Opinions will waver, change and fluctuate over the coming months as the regime tries to avoid shooting itself further in the foot in the harsh times ahead and the Opposition ponder their strategies for change
By Jan Arden
The recent publication in Le Mauricien of a Straconsult poll conducted we assume by phone over 600 respondents has obvious limitations (notably a low 95% confidence level) but it does provide some broad-brush picture of the current state of the Mauritian mind with regard to political horizons still more than 2 years away.
Quite naturally then, although more than 80% express a keen desire to vote, more than 60% of respondents have not made up their minds and more than a third report not feeling close to any political party. Not much of a surprise but the political état-majors will be deciphering the photography and each party and party leader can find some solace in its ratings, notably the MSM and the PM which remain top of mind, partly as a result of intensive coverage of government activities. Pravind Jugnauth heads the list of preferred future PM at 21% followed by the LP leader Navin Ramgoolam at 12% and may bask in that glow, while his advisory entourage might be more worried of such dismally low personal levels after seven years in office since 2015 and two years of prime ministership gone. Carrying conviction in only one in five Mauritians hearts is somewhat sobering.
As for scores of alliances particularly in the Opposition, the l’Espoir formula has failed to impress if such an instant image is to be relied upon, while many events, discussions and months remain ahead. The fact that the MSM-led alliance in power has shrugged off overdue municipal elections is understandable according to the same image where they head the list but with only 11% of support nationally, hardly the sort of basaltic solidity you would want to gamble on after two years of prime ministership in alliance with a number of MMM defectors.
But then opinions will waver, change and fluctuate over the coming months as the regime tries to avoid shooting itself further in the foot in the harsh times ahead and the Opposition, traditional and non-traditional, ponder their strategies for change and overcoming voter insecurities.
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The objectives of motions of no-confidence are rarely to topple governments but are a last resort for an Opposition that feels unable to use Parliament in a rather corroded Westminster system either for serene debates on major policy issues or for questioning government on its policies and practices under the current difficult context.
We can expect the mover of the motion, the Leader of the Opposition, to focus on the difficult conditions of the working and middle classes or the elderlies, the cascading rises of food and pharmaceuticals, the billions of wasteful or unnecessary projects that could be shelved, the corruption cases that are yet to be concluded and the taxes and public sector borrowings that have rocked the roof. Inflation has hit double digits while public sector debt is at 100% of GDP and debt servicing according to the Director of Audit has ballooned to an unprecedented Rs 112 billion. As a past Finance Minister and chartered accountant, he would have the most recent statistics, facts and figures at hand and will no doubt be ably supported by other Opposition speakers.
Government benches, including the current Finance Minister, will rise boisterously to the defence of government’s policies and macro-economic management under the pandemic, relying on the rear-view mirror, whatever positive notes can be extracted from latest reports and trends from international organisations (IMF, World Bank, OECD…,) or rating agencies. It won’t be much of a surprise if government tries its level best to leverage Covid-19 and other external factors at its behest while raking the past rather than its own deliverables since it took office.
Meantime the “IMF Staff 2022 Article IV Mission to Mauritius” is available in Executive summary format on its website and would likely be used by both sides of the House. A few choice bits: “While most sectors have returned to pre-pandemic levels of economic activity and the tourism sector is gradually recovering, inflation has picked up substantially… The mission expects tourist arrivals to reach about 60 percent of pre-pandemic levels in 2022…” The latter forecast is well short of the pickup rate in neighbouring tourism destinations and of government targets of 1m tourist arrivals in 2022.
As expected, there are also pressing or major recommendations, for instance: “In face of increasing fuel and food prices, the mission recommends protecting the vulnerable population with targeted transfers through social safety net programs while avoiding broad-based subsidies benefiting all income levels.” It would not have escaped most readers that these have been constant themes of social activists, NGOs, trade unions, independent voices and Opposition figures for the past few months.
But bankers and financial specialists will note that in line with its previous scandalised report about BOM credibility and the MIC contraption last year, the IMF again repeats its formal invitation for the BOM to “relinquish ownership of the MIC, the MIC to return undisbursed financing to the BOM, and avoid quasi-fiscal financing. BOM’s ownership of the MIC weighs on the BOM’s independence and blur the separation of monetary and fiscal policies.” This paper has repeatedly been equally scandalised by the opaque operations of the BOM-MIC and the free use made of its special or other reserves to the tune of Rs 158 billion, when nobody quite knows how much has been used for budget support or dealt out and how much remains undisbursedand should be refunded to the BOM immediately.
Otherwise, we can expect all Ministers to protest their good faith, but the motion will have been an opportunity for both sides of the House to state their political case in the midst of brewing social restlessness and economic uncertainties facing the country.
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The Slovak commotion
An answer to a PQ on 10th May from the PM has dispelled a lot of hot air that had been unnecessarily swirling around the lawful or unlawful “extraction” of the Slovak national wanted in his country since 2015 for criminal activities related to drug trafficking. The confusion that the preceding communique from the PMO failed to avoid would have certainly benefited from the more substantive explanations provided in Parliament by the PM. The rationale and mechanisms leading to the lapse of the Slovak’s loss of residency status would have been clearer for all concerned and his delivery to awaiting Slovak authorities perhaps amply justified without necessarily ignoring the Court order against deportation or extradition as stated by the PM.
However, we must flag the explanations how two examinations of usual databases, conducted in April 2019, either by the EDB or the PIO, allowed a criminal wanted by Slovak authorities sine 2015 to wander around freely and with necessary Occupation Permits on the island for three long years. This seeps out of the PQ answer “From information received from Slovak Authorities, for the period 2015 to 2018, P. U. and his criminal group provided precursors in the form of pills for the…” Would not a simple check with Slovak authorities, an EU member state, have brought up in 2019 the criminal record of the fugitive? Were there no press reports in his own country on the fellow from 2015? How could it moreover escape the attention of the EDB that the employer of the Slovak was apparently his own company (Eurocola) and there would be obvious grounds to suspect his motivations and EDB’s perspicacity if that were the case.
It may be left to the judicial inquiry to clarify these aspects and make recommendations for substantive changes to the standard verifications conducted before Occupation or Residence Permits are granted to foreign nationals and any periodic follow-up that should occur during their stay. We cannot be a sunny place for shady residents as our learned Attorney Generalpointed out, but neither should we fail to investigate failings, if any.
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