The grass is not green for Qatar Airways in Mauritius… It has been denied the right of landing here. So, has just decided the Prime Minister’s Office. It seems that the Mauritian authorities did not want to displease Emirates, which already operates two large daily flights in Mauritius.
The government’s approach is diametrically opposed to its all-out air access policy designed to revigorate our tourism industry. The Qatari company has expressed its interest to serve Mauritius for several years now. A previous request had been rejected by the former Labour government.
Indeed, Emirates sees Qatar Airways as a very serious commercial competitor. Both are fighting mercilessly to obtain control of the air traffic in the region. The rivalry between these two companies in the Persian Gulf also has diplomatic significance. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have severed diplomatic relations with Qatar since June 2017, accusing it of supporting terrorism with the complicity of Iran, an allegation categorically rejected by Doha. Still, the United States did not let go of Qatar despite pressure from Saudi Arabia. Qatar controls one of the largest natural gas fields in the world.
It must be remembered that former minister Showkutally Soodhun took it upon himself to sever our diplomatic relations with Qatar, the day after the Saudis had done so. He issued a letter to that effect with the letterhead of the Ministry of Housing and Lands, which he was heading at that time. The then foreign minister Vishnu Lutchmeenaraidoo had to issue a statement thereafter to confirm the continuation of mauritius’ diplomatic ties with Qatar. It seems that Showkutally Soodhun’s closeness to the United Arab Emirates’ leaders, especially those in Dubai and the fact that Emirates is financing to the tune of Rs 100 million a sports complex and a swimming pool costing much more in Phoenix — “our local New York” –, that is tilting our foreign policy in the direction of more conservative and extreme paths as compared to our more traditional ‘‘middle way’’, liberal diplomatic approach of avoiding the risk of getting caught in regional conflicts.
Too many cooks spoil the broth… Indeed!
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The Integrated Service Centre for domestic violence still not operational
Pravind Jugnauth, Fazila Jeewa-Daureeawoo, Ivan Collendavelloo and Sherry Singh launched with great fanfare on International Women’s Day, March 8, at the Swami Vivekananda Centre in Pailles the Integrated Service Centre (ISC) — a “forward-thinking Mauritius Telecom initiative” — which will be costing some Rs 60 million.
The integrated call centre is meant to help combat domestic violence by providing immediate and even legal assistance to victims. Three months down the line, it’s still not operational, yet it was supposed to be functioning 24 hours a day, 7 days a week via hotline 139. There is a lack of personnel after 4 pm, which means there are not enough employees to attend to phone calls.
Initially, it was expected that they would be running to full capacity, that is receiving up to 30 simultaneous calls. Except that the centre now only runs with a dozen employees.
In her budget speech, the former Minister of Gender Equality, Child Development and Family Welfare Aurore Perraud referred to one recommendation contained in the ‘Advisory Committee on Reinforcement of the Framework Against Domestic Violence’ for the setting up a one Stop-Service Centre for victims, which has not been implemented. The ISC does not come close to the original concept, and is different from the model put in place in Reunion Island, which was what the former minister had envisaged to copy.
It could be that the ISC is just the top of the iceberg that hides the need for more solid foundations, especially an observatory for gender-based domestic violence and a Parent Sharing Workshop project. Indeed, such projects will go a long way towards reaching out to broken families in the community in need of mentoring and psychological support. “Through the Parent Sharing Workshop project many cases of marital violence would have been avoided, many weddings saved and many children would not have been in shelters,” argues Aurore Perraud.
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Drug abuse and trafficking: a holistic approach
To mark the International Day against Drug Abuse and Trafficking, the Prime Minister’s Office, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, organized a march on Thursday, June 27th. Pravind Jugnauth, the Minister Mentor and several other Members of Parliament donned T-shirts, jogging shoes and, armed with posters, participated in the march to sensitize the public about the scourge of drug abuse and trafficking.
The drug problem is one of the most challenging issues we are facing today. It has wide-ranging impacts on the health and well-being of individuals, families and communities, as well as on the security and sustainable development of the country. The theme of this International Day against Drug Abuse… – “health for justice, justice for health” – underlines the importance of a holistic approach involving health, human rights, criminal justice and social service institutions. Indeed, it should involve all stakeholders.
This issue is too important to be allowed to be politicized and too much focus is being given to the repressive strategy – too supply centric – and lots of noises about drug seizures made in the country. “Pliski 750 kilo sezi ekivalan la drog de Rs 5.7 milliards” during the past four and a half years; or “Kan or ti pe tande sa avan?” Still, the drug problem continues unabated with the same intensity and proliferation as before. There has been a 250% increase in arrests pertaining to drugs during the same period with however very few big dealers among them.
We are still waiting for the Drugs Control Master Plan for a more holistic approach to the drug problem. The repressive strategy will have to be accompanied with control on the demand side which includes treatment and rehabilitation. As regards the latter, we can say that it remains “le parent pauvre” especially in terms of funding and government support to NGOs involved in rehabilitation and prevention (inclusive of the periodic bureaucratic CSR funds). The greater the number of NGOs involved and the greater the variety of techniques used for rehabilitation, the more comprehensive will be the treatment and rehabilitation or de-addiction services for drug use and HIV and the re-integration of addicts into the mainstream, offered without stigma or discrimination. It will mean a more wholesome response supporting law enforcement approaches that protect people from violence and criminal exploitation.
Some local NGOs believe that it is worth it to learn from Icelanders on how they have radically cut teenage drug use. They orchestrated a social movement around the Project Self-Discovery, which offered teenagers natural-high alternatives to drugs and crime. It was about getting people high on their own brain chemistry – because it seems obvious to them that people want to change their consciousness – without the deleterious effects of drugs. Our local NGOs are proposing more or less the same thing – a series of self- empowerment processes involving yoga, meditation and Kriya techniques in de-addiction camps supported by specialists and professionals from the International Association for Human Values.
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Fishermen reject the sops of the Budget
Nearly a hundred fishermen from all over the island gathered in front of the Ministry of Fisheries on Monday, July 1, to express their dissatisfaction with the “Government’s inaction and lack of consideration” for their plight as their working conditions are deteriorating by the day.
They denounced the pillage of our EEZ by foreign fishing vessels and criticised the Rs 55 bad weather allowance. They also criticized the Rs 75 000 provided in terms of retirement allowance. “Most of them have spent more than 40 years at sea. The Rs 75,000 being provided is not enough,” says their representative Atma Shanto, who also drew attention to the situation of the families of fishermen, who he said are suffering enormously.
Government had claimed it would walk the talk as regards the fight against the scourge of poverty. In case of the small fishermen as well as small planters, it would seem its initiatives have remained at the level of talk.
A petition gathering 250 signatures has been submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office. It underlines the following demands and issues: the effects of climate change, illegal fishing in the Exclusive Economic Zone of Mauritius, the revision of fishing licenses granted to foreign vessels, the development of the port, the lack of surveillance at night, sea pollution and the encroachment of hotels on our beaches and an adequate increase in the allocation for bad weather.
The government’s ‘minimum wage’ measure doesn’t apply to the self-employed; perhaps it could look into the plight of this category of people and come forward with some form of equivalent financial support.
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Social housing: The great dismal failure of the Lepep government
Poverty and low incomes prevent people from accessing potential housing options, and make others hard to sustain. Indeed, housing can mitigate or exacerbate the impact of poverty on people’s lives.
The Lepep government which claims to have made an impact on poverty during the past five years does not seem to have lived up to its promise as regards social housing. Not even one-tenth of what it promised has been completed during its tenure. In its 2014 election manifesto, the Lepep alliance promised to construct 2,000 houses per year for the poor, or 10,000 housing units during its mandate from 2015 to 2019. The previous government had built 3,707 houses within a shorter period. What is even more disturbing, as pointed out by the Leader of the opposition, is that of the 680 houses allocated by the NHDC, not a single person registered in the ‘Social Register’ has received a house since 2014.
Government had announced in last year’s budget a programme for the construction of 7,800 social housing units by the NHDC, costing Rs 12.7bn, to be financed from external sources — possibly China. That programme has now been abandoned and will, in the forthcoming year, form part of projects to be implemented with private sector participation under the PPP/BOT framework. The critical need for social housing infrastructure will now be subject to even more uncertainty, as a consequence of budget financing pressures. It has also announced that 6,000 social housing units will be built on 16 sites during the next three years, in buildings not exceeding six floors.
Ex-minister of Social Integration, Surendra Dayal, believes it is all mere bluff. “They have failed miserably in their social housing policy.”
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Funding of religious bodies with taxpayers’ money?
The state will be allocating Rs 93 million to religious organizations of Mauritius in the form of grants to be disbursed on a monthly basis. This funding takes into account the number of followers of the different federations/associations as compiled by Statistics Mauritius.
For the past fiscal year, religious bodies obtained a total of Rs 85 million. For 2019-20, the government has decided to increase this amount by 10% to reach the Rs 93 million as announced in the last Budget.
For the 2018-19 Budget, the Catholic Church obtained the lion’s share. With 400,796 followers, it received a subsidy of Rs 2,158,537 per month, or Rs 25,902,444 last year. It is closely followed by the Mauritius Sanathan Dharma Temples Federation. The 300,858 members of this Federation received Rs 1,620,308 per month, or Rs 19,443,700 for the year. In third place comes the Board of Waqf Commissioners, with 197,465 followers. It received a subsidy of Rs 12,761,669 last year, which comes to Rs 1,063,473 a month.
Two religious associations have, however, refused the state grant: the Adventist Church (3,788 adherents) and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association (6,326 adherents). According to one of the leaders of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association, “It is the philosophy of religious practice not to accept this grant. We are here to help the people, not to be a burden on the state,” says the head of the Association.
Hats off to these organizations! We believe that funding for religious bodies should not be privileged in our society at the taxpayer’s expense. Through the so-called “faith-based grants” government has granted religious social services providers the right to discriminate, proselytize, and play by different rules than other organizations do — all the while spending taxpayers’ money. Most of the latter organizations have taken over the social welfare work previously carried out by the faith-based organizations and the money is not used to proselytize, but is spent on strictly secular programs, like child care or addiction recovery.
Why should faith-based organizations use the taxpayer’s money, rather than funding from their members, to fund their religious activities and promote their particular faith? This undermines the bedrock principle that no Mauritian should be forced to support a religion against his or her will.
Taxpayer-funded religious bodies are bad for all religions, communities and citizens. It encourages an incestuous relationship between the State and religious institutions and influences them to snuggle up with government for support. We must continue the fight to buttress the religion-state wall because that’s the only thing that can ensure true religious freedom for everyone. And it is time to engage in an open debate on any policy that involves large government subsidies to specific groups and organisations.
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Victoria Urban Terminal : Jackpot for the private sector
The Terminal project, expected to be completed in about two years, revolves around a redefined architecture including the restoration of the ex-NTA building, provision of space for leisure activities, food courts, shops and lucrative commercial activities as well as historical monuments.
Considered as a unique project at an estimated t Rs 1.9 billion, this project will be realized through a public-private partnership — the Victoria consortium. The contract for the Victoria Urban Terminal project has been awarded to the consortium Transinvest-General Construction-IBL-Innodis-Promotion and Development-RHT Bus Services. The groundbreaking project will last two years.
The Victoria Urban Terminal will also be connected to the Metro Express terminal and will be accessible from the new Port Louis railway station. Some 100 000 passengers are expected to pass through the Victoria Urban Terminal daily. Spread over an area of 5.25 acres, it will house a terminal comprising 22 stands, offices on an area of 2 992 m2, a parking area of 400 spaces over 2 200 m2, the Victoria Market on 7 200 m2, the Victoria Shopping Centre on 8 480 m2, a supermarket on 2 448 m2, and a food court of 1 049 m2. Some 1 000 hawkers will also be accommodated in the complex.
Eligible hawkers willing to buy their own stalls in the new urban terminals at Victoria and Immigration Square stations will be given concessional financing assistance through the Development Bank of Mauritius.
Is this another Betamax if we have a look into the enormous concessions begin given to the Victoria Consortium? What kind of PPP is that which awards a jackpot to the private sector leaving only a pittance to government? After the Heritage City project, is this another opportunity lost by government to carry out this project that would have generated much higher returns than the Heritage City project?
* Published in print edition on 5 July 2019
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