Safe City project: Apprehensions persist!

Political Caricatures

By L.E. Pep

1542 intelligent video system cameras and 142 intelligent traffic cameras have been installed across the island and in other areas they are on the verge of completion, about 4000 surveillance cameras at 2000 sites. The project is expected to be fully operational by the end of December 2019. It is at the main Command & Control Center, Ebene, that the images will be viewed in real time by trained police officers to monitor the safety of citizens.

The Prime Minister has ensured that the intelligent surveillance system put in place in the context of the Safe City project will not pose a threat to the privacy of Mauritians. He reiterated that the aim of the project is to fight crime, drug trafficking and thefts and to render traffic management more effective. “This project will have a positive impact on the lives of citizens,” he said. Commenting on the installation of CCTV cameras in Flic-en-Flac and Grand Bay, Pravind Jugnauth pointed out that they have “contributed to the reduction of crime in these regions”.

But there are still apprehensions on the part of citizens about their right to privacy. The issue was even raised in Parliament last month. These invasive forms of data analysis, which allows the capture of number plates and facial recognition are being introduced in all our cities and other places without any public debate about the implications for the privacy of citizens in public spaces. Likewise, there has been no debate about their implications as regards the ability of citizens to practise a range of rights in these spaces, such as the right to assemble. Governments with a more authoritarian bent can misuse the information gathered to monitor people’s movements, political activities and associations. People may not participate as actively in democratic life as they would if they feel that they are being watched and their movements tracked.

There have been some reports recently in the Wall Street Journal that Huawei Technologies security tools that have been sold to some African governments are being used for digital surveillance and censorship. according to senior security officials working directly with the Huawei employees in these countries, the latter employees even personally helped these African governments to spy on their political opponents, including the interception of their encrypted communications and social media activities, and using cell data to track their whereabouts.

The WSJ investigation didn’t come up with evidence of spying by or on behalf of Beijing in Africa but details of the operations, however, offer evidence that Huawei employees played a direct role in the governments’ efforts to intercept the private communications of opponents. Should we be not be on our guard?

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MBC-TV : the government’s lapdog

In 2012, the then President Sir AneroodJugnauth, at an international conference entitled ‘The Media: Where do we draw the line?’, criticised the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), saying that our national television broadcasting station no longer matched national ideals. “Television in Mauritius has become nothing more than a Government tool for spin-doctoring and management of public opinion… it is run with a mindset of unfairness, partiality, and is not worthy of a democratic nation,” he said

Fast forward to 2019, and do not be surprised if you come to see that our national TV station has touched a new embarrassing low. Indeed, the situation has worsened, and it is clear that the whole institution has been compromised. The MBC has become the government’s lapdog. The power games being played by different factions has transformed it into a jungle. All this shows how government interference has penetrated deep into the psyche of this institution where political puppeteers are pulling the strings and the cozy relationships have helped to enable much of the cronyism and irresponsible behaviour and deep internal conflicts.

This is reflected in the recent happenings and scheming at the MBC, which are more intriguing than the cheap melodramatic and sentimental soap operas that are broadcast in abundance on some prime channels of MBC-TV. The Director General, a bit too chattery with colleagues, got himself ensnared, according to insiders, by allowing himself to blabber about some employees.

These private exchanges, supposedly with racist overtones, ended up being recorded and used as a useful weapon to dethrone him. Thus, the DG was forced to resign and the president was appointed in his stead.

This is how the MBC has been operating under this regime. The public deserves better.

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Atma Shanto urges SAJ to refrain from insulting artisanal fishermen

Atma Shanto has requested the Minister Mentor, Sir Anerood Jugnauth (SAJ), to refrain from abusing artisanal fishermen. About one hundred fishermen of the ‘Asosiasyon Peser Profesionel e Artizanal’ held a peaceful demonstration on Monday, 19th August before the Parliament. The Minister Mentor had offended them during the parliamentary session of May 21 when MP Adrien Duval questioned the Minister of the Ocean Economy Prem Koonjoo about the possibility of a further increase in bad weather allocations and the preparation of a long-term plan for fishermen. SAJ had then commented: “Taler nou nouri zot!”

Atma Shanto also criticized the ‘bétonnage’ concretization of the beach at Baie-du-Tombeau, in front of the residence of SAJ which, he says, will affect fishermen’ provisioning of bait in that area. These works, which have been called in question by the fishermen since last year, are aimed at preventing erosion of the coast, according to the Ministry of the Environment. The Ministry of Fisheries has also revoked the licences of fishermen in that area, with the latter falling within the limits of the port where fishing is prohibited.

The lot of the fishermen in the area is deteriorating fast and they are demanding, among other things, the cancellation of their debts at the Development Bank of Mauritius as well as better protection during nocturnal fishing expeditions. They also denounce the granting of fishing licences to foreign boats, the derisory amount of bad weather allocation, the continuing construction of hotels which is having a negative impact on the marine ecosystem in addition to climate change.

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Workers’ Rights Bill: Last minute “laké ferblan”

The Joint Negotiating Panel (JNP) and the General Workers Federation (GWF) sent a letter to the Ministry of Labor asking for clarification on an amendment to clause 3 of the Workers’ Rights Bill before it was voted in the National Assembly on Wednesday 14th August 2019.

Section 2 of Clause 3 formerly read as follows: “Notwithstanding any other enactment, this Act shall apply to every agreement…” It has been amended and reads as follows: “And to any provisions to the contrary in any other enactment, this Act shall apply to every agreement.”

The GWF and the JNP believe this calls into question everything that has been agreed so far. They believe that this fundamental change made after midnight is a manoeuvre to please employers. Except that, according to them, this takes back the majority of benefits which they could have enjoyed under the new law.

The unions qualified this amendment as “laké ferblan”. They argue that this clause has far-reaching consequences, as 80% of the workers, that is 360,000 private sector employees governed by the existing 30 Remunerations Orders (ROs), will not benefit from the positive measures of the new law. The analysis of the trade unionists shows that the amendment, as formulated, will make the Workers’ Rights Act secondary to the RO. The perfect example is the Portable Retirement Gratuity Fund (PRGF). This will not be applicable to employees who benefit from gratuity. “The lawyers of the bosses will be arguing that it is the gratuity imposed by ROs that will be applicable and not the provisions of the PRGF,” says Ashok Subron.

He adds that many of the new improved working conditions of the Workers’ Rights Bill will not be applicable either. The unionist has asked Minister Soodesh Callichurn,to restore the original clause that was in the interest of the workers.

The Minister has reassured the unions that that the amendment was made for purely practical purposes and that with the harmonization of Core Conditions in the Workers’ Rights Act, all will be benefiting from the same conditions – the vacation leave, the maternity benefits of 14 weeks, the three-week leave for miscarriage and the amount of Rs 85 for the meal allowance and all the new benefits contained in the Workers’ Rights Act, including the PRGF.

But Ashok Subron does not trust the government which, yielding under pressure, has introduced an amendment at the eleventh hour in favour of employers, especially for the hotels. “We ask workers to be vigilant about future developments. The ball is in the government’s court,” says Ashok Subron.

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Tourism sector: Quest for a new dynamism

For the sector to come out of its lethargy and pick up a new dynamism that will succeed in democratizing the sector as well as boost the average expenditure per tourist, the industry needs to indulge itself in some profound soul-searching.

New forms of tourism are emerging in the place of traditional tourism with more innovative, specialized, “greener”, customized and experience-oriented packages. A new type of tourist is driving it: more educated, experienced, independent, conservation-minded, respectful of cultures, and insistent on value for money. To remain competitive, tourism destinations and industry players alike must adapt.

The Ministry of Tourism and the Mauritius Tourism Authority should start organizing forums and discussions in different regions of the country inviting local homestay, hotels and lodge owners, tour operators, local businesses and crafts people, public officials, the local residents and youth and other stakeholders.

The idea is to share and exchange knowledge on creating sustainable and equitable livelihood opportunities through responsible, community-friendly and environment friendly tourism. The emphasis should be on learning from the best practices across the different product segments and on managing the impact of tourism in the area. Local communities and other stakeholders will be more aware of their options and potential opportunities in tourism.

Such interactions and sharing will ensure that sustainable tourism takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts and addresses the needs of the industry and the host communities and helps them to innovate and build on our unique cultural strengths. It is not possible to consider innovation in tourism without acknowledging the need to mobilise the local population. Innovation is the key element to compete and survive in a dynamic and radically changing environment. We have to provide the right kind of experience with an essence of authenticity and creativity and design models based on long-term sustainability benefiting all stakeholders.

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Some misunderstandings of the role of Central Banks

A very interesting article titled ‘Central Banks Are the Fall Guys’ by the ex-Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, Raghuram Rajan, where he tries to explain why markets and investors seem to accept the encroachment on Central Bank’s (CB) independence by populist governments. He explains it as follows: ‘But investors seem to have concluded that the deflationary consequences of the policy uncertainty created by the unorthodox and unpredictable actions of populist administrations far outweigh any damage done to central bank independence. So, they want central banks to respond as the populist leader desires, not to support their “awesome” policies, but to offset their adverse consequences.’

This is very relevant to us in the context of the recent attempt by the BOM to support the economy by lowering the Repo rate. In terms of the arguments advanced by Rajan, is it not merely an attempt by the CB at rescuing the economy from the policy mistakes of the present government? We have every reason to believe that the easing of the monetary policy when our growth is flagging, may indeed be an attempt by the BOM at offsetting the adverse consequences of the economic irresponsibility of this overly populist regime. At a time when the country’s main economic sectors — textiles, tourism and offshore — face enormous challenges, besides those posed by Brexit, the revision of the Treaty of Non-Double Taxation with India and the decrease in the number of tourist arrivals in the country, there has been a total absence of the appropriate policy measures, including structural ones, to re-dynamise these key sectors.

But Raghuram Rajan warns us that such CB’s support to the government has a cost in terms of future financial instability which will tend to depress market interest rates further rather than elevate them.

What can central bankers do in such situations? He expects CBs to explain their role to the public and why it is about more than simply moving interest rates up or down on a whim and not to expect monetary policy to magically correct the politicians’ errors. Can we expect that much from the BOM? We doubt it, given the pain the Governor of the BOM had to go through, to the discomfort of his lieutenants,in attempting to answer queries on the raiding of the Bank’s reserves.

* Published in print edition on 23 August 2019

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