Tackling Our Debt Burden

It appears that the IMF would have recently recommended that Mauritius should revisit its pension scheme, with a view to reducing its increasing debt burden of over Rs 200 billion.

This begs the question: which pension scheme will be targeted? The whole lot or only old-age pensions? ‘Ciblage’ again? The last PRB Report has abolished defined pensions for civil servants joining the public service after January 2013. One wonders whether that PRB measure was designed to render insurance companies even fatter, what with more people turning to them to ensure a satisfactory retirement pension. At the end of the day, one also wonders: Is this what we voted for? Will electoral reform protect us from such retrograde measures, which are making the rich richer and the middle class and the poor poorer?

There are other means to reduce the debt burden. Producing more, for example. This does not mean we should sell the prime assets of the country to foreigners as the only means for attracting FDI. Or diversifying, and becoming more efficient (not depending solely on a weak rupee), and in parallel by reducing expenses. Along with these are some (unpopular) decisions which leaders across the board will hopefully be willing to take. These might not get them elected/re-elected but will be in the interest of the country:

* Reduce the fleet of luxury vehicles in the public sector. Go for eco-friendly, smaller-engined cars for better fuel economy;

* Use tele-conferencing as far as possible instead of spending on frequent overseas missions by massive delegations.

* Whatever happened to the decentralisation of government offices to Highlands? Revive this project to reduce the movement of people to the Capital. Reduce all the wasteful rental of private buildings and build more offices around the country for the State.

* Review the need for appointing attachés de presse and advisers. How do we assess their performance?

* Appoint results-focussed ministers, like in Singapore. Get more technical cadres in government institutions instead of support staff.

* Rationalise all road safety procedures and guidelines as well as penalties for offences with a view to reducing accidents and policing duties.

* Abolish the office of the Vice-President. The Chief Justice/Speaker of the National Assembly may well replace the President during his/her absence.

* Reduce the number of ministries. The Attorney General is looking after two major ministries, even while an important reorganisation of non-sugar institutions is going on. He has already successfully monitored the closing down of several sugar institutions by merging them into one, saving the country millions of rupees.

It would appear however that the facility that takes care of the production of seeds would be closed down. This should be looked into carefully so as not to handicap the small vegetable producer sector, just as it happened to the small livestock producers after the closure of the government-run Livestock Feed Factory. It is also rumoured that the day-old chick producing facilities might also be closed down! As a net food importing country we should be reinforcing research and development to gear ourselves to producing more of what we eat and reduce dependence on imports. Various technologies already exist. The Accompanying Measures should have been devoted to diversification as the writing was already on the wall for the sugar industry. Many fields are ready for these field crops (wheat, rice, pulses, oilseed crops, maize and other foodstuff). The sugarcane sector (big and small) should face this fact and be ready to invest in crops other than the lazyman’s favourite – sugar cane. But it is not too late. Part of the subsidies can be diverted to local producers as incentives for import-substitution production.

 


* Published in print edition on 4 July 2014

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