In a few weeks the Budget will be voted, the Finance Bill as well, and that’s when a serious Opposition will have its job cut out and its hands full to be watchful about progress on all fronts
By any reckoning, the country faces a difficult road ahead as there is relatively little time left for the government to fulfil its objectives and pledges as the countdown to the general elections of 2019 can be considered to have begun, if we go by the Leader of the Opposition’s response. 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 is de bonne guerre and is testimony to our democratic ethos, but soon enough we must get down to the nitty-gritty and the work must continue in earnest.
“We have two points to make. One is the zero tolerance for blood alcohol content (BAC), a measure designed to tackle head-on the unacceptable number of deaths on our roads. Here we join a list of several countries which have similar provision in their law. However, apparently there is such a thing as a baseline ‘natural’ level of BAC, so perhaps in future the legislation that will be enacted may have to be revisited so as not to unduly punish people. The other point concerns water charges which have not been raised, against all expectations to the contrary especially after the hype created by the declarations of the VPM Ivan Collendavelloo in this respect. Whether or not this represents a slap to the latter by the PM, or a brownie point for the latter only the future will tell…”
Of course – again as is expected in any Budget – there are some controversial, disputed issues, such as the up/down with the price of petrol, the ‘moneying’ of the Mauritian passport and nationality especially in the wake of the Sobrinho affair which is not yet resolved, doubts about whether social housing projects will be completed given that so few houses have been constructed since the government took over nearly three and a half years ago, etc. All these will be thrashed out during the Budget debates in the National Assembly. In a few weeks the Budget will be voted, the Finance Bill as well, and that’s when a serious Opposition will have its job cut out and its hands full to be watchful about progress on all fronts according to the budgetary proposals and provisions.
For our part we have two points to make. One is the zero tolerance for blood alcohol content (BAC), a measure designed to tackle head-on the unacceptable number of deaths on our roads. Here we join a list of several countries which have similar provision in their law. However, apparently there is such a thing as a baseline ‘natural’ level of BAC, so perhaps in future the legislation that will be enacted may have to be revisited so as not to unduly punish people.
The other point concerns water charges which have not been raised, against all expectations to the contrary especially after the hype created by the declarations of the VPM Ivan Collendavelloo in this respect. Whether or not this represents a slap to the latter by the PM, or a brownie point for the latter only the future will tell. But more importantly, and contrary to our usual stand on matters affecting the consumer, here we feel that there is in fact a case for raising the charges, as has been articulated by, for example, the former chairman of CWA Mr Prem Saddul in an interview to this paper some time ago. People are willing to buy bottled water at enormous cost, and yet make a big hullaballoo when there is talk of increasing water charges.
However, as has been discussed, it should be gradual, starting with say a modest rise of 10% and then increasing annually by small percentages so as not to hurt the consumer’s pocket too much. Besides bringing in revenue, such a measure would also make people appreciate the value of the precious liquid and inculcate water-saving habits which tend to be too lax. If we did this and were to be judicious in the choice of a strategic partner for the water sector, privatization with its attendant risk of siphoning off our water revenues could definitely be avoided. But as with all unpopular measures, such move must be done at the beginning of a mandate – something to think about for 2019 perhaps.
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‘India rejects UN report on human rights violation in Kashmir as fallacious’
Such is the title of an article by Ramananda Sengupta of the Indian Express News Service dated June 14, 2018 after a UN human rights report on Kashmir called for international inquiry into multiple violations in the region.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) reacted strongly, saying that ‘India rejects the report. It is fallacious, tendentious and motivated. We question the intent in bringing out such a report.’ It qualified the report as ‘a selective compilation of largely unverified information… overtly prejudiced and seeks to build a false narrative.’
The main focus of the report was the human rights situation in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir from July 2016 – when large and unprecedented demonstrations erupted after Indian security forces killed ‘the leader of an armed group’ (Burhan Wani) – to April 2018.
Speaking from Jordan, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said that he would ‘be urging the UN Human Rights Council to consider establishing a commission of inquiry to conduct a comprehensive independent international investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir’.
‘It is essential the Indian authorities take immediate and effective steps to avoid a repetition of the numerous examples of excessive use of force by security forces in Kashmir.’
But the MEA asserted that ‘the report violates India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The entire state of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India. Pakistan is in illegal and forcible occupation of a part of the Indian state through aggression. We have repeatedly called upon Pakistan to vacate the occupied territories. The incorrect description of Indian territory in the report is mischievous, misleading and unacceptable. There are no entities such as “Azad Jammu and Kashmir” and “Gilgit-Baltistan.”’
Further, according to the MEA, ‘It is disturbing that those behind this report have chosen to describe internationally designated and UN-proscribed terrorist entities as “armed groups” and terrorists as “leaders”’, and ‘Our protest and views in the matter have been conveyed unequivocally to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’, deeply concerned that ‘individual prejudices are being allowed to undermine the credibility of a UN institution. Such malicious reports cannot undermine the will of the people and the Government of India to take all measures necessary to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country from cross-border terrorism.’
Interestingly, the latest about the United Nations Human Rights Council is that the United States is set to withdraw from it, with the US Ambassador to the UN calling the organisation a ‘protector of human rights abusers and a cesspool of political bias’, ‘an organisation that is not worthy of its name’.
The US has long called for the body to reform, what with a ‘council membership…that has an appalling disrespect for the most basic rights’.
With its credibility in doubt, what is the report of the UN Human Rights Council worth?
* Published in print edition on 22 June 2018
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