The Lighter Notes of the 2023-24 Budget


By Jan Arden

The national budget will have been amply analyzed and screened by both economists and those who sought signs of electoral populism that might indicate the proximity of general elections. We will not add more floss to the debates if only to select and highlight a couple of more curious measures, some posited as boldly innovative.

Of that category, undoubtedly the proposal to pull down the 10-storey Emmanuel Anquetil Building in the heart of the capital in favour of a ground level « mini tropical forest » of a few hundred sq metres must hold pride of place!

It must be said that the soviet-style architectural bunker is not particularly attractive, but one cannot doubt its utter engineering solidity that did not seem to call for drastic demolition.

We learned from this Thursday’s PNQ in Parliament from Minister Hurreeram, that a 2016 report seems to have highlighted the prohibitive costs of demolition as opposed to other alternatives of refurbishment. And that this budgetary measure, which must have received Cabinet’s blessing, was merely a proposal that would require full-fledged technical studies before it could even be entertained, and a decision taken. His Cabinet colleagues, and Finance, in particular, must have gulped hard at such brazen admission of what sounds like giddy light-headedness.

En passant, its pull-down may well require dynamite by an experienced professional team, that would be a first in our annals! But not being from Port-Louis, either for home or work, we can only marvel at the picture of a variety of tropical animals, land tortoises, stags, crocodiles, or macaques on display for our capital’s lucky inhabitants and, added Minister Bobby Hurreeram, flocking tourists! Enough to digest what has been perpetrated at the venerable Champ de Mars, a few hundred metres away?

The second measure that showed the Minister in his bolder, more creative, attire, is the one-off grant of Rs 20 thousand rupees promised to all 15,000 of our youths attaining 18 years of age during the coming year. Honestly, I don’t think anybody saw such forthright « goodie » populism coming to the point that government ministers and backbenchers were hard pressed to justify the utility of the measure against a volley of criticisms.

Fair enough and let us not begrudge the benefactors such nicety paid for by all of us said many, but paid out straight to their accounts, without parental guidance? Is that a spending spree in the offing or, in some cases, an exposure to risks that we need not dwell upon? How about those who turned 18 a few weeks ago queried some while others asked whether single mums giving birth were not equally or more deserving in the low to middle classes…

A memorable note to the mental structures of our ruling elites is the formidable display of greed entertained by our ministers, who, it must be said, earn similar salary packages to many of their EU counterparts. Under the 2015 regime, ministers were renowned as world trekkers, backpacking at the drop of a hat for any international conference or seminar, of which there were quite a few every week, at our expense.

Some might have thought the ministerial appetite and thirst would quench with time. Alas, we had to witness the indecent Dubayjalsa of a dozen ministers, some accompanied by their close cadres at Rs 77m, while it was revealed this week that ministerial travels, missions and per diems over the past five years, had totalled near half a billion Rupees! Three of those years were lockdown, pandemic and after-effects of Ukraine during which our economy suffered heavily that the PM is fond of reminding us and sacrifices were called for. Obviously not for everybody! Any further comment would be superfluous!

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The Tram Back OnTrack

natural priorities and common sense have been restored

We had the opportunity here to query the sudden announcement of the tramway’s priority extension to Cote d’Or from Reduit at an extra cost of some Rs 13 billion to be borrowed from India and if this extension was substantiated by a feasibility and marketing study. We in particular wondered whether the natural priority extension would not have been from Curepipe down south towards Rose-Belle and other agglomerations to the Airport and up to Mahebourg.

In reply to PQ B/596 from Hon Osman Mohamed earlier this year, Minister of Public Utilities Bobby Hurreeram gave forceful assurances that such a feasibility study of that extension had indeed been carried out, with «a rigorous methodology and comprehensive approach, including an extensive Stakeholder Management Plan » – implying that it was clearly not born out of the PMO’s fanciful whim for the pet destination of Cote d’Or. Pressed for more details, he even ventured that extra passengers on that stretch would be between 15,000 to 30,000 daily, contributing greatly to the tramway’s overall financial sustainability.

We were tempted to applaud the minister’s unambiguous statement in Parliament, until, that is, the PM was reported by Week-End, as stating that, after all, the extension of the Reduit line would stop at Saint Pierre, thereby not reaching Cote d’Or, and that the Curepipe line would be instead extended to La Vigie towards the South and the airport.

One assumes that this too must have been bolstered by rigorous marketing and technical studies which would be communicated at some future stage. But we can rejoice that natural priorities and common sense have been restored in the circuitous design and trajectory of the tramway.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 9 June 2023

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