The CCGT project: ML may brandish the war hatchet

Political Caricatures

By L.E. Pep

Our dear Ivan Le Terrible aka Ivan Collendavelloo may spoil therejoicings on the MedPoint verdict. It is alleged that the DPM and Minister of Public Utilities met with key board officials of departments falling under the purview of his ministry after the Cabinet meeting last Friday. The Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) project was the main subject of the discussions. It seems that the CEB will be announcing some crucial decisions in relation to this project.

According to reliable sources, the CEB is preparing to go ahead with the CCGT project, given that this organization has always proclaimed its confidence in the viability of this project. The CEB seems to have found the ideal way to circumvent the condition imposed by the Ministry of Finance requiring it to seek the MoF’s authorisation before submitting loan applications: it would apparently proceed with the first phase of the project with financing through other means. Some sources suggest that there may have been negotiations for foreign aid in the form of a grant. The recent mission of the CEB chairman in Qatar and Abu Dhabi may have something to do with the CCGT project, although he was officially there to sign an agreement on a $ 10 million loan for the ‘Home Solar’ project.

This significant development, if it turns out, would have political repercussions. Ivan Le terrible is aware that the favourable MedPoint verdict may weaken his position, but his Muvman Liberater has not appreciated the position of the MSM, including that of the PM himself, on the gas turbine project – an affront that Ivan Collendavelloo would not have taken lightly. The relations between the two partners have since soured. It’s said Ivan’s response may indeed spoil the festivities.

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The Labour Party: Gearing itself to take over?

Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying that “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” This is the impression we got from the interview of the President of the Labour Party in ‘Week-end’ of 24 February. The “politique de rupture” does not seem to be one that will give shape to a new development model – it will be more like some tinkering at the edges. We have been through this before; remember the dangling of unrealistic promises that would have changed our lives within 100 days or the “democratisation of the economy” programme..

The recuperation of some marginal lands from the private sector had been presented as a great achievement, but little was undertaken to trim down the entrenched privileges of the corporate sector. On the contrary another version of democratisation was promoted by grooming up their own conglomerate with a local version of the Samsung/South Korean cronyism type.

Indeed, some of the arguments for the “politique de rupture” do not appear to be steeled with the inner passionate conviction in favour of change and a new development model. One wonders if this will not remain a mere slogan, so focused are they as well as most politicians in the other parties on their own tacky careers or re-election rather than on the country.

We, the LePep, allow ourselves to be swayed by the usual ethnic/casteist considerations and fail in properly deciphering the gymnastics of politicians across the board. And it is very likely that they will try to fool us yet again, but we dare say: Not this time!

In fact most of the parties on the political platform, if not all, should have embraced a “politique de rupture”. Yet we see the same leader, the same president, the same secretary general, the same political bureau… The parties’ greying leaders and older figures are in no hurry to leave the spotlight and many of the spineless ones aspiring for high positions of responsibility are still hanging around. We had thought that the parties would be bracing themselves for a total rejuvenation of their members… No, it is more of the same, safely anchored in the status quo.

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Huge salary hike for the CEO of Landscope

according to press reports, Naila Hanoomanjee, the CEO of Landscope Mauritius since November 2018 (also daughter of Speaker Maya Hanoomanjee), would have received a substantial hike of Rs 74,850, bringing her salary to Rs 286,400. Her contract of employment has also allegedly been extended for a further three years.

Our friend Anil is apparently not too happy about this pay hike, as his colleague and Muvman Liberater (ML) member, Vjaya Sumputh, the ex-director of the Trust Fund for Specialized Medical Care, is under investigation by the ICAC for a less spectacular salary hike.

Some people within the ML are also said to be not too happy with the increase granted to Naila Hanoomanjee. What for, they are asking. Landscope development at Caudan is a flop, they are saying privately. Some businesses have closed down and all the kiosks are not operational. And the situation at Ebene continues to be chaotic…

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Arrest of David Sauvage of Rezistans ek Alternativ

David Sauvage, a Rezistans ek Alternativ (ReA) ecologist, was arrested on Thursday 21st February, under temporary charges of “rogue and vagabond” for having participated in a flag raising ceremony on the beach of Pomponette at the initiative of the platform Aret Kokin Nu La Plaz, nearly one year back, that is on 11th March 2018.

ReA denounces this “crackdown operation” against environmental activists as one of the repressive tactics of this regime allegedly in connivance with the promoters. ReA alleges that “directives have been given” to muzzle the environmental activists through acts of “repression” and “intimidation”. The arrest, it says, comes just when ReA is disputing a hotel project at Les Salines and in the wake of comments by Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Collendavelloo following a recent confrontation of the party with local residents.

ReA’s fight against the Beachcomber’s hotel project at Les Salines, Rivière-Noire, is known to everyone. This kind of “repression” by the police is aimed at “fatig bann militan” to discourage them, but no matter what, the militants say they will not give up. The fight goes on. «Sé kinn pasé ek David, li révoltan. Mé si zot pansé ki sa bann ak dé réprésay-la pou anpes nou bann konba, zot fer érer», says Stephen Gua of ReA.

We salute the fight of environmental activists who seem to be the only ones fighting for the preservation of our coastal heritage. Keep it up! La Lutte continue.

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Education reform: What are your alternative proposals?

In an interview to Le Mauricien newspaper, the president of the MMM Policy Council, details out all that is wrong with our education system. As a pure academician, without any entrenched prejudices, she makes sure that she does not leave out any flaws in our education system ranging from the huge disparity, the drop-outs, social mobility, private tuition, elitism, brain drain, the one-size-fits-all approach to reform… It goes on and on even extending to civic education that should respond to societal needs such that we have a clear vision of what should be the education system for Mauritius in the 21st century. As an academic paper, it would have surely scored an A.

But coming back to the world of policymakers, we would say that there are many who revolt against the established orthodoxies only to fall into new orthodoxies and further illusions. And we do understand the need of caution by the ex-academician that “it is always difficult to reform education”. We have seen that with the Pillay, Obeegadoo and Gokhool educational reforms.

That’s why we would have liked to see many of the ideas in the scholarly interview translated into proposals for an alternative road-map of reform for the education sector with specific action plans, namely on:

a) more investment in pre-primary education;

b) addressing efficiency and widespread equity in learning opportunities and outcomes in the primary and secondary levels via a more cooperative education approach that raises the average student from the bottom rungs such that it brings about a profound effect on the overall result;

c) more investment in vocational education which is linked upstream to higher education and industry training;

(d) life-long learning options and opportunities that will allow a succession of re-trainings and further training to equip people with the multi-skilled flexibility for the rising requirements and periodic changes that will be the characteristic of work in the coming decades, and

e) the involvement of the private sector. As it is not possible to rely wholly on public funding, it is necessary to bring in private finance — but in ways that do not deter students from poor backgrounds.

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Conflict of interest at the BOM?

Is the latest recruitment at the Bank of Mauritius (BOM) another case of conflict of interest or nepotism?

According to information gleaned, it would appear that it is the niece of a senior officer of the bank who would be recruited to occupy the position of Assistant Director Corporate Affairs with a monthly package of more than Rs 200 000. The only problem is that this post had apparently not been the subject of a call for applications nor did it appear, until then, in the organization chart. Furthermore it is alleged that the interview was conducted via Skype, as the applicant currently lives in Great Britain. This would be a first at the Central Bank, with the officer due to take office in early April.

A source at the BoM asserts that the call for applications for this post had indeed been published in the press. She added that at no time did the two Deputy Governors interview the candidate via Skype.

These are not the only issues that shake the BoM. The pension to which the current governor and his two deputies and their predecessor, Ramesh Basant Roi, are entitled has also got mired in controversy. It must be pointed out that the approach would be to align the pension to which they were entitled when they were in the establishment with the last ‘packages’ they perceived or perceive when employed on a contractual basis as the top officers of the BoM.

These decisions seemed to have drawn a sharp rebuke from the bank’s employees: “This is perceived as yet another striking example of nepotism,” according to an employee of the Bank who warns of a confidence problem at the central bank. “Employees need to feel that everyone has an equal chance,” he said.

The BoM is one of the most powerful institutions that oversee the financial health of the country. At a time when there is concern that the independence of the central bank is being undermined by government, such governance issues threaten to undermine the bank’s operations and have grave consequences for its credibility.

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Floods and the blame game!!!

Following the distress of so many of our citizens after last week’s flooding in Port Louis and its suburbs, the PM mentioned in reply to the criticism of the leader of the opposition an investment of some Rs 1 billion in drains just for the region. In a pertinent article titled “Planification Urbaine and Changement Climatique” in Le Mauricien of Friday 22 February, environmentalist Adi Teelock talks of the implementation of an effective master plan for land use/drainage at the national level which would require the mobilization of substantial financial resources. The same point has been ventilated a number of times earlier by Vasantt Jogoo, a consultant in sustainable development, in this paper, but nobody cares to listen.

The small investments here and there merely fill the gaps and these are not of much use because it is not only a matter of building drains in inhabited localities, but it is also necessary to channel the water from these drains to outlets such as rivers and the sea. This will not be possible without a land use master plan for sustainable development.

Instead of spending time blaming the earlier regime, the authorities should be answering some of the queries of our environmentalist. Why are reports and plans such as the Disaster Risk Reduction Strategic Framework and Action Plan and natural drain maps not easily accessible to the public? What are municipalities and district councils doing to enforce the law and regulations regarding drains, constructions, and wetlands fillings? What stands in the way of a land use master plan in Mauritius? The National Development Strategy should have been the subject of a mid-term review in 2013. In 2016, the Ministry announced the recruitment of consultants for this revision. Nothing seems to have happened since. Why is that so?

Instead of covering up the wetlands one after another with smart cities, the authorities should be developing an integrated real land use plan, including the integration of nature in development instead of excluding it. “Where are the political and economic decision-makers who are willing to do it?” queries Adi Teelock.

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It’s the economy, stupid!

Boosted by the favourable MedPoint verdict, some commentators hastily predicted that that the orange revolution is already on the march and that it would be child’s game for the MSM at the forthcoming polls.

We beg to differ, for it will not be that straightforward. The economy and governance issues will be the millstones around the government’s neck. The huge public investment splurges – the so-called chantiers – are not having the multiplier effect that was expected on the economy. Very little employment is being created. Only 8,200 jobs have been created since 2015 compared to 25,000 by the previous regime between 2011 and2014. In the Third Quarter of 2018 as compared to the corresponding quarter in 2017, there were 5600 job losses.

After sugar, the textile and clothing industries are now plunging with their flagships in the doldrums. CMT is relocating abroad with the threat of 5000 job losses whereas Palmar Ltd is in receivership with 1300 workers declared redundant. The financial services sector is also faltering with FDI flows to India dipping by more than 55% from last year to just $6 billion. The tourism sector is slowing down and needs a new dynamism. Our current account deficit, exclusive of GBCs, has attained a catastrophic high of 11.1% of GDP whereas public debt to GDP will be peaking at higher than 65% of GDP by end 2019. In addition we have a number of lurking issues relating to youth unemployment, educational reform, innovation, competitiveness, savings rate, pension reform… which if left unaddressed may prove to be costly. And voters are well aware that a series of weak governments have dodged taking some important decisions on these issues.

Of equally great concern for the Mauritian voters is the systemic corruption of public institutions by such practices as bribery, nepotism, cronyism, patronage, and state capture. These practices have eroded the integrity of this government. By allowing some individuals or special interests groups to access government benefits at the expense of others, they have gone against the principles of fair and equal treatment which tops the list of values that Mauritians cherish.

 The MedPoint affair will matter little in the end, if they do not heed the calls to clean up their act and start addressing the real issues of the economy.

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Privy Council’s verdict: Why is the public so baffled?

We have received this interesting piece from one of our readers that we are reproducing in this column:

“Abstracting from the legal overload, the Privy Council’s judgment could be interpreted simply to say that the public official took part in a decision that did not benefit his relative, although the relative was a shareholder of a company connected to the decision. For the relative to have a personal interest in the decision, there must be a benefit arising. Personal interest is equated with beneficial interest. With no benefit arising, no conflict of interest arising. (This was clearly the line of thinking during the first part of the PC’s public hearing).

“However, those who drafted POCA may have meant that the public official should not take part in a decision, whether it benefited the relative or not. It is sufficient for a personal interest in a decision to exist if the relative is a shareholder of a company connected to the decision. (This appeared to be the line of thinking of one Law Lord during the second part of the PC’s public hearing, when he queried whether the minister should have stayed away from it all.)

“The Supreme Court dismissed the personal interest issue by arguing, wrongly according to the Privy Council, that the shareholder’s interest of the relative was distinct from the company’s interest.

“All a matter of legal interpretation. No wonder that the wide public remains utterly baffled.”

* Published in print edition on 1 March 2019

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