business development and improve the quality of life of ordinary citizens. Mauritians toiled hard and the country was thus able to repay the substantial loans contracted in this respect. Finally, MT became the pride of the nation by dint of this kind of hard work, despite some remaining inner weaknesses in the department.
The least Mauritians were expecting from the government of the day was to have the chance to buy up and own shares in this new jewel of the public establishment. Just as in Air Mauritius. End result: those who toiled hard and borrowed and repaid loans were cast aside. The controlling interest in Mauritius Telecom was handed over to France Telecom during the MMM-MSM government of 2000 on a golden platter. FT has thus been allowed to reap benefits in the hundreds of millions yearly. To add insult to injury, FT’s economic interests have even been allowed to weigh on policies concerning the whole sector of telecommunication development in Mauritius. If this is not bad public policy, what is it then?
In the case of the ‘mari Illovo deal’, suffice it to say that the Exchequer of Mauritius lost more than 6 billion rupees in taxes foregone though a decision of the government of the day. This deal set an unwise precedent on which the MedPoint deal may have copied – seeking third party’s private advice and going according to its submission for engaging the State. If this was not bad public policy, what was it then?
In the case of IPP contractual agreements for energy production and sale to the CEB, private companies enjoy supernormal profits; Mauritians pay for the business risks and the high energy price! If this is not bad public policy, what is it then?
Still, certain media commentators and analysts would want us to believe they are genuine and that they are not trying to fool the people and the country for obscure reasons on the energy issue and on several other big issues.
Early in the life of the government of 2005-2010, things were concocted and done to promote private interests against national interests in connection with the Multi Annual Adaptation Strategy (MAAS) of the sugar sector. Some media commentators were fully involved in the process, often in the role of self-appointed brokers and intermediaries to help decisions being taken in favour of one group without regard to all the others, notably small planters, concerned in the matter.
For the record and for history, let it be said. It took some political courage and unshaken determination to change the direction being taken by policy-making so as to protect the public interest in this case.
Now, part of the fight concerning achieving a better balance of conflicting interests in the issue, is likely to land in the Supreme Court. One of the concerned parties is contesting the report of foreign experts who ruled on the fairer sharing of benefits in the field of energy generation and the nature of the IPP contractual agreements.
As far as we know, both parties had agreed that an independent party be allowed to look into the matter to resolve the differences that had cropped up between the IPP developers and the government. The services of a team of mutually agreed experts were secured; they wrote and submitted a report setting out their recommendations. No action has been taken until now, as the IPPs would not be happy with the recommendations made.
As far as we are aware, this report bears no clause of confidentiality. With due respect to all parties concerned, we find no reason why the government should not make this report public with immediate effect. It could be laid, for example, on the table of the National Assembly. It could even take the road of an organised media leakage, in case no one wants to assume responsibility.
As far as the energy issue is concerned, the government should again show political courage, vision and unshaken determination and not succumb to the diktats of lobbyists, including internal ones in the corridors of power or within the ranks of the government. Public interest should prevail.
* Published in print edition on 7 May 2011
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