Three non-credible potential Finance Ministers

Political Caricatures

By L.E. Pep

The potential Finance Minister (FM) for the Alliance Morisien was the ex-chairman of the Financial Services Commission which awarded an investment banking licence to Mr Alvaro Sobrinho, a most dubious character from Angola, with a dismal and possibly criminal record as a bankrupt banker. (A Director of the Economic Development resigned because of the EDB’s approval of Sobrinho’s property investments in Mauritius.) Our potential FM is perceived to have behaved like a political agent, thus undermining the independence and credibility of the institution.

Under his influence, the Central Bank agreed to amend its governing legislation to provide free money from its Special Reserves Fund to the government budget – or some Rs 18 bn for the 2019/20 budget. The Negative Income Tax (NIT) introduced in Budget 2017-18, on his advice, was just a copycat version of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) from the IMF 2014 Article IV Consultation – Staff Report. All those countries that have implemented an EITC programme have a highly skilled and versatile workforce and have put in place an ongoing and intensive process of skill formation that enhances workers’ flexibility and employability. The IMF Article had cautioned us that we should not be in a hurry to implement the EITC/NIT. Why the rush? To score quick wins on the populist side thanks to the NIT! Like the “free” tertiary education measure announced without prior planning and proper assessments or consultations.

The shadow FM of the MMM seems to lack the depth and versatility on many of the complex issues pertaining to finance. Many of his interventions and debates on these issues have not looked past the heated rhetoric to offer dispassionate, informed and convincing analyses. He does not seem to be the innovative, enterprising and reform-minded FM that the country needs to lay down the foundations for a pragmatic package of economic reforms to kickstart the economy from years of policy paralysis and reform the economy in ways that will foster innovation-led growth while offering better social protection and up-to-date education and training to our Mauritian citizens, especially our youth. For e.g. his views on the tax-centric GBC sector were quite disappointing for this is a sector that’s now looking beyond its traditional tax tweaks and twiddles to position itself as an avant-garde jurisdiction driven by Fintech, cryptocurrency and blockchain technologies. Moreover, his recent stand on BAI is quite controversial for a potential FM who seems to be more interested in playing politics than putting the record straight on the BAI saga.

As for the Alliance Nationale potential FM, a strong supporter of a census along ethnic lines, his previous stint at the ministry of finance (MoF) did not succeed in extricating us from the policy paralysis that had gripped the country and in providing the precise measures to stem the downslide in growth. It was under his helm at the MoF that amendments to banking legislation were tailor-made to facilitate BAI business. The Banking Act was amended to relax the limitation on investments and non-banking operations, and allow financial institutions to buy, sell, hold or manage pools of assets. A credit book of hire-purchase clients could thus be securitized and sold to a bank as an investment product, to ease the bank’s lending without infringing on related party limits and hence opening the golden mine to BAI.

Are they credible enough?

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Religious leaders and leaders of socio-cultural groups should learn to shut up

Suddenly the religious leaders and the presidents of socio-cultural groups are sprouting up all over the island through the cracks in our democracy-the cracks that have started appearing over time because of our failure to impose a principled distance between religion and the state.

They have been energized by the ongoing electoral campaign; they have become quite vocal and are all too happy to wade into the electoral arena not to debate issues but to nudge their followers towards endorsing a particular party and even campaigning for it. Some have become expert at it, camouflaging their partisanship and ethnic politics and couching it in terms that appear to be calling their followers to engage in the issues, to seek justice, and to elect leaders who they believe best reflect their values and goals. Do we need these moral appeals and rhetoric at this moment?

Some are more blunt; they openly demonstrate their bias for a party or candidate. The president of the Hindutva Movement, who is back on the front stage since his defeat in the elections of the Mauritius Sanatan Dharma Temples Federation in 2017, is openly supporting Pravind Jugnauth, whom he described as the Metroman.

He is even allowing himself to talk about minimum wage when international top experts are rethinking their policies to reduce inequality and questioning the award of a minimum wage to all sectors. One would rather expect him to be using his religious or socio-cultural pulpit to advocate things like a debate on the social decay or the decline of decorum and morality in the country and the approach that should be taken to tackle the stress, the violence, the substance abuse that is undermining our social harmony and all-round development.

Religious leaders should learn to shut up on things that are better left to experts and specialists in the field and keep the political animal at arm’s length from the spiritual or religious realm.

Too many of our religious leaders are becoming too engaged in partisan and communal politics. When a religious leader weighs in on behalf of a candidate or party, his followers may assume that the leader believes he is speaking on behalf of God. Except that there is no evidence that God picks sides in political campaigns and these leaders know it. So, endorsements like these raise difficult questions about our political future and its long-standing commitment to the credo of “unity in diversity” and can only cause conflict within our still young democracy.

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The fall of Air Mauritius: It is ranked as the 5thworst airline

It is in the prestigious magazine ‘Ceoworld Magazine’ that Air Mauritius has been classified as the 5thworst airline in the world for the year 2018. The study looked at the quality of service, claims-processing, and on-time performance of 72 airlines across the globe and it throws up some sorry-looking results for our airline.

Qatar Airways has been crowned the best airline in the world, 2018, while the German airline Lufthansa and the UAE’s Etihad Airways placed 2ndand 3rd, respectively.

Singapore Airlines is the number four airline in the world, followed by South African Airways, Austrian Airlines, Aegean Airlines, Qantas, Air Malta, and Virgin Atlantic.

Mr Raj Ramlagun seems to have been proved right for his criticisms of the underperforming and discredited management and “board that was caught napping by the trail of scandals” and for which he is being sued by the company. Remember the days when the national airline was our pride. We never thought it would plunge so low?

* * *

Sherrygate: Battle of Communiqués

It is interesting to follow the reactions/comments of citizen lambda caught in the battle of communiqués between Mauritius Telecom and Top TV. One surfer commented that the MT Communiqué is strangely similar to the statement from the Economic Development Board following the ‘Serenitygate’ affair because it does not really answer the fundamental questions. Another commentator finds that the communiqué is silent on the many issues raised in the Sherrygate clip:

(i) Who issued the MT communiqué? S/he must have a name or at least an official designation?
(ii) Has MT’s press release been approved by MT’s board?
(iii) Instead of saying that ‘the points have already been answered publicly in the past’, just for the sake of providing a certain clarity, it would have been helpful if MT could provide some form of response to the following questions:

For example:

(a) how many tonnes of copper were recovered from the fibre optics?
(b) Who sold this copper to whom and for how much?
(c) Who validated the sale and set the price?
(d) Is it true that the cost of laying fibre optics has risen from Rs800 million to Rs1.6 billion?
(e) If it is true that the cost is Rs 1.6 billion, to whom were these Rs1.6 billion paid?

The MT could also reassure the public by mentioning the processes for the approval of the above and which organs/members of the MT had approved same.

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Ashok Subron: ‘Our crime was to be candidates as Mauritians’

The motion before the Supreme Court challenging the rejection of Resistans ek Alternativ candidates who refused to declare their community belonging in their application to sit as candidates for the forthcoming general elections has been rejected. Judge Benjamin Marie-Joseph delivered his judgment last Saturday, October 26. “Fektirmwa dan eleksion, kioulé mofer?” We could feel in that statement the disappointment, the sadness but especially the anger of Ashok Subron, one of the leaders of Rezistansek Alternativ.

Ashok Subron’s anger was mostly directed against the outgoing head of government, Pravind Jugnauth. The leader of the leftist party believes that he has been “irresponsible, backward and did not keep his commitments made in 2014”.

The leader of Rezistansek Alternativ also criticized the outgoing Prime Minister for choosing to come forward with a botched-up electoral reform that the opposition had refused to vote for, instead of proposing a mini-amendment that would have been accepted by the members of the opposition.

Ashok Subron is also of the opinion that the Mauritian state has violated the pronouncement of the United Nations Human Rights Committee in 2012. “How does Pravind Jugnauth expect to accuse the British of not submitting to the United Nations resolution on human rights in Chagos when the Mauritian state itself has just violated a pronouncement of the United Nations?” asks Ashok Subron.

* * *

The politicians reiterate their commitments towards artists

The leaders of the different political parties attended on Sunday, October 27 a gathering of artists at Plaine Lauzun. The Alliance Morisien was conspicuously absent at this meeting. It would seem that none of their representatives thought it necessary to be present… ‘Pran nou kont‘ – that was the heartfelt cry of the Mauritian, Agalean and Rodriguan artists who met to rally the politicians to their cause.

‘A people without culture is like a tree without roots,’ said Bruno Raya, spokesperson for the artists. “No concrete steps have been taken during the past five years to boost the music industry in Mauritius,” he said.

The stagnation of the revenue of artists since 2008, job insecurity, lack of infrastructure for artistic performances, “incompetence” of the Mauritius Society of Authors and the Ministry of Arts and Culture, among others, were some of the issues taken up by the different speakers. In turn, the leaders of the political parties took the stage to show their solidarity with the artists.

As proposed by music industry workers, Roshi Badhain promised to set up a National Council of Arts. Paul Bérenger preferred not to advance figures on tariffs, stipulating, however, that they will have to be readjusted according to inflation.

Both Navin Ramgoolam and Xavier-Luc Duval said that artists can count on the support of the Alliance Nationale. Zanzak Arjoon, a member of the Association of Songwriters, Richard Hein and Joelle Coret, local artist, were among the other speakers.

It should be noted that the artists had the opportunity to interact with the political leaders present and they did not fail to express their frustration and anger about the current predicament.

* * *

The Labour Party protests to the Electoral Commission against MBC-TV

The content of the daily news broadcast favouring government and the airtime allocated to the various political parties by the MBC are again being contested.

Every governing party has declared repeatedly that it prioritises the fight against propaganda but these are never implemented or transferred into clear policy measures. And this time it is the Labour Party which is complaining. They are highlighting the abuse of MBC-TV and the exposure of the population to misinformation and propaganda; its president and other leaders, lawyers Sanjay Bhuckory, Milan Meetarbhan and Satish Faugoo, went to the headquarters of the electoral commission to express their dissatisfaction.

They demand that the Electoral Commission take action to ensure that there are no abuses or violations of the law by the MBC. The meeting between the Labour Party representatives and those of the Electoral Commission lasted an hour.

In terms of airtime, 675 minutes of political broadcast have been programmed. The Alliance Morisien will be entitled to 99 minutes, the Alliance Nationale to 87 minutes and the MMM to 79 minutes.

* * *

Lalit releases its 56-page programme

Lalit has released its election program. It focuses on 12 core issues: land use, sea use, environmental protection, housing, education and health, among others. The party advocates a class-based policy, arguing that real power in Mauritius is in the hands of ‘big capital’.

  • Land and sea use: Undertaking a real agrarian reform. Replace cane fields with agricultural plantations and create stable jobs and ensure food security. Invest in a fleet of fishing vessels to exploit the exclusive economic area of 2.3 million km2, including the Chagos.
  • Education: Review the system by introducing the mother tongue as a medium, which would bring more equality and prosperity.
  • Housing: Open a registry for families without housing, build 100,000 emergency homes, replace asbestos-containing homes.
  • Health: No to the privatization of health. Establishment of ‘sexual assault units’ in hospitals, recruitment of nurses and ‘clerks’, better organization of services, democratization of the public health system.
  • Native language: Create a fund for Creole literature contests, collect Creole and Bhojpuri stories as part of oral heritage, continue to research Creole in the various islands of the Republic, the mother tongue must be used in Parliament and official laws and regulations must be translated into Creole.
  • Chagos: Close the base of Diego Garcia.
  • International: Freeze CEB’s contract with Israel’s ECI Telecom Ltd, freeze diplomatic relations with Israel until it leaves the occupied territory in Palestine.
  • Drugs: Focus on prevention, make sure people have a home, work and social life to bring hope.
  • Judicial: Having the right to a lawyer at the time of arrest, abolishing provisional charges, ending sentences based on confessions, abolishing the certificate of morality for minor and non-violent crimes. Trials must be in public and in Creole.
  • Art and culture: Formulate a real policy to promote art and culture. Creation of a Philharmonic Orchestra, National Theatre Group and National Art Gallery, making classrooms and Village Halls available to groups for rehearsals and performances.
  • Recreation: End the privatization of public spaces, creating infrastructures for different types of leisure in each neighbourhood, encouraging collective leisure.
  • Sports: Develop outdoor venues for sports, reintroducing football tournaments at elementary and secondary schools, building a publicly available gym in each district, developing sports facilities for sports.
  • Environment: Introduce cycle paths and pedestrian walkways, reduce waste by replacing disposable products with sustainable products, and lead plants to minimize toxic waste.
  • Employment: Create stable jobs, particularly in the agri-food sector, reduce working hours to increase leisure time, index the cost of living, publish the names of all job seekers in government, among others.

More details on this programme are available on the party’s website (www.lalitmauritius.org).

* * *

Quote: Ashok Subron

« Li pa zordi, me nou sir li pou dime. Okenn arierer pa pou kapav anpes lalimier ek la mars listwar. »


* Published in print edition on 31 October 2019

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