The Squatters Resort Scheme

Political Caricatures

By L.E. Pep

Residents of Petite Riviere Noire who face housing problems are maintaining their resolve to settle down on lands claimed by Case Noyale Ltd. They expect to receive the support of the relevant authorities to enforce what they consider to be their “rights”.

Determined to build temporary housing units on the Petite Rivière Noire property, these families are drawing attention to the housing problems they have been facing for years or even generations.

“All lands have been monopolized for the development of Integrated Resort Scheme’s villas. And all the remaining lands will be monopolized for real estate projects that will not be accessible to us. In these circumstances we are left with no alternative than to create the Squatters Resort Scheme because we are also entitled to access housing and lands. In the Black River region, there is no social housing project for families like us!” says a Petite Rivière Noire householder.

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Doubtful contracts: IRP takes to task two ministries

While all attention had been on the electoral contest and the election campaign during the past weeks, the Independent Review Panel (IRP) has reproached the two ministries that had awarded huge contracts through the Central Procurement Board (CPB), namely the Ministry of Environment, which allocated a contract of Rs 100 million for waste to Sotravic Ltd, and the Ministry of Education, for a security contract of Rs 184 million to Rapid Security Services Ltd.

The first contract, for the sum of Rs 100 million for waste treatment at the La Laura dump, was contested by the Regional Company of Services and Environment Ltd against a background of alleged conflict of interest.

The IRP has been critical of the CPB in relation to the award of this contract. According to its investigation, the Bid Evaluation Committee had expressed reservations about the possibility of conflict of interest if the contract were awarded to Sotravic Ltd. However, what is shocking to the IRP is that the CPB recommended that the Evaluation Committee not to take that aspect into consideration. “The CPB cannot ask the Bid Evaluation Committee not to take into consideration clauses of a contract,” according to the IRP, chaired by Hervé Lassemillante. As a result, the IRP ordered that the contract be cancelled and that a new call for tenders be issued.

The IRP also ordered the Ministry of Education to review the security guard contract awarded to Rapid Security Services Ltd. According to terms of this contract, the company were to provide security services at 22 sites. However, RSL Security has challenged this contract.

The disputant considers that the offer is abnormally low for such a contract. On top of that, the company that won the contract would not be financially sound presently. Its turnover for the last two years is negative, with cumulative losses of Rs 4.3 million. This is the Panel’s main complaint against this contract. “The Bid Evaluation Committee and the Ministry have failed in their responsibilities to ensure that a company is financially eligible for a contract.”

* * *

The new finance minister: “To an economist, one plus one doesn’t simply equal two”

Finance Minister Renganaden Padayachy, in his first interaction with the press, demands that our analysis of the economy extends beyond mere numbers. He said that we should not limit ourselves to the high Public Sector Debt of Rs 325 billion, representing some 65% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as foreign institutions are competing with each other to lend to us and donors are scrambling to finance our projects.

The new Finance Minister also argues that “the debt-to-GDP ratios of the vast majority of countries exceed the threshold of 60%. The most important thing we know now is that growth must continue to improve. The debt must be constructive and not be an operating debt. When we incur a debt to invest in our future, it’s different from a debt to pay wages and bills… The fact that we make productive investments does not bring immediate benefits. We will see the benefits of the investments on the GDP, on the country’s competitiveness in 20, 30, 40 or 50 years… It will be much more productive. When it becomes more productive, GDP will grow, growth will increase.”

This is exactly what we have not been doing: our growth has not improved. Compared to an average growth rate of 3.8% between 2010-2014 we have realised a growth of just 3.5% between 2015-19, budgetary capital expenditure has averaged a dismal 1.6% of GDP for the last five budgets whereas our recurrent expenditure to GDP has peaked at an all-time high of 24.1% for FY 2019-20. The public investment splurge has not succeeded in boosting our productivity and competitiveness.

The generous wage awards and freebies have been at the cost of the development agenda. Very soon, our finance minister will have to figure out the brutal economic reality of the recent election promises.

* * *

Liquidation of Tara Knitwear and Rossana Textiles

The decision to liquidate both Tara Knitwear and Rossana Textiles has been a blow to their 550 employees, who were expecting a positive outcome from the meeting of creditors last Friday November 15, 2019 at Taher Bagh Hall, Port Louis. Now the main concern of the employees (300 Bangladeshis, 50 Malagasies and 200 Mauritians) is to be able to receive adequate compensation as we approach the end of the year holidays.

“We will make sure that they get their due as prescribed by the new labour law, the Workers Rights Act, passed this year, and that makes provision for such compensations,” says Faizal Ally Beegun, the trade union leader.

The biggest concern, however, remains the Mauritian employees of these two factories. Many of them will not find a job so easily. Some are over 50 and have given so much for so many years to the firm. “The bosses of the other factories are less inclined to recruit people with experience. They prefer young people or foreign workers. It’s an unfortunate reality. That’s why I’m calling on the government to find a solution. We must save the textile sector, which is facing major challenges,” says Faizal Ally Beegun.

It could be argued that the implementation of the increase in minimum wage measure – across the board – without giving time to entreprises to adjust to this new situation has not been really beneficial for the workers themselves. On the contrary it has led to increasing risks for workers losing their jobs as the rising labour costs have, to some extent, undermined the international competitive advantage of the textile industry which experienced a high negative growth of -6.8 in 2018 and is expected to continue declining by -1.4% in 2019. The minimum wage should have been awarded on a phased basis giving time to the textile sub-sector of the Export Oriented Enterprises to adjust and boost productivity.

With the closure of several factories in 2019, thousands of employees found themselves on the pavement. At Tara Knitwear and Rossana Textiles, there are about 200 Mauritians, including about fifteen couples, who have worked there for more than a decade. “We are at a loss. At our age, where will we find employment?” laments one of the employees, who spent thirty years in the service of the company. This is the general feeling that prevails among the Mauritian employees, their union representative says. He adds that the situation is more complicated for those couples who work in the factories – “It is now important that they get a fair compensation and special attention from the government.”

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Tourism: Outperformed by regional competitors – Seychelles and Maldives

For the first nine months of 2019, Seychelles and Maldives have registered a growth rate of 5.4% and 15.8% respectively in tourist arrivals whereas for the same period, we have recorded a drop in arrivals (-1%). The latest figures released for the month of October confirms a deteriorating situation with a negative growth of -3.8%.

Ayay Jhurry, ex-director of the Association of Tourist Operators thinks that “Joe Lesjongard’s experience as a former minister is a good thing for the sector. We hope that he will bring together all industry players, big and small alike, to work on the future of the sector. The time now is for work and for results. We wish, moreover, a democratization of the sector as well as the integration of ecology with tourism.”

There is also the need to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our institutions through a better programming of their expenditures with more meaningful benchmarking and other indicators. A cursory look at the key actions, approved by the Ministry of Finance, for the Ministry of Tourism shows that they are derisory. Taxpayers want value for the money spent. Our Treasury needs to get better at articulating actions that are needed to accelerate the industry’s market diversification strategy, improve the competitiveness of the Mauritian destination and service delivery and promote green tourism.

* * *

The first electoral petition before the chief judge this Monday

A Reform Party candidate, Preetam Seewoochurn, is contesting the election of the outgoing Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Muvman Liberater, Ivan Collendavelloo, in the constituency of Stanley/Rose-Hill (No. 19)

The main arguments put forward for the case are the three electoral promises of the Alliance Morisien, namely the upward revision of the old-age pension from Rs 6,210 to Rs 13,500, the implementation of the recommendations of the Pay Research Bureau report next January, a year ahead of schedule, in favour of public sector employees and the repayment to the tune of Rs 3 billion to the BAI’s victims following its collapse.

In this petition asking the Supreme Court to annul the election of Ivan Collendavelloo, the Reform Party candidate of this very constituency, draws up a chronology of the promises made by the outgoing government, stressing that “ever since the dissolution of the National Assembly and the issue of the Writ of Election on 6th October 2019, the Respondent No. 1 and his agents and persons acting on his behalf with his consent and knowledge have indulged in bribery contrary to Sections 45(1)(a)(ii) and 64(1) of the Representation of the People Act, in order to corruptly procure, promote and/or influence the election of Ivan Collendevalloo in Constituency No. 19, Stanley and Rose Hill”.

Given the electoral weight of voters aged 60 and over, the Reform Party candidate claims that « the proposed payment of old-age pension announced on 15th October 2019, after the dissolution of the National Assembly and issue of Writ of Election, which would make each voter, over the age of 60 years receive Rs 18,000 in December 2019, instead of Rs 12,420 was a mala fide act with corrupt motive designed to procure such valuable consideration to these voters, thereby amounting to bribery”.

The electoral petition also addresses the proposed accelerated implementation of the Pay Research Bureau Report with the payment of an interim allocation beginning in January 2020 for some 80,000 civil servants, representing 10% of the electorate. The Reform Party candidate argues that “government policy of making only an interim payment of Rs 1,000 to public officers in January 2020, as announced in the National Assembly, was to induce or influence public officials to vote for Ivan Collendavelloo and other candidates of the Alliance Morisien” and argues that “there was no cogent argument put forward by the Ivan Collendavelloo and this was clearly an act of exchanging valuable consideration for the votes of public officers, thereby amounting to bribery”.

As a result, Preetam Seewoochurn asks the Supreme Court to declare “the election of Ivan Collendavelloo invalid and order that the election is null and void for having been obtained in breach of Sections 45(1)(a)(ii) and 64(1) of the Representation of People Act”.

* * *

Quote: Somduth Dulthumun of the Hinduvta movement

“…I have campaigned in rural areas to explain to the majority community what would be the consequences if L’Alliance Morisien did not win the elections.”

* Published in print edition on 22 November 2019

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