Rental of Diego military base! Why not Tromelin?

Political Caricatures

By Le Pep

Elated by Mauritius’s resounding success in the endorsement of the Resolution on the Chagos resolution by the United Nations in New York on Wednesday last, Sir Anerood Jugnauth (SAJ), chose quite an aggressive tone towards the Americans in a televised speech. Referring to the Diego Garcia military base, the Minister Mentor said: “The United States occupies our territory. Pa kapav kontinié okip sa kado. We will have to negotiate to give them a long-term lease. But they will have to pay us for it, which is perfectly normal and reasonable.”

Except for the leftist parties like Lalit and Resitanz ek Alternativ (ReA), most of the politicians and media did not object to SAJ’s statement. On the contrary there were quite a few people supporting it, even proposing that “the rent or other profits that the United Kingdom receives by renting Diego Garcia to the Americans as a military base can now be paid into our state coffers. This source of additional revenue can be used to invest in infrastructure projects and public services.” That’s it. All these years of struggle for only that, for money!!! We are just a bunch of hypocrites!!! A follow up of this logic is to maximise our revenue by renting out our other territories, Tromelin to the French and Agalega to the Indians. Why stop at Diego?

Lalit and ReA would like the struggle to move on to the next stage: the military base’s closure and finally the right of return of Chagossians. ReA thinks that our demand as formulated by the government lacks credibility as it is not committed to carry the struggle to its conclusion. The UN General Assembly vote, for a reunification of the Chagos archipelago with the island nation of Mauritius within six months, should have been linked to Resolution 2832 on the Declaration of the Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace.

Similarly Lalit believes that the binding judgment on the UNCLOS Tribunal (Law of the Sea) and the ICJ opinion coupled with the UN Resolution constitute a sound basis from which to proceed to the next stage of the struggle. It is time now for the Mauritian State to affreight a ship – “A boat to Chagos” – for a trip to the archipelago, create a constituency for Chagos, and intensify international mobilization.

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A Speaker who believes in the National Assembly, not the Party

Last week the Speaker lost her cool and named the Labour Party MP Shakeel Mohamed for disorderly conduct. A motion was then put forward and voted to suspend the MP from the National Assembly for three parliamentary sessions. Some of the opposition MPs found this suspension of the Labour MP as being unfair. Others commented that the speaker would also be getting into the election mood and that she was putting on her orange coat yet again. But the best reactions and comments came from our experienced parliamentarians. The Leader of the MMM found that the suspension was “unjustified” and “disproportionate” and that the Speaker misinterpreted the Standing Orders. But he also added that the whole matter could have been settled if the speaker had some sense of humour which Arvin Boolell did show when he reacted to the whistling of one parliamentarian by quipping that it was probably from a whistleblower.

The Speaker is part of the House, she is one of them. She does not apply the procedures of a Court of law. She simply facilitates the process of discussion and decision. She must understand politics and respect political priorities…

Our system needs a Speaker who believes in Parliament, and not the party. Tough challenge indeed! The profile of the Speaker, his profession, his background, his experience, and his status in life do count a lot in the way he discharges his duties. That’s the whole issue. Our speaker has mostly an administrative background – a cadre with usually their closest experience with the intricacies of politics through their interaction with their ministers and their bland straightforward answers to PQs.

We have to revisit the profile and appointment the Speaker. This post is not meant for somebody alien to politics, or separate from the political fraternity. A retired Judge or Chairman of a Tribunal or a more or less experienced learned person with some outstanding personal qualities would be best suited for the Speakership.

Perhaps the following comments from Ajay Daby, ex-speaker, can bring more light on the issue:

“I learned over the years that as a Speaker, I should be more detached from the heat of the moment, and facilitate process, instead of giving the impression of being upset. The more I got to know the MPs, the easier it was to get along with a lot of humour. I took time. I left the party structure and had a cleaner conscience whilst presiding over Parliament. This gave much more prestige to the post.”

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Small cane planters call for the resignation of Minister Seeruttun

The ‘Mouvement Ti Planteurs’ doubts whether the Prime Minister is aware that since the Lepep Alliance came to power in 2014, around 10,000 cane farmers have stopped their operations. The sugar refining price has tripled at the same time.

The members of this movement have announced that a rally will be held on June 14., four days after the presentation of the National Budget by the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Pravind Jugnauth.

If the budget does not include remedial measures in favour of small cane growers, the movement intends to mobilize their members in every corner of the island and explain to them why Rs 1,600 per ton of sugar is insufficient. The small planters are incurring expenses of Rs 1,800 per ton of cane and should have been paid Rs 2,500. Planters are barely scraping 70 kg of sugar per ton of cane and are earning an average Rs 1,300 per ton. Small/medium sized sugarcane planters have demanded that they be allowed to sell their products directly to the sugar companies at the best possible prices and that they have the same facilities as the sugar industry so that they can add value and market their products.

Their other demands were (a) loans at interest rates of less than 3% from the DBM and that the institution bears more of the credit risks and supports planters with advice and monitoring, (b) the liquidation of mortgages – several planters have found that these were not erased years after repayment, (c) creation of a land bank so that agricultural land is available to those who want to go into agriculture, (d) the exemption of tax on the income of planters, (e) measures to combat the theft of vegetables, (f) a form of compensation to the planters to make good for their losses, and (g) the cancellation of the planters’ debts to meet the irrigation costs. The movement has also demanded the resignation of the Minister Seeruttun who they say seems least concerned about the trials of the small planters.

Bleak future!

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“It’s awful, but Mauritius is a big trash bin”

Pascal Laroulette of the NGO, Group A of Cassis, who successfully completed his ecological initiative, the “20 Peaks Challenge” with the slogan “The future in blue and green” observed that “Mauritius is a large open trash bin. People throw everything and anything, and everywhere, regardless. It’s horrible”

After his great experience climbing these 20 summits, Pascal confided that he was both angry and sad. Why? Because Mauritians do not know the harm they are causing to the country. From up there, he saw television decoders, marble, scrap metal, and even human waste — all in the forests that he crossed to go up the mountains. A similarly disgusting scene in other places also: “For example, there is so much rubbish under the Senneville Bridge, to go to the Lion Mountain… Unbelievable!” What has touched this young ecology enthusiast is that people do not realize the harm they are causing; it’s all going to hit us back in no time.

Gilbert Espitalier-Noël, CEO of Beachcomber Resorts & Hotels, has also been saying lately that we are paying the consequences of a deteriorating image as a sustainable eco-destination. We seem not to have understood that that the tourist buys Mauritius first, and then he chooses a hotel. Other ills threatening our industry: the lack of urban planning, the uncivil attitude of our citizens who pollute without thinking, the lack of interest in the preservation of our lagoons, the excessive politicization of certain services such as taxis, the anarchy that reigns on our beaches, the inability to manage the problem of stray dogs, upgrading of the informal sector and growing attacks on tourists. “All these irremediably degrade the image of our destination,” he said.

It will not be through attendance at the 72nd Cannes Film Festival or by blaming Air Mauritius for a more open air access that we will regain our competitiveness in the tourism sector vis-à-vis rivals such as Maldives, Seychelles… Our high-end destination status can only be maintained if we make serious efforts – both short and long-term plans – to tackle our environmental and other issues. For the immediate, the CEO of Beachcomber Resorts & Hotels calls for a real national tourism strategy to ensure consistency in the actions of all stakeholders, including Air Mauritius, the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Public Infrastructure and local communities, among others.

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Preserving the quality of our potable water

As regards water supply for potable use, the Central Water Authority (CWA) has the legal obligation to comply with a set of parameters prescribed in the Environment Protection (Drinking Water Standards) Regulations 1996, which is in line with WHO standards. The CWA laboratory, which is ISO 17025 accredited, carries out 200 tests every month on samples from 140 sites. The CWA also has recourse to an independent laboratory as and when required. Tests are equally carried out by the Ministry of Health and Quality of Life and the National Environment Laboratory to ensure compliance with the drinking water standards.

But this is not so reassuring.

According to data from the 2017 Environment Statistics, the nitrate levels of certain boreholes in the North are around 40 mg/l, so just below the norm. Toolseeram Ramjeawan, environmental engineer and lecturer at the university thinks that the pollution of our waters by nitrates must be closely monitored. Knowing who or what is responsible for this pollution can help policymakers take informed action to protect our rivers and groundwater. Jean Christophe Chauvet, president of the NGO Biodiversity Conservation believes that it is through the holes in the pipes (around 40% of the water losses are due to leaks from the pipes) that the pollutant penetrates into the tap water.

According to Toolseeram Ramjeawan, there is no proper central database on water quality. The Ministry of Public Utilities, which is responsible for water quality and pollution control, has no enforcement unit. The institutional framework for monitoring the quality of water must therefore be rationalized.

The CEO of Mauritius Telecom, in reply to Navin Ramgoolam’s criticism of the Safe City project, argued that “if we cannot allocate Rs 600 million to our national security, then we, as a country, have a problem.” Yes, Sir, we have a problem of priorities which is being decided not by the population but by advisers; the choice is between water and food security or a surveillance state. The choice cannot be clearer.

We will have to put in more resources and efforts to have and enforce an up-to-date national water policy and legislations for preserving water quality and watersheds, and practical ways to minimize anthropogenic water pollution by proactively preserving watersheds and the environment. Failure to take such actions will harm not only water quality, but also the environment, the economy, and the health of the current and future generations — even with or without the Safe City.

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Foreign Direct Investment: Emerging Challenges

If we exclude the one-off investment in financial services of Rs 6.7 bn in 2017 and Rs 4.3 bn in 2018 and the drop of investment in the construction sector in 2018, the level of FDI inflows are more or less the same over these two years. If Mauritius is going through a period of transition with the development of the services sector at the cost of the manufacturing sector, this is not being reflected in the FDI inflows. For years now, FDI in the manufacturing sector has been less than 10%. Though the seminars and capacity building of the Investment Promotion Agencies (locally it is part of the EDB) with all the theoretical stuff about the four types of FDI (which we do not seem to be attracting any of them) may be of some help, it is the whole approach to our FDI strategy that need to be changed. We cannot go about saying that they are likely to be attracted to the environment friendly sectors like sustainable manufacturing. Is that how our EDB works? How does our EDB come to decide on which type of FDI to target and attract?

We should see our policies towards FDI (real FDI, not the ones directed towards the real estate sector) as part of our development strategy to achieve pre-defined objectives. We believe that a more strategic and targeted approach may produce better results. In Gujarat, for example, some 25 teams of officers coupled with more than 100 industrial houses scouted 34 identified countries for further investments. Malta is another example of those countries where they have aggressively targeted firms specifically involving telephone calls, presentations, provision of research, visits, wining and dining and other meetings. Today 30% of Malta’s GDP comes from manufacturing of microchips, generic pharmaceuticals, medical devices, car brakes, switch gears and a free zone container port among others. It is now aiming to be a preferred destination for industries such as biotechnology, logistics and transport, maritime and aviation services.

Our FDI strategy is too traditional and fragmented, too timid, and it lacks the economic fundamentals (research, analysis and evaluation) to achieve the long-term strategic vision of the nation.


* Published in print edition on 31 May 2019

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