Spin Versus Reality
Matters of the Moment
Government cannot just sweep ineptitude and botched decisions under the carpet to hide its own failings. This has been going on for too long to the detriment of the country
By Mrinal Roy
On 31 May 2019, six drug traffickers including four Mauritians were caught by the Reunion police with a haul of 142 kgs of cannabis destined to Mauritius. A bit more than three months later, they were last week sentenced to jail sentences. Their defence barristers had argued that they were operatives working for drug kingpins in Mauritius and Reunion. In contrast, their alleged accomplices arrested in Mauritius at the time are still waiting for the police inquiry to be completed. Their barristers are asking to release them on bail or that the case against their client should be struck off. True to form, the MBC in its most ingratiating mode heralded the light sentences meted out on the operatives in Reunion as the dismantlement of a drug trafficking network! Hélas, le ridicule…
Similarly, despite arrests made, the police investigation in the cases of two important hauls of 155 kgs and 110 kgs of heroin in April 2017 and October 2018, valued at Rs 2 billion and Rs1.6 billion respectively are still not completed. The government smug claims and rhetoric about its success in its battle against drug trafficking in the country cannot mask such inept and embarrassing realities.
The pervasive impression in the country is that police investigations and cases against alleged drug traffickers, criminals and other serious offenders take undue time before being brought to court for justice and conviction. There is a general perception that in some cases, every stratagem is used to delay the legal process and judgement day. The upshot is that there are too many major cases in the country which have been pending for years. The cases lodged against politicians embroiled in various scandals during the present government’s tenure seem mired in endless legal gambits and procedures. They are still awaiting trial and the verdict of the courts.
This unsatisfactory situation begs so many burning questions. Shouldn’t the protocol and investigative rigour and methods used by those responsible for conducting and supervising police investigations be beefed up to international best practice norms to ensure that the unequivocal evidence collected cannot be challenged in court? Shouldn’t the relevant authorities also ascertain that the reasons for prosecution are solidly grounded in law to ensure that those who break the law are convicted? Why does government not urgently take the corrective steps necessary to fix things up?
We cannot win the much hyped battle against the scourge of drug trafficking, crime, corruption and other illegal activities if law breakers are not caught, prosecuted and sentenced for their crimes. The onus is thus squarely on government, the law enforcement agencies, the police bureau of investigation, the forensic services, the Office of the Director of Prosecutions (DPP) and the Judiciary to ensure that Justice is not only done and is also seen to be done by the people. It follows that the office of the DPP must harness some of the best young legal brains of the profession to build an able team of state prosecutors having the intellect and legal mind to prevail in court on legal grounds and ensure that those charged for committing criminal offences and breaking the law are convicted and sentenced.
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The government spin on the narrative of its achievements ahead of general elections cannot hoodwink the people. The government’s role is to be a fair arbiter of public interest at all times. It has to ensure that government decisions are fair and are swiftly and competently executed by the relevant ministries and state institutions. At last week’s ceremony organized to remit the title deeds of the plots of land allocated as per the terms of the Voluntary Retirement scheme (VRS) to the employees of Mon Loisir sugar factory who opted for the VRS, no one questioned the Minister of Agriculture, the Mauritius Cane Industry Authority or Alteo as to why the land title deeds were being handed over with considerable delay, some seven years after the closure of the factory in 2012.
Some of the beneficiaries did flag the long delay endured by them before obtaining their title deeds. The employees of Bel Air sugar estate in the south who received their title deeds this week had to wait for 12 years after opting for the VRS in 2007. Why were those long standing employees not allowed to enjoy the benefit of their well-earned plot of land against a backdrop of escalating building costs much earlier bearing in mind that diverse incentives were granted by government to facilitate the closure of mills, the rationalization of the sugar industry and the VRS? Shouldn’t the VRS beneficiaries be adequately compensated for having had to endure such inordinate delays?
Governments cannot be complicit and party to such ineptitude and unwarranted delays. The people will not stand for the policy of double standards which continues to prevail in the sugar industry. The latest example of this is the government support for a National Biomass Framework aimed at providing handsome price incentives for the use of sugar cane biomass and cane trash mechanically collected by the corporate planters from their fields for electricity generation when sugar cane planters have for decades been denouncing the pittance paid to them for their sugar cane biomass, bagasse, since 1993 under the Bagasse Transfer Price scheme and the paltry revenue from molasses and the other byproducts of their sugar cane used as feedstock in the various ventures of the sugar cane cluster. Are consumers of electricity to finance the price incentives provided under the Framework?
In contrast, the bagasse of all sugar cane planters obtained as a by-product of the sugar milling process is used to produce electricity at no additional cost.
The reform of the sugar industry financed with the support of some Euros 260 million from the EU Accompanying measures for Mauritius was meant to assure the viability of all the sugar industry producers by moving the core source of revenue of sugar cane planters and millers from sugar whose viability would be undermined by tougher competition in a liberalized market place to the other remunerative streams of revenue derived from bagasse to produce electricity and the other byproducts of the sugar cane used in the diverse ventures of the sugar cane cluster to produce ethanol, rum and eventually other derivatives from the cane biomass.
However, while the corporate sugar sector benefits from handsome earnings from power plants and the various ventures of the sugar cane cluster using the bagasse and other byproducts of all producers as feedstock which help them make good the falling revenue from sugar, this is far from being the case of the small and medium-sized sugar cane producers. These producers have had to bear the brunt of losses from uneconomic sugar prices for years with the result that since 2009 more than 8,000 sugar cane planters owning up to 1.99 hectares (4.92 acres) have exited from the sector as at the 2017 crop under the watch of government. Against such a backdrop, it makes no economic sense to ask sugar cane producers to pay a stiff refining fee to the refineries for the continued production of uncompetitive white refined sugar and then to use Sugar Insurance Fund Board funds to shore the losses incurred from sugar sales!
The future of the sugar industry cannot be staked on the elusive hope that the world sugar price is going by some esoteric mojo to suddenly rise to economic levels and stay there in the teeth of the historical data, market fundamentals and dynamics.
Saving our homeland, planet Earth
We must also remember that brandishing the green flag of bagasse and sugar cane biomass cannot mask the fact that falling quantities of bagasse is used with increasing quantities of highly polluting coal in co-generation plants to produce electricity. Bagasse and cane biomass cannot be a Trojan Horse for the use of larger quantities of highly polluting and lucrative coal. The interests of mankind and the young must transcend corporate interests.
In a context where the world is banning coal which is about one and a half times more polluting than gasoline to save the planet from the risks of a climate change catastrophe and the future of the young, it is anathema to maintain coal as the main fuel to produce electricity. In 2018, coal accounted for some 40.2% or the lion’s share of the energy production in the country whereas electricity from bagasse has in line with falling sugar cane production fallen from 17% in 2015 to 14% in 2018. The stark reality is that the production of renewable energy from bagasse is dwindling and very limited.
The protracted difficulties faced by the CEB to obtain the green light from government to seek market funding of some Rs1.2 billion to build a Combined Cycle Gas Turbine at Fort Georges (which is to be financed mostly from its own funds), which is significantly less polluting than coal to produce electricity therefore raises serious questions regarding the government commitment to cut its dependence on more polluting coal to reverse the adverse fallouts of climate change on the planet. In such a murky context, the country must therefore remain vigilant on the related rumours regarding the privatization of the CEB.
It must in this context be flagged that the UN World Meteorological Organisation warned that greenhouse gas concentrations are once again at record levels and that if the current trend continues, the world may see temperature increases of 3-5 degrees Celsius by 2100, far higher than the global target of limiting the increase to 1.5 degrees C to prevent more extreme weather, rising sea levels and the loss of plant and animal species. Greed and the irresponsible use of coal and other fossil fuels are the main causative factors of the deteriorating situation. The world must therefore urgently take the required potent steps to drastically reverse this trend.
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A system of governance based on cohorts of political appointees and nepotism has its limitations in a context which requires significantly more pointed skills to address more and more complex challenges faced by the country. Government cannot just sweep ineptitude and botched decisions under the carpet to hide its own failings. This has been going on for too long to the detriment of the people and the country. It is also obvious that the galling daily misuse of the MBCTV by government for propaganda and spin doctoring at public expense will trigger a voter backlash.
Despite the lame gimmicks surrounding the announcement of general elections, the people will soon be called upon to elect a new government. It is obvious that people are raring to arbitrate a multitude of core issues germane to the shape and fundamental principles underpinning our democracy as well as many others regarding inter alia the model and benchmark of governance, the standard of ethics in the country, the quality and credentials of politicians to be entrusted with the future of the country at the next general elections. It is therefore high time to let the people decide.
* Published in print edition on 20 September 2019
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