Despite the attempts at reassuring the population by the government, with the Prime Minister in the fore asserting that he is firmly in control and publicly displaying optimism, it is difficult for people to be convinced that all is well and they need not fear for the economy. Recently, if we were to take a grassroots example, even for a minor post as salesperson in a shop in Quatre Bornes, there were 78 applications, some from as far as Balaclava and Grand Bay. For a job which normally interests the younger age group, there were several middle aged applicants.
More worrying signs are compounded by the latest disbursement that the Mauritius Investment Company has made, namely Rs 3.1 bn to the Sun Resorts group, following upon the Rs 1 bn allocated to the Lux chain. There have been repeated signals sent to the authorities by various stakeholders regarding the conditionalities about these grants but information has not been as forthcoming as would have been wished by the public. It is therefore completely in the dark about the exact conditions attached to the disbursement of such colossal sums of taxpayer money, and some troubling concerns are raised.
The hotel & tourism industry is supposed to be in debt to the tune of Rs 70 bn. If dividends have continued to be paid to shareholders it means that profits were being generated, and to be fair no business can operate without profits. However, it is also known that these big groups have been diversifying both locally and abroad in several other lucrative sectors such as energy and real estate. Normal business practice would involve building reserves out of profit that would come in handy for hard times such as we are going through currently, and this does not seem to have been done. Hence the recourse to bank loans for renovation upon renovation that keeps the flow within networked conglomerates belonging to the same circle. And then run to or put pressure on government to bail out.
How long and how often will this game go on with taxpayer money? One can couch this fact in all manner of complicated semantics but the plain fact that cannot be changed is that it is public money that is being handed out without any transparency or accountability, let alone the country undergoing in the process a real democratization of the economy as had been envisaged by the former Labour government, a missed opportunity to redress historical imbalance which this government could have pressed for given its overwhelming mandate.
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On the other hand, nothing much has been heard about the MIC packages from the alliance in the making of the three opposition parties – the Labour Party (LP), MMM and PMSD, nor on another core issue, the energy sector – so busy are they working out the modalities of their ‘entente’ due to morph into an alliance, as earnestly wished for by the MMM leader. They have again met, as announced earlier, and clearly they must have agreed on some common ground regarding a number of issues such as the leadership of the alliance, allocation of tickets, constitutional and ministerial posts and so on. What’s taking place now is the management of public opinion, so crucial for rallying support from the parties’faithfuls, especially with regard to the leadership of an eventual concluded alliance. The MMM has to convince its electorate to accept the alliance with LP despite the failed ones of 2014, surely a hard sell, and vice-versa for LP. If the MMM electorate refuses it will simply abstain as it did in 2014, and as for LP electorate its alternative is to turn to MSM.
And we have to therefore ask ourselves whether that is what the people want or need. We keep harping on the infusion of fresh and younger blood to dynamise the parties a real transformation, but keep coming up against the wall of the old guard that will neither change nor let go.
Both economically and politically, therefore, the future is hugely uncertain and precarious. It is only a mature and committed leadership that can bring about the change that is needed to put the country on course towards a sound and stable future – but nothing is visible on the horizon as yet.
* Published in print edition on 13 October 2020