The Budget: ‘A lot standing in our way’

Let us be watchful, then, about how implementation of the budgetary measures roll out, for they are about our future

By TP Saran

Perhaps it is in anticipation of the difficult road ahead that the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Pravind Jugnauth in concluding his Budget speech added a caveat: ‘There will certainly be a lot standing in our way’.

Qualified as ‘a budget that speaks to the aspirations of our youth, men and women, indeed to the well-being of Mauritian families’ with a focus ‘on the realities of our nation – on the here and now – on the challenges that lie ahead – on the promise of a brighter future’, an overall philosophy that no one will find fault with, and which relies on the fact that ‘our history shows us how much we can accomplish when we work together’.

One constraint in implementation of all the measures/projects announced is of course the relatively little time left for the government in its remaining mandate. Whether this is overtly acknowledged or not, there can be no gainsaying that the countdown to the general elections can be considered to have begun.

As for ‘the challenges that lie ahead’, many of them will be of the hard, structural type, but a fundamental one which the PM has alluded to is about ‘we’ working together. We know what it means – all of us, as individuals and as part of the collectivity, as patriots. Perhaps a little elaboration on this aspect, on the ‘we’, tinged with some magnanimity would have been a nice rounding up of the speech. After all, the country – the youth in particular – needs some deeper inspiration and hope, and looks up to its leadership to provide that especially at crucial moments, one of which in our national calendar and psyche is certainly the Budget day. That, to our mind, was a dimension that was somewhat lacking, a sincere appeal to ALL who make up the ‘we’, to send a clear signal and give reassurance that official discourse would henceforth reflect that spirit. Next time, perhaps…

As we descend in the battleground of realities though, we find that as happens with all Budgets, there are basically three types of reactions/comments that follow the reading of the Budget Speech by the Minister of Finance: in favour of, against, and mitigated according to the (vested) interest that is represented. This can be viewed as being de bonne guerre and is testimony to our democratic ethos, but of course soon enough we must get down to the nitty-gritty and the work must continue in earnest.

For our part, against the background of the  ten main ‘avenues’ charted in the Budget, namely, ‘Strengthening the pillars of economic growth; consolidating the productive sectors while shaping a more democratised economy; expanding our economic space while deepening regional integration; building the infrastructure that matches our development vision; deepening our national reform agenda;  reaching a higher social development path with a focus on gender mainstreaming and improving quality of life;  promoting a safer and more secure living environment;  facing the challenge of climate change and further building the resilience of our environment; building stronger foundations for the infrastructural development of Rodrigues, Agalega and Outer Islands; and securing sound public finances and sustainable debt’, we take note of couple of measures.

One, under ‘Public Financial Management’, is about ‘Addressing Issues identified by the Director of Audit’.  It seems that ‘a Committee has been set up under the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights and Institutional Reforms. The Committee will examine the Reports in consultation with Ministries/Departments and propose measures to address the weaknesses and shortcomings mentioned therein’. As everyone knows this is a long-standing problem about which a lot of hot air is generated in the National Assembly, tediously year in and year out, and which costs the country enormous sums of money. Had it been effectively tackled earlier, this would have by now resulted in saving this money and put it to more gainful use in national projects. Our hope is that this Committee will come up with very solid actionable measures and that there will be at least a quarterly report on progress made.

The other, under ‘Pursuing the Moris Nou Zoli Pei Campaign’ refers to the ‘collection and storage of hazardous waste at the Hazardous Waste Facility at La Chaumière for their eventual export’.

In due course, we will need more clarity about where this hazardous waste will be exported to. A few weeks ago, it was reported that President Duterte of the Phillipines had prohibited the entry into its port of two ships from Canada which had come to offload their cargo of hazardous waste, Apparently this was a practice which had been going on for some time, and President Duterte took the firm decision to put a stop to it, clearly warning the Canadian government that its territory would no longer serve as a dumping ground for the muck coming from there. This was also a signal sent to other developed countries indulging in this practice. It is significant that the ships were to return to Canada at the cost of the Canadian government, which makes sense come to think of it.

This incident should alert us that we will have to tread with caution as we try to implement this measure, lest we have to face a similar situation which will certainly not be good publicity for the island, small as we are with limited resources.

Let us be watchful, then, about how implementation of the budgetary measures roll out, for they are about our future that must not be compromised on the altar of mere populist rhetoric.

* Published in print edition on 14 June 2019

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