PM Pravind Jugnauth

“Right now the MSM is going through a trough. But when the cycle is complete, as it must, it will no doubt ride on the crest of the wave again. With the leaders of the other major parties getting greyer by the day and no credible successor in sight, young PJ has the luxury of time on his side. He can afford to wait for his turn to occupy the topmost job in the land. And, make no mistake, that’s where he is headed!” (MT 04-Dec-2009)

When I wrote these lines about the probability of Pravind Jugnauth (PJ) becoming PM, it is not so much that I am endowed with any gift of a teller of fortunes. Rather it was the result of some simple logical thought, a task made that much easier because of our pathological propensity to go for dynastic politics, à la Mother India where State and Union politics have been so run since Independence in 1947 much to the detriment of democracy and socio-economic development! However, PJ has served with brilliance his apprenticeship at Agriculture in 2000 and did make an honourable start at Finance in 2003 and 2010 with further consolidation in August this year.

In both positions he has shown he has the interests of the common man at heart whilst keeping in mind the needs of the owners of Capital — the perfect approach in a capitalist economy like ours. He has understood that a responsible GM needs to keep both sides of the productive elements satisfied if we want a happy, prosperous country full of happy, prosperous people.

The 2000 SIVRS

Before PJ even became a MP, we had had the Lutchmeenaraidoo sugar industry VRS (SIVRS) in the early 1990s, but the benefits were inordinately skewed in favour of Capital with labour getting the proverbial crumbs falling off the formers’ table. Under that deal the average VRS payment to employees was Rs 200k that came with a portion of land in the range of 7-12 perches dependent on which part of the industry they had worked for.

But when a young PJ took the reins at Agriculture, inter alia, he presented the Sugar Sector Strategic Plan which started a process that has triggered the diversification away from sugar production solely thus ensuring the long term survival of the sugar cane industry. At the same time he managed to negotiate excellent VRS payments for some 8000 employees. Whilst still retaining the 7-12 perches land formula, he managed to offer compensations that previous generations could only have dreamt about.

I personally happen to know of at least one labourer who, having worked for the same sugar estate for 45 years, opting for VRS at the age of 57 received a monetary compensation of nigh on Rs 1m plus 7 perches of land and a pension payment equal to the Old Age Pension (OAP) straightaway. A super mari deal, comme dirait l’autre!

Finance (2003 & 2011)

From Agriculture, PJ then moved on to Finance (2003-2005). Always conscious of the common man’s plight, he reduced taxes on hundreds, if not thousands of commodities, increased subsidies on basic commodities and awarded COLAs well above the rate of inflation during his tenure.

After losing the 2005 election, there followed 5 years in the wilderness but he regained the Finance portfolio in 2010 after having won the election that same year with an alliance made with the Labour Party. In his 2011 budget, once again he did not forget the common man.

He proposed various measures to ensure all classes would become home owners one day, and coupled it with the re-introduction of a Rs 120k relief on mortgage interest payments that Rama Sithanen had removed during the previous Labour Party rule (2005-2010). At the same time he banished the infamous NRPT as well as the tax on savings interest both of which were introduced by the same Sithanen. For parents whose children were studying for a degree, he re-introduced some of the tax relief that Rama Sithanen had snatched away in the middle of their studies!

Finance (2016)

After the Lutchmeenaraidoo’s so-called “No-tax budget” which some observers have rather unkindly dubbed a “No-budget budget” because so full of pie-in-the-sky esoteric thinking like dozens of Smart Cities and the unrealistic and unrealizable parrainages, PJ’s budget speech in August had something for everyone; what I would call a thoughtful budget.

I’ll refrain from giving a detailed account of it, because the subject has been amply discussed only recently in various media/professional fora. Reflecting the views of many, this is what Deloitte have to say: “The 2016/2017 budget contains various measures to boost the economy in the midst of major challenges facing Mauritius. The Minister has widely consulted with the key stakeholders and the budget proposal reflects some of their recommendations. There is clearly a greater sense of urgency to address the challenges as well as commitment to steer Mauritius back to a high performance economy.

“We welcome the new direction to open the economy for international investors, improvement in efficiency in public sector (by fusing several parastatals together), minimal changes to tax measures as well as incentives for increased investment and programmes to alleviate poverty. Whether these measures will be sufficient… will depend upon the ability of the government to implement the various initiatives as well as the private sector playing a key role in the new era of development.”

On pensions he has proposed to set up a committee presumably to see where economies can be made. Targeting is touted as a panacea but, the last time we tried, it proved not only to be highly unpopular but also cumbersome to administer. Besides the net savings made is not worth it, dixit Sithanen. One obvious response that costs nothing and is simple to implement is to STOP paying the universal OAP at 60, because it makes nonsense of the retirement age of 65. We must be the only country where people get paid a pension whilst still in full employment and drawing a full salary.

The Next PM

I think PJ has nothing much to prove any more. At 55, he has now achieved the maturity that was perhaps lacking at one time which at times may have resulted in some impetuous reactions. So far every job he has handled in GM has been a plausible effort if not always an outright success. But isn’t that what life, including political life is about? So long as the better policies form the major part of the arsenal and keep winning over the others, we can safely consider the job well done. Both at Agriculture and Finance PJ’s performance has been an honorable one.

Ramesh Beeharry

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