Second class citizens in our own country

Political Caricatures

By L.E. Pep

Aret Kokin Nu Laplaz (AKNL) believes that Minister Mahen Jhugroo, Minister of Lands and Housing, has not honoured his commitments. He had promised to conduct an investigation into the extent of encroachment on the beaches of the island but nothing has been produced so far. “Where is the investigation? What is the conclusion of the survey?”

AKNL has requested the minister to play the card of transparency and to publicize the number of public “white sand” beaches proclaimed. “We insist on the concept of white sand, because it indicates a waterfront of quality allotted to the Mauritian public. It is clear that many of the beaches allocated to the public are of poor quality compared to those allocated to hotels and smart cities,”, writes the collective. They also add that 2018 has been marked by continuous encroachment on public beaches and the allocation of EIA licences without respecting the necessary conditions attached. All these have been done with the consent of Lepep alliance which has not fulfilled its promises, they add, and recall the case where the ex-Minister of Housing and Lands, Showkutally Soodhun had revoked the public beach status of Pomponette so that it could be leased to Clear Ocean Hotel and Resort Ltd.

Despite intimidation attempts, AKNL members say their determination to continue denouncing the activities of foreign property developers who are squeezing us out of beach-side land and depriving local fishing communities of their livelihoods and lifestyle. Mauritians are becoming second-class citizens in their own country. All this is happening with the full support of successive governments, whatever their political colour.

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University of Mauritius: Not enough research

If we want to improve our ranking in the Global Innovation index, we need more university/industry research collaboration. Moreover, research is fundamental to a university’s reputation, ranking and future funding, but are our universities really doing enough on this front? No, UOM is not doing enough, conclude the consultants Silke Blohm and Dr Simon Kerridge in their report, wherein they also criticize a tendency to focus on quantity over quality, “leading to publications in low-ranked, less visible journals and a lower number of quotations from the work in the future”.

Ranking only a dismal 57th in international listing of Africa’s universities, the University needs its faculty, particularly PhD holders, to beef up research. Now universities over the last couple of decades are expected to become increasingly professional and directed to generate results of value to governments and society. More and more money is being spent on higher education. Too little is known about whether it is worth it!

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ICT: Quel bilan!!!

The growth of the sector which was 7.1% in 2015 has declined to amere 4.9% in 2018. The exports of ICT goods and services have dropped by 66% in 2017 and, as a percentage of total exports, have fallen significantly from 8.3% in 2015 to 2.9% in 2017. Ranked 49th in 2015, Mauritius has regressed to the 75th position in the Global Innovation Index 2018 among 126 countries. Our innovation efficiency has also deteriorated. We are 105th, 93rd and 99th in knowledge creation, knowledge diffusion and research and development respectively. On the UN e-government ranking, we dropped 22 places in e-participation and 8 places in e-government ranking respectively 66th and 72nd in 2018. And the merger of the various institutions as announced in the budget -CIB, NCB, ICTA and IBA-is still pending!

But it also topped in terms of cronyism-recruiting relatives, brother-in-laws and sister-in-laws. You would also recall the Rs 186 million to DCL, the recruitment of NCB director, the attempt to appoint a crony as Director of ICTA and the 30 foreign missions of his alleged protégé in his Ministry…

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Mauritius Artificial Intelligence Council: A road map

We need more serious stuff – not the superficial blah-blah-blah; we need something more concrete. The focus areas of various governments in their initial road maps are the infrastructural supply side interventions for creating a larger ecosystem of AI development. Creation of “data trusts”, rolling out of digital connectivity infrastructure such as 5G, common supercomputing facilities, creation of open source software libraries as well as investments in strategic sectors, data and privacy, or skills, etc.

We need to have a proper and detailed costing of these and where the investment will come from? What will be government commitments to R & D and the setting up industrial and investment funds in AI start-ups including new investment in new networks and infrastructure and AI-related public procurements over the years?

With a government that does not seem to know its priorities, we doubt whether we will not be delivered with another of those PMO’s “effets d’annonces” like the “Achieving the Second Economic Miracle and Vision 2030“ statement which had promised us an average growth rate of 5.5% annually as from 2017…

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Only 8,200 jobs (net change) created since 2015

The latest Economic and Social Indicators on labour force, employment and unemployment released recently indicates an unemployment rate of 6.9% for 2018 as compared to 7.1% in 2017, based on the results of the Continuous Multi-Purpose Household Survey (CMPHS). We should be comparing employment growth rates rather than unemployment rates. Previously it was comparable because the activity was not changing that much. But with a shrinking labour force due to a lower activity rate, it is not anymore.

Employment growth over the period 2015-18 averaged only 0.7% compared to an average of 1.0% over the previous four-year period and 1.6% of the previous three-year period of the previous regime. In terms of absolute numbers, only 8200 jobs have been created over the period 2015-18, compared to 25,000 over the previous period.

As for 2018 as compared to 2017, the activity rate drops again to below 59.6 and this has the effect of lowering the unemployment rate from 7.1% to 6.9 %. However, if the activity rate was the same as 2017, the unemployment rate would have increased to 7.7% in 2018. Interestingly, a further breakdown of employment shows that the present government is finding it difficult to find jobs for the young. The youth unemployment rate increased from 24.9% to 25.2% in the third quarter of 2018 as compared to the corresponding quarter one year earlier

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Banking Your Future: Towards a Fair & Inclusive
Banking Sector

Convinced that the determination of interest and foreign exchange spreads and other charges, usually unfair or excessive, were strongly influenced by the leader-follower situation of the banking market, the ex-Governor of the Central Bank, R. Bheenick had set up in 2014 a Task Force on unfair terms and conditions in banking contracts. The report titled ‘Banking Your Future (BYF): Towards a Fair & Inclusive Banking Sector’ contains some 100 recommendations aiming at achieving a fairer and more inclusive banking sector.

It seems that BOM has suddenly woken up from its torpor and retrieved the report from one of its dusty drawers and has finally on 7 December 2018 (better late than never issued instructions to banks requiring them to implement certain recommendations of the BYF report.

Banks have up to 14 January 2019 towards full implementation of the said instructions which are expected to bring about more transparency of fees and charges, providing more information on products and services, simplifying the language and style of bank documents for the benefit of bank customers and the public at large. FinTech is expected to enable customers to make better-informed choices about where they can get best value, and this will hopefully be implemented in due course.

As regards the ex-Governor, have they finally paid him for his services?

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The tourism sector: A mediocre performance

The minister is satisfied about his performance. We beg to differ; we believe the performance is much below potential.

The Minister brags of earnings of Rs 64 billion and a 5% growth rate. No, it’s a growth of only 4.2% that keeps on dipping since 2016 and one of the lowest since2014. The expenditure per tourist is lower than last year and in dollar terms it is still lower than that of 2014.The sector is still lagging behind the 5% growth in international tourist arrivals. Asia and the Pacific led growth in January-September 2018, with arrivals increasing by 7%. Europe and the Middle East also recorded sound results with 6% growth; even Africa outperformed us with an increase of a 5%. Sri Lanka and Maldives will again outperform us this year.

Despite all the expectations about our famous air corridor, arrivals from the People’s Republic of China continue to decrease and our relatively more expensive air fares have had an impact on the Reunion market with arrivals declining by 6.4%. These mixed results may be a wake-up call for the MTPA to “commence bouger”. Zot bouge fixe, it would seem!!!

Here also, what can you expect from a sector filled up with cronies, with the MTPA topping the list!!!

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The SME sector: Back to square one

Since years back we had been talking of a dedicated institution for SMEs. The Minister has picked up this idea by converting a MauBank branch into a specialised branch for SMEs – a one-stop shop for the implementation, among others, of the SME Development Scheme, and a financing programme that offers an unsecured loan of less than 3% interest.

If the authorities are comfortable with this merry-go-round that keeps bringing back the sector to the starting bloc time and again, the operators in the sector however are of the opinion that these piecemeal measures are not enough to bring about a new dynamism to the sector. The Ministry had targeted a 40% contribution to GDP by SMEs, but four years later nothing much has changed. Many of the operators are not fooled by the old-wines-in-new-bottles policies; they want more meaningful ones that go beyond the usual logistics and infrastructure issues, to address the deeper issues of finance, collaterals, export promotion, import tariffs. SME services and other accompanying services for the SMEs.

Let us hope that the SME sector will be able to get out of its merry go round show that we have been witnessing for the past four years.

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Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT): A counter attack

In a mild but shrewd counterattack, Ivan Le Terrible moves his rook forward without any risks whatsoever. His rook comes in the form of the ex-CEO of the CEB who is retiring anyway. But before doing that, he brings us back to the origin and conceptualisation of the CCGT project.

This project was mentioned by the National Energy Commission which decided that we need to take the necessary steps towards an energy strategy aimed at reducing the use of coal. That it was no longer necessary to use coal. There was also f the World Bank report in 2015 which recommended to go ahead with the CCGT. The ex-CEO raises the issue of public health which should be one major concern as so many people die of cancer which is increasing in number day by day. In Europe, many countries no longer use coal or diesel to produce electricity.

Gérard Hébrard is convinced that the CCGT project will meet the country’s energy needs over the long term. “We will not be able to continue to use coal indiscriminately because it is a matter of public health. We will not be able to survive with coal and diesel because it is very bad. Other countries, such as Malta, already have a CCGT plant. Many ships around the world use natural gas propulsion.” He diplomatically avoids the question on the lobbies of the IPPs but succeeds in making his point that it is important for the country to see the emergence of renewable energy projects.

Another episode in the CCGT saga!!! Watch out for the next one!!!

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BOM: Some queries on fees to external fund managers

The Bank is responsible for the management of the country’s foreign exchange reserves and has to comply with the objectives of security, liquidity and return as stated in the Banking Act. The Bank usually adopts a conservative risk budget for the management of the overall portfolio. The management of a portion of the foreign exchange reserves is usually entrusted to external fund managers. The remaining is usually invested in long term deposits, in foreign currency denominated securities and bonds and gold. In 2018, the foreign Investments which include funds managed by fund managers, long term deposits and investment in foreign currency denominated securities and bonds amounted to Rs 168 billion whereas the long term investment was gold deposits is Rs 10 billion. The fees paid to the external fund managers jumped from Rs 31.9 M in 2017 to Rs 189.8 M in 2018.

The BOM, which has been awarded the “Best Bank for Corporate Governance in 2018”, should be more transparent on this transaction with more details made public to reassure us and other stakeholders about this momentous increase in fees, rather than the one-liner in its 2018 Annual Report.


* Published in print edition on 28 December 2018

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