The Côte d’Or Stadium at Rs 5 billion?

Political Caricatures

By L.E. Pep

Why is the Stadium being built at Côte d’Or? We have had problems with the Terre Rouge-Verdun Road because of the porous quality of the soil in this region. We are being told it is being built on pillars at the cost of an additional Rs 1 billion, and it was only in December 2018 that a business plan and strategic plan has been commissioned. This is a Rs 5 billion sports complex that is not meant for the Indian Ocean Island Games and which will not be ready by then. It will be having a yearly maintenance cost of around Rs 250 million.

Government is arguing that the Rs 5 billion Côte d’Or Stadium is a major component of the grand vision and strategy which the Government has in respect of the sports landscape in Mauritius and that using its facilities during the 10th edition of the Games is the cherry on the cake. A “state-of-the-art stadium”, already named “stade fantôme” by some, at such huge costs for a few elite athletes and Moka Smart City dwellers, in the middle of nowhere! Was this a priority? If we really have a vision of the sports landscape for the country, we would have aimed for a more decentralised approach and more investment in sports and other recreational facilities in different regions, especially the regions which are more affected by poverty and drugs.

It is a complete wastage of taxpayers’ money, which we will continue paying up for years for its maintenance. This reminds us of other white elephants — the Waterpark and Leisure Village and the Belle Mare Tourism Village project which our friend from Belle-Terre and the ex-minister of finance respectively, defended at all costs. We do not seem to be learning from past mistakes. Maybe it’s because of the new advisers who take their own time to move up the learning curve. Meanwhile it’s the country that suffers.

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Queries on the Gambling Regulatory Authority

The Prime Minister is satisfied with the work that is being done by the GRA. It is, in fact, putting order in that sector and a number of tough decisions have been taken that are not to the liking of some operators in that sector. But opposition members want a commission of inquiry into the alleged permanent interference by an adviser from the Ministry of Defence in the day-to-day matters of the GRA, and other matters. The opposition is also of the view that the composition of the Board of the GRA seemed to have been deliberately set up so as to respond to the needs of one specific operator only.

In Budget 2015-16, the government declared that regulations for the gaming industry included a total ban on advertising and issue of licence for a period of 5 years (except for new casinos) thus making it difficult for new entrants. Existing players were impacted by the increase in licence fees together with limitation on the range of games, with a ban on scratch card games and the relocation of all gaming houses outside city centres. Since the takeover of the Ministry of Finance by the PM, most of these policies have been overturned. Perhaps when our friend Vishnu comes out of his mediation, we may come to know more about the links between some of the gambling business tsars and some politicians.

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ReA: Donate to save Wetlands #76

ReA has currently two legal cases before the Environment Tribunal (ELUAT). The first one (the main case) is the appeal against the decision of the Minister of Environment to grant an EIA Licence to the proposed project by NMH at Les Salines, Black River, and the second one is an injunction application in order to prohibit any development pending the ruling of the main case.

ESA Wetland #76 is of inestimable value, but ReA needs to raise MUR 350,000 to save it in the Environment Tribunal (ELUAT).

ReA invites citizens of Mauritius to join this legal struggle to save our natural heritage by making a financial contribution via a bank transfer to the bank account of Rezistans ek Alternativ. We request our readers to be part of this laudable effort and to contribute to save our natural heritage.

We also condemn the suggestions of the Economic Development Board which aims to bypass the EIA Appeals and all other legal actions for national projects which are likely to lead to more abuses, a lack of control and further encroachment on our public beaches and wetlands.

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Chief Justice Balancy & the “landmark case in the history of Mauritius”

The case of Rezistans ek Alternativ against the State on the declaration of ethnic background was heard on Friday, May 10 before the Full Bench of the Supreme Court. The Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC) and the Electoral Commissioner will be joining the proceedings as these two bodies are more knowledgeable of the issues that will be raised in this case. The State has however decided to challenge the presence of the Chief Justice, Eddy Balancy on the Supreme Court Full Bench on the ground of a perception of “bias” given that he delivered a ruling on a similar issue in June 2005…

Many have taken to social media and the newspapers to express their discontent: “So why appoint him Chief Judge if his main employer doubts him?”. “Where are we going in this country? After challenging the DPP in the recent past, the State is now challenging the Chief Judge’s presence in a paramount case. He is probably the most competent judge to sit on the full bench…” Is the State scared to rely on a panel chaired by a progressive, notably because of certain previous judgements on the issue of the declaration of ethnicity or on the gagging order claimed by Ms Nandanee Soornack in early 2013.

Or is a tactic by the State to get mired with an anti-establishment judge who wants to advance the causes of justice with his progressive ideas because it wants to delay the case as long as possible.

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MSM-isation of Mauritius Telecom

The CEO of Mauritius Telecom is a well pleased with himself. He is satisfied with the performance of Mauritius Telecom (MT). The telecom company has experienced a growth of 32% in profits, amounting to Rs 1.3 billion. A prominent member of the ‘kitchen Cabinet’ and a one part-time adviser at the PMO, and positioning himself as a potential candidate for the forthcoming election, he allowed himself some politicking and tried some point-scoring by comparing the present performance of Mauritius Telecom with that of the previous regime in 2014, when the company was experiencing a substantial decline in profits. But he omitted to mention that his curious arithmetic of “record profits” do not compare favorably with the period 2006-2008 or even 2011 and 2012 when profits were higher than Rs 1.7 billion.

In its near-monopoly situation Mauritius Telecom should be doing much better with profits nearing the Rs 2 billion mark. There is nothing new with the strategy to connect the majority of households to optical fibre, to improve the quality of services and the introduction of mobile applications, among others. This is an ongoing transformation that we have been witnessing under different regimes since 2004-5.

What we really want to see is meaningful progress with respect to some key performance indicators, for example, in terms of our ranking in Speed Test Global Index – (69th in mobile and 115th in fixed broadband) — or on the average price of a monthly broadband package or by the average price per megabyte (MB) –114th out of 195 countries — or its service delivery and more of genuine free wifi hot spots rather than the useless ones we have at present.

Some time back the CEO was articulating his ambition of a Mauritius Telecom that is more agile and able to deliver speedily. On both counts, MT has still far to go. On the contrary, MT, a government-owned company with government as its majority shareholder, has been transformed into an MSM agency. Besides providing jobs for relatives, friends and supporters of the MSM, it is now, as it is claimed by some bloggers, “financing the MSM’s political activities with a view to furthering its political interests.”

For some, MSM has now 2 head offices at Edith Cavell Street.

The previous political appointees at MT had at least the decency to keep a low profile as far as politics was concerned but the present ones are unabashedly promoting the MSM’s political interests.

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A Combined Cycle Gas Turbine of 40 Megawatts

The proposed Fort George project of a Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) at a cost of Rs 8 billion is having problems of obtaining the Ministry of Finance’s approval. According to the latest information available, the Ministry of Finance has categorically rejected the request of the Central Electricity Board (CEB) for financing this project. But it seems that senior officials of the CEB are not giving in. They are working on a new plan, including a single 40-megawatt turbine, to bring down the cost to well below the Rs 8 billion as originally planned.

The MCCI, Business Mauritius and its mouthpiece the Economic Development Board can walk their talk about their concern about the protection of the environment through the use of cleaner technologies and reduced dependence on petroleum and coal by considering a PPP for the CCGT project. The use of LNG is expected to result in a drop of 30-40% in carbon dioxide emissions. These alternative sources such as LNG are not only for the production of electricity but also for all our energy needs.

Instead of trying to negotiate a 20-year contract with the Government for electricity generation from coal, a Public Private Partnership, for a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) supply system for greener and smarter energy, will unquestionably enable “sustainable economic development, aligned with a clean environment strategy and a circular economy model” envisaged by the private sector. Indeed, it would give more sense to the arguments put forward by the World Bank and taken up by our private sector that that a “one percent increase in temperature lowers growth in the same year itself by 0.9 percentage points”. And more importantly, it will relieve government from some of the pressures of the bulging debt as a result of its addiction to non-priority prestige projects like the Safe City, the Metro and the Côte d’Or Stadium… and many others.

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A scholarship for Jane Constance, UNESCO Artist for Peace

We cannot understand the fuss about awarding a scholarship to Jane Constance named Unesco Artist for Peace. The Minister of Culture, Pradeep Roopun, had commented: “This recognition reflects on the entire artistic and cultural community of Mauritius.” Here is a girl, “autrement capable”, who has shown her talents. We agree ‘elle n’est pas n’importe qui”. She learned piano from the age of seven before continuing her studies at the Royal School of Music in London. Her performance on TF1 at the season 2 of “The Voice Kids” moved everyone and received heartfelt compliments and a standing ovation. That was more important than the award, it was a unique moment when we shared a common heartbeat and she made us feel proud of being a Mauritian. And she has become in 2019, the youngest ambassador of UNESCO.

How do we reward such talents? How do we acknowledge such efforts and sacrifices? She is just exceptional! She has already earned her scholarship. We are wasting millions on the foreign trips of our ministers and officials without any assessment of the costs of these trips and the per diems against the outcomes, then why are we being so mean to our talented artist and ambassador of Peace? That’s scandalous.

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Public Debt: A question of sustainability over time

The recent Art IV 2019 report expects that increased borrowing will push public debt to 67.5 percent of GDP by end-FY 2019/20 and to 67.8 percent of GDP by end-FY 2020/21. It is to be noted that these figures do not fully factor in borrowing outside of the central government. Still, the IMF estimates show that for the debt target to be on schedule, we will require a much larger consolidation than envisaged in the FY 2018/19 budget.

Some economists have argued that the debt rate varies from one country to another, depending on a number of criteria, such as its economic size, its ability to repay or even the composition of the debt itself. “Even if a country exceeds the authorized ceiling, there is nothing wrong, provided that the return on investment is assured and billions are injected into productive sectors. In short, if these investment initiatives transform Mauritius economically.”

Still, another economist is of the opinion that we should not give that much importance to the debt ratio. He states the example of Dubai that would not have experienced the success it has without the billions injected into its airport, roads, hotels, buildings. With the rent of money that is low, it is financially sustainable for the country to launch new projects using borrowing.

These economists are partly right because the IMF does not only look at the debt stock or level. It is one of the important indicators of debt but it also important to look at the sustainability of the debt level over time. IMF has a Debt Sustainability Framework, a tool developed jointly by IMF and World Bank staff to conduct debt sustainability analysis in many countries. This framework takes into consideration primary budgetary balances, current account balances, the assumed growth rates of GDP, the interest rate structure, the availability of liquid assets, the vulnerability of an economy to liquidity crises, Etc. It is on this basis that the IMF came to the conclusion that our elevated level of public sector debt is no longer sustainable and that fiscal consolidation should be pursued as from the forthcoming budget itself given that the slowdown in the financial sector and the possible contingent liabilities are already posing a risk to the growth outlook and debt sustainability. 

* Published in print edition on 17 May 2019

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