Souillac Bridge: Deputy Prime Minister Bachoo delivers on his promise

By TP Saran

After visiting the damaged bridge at Souillac in the company of his team, Minister Arvind Boolell and others, shortly after the flood had made it unusable, Deputy Prime Minister Anil Kumar Bachoo set the team of the Ministry of Public Utilities (MPI), which falls under his responsibility, into accelerated mode so as to ease the ordeal of the aggrieved inhabitants who had made themselves heard during the meeting with him.

In record time, that is by Friday 15 February at 14 hours, the job was done. True, there are a couple of finishing touches pending – such as a pedestrian walkway – but everybody agrees that the connection to that part of the South was promptly restored, and are thankful for the alacrity with which the DPM led the MPI to complete that essential piece of work.

MPI is also busy with other ongoing repairs over and above its normal routine workload , and this makes the accomplishment at Souillac even more commendable. Why does not the same drive and mindset that gets things done in urgent situations prevail at other times? And in all ministries? If that spirit of public service and efficiency were to become generalized as a matter of routine, a lot of woes to the people could be averted, especially if pro-active maintenance were carried out in several areas across the board, but in particular about infrastructure and equipment. Sounds familiar – but is extremely crucial.

Hopefully we may not in future have to paraphrase ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’ into ‘the proof of the flooding is in the flooding.’

* * *

At long last, clearing canals and drains!

So the canals and drains in Port Louis are finally being cleaned of debris and muck, as was the canal at Mon Gout in the aftermath of the flash floods there. So be it, but let this not be a one-off exercise, in Port Louis and all other localities of the island. There has to be a calendar of clearing of these drainage channels worked out in advance in all regions, and a nodal point or department has to be made responsible and held accountable, and report regularly within the system. Let us not wait for more torrential rains or impossible amounts of garbage to accumulate everywhere before things get done. After all, Maurice c’est un plaisir, isn’t it – we will come to that shortly.

And Ministers Faugoo and Rittoo went on a tour of their constituency to see for themselves what the floods had done, and what is to be done in future. Better late than never, we could say, but we must go further and ask whether the elected representatives have to wait for a calamity before they decide to check on the basic and genuine issues in their regions? After all, don’t they have weekly consultations in their constituencies? Apart from attending to matters pertaining to individuals who come for a variety of reasons, do they also give some consideration to the broader issues in the regions? Infrastructure is a case in point, but clearly it must not be considered in isolation. And surely here there is a case for a concerted approach between local authorities and a few ministries, such as Local Government, Housing and Lands, Environment – and any other that the deciders in their great wisdom think fit.

Incidentally, what is happening at Panchavati? The last time we heard anything about it was a visit led by then Minister Hookoom accompanied by his colleague Gowressoo and some officers and officials. And at Plaines des Roches, too, there are people who are left out to fend for themselves on land that was supposed to be meant for an airport.

* * *

Hot meals scheme in bitter soup!

‘Clientelisme de bas étage!’, one commentator has labelled it, the scheme that was announced in the Budget and hurriedly implemented without giving due consideration to all the aspects of such a project, and not only food safety, admittedly a very important one. Thank goodness there was no catastrophe at Bambous, but there is one awaiting unless the authorities stop delegating tasks to officers who have neither the training nor the mandate to perform them. The head teachers are perfectly right when they say that they have no competence to supervise the implementation of this hot meal scheme. They have enough on their hands to deal with difficult pupils, the problems of teachers, general discipline and so on. These are related to their specific training in education and educational matters and management.

A hot meal scheme is not an educational matter.

Yes, the school authorities can be requested to exercise an oversight on the scheme, but they cannot be made to take responsibility for it.

Now the Ministry of Health and Quality of Life has been roped in. We would like to know what is going to be its precise role in that scheme, apart from the fact that the Health Inspectors have to carry out inspections at food outlets regularly, including in educational institutions. But the hot meal scheme is something completely new, and now that one ministry has bungled it, we wonder if the buck is being passed to another ministry.

Which one will it be next?

* * *

At the Ministry of Pleasure and Leisure

In our article in November last in view of the forthcoming Budget, we had begun as follows: ‘Circular No. 7 of 2012 emanating from the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, meant to ‘guide Ministries/Departments on the process to be followed to develop policy proposals and appropriate reform for the 2013-15 Programme-Based Budget’, inevitably and rightly points out that ‘our fiscal space will be very limited next year with the ongoing Euro Zone crisis and subdued growth prospects in developed and emerging economies.’ (italics added)

Later in the article, we had further observed: ‘…there are certain sectors where too obvious wastage takes place. One such place is the Ministry of Tourism, where everything seems to be beyond any form of control whatsoever, and the moneys squandered have not given the returns expected. Festivols and festivals with imported bare-bottomed exhibits flown in at taxpayer’s expense – in millions — have done the opposite of what was expected: tourist arrivals have not increased; if anything, they have declined. It may no doubt have something to do with air access also, but the same situation as regards the latter prevailed before when there were more tourist arrivals.

‘That is why the circular cited, coming from the Ministry of Finance now headed by the former Minister of Tourism Xavier-Luc Duval, during whose mandate the meaningless and utterly useless slogan Maurice c’est un plaisir was commissioned as a brand for a hefty Rs30 million, sounds so ironical. One wonders whether impact assessments of such exorbitantly expensive projects and promotion campaigns have ever been done, not to speak of the other equally wasteful official festivals manoeuvred by that ministry and the Ministry of Arts and Culture. Year-in and year-out the same events, known to be consumptive of public money that could have been more usefully spent elsewhere, keep being repeated. Is there no central guidance as to what limits the country should set itself when it comes to taxpayer’s money?’

And now we have learnt about the sacking down of two high officers at the Ministry of Tourism.


* Published in print edition on 23 February 2013

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