Our coastal areas at risk: UNDP investigates

Political Caricatures

By L.E. Pep

The United Nations Development and Programme (UNDP) will be carrying out an investigation on the use of funds it had made available to the government for programs meant for the protection of sensitive coastal areas. This follows the Ministry of the Environment’s decision to grant 22 EIA (Environment Impact Assessment) permits for the construction or renovation of hotels and luxury villas.

This is a first in Mauritius. UNDP’s enquiry will seek to determine the reasons behind the Government’s decision to start a major programme for the protection of sensitive coastal areas when it had earlier obtained a grant of 4.7 million dollars for the realization of such projects. The programme was supposed to start in 2017. Meanwhile, the Ministry of the Environment has granted 22 EIA permits for the realization of hotel projects on the coast.

It was the ‘Aret Kokin Nou Laplaz’ (AKNL) collective that had alerted the United Nations. It was only on Tuesday last that the AKLN was informed of the UNDP’s intention to investigate the use of the funds that were granted to Mauritius for the protection of sensitive areas. AKNL spokesperson Yan Hookoomsing said, “International bodies have recognized the seriousness of the situation.”

No need for the PRB to be used as an electoral bribe 

Narendranath Gopee, president of the Federation of Civil Service and Other Union (FCSOU), says the Pay Research Bureau (PRB) report should not be used as an election bribe. “The PRB is an independent institution. The PM has been wrongly advised. Li pé vinn prend fonksioner pou mendiant.” The Rs 1000 are not justified.

The government should not intervene, the PRB publishes a report worthy of public servants that meets their expectations,” says Narendranath Gopee.

This budgetary measure of an allocation Rs 1000 to civil servants in anticipation of the PRB report which is expected to be published in January 2021, will be implemented as from January 2020. A very shrewd move by the government by distributing goodies to the 80,000 public sector employees well aware that it means an advance of Rs 13,000 (including the end-of-year bonus) before the publication of the PRB report.

Lindsay Rivière in his interview to this paper last week was quite sceptic about the influence of such generous handouts in swaying voters. The music of the budget sounds too thin and incomplete, but there may be more to come… more substantial and meaningful to swing voters this time round.

Olivier Blanchard: Public debt not necessarily bad

It is dishonest to pick up only part of a speech or research paper that supports one’s argument when trying to prove a particular point of view.Olivier Blanchard,chief economist at the International Monetary Fund and currently Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, in a presidential address to the American Economics Association, questioned the idea that public debt is necessarily bad and that policymakers need to fundamentally revise their views on the long-term cost of government debt.

Blanchard’s recent research shows that the fiscal cost of issuing government debt may be close to zero (when interest rates are low), and the overall cost to the economy appears to be relatively modest as well. This raises the question: Would the recent increase in the national debt of Mauritius be far less worrisome than many critics have assumed?

Public debt should be seen as an important policy tool, although one that still comes with risks. “You can use it, if you use it wisely,” says Blanchard. And he goes on to emphasize that he is not arguing in favour of higher debt and that his analysis does not provide a green light for unlimited borrowing but rather “a richer discussion of debt policy and appropriate debt rules than is currently the case.”

At the end of the day, what really matters is how public debt is used. There’s a material difference between financing high Return on Investment productive projects and financing ongoing/perpetual consumption transfers with debt. We cannot continue to propel growth based on consumption and unproductive public investment. We will ultimately pay a high price for it, that is if we do not boost exports growth, tourist earnings, financial services, manufacturing… We are heading for a major crisis if the international environment and the local conditions of wage pressures (NIT, minimum wage, lack of productivity improvements) do not improve.

The fact of the matter is that we have been pretty spendthrift for the last four budgets; we can no longer afford such largesse whether it’s election eve or not.

Artificially depreciating the Rupee: Unbelievable and Scandalous!!!

Readers will recall our earlier reference to the fact that the Bank of Mauritius was dictating the rate at which banks should be selling their foreign exchange. We had noted that this was not sound banking practice and would affect negatively the credibility of the BOM.

Now it is becoming clearer that the BOM has been intervening aggressively on foreign exchange markets to depreciate the rupee since March 2019, putting pressure on banks to align their rate quotations to BOM pre-determined rates. As shown in the attached chart, the US dollar shows an appreciation of over 3% against the rupee between June 2018 and June 2019

Recent BOM’s intervention helped generate an additional Rs 7 bn of valuation gains on the current level of over Rs 230 bn of foreign exchange reserves. The BOM Special Reserve Fund, which stood at Rs13 bn in June 2018, was thus boosted to Rs 20 bn at June 2019. Financial markets are already apprehensive about this flagrant exchange rate manipulation to engineer a transfer of Rs18 bn from the BOM Special Reserve Fund. One by one our prime institutions are being infected by cronyism and toxic polarization. When will that stop?

Health Employees Union advocates for Recruitment Committee

The Ministry of Health Employees Union says it is not ‘convinced’ by the budgetary measures announced last Monday by the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Pravind Jugnauth. The union is proposing the setting of a committee for recruitment in our public health sector.

Facing the press on Friday 14th June, Amarjeet Seetohul, president of the union, deplored the fact that though there is presently an acute shortage of health workers, the government is still planning to build new hospitals. Recruitment will have to increase to match the demand as new hospitals come up,” he says.

This is yet another example that shows the lack of health sector planning and management at both the facility and health system levels. Facility reflects the weak management, inefficiencies, poor clinical governance, quality and safety. At the health system level, challenges comprise limited integration and coordination with other hospitals and primary health care, inadequate feedback mechanisms and procedures, and weak regulations. These challenges occur against the backdrop of rapid population ageing, the predominance of chronic health conditions, financial and service pressures, new medical technologies and pharmaceuticals, growing provision of private care and increasing public expectations.

Building new hospitals does not necessarily mean that we are moving towards better health; it will have to be accompanied by policies and actions with a view to improving performance at the facility level and the overall health system.

Poverty in Black River: KRN is concerned about the housing conditions of 636 families

A report that exposes the problem of housing intrinsically linked to poverty in different parts of the Black River region was presented last week to the press. 11 areas involving 636 families have been identified as pockets of poverty by anthropologist Maya De Salle-Essoo, who carried out the research on behalf of the ‘Kolektif Rivier Nwar’ (KRN). Interesting in many ways, this document can also prove to be a useful tool for those involved in combating poverty.Through careful work that goes from the settlement of Black River to the delicate issue of land, including those occupied by the “big landowners of the region”, the anthropologist relates the origin of housing problem to the environment of poverty. She also highlights the growing “ghettoisation” that marginalizes the poorer section of the population. A series of recommendations have been made, including the acquisition of land, the construction of social houses and support to the beneficiaries.Even if the Black River poverty situation is known to all, it must nevertheless be recognized that it is now well researched and documented in a substantive document.

March for Equality: “Justice for all”

Representatives of the LGBT community held their march for equality in Port Louis on Saturday last. An event monitored closely by plainclothes and uniformed policemen, drones, officers of the GIPM and the Special Mobile Force (SMF), but also by private security people, to avoid any disturbance during the march. The message of the LGBT community was loud and clear: equal rights for all regardless of sexual orientation.

Waving placards and unicorn images – symbol for the LGBT community – the participants pleaded for a revision of existing laws. For, as explained by Anaïs Boullé, spokesperson for Collectif Arc-en-Ciel, “the LGBT community is considered as second-class citizens. Free us from these colonial laws and forge an equal Mauritian society,” she pleaded.

Marjaana Sall, ambassador of the European Union in Mauritius, and Emmanuel Cohet, ambassador of France, made a point of honouring with their presence this event. “The fight against discrimination is a fundamental value for the European Union,” said Marjaana Sall. Joining the latter on this point, Emmanuel Cohet added that “freedom of expression is extremely important”.Also present were Nicolas Ritter, from the PILS association, and Marie-Michelle Etienne, godmother of the Arc-en-ciel Collective as well as green activists Carina Gouden and Yan Hookoomsing. As a UNESCO artist, Jane Constance argued that “it is time to treat people equally and to accept their differences”.

Anaïs Boullé, president of the Collectif Arc-en-Ciel, said: “We are in 2019 and we live in a democratic state governed by a Constitution and laws. Some laws, dating from the colonial era, hinder our living together. Recognize the LGBT minority in your election manifestos. Free all human beings from some of these colonial laws.”

As regards the Collectif’s plea for the recognition of LGBT rights in manifestos of political parties which will be contesting the next general elections, we will soon see if the supposedly progressive political parties will walk their talk.

* Published in print edition on 21 June 2019

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