Of Privatisation, Right to Information…


By Satya Mewa

Several ideas have been raised in different articles published in recent issues of this paper and publicly discussed as well. It would be worthwhile to probe deeper into some of them.

Ministry of Economic Planning: The idea of the remake or comeback of the former Ministry of Economic Planning & Development has been raised in MT and other forums, and by no less an organisation than the MEXA of the private sector.

Clearly there is a feeling of vacuum left behind after the Ministry of Finance absorbed it and literally dissolved it, denying its importance in its own right as a distinct entity to prepare sustainable plans for the future in a holistic manner, a role which can, at best, be only superficially attached to the mandate of Finance.

We have brilliantly failed to have a global plan for the country, leaving it to each Ministry and organisation to put up sectoral plans with some cross-cutting consultations which are inadequate to produce a coherent vision. One must also refer in this context to the frequent juggling by Finance to gulp the monetary policy, again hitting hard at the independence of institutions, and trying to control everything. By whom? Capitalists? For whom? Capitalists.

Writers in MT have recently proved that a stable rupee has not harmed Mauritians in general, and has allowed us to survive the global economic crisis. So what is wrong with a stable rupee? It is an irony that all the big political parties pretend to defend the poor during Labour Day rallies but often end up doing the contrary. Will MID National Consultations come up with a holistic development plan or will it narrow down its lookout to the hideouts behind PBB which does not even cover all the institutions?

For example, what does the Office of the Vice-President have as indicator? What do the “laureates” contribute as indicator? Brain drain. Sorry, export of services (talent). At the expense of the poor taxpayer. Government Programme has created a Strategic Transformation Commission instead. It is no doubt desirable to consult the private sector, as a general practice but the private sector ends up dictating its own view of things. So, consult by all means but please do not let them do the governing. Otherwise, the poor will continue to become even poorer and who knows what will happen to the absolutely poor? Especially when we gather that the major exercise the commission is undertaking is a review of all state assets that can be sold, sorry, “privatised”.

A Ministry of Planning & Development is meant to give a sense of orientation towards major goals to be pursued. A Ministry of Finance does not set its sight that far; most of its time and energy is devoted to near-term housekeeping. It should be clear that we have incurred a major and irreparable loss by virtually eliminating the Ministry of Planning and Development.

Freedom of Information and Right to Information. Freedom of information was promised a few years ago in the manifest of a party. But perhaps it was not implemented, not being a parole solennelle. The concept of freedom of information, being passive, is obsolete in developed countries. They have already turned to the Right to Information, which is an active right of citizens to ask for explanations from the people they have voted for and pay fatly to govern their country, whether they are in power or in the opposition, and those that run the state mechanisms (the executive).

In some countries, state bodies have their minutes of meetings posted on their websites. These institutions belong to the public and are accountable to them, because they are supposed to work in the interests of their employers, which is the public in this case. This should apply to state-owned companies also such as Air Mauritius or the SBM, as once Lex wrote, which by the definition of democracy the people can question as it belongs to the State i.e. the people. Apart from national security issues and confidential information of a personal nature, there is no excuse to hide information pertaining to the execution of public duties.

New airport infrastructure. We hope that it has made provision for a drop point (as in many airports abroad) without paying fees for vehicles which just want their passengers to get down or in, if they do not need to park. And a bus stop for those who do not want to use a taxi without a taximeter. Otherwise it would just be a trick to sweep easy money. We also hope that it has provisions for passengers’ relatives or friends who want to have some time with them before departure, as in the pure Mauritian tradition, with seating facilities offered by the airport instead of by the caterers. And relatively affordable food instead of exorbitant prices (compared to airports of big metropoles). We depend so much on the airport for tourists, freight and mail that we should seriously consider a second airport now, just in case of a calamity to the one and only SSR International Airport at Plaisance.

Privatisation. At the MSM-MMM alliance victory press conference in 2000, Sir Anerood very firmly said that now that he had come back, he would put a stop to the sale of state property (dibien leta). A few days later Mauritius Telecom was sold, and has been making hefty monopoly profits with questionable improvements to the sector. And now we hear of a strategic partner for Air Mauritius and the port as well. Will our leaders, whether in power or in the opposition, be able to stop this for the sake of the country before it is too late? If other companies are interested in MK this means that it has the potential. Why do we not just hire people who can exploit the potential? Otherwise, people will be right in their wild guess about the whole issue, that something unusual is happening over there.

We hear of privatising (sorry again, strategic partnership) in the water sector. Have all our world-class graduates, post-graduates and PhDs really got no talent to solve the country’s problems? Assistanat appears to be knocking at our doors just as well as in other places. The problems of storage and distribution can easily be solved by investing in reservoirs and replacing pipes. Will a strategic partner bring regular rainfall if that is the limiting factor? No way! Insufficient and unreliable rainfall is the real problem which no amount of privatisation can address effectively.

There has been a press advertisement about a few fine state properties which were bringing income to the state coffers (and could have brought in much more income with the meritorious management those properties deserve) being put up for sale. These include Port Louis Waterfront, Domaine les Pailles, etc., and Lakepoint. In this last case, any leader whom the people have voted to run the country, we repeat, including government and opposition should have destroyed it and restored the wetlands its creation has damaged. This elimination of the wetland by Lakepoint has been recognised as being the main cause of the significant flooding of the Jan Palach bus terminus a few years ago. Is this the country which boasts of being the first signatory to important relevant conventions protecting eco-systems (including wetlands Ramsar convention) and one which has been talking of MID?

* Published in print edition on 21 December 2012

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