By Mrinal Roy
Press reports have this week flagged the flabbergasting agreement allegedly entered by the CEB/government with Independent Power Producers to align the purchase price of electricity produced from sugar cane trash and bagasse on the price applicable for the purchase of electricity produced from coal, i.e. Rs 4.45 per kWh despite the fact that coal which is imported and subject to a levy carries a higher carbon footprint whilst cane trash is mechanically collected locally by the estate owners from their fields. Bagasse is a by-product of sugar cane milling. Such a decision flouts basic economic logic. Or does it mask yet another hidden device to sponge, as is the case for fuel prices, funds from the public through the consumption of electricity?
It must also be highlighted that despite the imperative of urgent measures to reverse the adverse fall outs of climate change to protect mankind and the young, highly polluting coal used in cogeneration plants continues to remain, when it should be swiftly phased out, the highest source of energy production in the country. In 2018, highly polluting coal which is about one and a half times more polluting than gasoline produced 40.2% or the largest share of the energy production in the country whereas in line with falling sugar cane production the share of bagasse as a source of energy has fallen to 14%.
Such a questionable pricing policy artificially hikes the price of electricity in the country in the teeth of public interest. Is this a repeat of the leonine terms of the first set of Independent Power Producers (IPPs) contracts agreed in the past by government? The price of electricity is as a result already quite high in the country.
This policy also smacks of double standards as it should be remembered that sugar cane planters have for decades been clamouring for a fairer price for their bagasse used as feedstock in the production of energy in the highly lucrative power plants. For years sugar cane planters have, unlike the corporate sector, been paid a paltry price for their share of bagasse and other cane by-products used in the various ventures of the cane sugar cluster to shore their losses from falling sugar revenue. This iniquitous situation has been the main cause of abandonment of their cane plantations by thousands of small sugar cane planters over the years. In the light of the above, will government finally correct this gross injustice towards the sugar cane planting community with retroactive effect? The sugar producers will no longer accept to continue to be so blatantly discriminated against and shortchanged by those in power.
It should be flagged that the lucrative business of energy production has been largely ring-fenced by the IPPs who are now extending their activities to renewable and green energy production through investments in large solar and wind energy farms.
Is it not therefore also time to open and reserve a part of the shareholding of such companies to the public and to allow new operators offering to produce green and renewable energy, new tested technologies and medium sized projects in the field of energy production in the country?
Is it not also high time for a new policy framework and a more inclusive vision of Mauritius in the production of energy and in other fields in the country?
Is it not time to question and radically change this enduring iniquitous order for the benefit of the multitude?
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Questions of Legitimacy
The Prime Minister of a democratic country is too important a post for it to be elected in a partisan way by a small party caucus
Last week’s ‘The Economist’ questioned the legitimacy of the current partisan and in-house process enabling the election of the British Prime Minister by basically 124,000 Tory party members without the rest of the 66 million inhabitants of the UK having any say in this crucial political choice. This system of election of the Prime Minister is the more questionable as this Electoral College is mostly made up of male pensioners and largely die-hard Tories hardly representative of the broad diversity of the people and the spectrum of opinion in Britain.
A field of 10 candidates are running to become the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. As a first step, Conservative MPs will participate in a series of votes to eliminate candidates with the lowest vote score after each round to the final two. Unless one of them withdraws from the race, one of these two MPs will then be chosen by the Tory Electoral College of 124,000 voters to become the next leader of their Party and the PM of the United Kingdom. This process is widely contested as the only democratic way to choose and elect a prime minister of any country is through general elections. This is the more so at a juncture when the country is so deeply divided and that whoever is chosen to become the UK PM will have the immense responsibility of finalizing the Brexit deal at a time when none of the opposition to the proposed Brexit deal nor the profound divide on Brexit in Parliament and in the UK has changed.
Britain’s unwritten and unusually opaque Constitution, the peculiarities of the UK parliamentary procedure, the maze of conventions and precedents and what is deemed as non-U have caused a certain confusion among MPs as to how to bring a government down and carry the political process forward. In accordance with past parliamentary practice, Theresa May should have stepped down and called for general elections after her flagship Brexit deal was emphatically defeated just once in Parliament. Instead, under the present conventions, she was disconcertingly allowed to present and have her Brexit deal defeated thrice in Parliament before she resigned.
The imperative of a people’s plebiscite
‘The Economist’ also argues that in addition the present situation carries the serious risk that a PM could ‘force a no deal Brexit’ without obtaining a majority in Parliament which would result in a constitutional crisis. Furthermore, devolution has brought autonomy to Scotland which voted to remain in the European Union. Yet, in line with the referendum vote, Britain is negotiating to take the whole of the United Kingdom out of the EU. The British constitution is therefore ‘hard put to pass its current test’.
Two important lessons transpire from the unprecedented situation facing the UK. The first relates to the urgent need to rationally codify the UK Constitution to make it unambiguous and predictable and reboot it with the highest and absolute benchmarks of democratic values. Second, the Prime Minister of a democratic country is too important a post for it to be elected in a partisan way by a small party caucus. There cannot be any legitimacy to such an in-house election process to choose the PM of a democratic country. This partisan process is the more disputed as the Conservative Party led by Theresa May fared very badly at the recent European Parliament election held on 23 May 2019 ranking with only 4 MEPs 5th after the Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Green Party. The Prime Minister of a democratic country must necessarily be chosen and elected through a formal plebiscite at the polls by the people. This cardinal rule must apply to all true democracies and obviously carries potent lessons for Mauritius.
Against such a backdrop, the logical step for Britain should have been to return power back to the people to decide on the way forward re Brexit or otherwise and to choose a new government and PM through general elections. It is evident that except for rabid Brexiteers, the Brexit negotiations have also been an eye-opener for all across the Brexit divide. It has mapped out and enlightened people on the pitfalls and difficulties as well as the fallouts of an exit from the EU in a context where manufacturing and other major companies are being delocalized out of Britain to mainland Europe.
It has brought all those in favour of Britain remaining in the EU out of their indifference into vocal lobbies and on the streets. It has also focused attention on the imperative of the UK to negotiate alternative trade agreements with its main trading partners and the rest of the world in order to sustain and improve the economic prospects of the United Kingdom and the people post-Brexit. It has also brought to light the need for fundamental reform of the present model of Europe to rally European citizens around a shared vision of Europe and enable it to counter the nationalist and populist forces undermining its unity and project of a bonded, synergetic, prosperous and culturally rich Europe.
* Published in print edition on 14 June 2019