Of sugarcane industry doom, Salary Adjustments, No. 18 By-election & Education

Forum/Readers’ Speak

Sugarcane industry doom

In some previous press articles published in the Mauritius Times (‘Sugar: A Journey into the Unknown’ by Anil Gujadhur on 21 July 2017, ‘Sugar: Need for a Paradigm Shift’ by Mrinal Roy on 25 August 2017, and in other papers) we have been apprised of the uncertain status/future of the sugarcane industry. The risks and fate facing the sugarcane industry have been known for more than a decade. The writing has been on the wall – the liberalisation of quotas for EU producers as from the 1st October 2017 had been announced years ago.

This means reduced dependency of the EU on imports, and even if they resort to imports they would have no commitment to Mauritius and can turn to the cheaper world market. We are simply not competitive enough on the world market. Otherwise government would not have injected nearly Rs 200 million last year to support the small planters, and another Rs 500 million this year in favour of the larger producers also. Our labour is not being renewed in the fields; other countries also produce energy, special sugars, ethanol, rum and the like at much lower cost. In spite of billions of rupees obtained as accompanying measures from the EU to modernise the industry and assist a diversified agriculture and other activities, we are heavily subsidising the industry, having brilliantly failed to make it efficient. In economic terms it means that it is no longer viable.

To assure its continued existence are we going to continue the enormous subsidy, create more concrete contracts such as for ethanol to be mixed in petrol, and energy produced by the IPPs to support the industry using public money? All taxes and limitations (in size and proportion compulsorily reserved for locals) for speculation of sugarcane land that could be removed have been lifted off, to allow the most valuable and limited land of the country to be sold to foreigners, most of it being planned to be unaffordable to locals. No wonder the National Development Strategy (tool that dictates the use of land – aménagement du territoire) update exercise is no longer heard of.

But why persist with uneconomic sugarcane? Is it not high time to use all of that massive subsidy to encourage diversification of our agriculture and reduce the increasing import burden of billions of rupees of the food that we consume, and increase our self-sufficiency and food independence?

What about the Ministry of Agriculture? Has it taken the necessary and right steps to prepare the agriculture sector to adopt a new direction? Have its institutions been conducting the right research and development, and innovation in policy and technology? Does it have the right persons in the right place to lead it? There was an effort a few years ago leading to an evaluation by the FAO of the agricultural services offered by the Ministry and to come up with proposals for a holistic restructuring of ALL the institutions. The exercise was distorted to address only the major technical department known as the Agricultural Services, in isolation. The sugar sector was forced to reorganise to obtain the accompanying measures funding, and managed to merge six SPI (Sugar Service Providing Institutions) into one, the MCIA, under which the institutions retained their characteristic mandate.

Now when the sugar (cane) industry is no longer viable (as shown above) we hear that it is being planned to give back the MSIRI an autonomous status (with taxpayers’ money), benefiting only a few people with some promotional prospects. Would it not make more sense to merge it with the FAREI (Food and Agricultural Research and Extension Institution), and intensify research in agriculture and food security and safety, research seemingly being encouraged if we go by what was said at the meeting of the Mauritius Academy of Science and Technology (MAST)? Why two agricultural research institutions? This Ministry seems to have a knack for duplication and triplication of institutions carrying out similar or even the same activities. In the small Réduit circle the Ministry has its main technical department known as the Agricultural Services (AS), the MSIRI of the MCIA, and FAREI (which has absorbed FARC and AREU) together having three libraries, three Entomology Divisions, three Plant Pathology Divisions/Units and some more. There are also three equivalent extension services (MSIRI of the MCIA), FAREI and another institution, the SFWF – the Small Farmers Welfare Fund — which to all intents and purposes should form part of the FAREI. There are also three engineering divisions/units/institutions (AS, FAREI and Agricultural Mechanisation Unit of the MCIA, the ex-SPMP).

There is considerable overlapping of activities, for example the institution carrying out research (FAREI) carries out production of plants which is the mandate of another department, instead of using its tissue culture facilities for enhancing much-needed high-tech research. Two departments, the Forestry Service and the NPCS (National Parks and Conservation Service) carry out similar activities.

The Ministry missed the golden opportunity of the FAO exercise to redefine all its institutions to reduce duplication/triplication and share limited resources with clearer mandates towards a goal of reducing our dependency on imports for food, and protect agricultural land and the forest environment. It also missed the opportunity to redefine the competency framework and recruit the best professional talent for heading and guiding these institutions. For example the PRB and HR (MCSAR staff) did not even respect the recommendations of the learned FAO Consultants to come up with new posts of Director and Assistant Directors with new Schemes of Service, to recruit high calibre agriculture professionals. The top technical agricultural department is still headed by civil engineers, not agriculture professionals. This department has also not recruited staff to replace its significant outgoing technical staff for more than a decade, but non-technical support staff has been increasing at the Ministry, according to a trade union of technical staff.

And now the HR Division, in spite of all representations and advice, seems bent upon advertising posts for the grade of Scientific Officers for the AS with a common scheme of service when the activities demand specialised staff and training. This is a blind application of a recommendation of the last PRB Report to flatten grades and make them versatile, though obviously this cannot be applied to technical grades. Food technologists may be called upon to work as engineers. No wonder agriculture is drifting, playing on only an impression of success, but worse is come. A Pesticide Residue Bill in the pipeline is welcome but will the department have the right talent to implement it?

The solution is to urgently call upon and create a team of sincere agriculture, land use and health professionals, review all the institutions and mandates, and come up with a modern set-up to guide the country’s agriculture (and land use) to face the upcoming challenges to food and nutrition security and food safety, and the demand for land for domestic, industrial and other needs. The world and climate change will not make us any gifts. We have to prepare ourselves.

— Satya Mewa

* * *

Salary Adjustments

It has almost become a ritual at the end of the year for the Government to make adjustments to salaries/wages so as to catch up with inflation which impacts on the purchasing power of salary/wage earners. The Government issues a decree (through enactment) fixing increases which apply to all workers. The Additional Remuneration Act provides for the payment of additional remuneration to employees over and above the salary agreed upon in their contracts of service. In this way each year the base salaries/pay change when the additional remunerations (current and previous) are added thereto.

Very few countries do it so systematically and that too in consultation with the unions and the private sector employers. The custom and convention (related to collective bargaining) greatly influence the fixing of cost of living allowance (COLA).

Why this pay adjustment at all?

A pay/salary/wage earned by an employee, in principle, provides for the basic necessities of life – food, shelter, clothing and to some extent the cost of bringing up and caring for the dependents, medical requirements, recreation. It becomes a matter of concern when there is erosion of the purchasing power. At times the loss of purchasing power becomes so high with all types of inflation coupled with the depreciation of the rupee that the salary earners (the lower ones in particular) become desperate to meet other commitments rather than provide for basic necessities. Many families with tight budgets and who are burdened with hire purchases are in real trouble to make both ends meet, as they struggle to pay back loans and other dues.

There is unrest among the workers. Many social problems arise. People take second jobs, start working late or do overtime. The family fabric is damaged. For these reasons it is appropriate, fair and desirable that there is an adjustment to the salaries in a timely manner when the cost of living index goes up. In view of the cost constraint the Government as a policy for social protection and poverty reduction usually tapers the compensation so that the lower paid jobs get a higher percentage increase than those with higher salaries. This may be the typical socialist way of income distribution.

But the story does not end here. The pay structure is disturbed by the cumulative payments of yearly compensation over years. There is therefore need to review the pay structure after years of tapering COLA adjustments. This is done by a general pay review. In the public sector such an exercise is carried out (by the PRB) every five years and in other sectors the frequency to conduct an overall pay review varies from 3 to 6 years. It is assigned to consultants or carried out in-house by the HR department. In all cases the fundamental objectives of an overall review are to re-establish the loss in purchasing power since the last overall review, revisit the organisation structure and re-evaluate the jobs to ensure that they are pegged at appropriate levels in the pay the structure, and upgrade jobs where needed to attract and retain talents. The overall review exercise is also an opportunity for the organisation to reposition its pay policy in the market. In any case a new base pay structure is adopted.

The problem that crops up with the overall systemic review is that the lower grades perceive that the pay increase is low for them and feel that there is need to upgrade their posts. The overall salary review has different realities (from the annual salary adjustment). It sets the (internal and external) relativities, makes required changes to the organisational structures, creates new pay levels where required, eliminates others so that the organisation continues to have a fit for purpose structure and pay people right. The additional remuneration makes an adjustment to the cost of living and is not a salary revision.

Retirees benefit by the COLA doubly in their pensions and in their basic retirement pensions.

— Mohun Aujayeb

* * *

Education and Humanity

Educational institutions are essential in building a nation and enlightening the citizens. Comenius, the great educational philosopher said that education is the development of the whole man. This means that education should touch, chasten and nurture all aspects of the human personality made up of the body, mind and spirit. True education ought to give a corrective to the entire outlook of man, removing all the angularities in his personality and turning him into a man of robust mind and sound character, whose conduct and behaviour under varying situations become edifying and worthy of emulation.

Such a character cannot be fashioned by merely imparting to man what is called the formal and liberal education of the arts and the sciences. Some other discipline is necessary for the mind and the spirit of man. That training of the mind and the spirit can be effectively brought into being only by introducing the elements of moral and religious education into the educational curriculum. Plato, the successor of Socrates held that ‘Education consists in giving the boy and soul all perfection of which they are susceptible’. Swami Vivekananda says: ‘Education is the manifestation of the perfection already in man’. Such an education develops the intellect and widens the horizon of knowledge.

In the 20th century, education became a very sensitive, social economic and political issue in most European countries. In the history of English education, the most important piece of legislation of the 20th century was the Education Act of 1944 which is also known as “Butler Act”. It replaced all the previous legislations and it became increasingly clear that education was of vital importance to the nation and individual. Education of the individual is the foundation of the education of the community. “It shall be the duty of local education authority for every area, so far as their powers extend, to continue towards the spiritual, mental and physical development of the community,” according to the 1944 Education Act Part 2.

Most countries face many problems concerning students. Today’s youngsters do not hesitate to assault teachers, consume drugs and alcohol, openly engage in risky sexual behaviour, gang fight, etc.

Frustration can lead to violence, and both parents and teachers need to provide proper guidance to children during their difficulties. Parents should keep a check on the kinds of movies and TV shows the kids are watching. Further, parents should be cautious not to act violently in front of children as this can cause an increase in violence among primary school students. Young students are growing physically and academically, but some lag behind in heart, morality and ethics. Parents impose their beliefs, ideas and even their ambitions on their children. This is another source of conflict and frustration that results in violence, rebellion and juvenile delinquency. The child is potentially a rebel, therefore he should be carefully observed, listened to and then helped.

The most important aspect of education should be to impart humanity to the taught. According to Aristotle “Virtue isn’t learnt by reading big volumes”. True education should impart empathy and social awareness, and mould one’s character to perform one’s duties without fear or favour. According to Mahatma Gandhi, “Learning without courage is like a waxen statue, beautiful to look at but bound to melt at the least touch of a hot substance”. An unwavering moral standard would free the mind from fear, and a fearless mind should be the benchmark of good education.

— Sudhakar Gansam

* * *

Dernière ligne droite à Belle-Rose/Quatre-Bornes

 D’abord, la question qu’on se doit de poser : pourquoi cette partielle? Selon Roshi Bhadain, la raison principale de sa démission était avant tout de faire obstruction au projet de « métro léger » en se faisant réélire pour ensuite discuter avec le gouvernement indien. Mais il y a quelques jours, il a fini par avouer que nul ne pourra stopper le projet de « métro léger » de ce gouvernement pour lequel il a servi comme ministre des Services financiers et de la bonne gouvernance.

Ainsi, Roshi Bhadain le sait mais il ne le dira jamais haut et fort : il est impossible de renverser le « métro ». Il a contribué lui-même à la concrétisation de ce projet et il sait que la pression de New Delhi pour faire aboutir ce projet est lourde de conséquences. Alors pourquoi avoir démissionné pour y revenir en tant que membre de l’opposition? De quelle manière notre République sortira-t-elle gagnante de cette élection ? Qui sont ceux qui bénéficieront le plus d’une campagne électorale ? Ces réponses, chacun les a déjà en tête !

Cette partielle n’affectera pas la concrétisation du « métro léger » et n’aidera pas les Mauriciens à avoir une vie bien meilleure. Et ne croyez pas non plus que les résultats de cette élection vous indiqueront le ou les partis politiques qui formeront le prochain gouvernement ! Ceux qui croient que c’est le cas se trompent. Ils ont tout faux car une élection n’est jamais gagnée d’avance et, pour preuve, nous savons tous ce qui s’est passé aux élections générales de 2014. Alors que les bookmakers donnaient l’alliance PTr-MMM comme les grands vainqueurs, l’Alliance Lepep avait finalement raflé la majorité contre toute attente et a formé le nouveau gouvernement…

Enjeux des partis politiques

Alors qu’au tout début de la campagne électorale, c’était le « Metro Express » qui retenait l’attention de tous, ce n’est plus le cas aujourd’hui. L’un des principaux enjeux de cette joute électorale est de déterminer la force de chaque parti politique. Certes, cette région seule ne représente pas la force des partis au niveau national mais il est important de tâter le pouls avant 2019.

Pour le PTr, il s’agit avant tout d’un retour sur la scène politique après la raclée de 2014. Les frasques de son leader, ses coffres forts et la performance médiocre de son dernier gouvernement pèsent lourd dans la balance. D’ailleurs, le parti mise très fort sur leur poulain longtemps premier ministrable mais toujours acculé par le leader, Arvin Boolell, pour redorer l’image du PTr.

Du côté du MMM, après des défaites qui s’accumulent les unes après les autres, on propose un néophyte au dépens de Vijay Makhan qui a l’expérience du terrain. Sera-t-il le candidat pour les prochaines élections générales tout en faisant de la place pour Nita Juddoo à l’élections partielle ? Le MMM espère se refaire la peau avec une victoire. Mais une nouvelle défaite poserait une fois de plus la question d’un leadership dépassé et qui tarde à rajeunir malgré l’arrivée de nouvelles recrues au sein du parti.

Xavier Duval, leader du PMSD et député de la circonscription, veut positionner le PMSD comme un parti politique fort et crédible. Cela va lui permettre de se présenter comme candidat au poste de Premier ministre lors des prochaines élections. C’est d’ailleurs, semblerait-il, la raison pour laquelle il a présenté le candidat Dhanesh Maraye. Il souhaite faire en sorte que le PMSD devienne une force d’alternance face au MMM.

Le tout nouveau parti, le Movement Patriotique, participe à sa toute première élection et présente Tania Diolle comme candidate. Alan Ganoo, l’un des rescapés de l’alliance PTr-MMM et celui qui avait aidé à la concrétisation de cette alliance, a quitté le navire mauve pour créer son propre parti. Ce parti se présente comme une alternance et se mobilise déjà pour les élections de 2019. Une victoire lui donnera plus de force pour discuter avec d’autres partis en vue d’une alliance pré- électorale.

Le Reform Party de Roshi Bhadain joue son avenir. En 2019, il présentera 60 candidats avec son leader comme candidat au poste de Premier ministre. Selon Bhadain, la victoire est déjà assurée… mais une défaite pourrait entrainer les militants jaunes à reprendre le chemin du travail et à s’éloigner de la chose politique.

Les partis Résistans ek Alternativ, Muvman Premier Mai, Nouveau Front Politik et les autres ont tous le changement comme leitmotiv. Ils veulent d’une nouvelle politique pour réformer nos institutions et apporter un nouveau souffle à notre pays. Mais auront-ils le soutien et la confiance des Quatre-bornais le 17 décembre ou des Mauriciens en 2019 ? La réponse, nous le saurons bientôt…

Profil des candidats en lice

Arvin Boolell : Le favori des bookmakers et des analystes politiques demeure le candidat rouge, Arvin Boolell. Détrompez-vous, on ne parle pas du meilleur candidat par rapport à l’ensemble de ceux qui ont posé leur candidature pour ces élections partielles mais uniquement des facteurs qui peuvent jouer en sa faveur. Sa popularité, son profil ethnique, sa prise de position pour être le prochain leader du PTr (qui n’a pas abouti jusqu’ici) et surtout l’impopularité du Gouvernement joueront-ils vraiment en sa faveur ? Il semblerait qu’il ait encore du chemin à parcourir. Beaucoup de gens accueillent difficilement ou mal le retour de Navin Ramgoolam, surtout après l’épisode de Rs 220 millions et le soutien public de la VOH.

Fin stratège, Navin Ramgoolam n’a pas chômé à l’annonce de la démission de Bhadain et il a propulsé Arvin Boolell au-devant de la scène. Pourtant plusieurs pensent que l’élection éventuelle de Boolell affaiblirait l’actuel leader du PTr. Serait-ce là du bluff ? Navin Ramgoolam a déclaré que le PTr ne remportera pas cette élection sans son soutien. Et si Arvin Boolell parvient à se faire élire, on donnera raison à Navin Ramgoolam…

Roshi Bhadain : En deuxième position, on retrouve Roshi Bhadain, l’ancien homme fort de SAJ et du Gouvernement Lepep. C’est un bosseur selon ses supporteurs et, sur sa page Facebook, il présente un bilan positif pendant ses 22 mois passés au ministère des Services financiers. On ne parle pas de la chute de la BAI ni des négociations dans le cas MDFP mais des milliards de roupies rapportés de l’Inde, la Good Governance and Integrity Reporting et la double taxation avec l’Inde, entre autres. Son caractère lui a valu de nombreux admirateurs mais aussi beaucoup de critiques.

Fonceur et parti sur l’élan du vouloir-réformer, il a malheureusement tendance à répéter les mêmes choses, ce qui devient à la longue ennuyeux et embêtant. Son soutien aux détenteurs du Super Cash Back Gold, ses dénonciations et ses prises de positions constantes contre le Gouvernement lui donnent un certain avantage face à ses adversaires.

Et la surprise de l’année ? Tania Diolle : Et, en troisième position, ce sera peut-être la surprise de l’année. Alors qu’on s’attendrait à Dhanesh Maraye ou Nita Juddoo, c’est Tania Diolle du MP qui pourrait se faufiler au Parlement…

Annoncée à la veille du Nomination Day, l’ancienne universitaire et conseillère de Belle-Rose-Quatre-Bornes, Tania Diolle, a pris une sacrée avance sur ses adversaires. Elle prône une politique de proximité et veut apporter un nouveau souffle dans la vie politique à l’île Maurice.

Jeune femme ambitieuse et ancienne du MMM, Tania Diolle est devenue une adversaire de taille surtout pour son ancien parti. Mais le chemin vers le Parlement reste long pour cette candidate car l’ombre d’Alan Ganoo pèse sur ses prises de positions et le fait d’avoir démissionné comme conseillère passe mal à travers la gorge des Quatre-bornais. Les récents actes d’intimidation sur ses affiches de même que sa stratégie de communication démontrent qu’elle pourrait faire la différence.

Nita Juddoo : Les chances de Nita Juddoo se minimisent avec la participation de la candidate Tania Diolle mais aussi à cause de l’absence de Kavi Ramano au MMM. Très apprécié des mandants de Belle-Rose-Quatre-Bornes et des militants du MMM, le dissident Kavi Ramano joue en défaveur du MMM.

Dhanesh Maraye : Dhanesh Maraye, pour sa part, est un jeune professionnel. Il ne serait pas loin du décompte mais avec son approche timide et fade, ne rendrait-il pas les choses plus dures pour lui ? Son enthousiasme est loin de celui des Duvals, Perraud ou Khodabux.

Kugan Parapen : Pour sa part, l’ancien lauréat et représentant de Resistans ek Alternativ, Kugan Parapen, a aussi la cote du côté de la ville des fleurs. Il a des idées prometteuses et des valeurs qu’on recherche parmi les politiciens de nos jours.

Yuvan Beejadhur : Autre jeune qui a vraiment conquis récemment, c’est le candidat du Nouveau Front Politik, Yuvan Beejadhur. Avec un CV bien rempli, il sait maîtriser ses dossiers and partage avec beaucoup de citoyens une détermination pour réformer le pays.

Qui remportera donc cette ‘by-election’ au numéro 18 ?

On ne le sait pas encore mais une chose est sûre : le Gouvernement de Pravind Jugnauth a échappé à une déroute électorale qui aurait confirmé sa chute libre.

Alors que les partis de l’opposition s’entredéchirent, Pravind Jugnauth aura tout son temps pour planifier ses stratégies en vue des prochaines élections générales. Il faut peut-être s’attendre à un fort taux d’abstention compte tenu des partisans du Gouvernement dans cette circonscription. On peut déjà imaginer le porte-parole du Gouvernement se féliciter en s’appuyant sur cet argument. Et finalement, un nouveau membre de l’opposition n’affectera ni la majorité gouvernementale ni ne l’aidera à cesser ses frasques.…

La suite du 18 décembre…

Nous le savons tous, les prochaines élections générales sont prévues pour 2019 ou 2020. En attendant, la performance du Gouvernement laisse à désirer et il y a une instabilité grandissante au sein de la majorité. A mi-mandat, on a vu défiler de nombreuses démissions, des remaniements ministériels et des enquêtes sur des membres du Gouvernement qui n’ont abouti à rien. Si Pravind Jugnauth maintient les élections pour 2019, il aura à gérer d’autres crises qui suivront et, fort probablement, d’autres démissions ou partielles.

— Dhirish Krishna Raghoo



*  Published in print edition on 15 December 2017

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