We must not allow ourselves, in this period of electioneering, to be taken in by the gossipy, juicy bits that the politicians are flinging at each other. We must demand from them what are their concrete proposals to address the areas of priority that directly concern us as a whole – water, food security – and the young in particular, namely employment
It’s not as if they do not know about it, but now that the party leaders are behaving like lovers scorned, it is hate and heat that rule instead of reason, as they are confronting not only each other but are also facing the fury of the electorate whose pointed queries are rattling them. Not surprisingly, because as usual in the course of their mandate most of them have not been in contact with the people that they are now courting for votes.
Down the years the absence of thinking and planning in terms of integrated development has been the root cause of our recurrent water problem and the warped view about transport, among others. Integrated development simply means that whatever development takes place in one sector impacts several other sectors and that there must be an awareness about such impacts and how to prevent them, if they are undesirable or if there are alternatives, or how to manage them if they are inevitable and the proposed sectoral development is essential. Development experts should perhaps devise an equivalent of the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment), a CCIA (Cross-Cutting impact Assessment). The issue of ‘opportunity cost’ also comes in when one thinks in this way, and simply put it means: would it be better to spend the money on this project or another one, in other words, what is the more important problem being faced? It is obviously the one which must be given priority of solution.
From this point of view, an immediate current concern springs to mind: shortage of water, and it is a situation that merits more than just a cursory call from the authorities. As many people are pointing out, we are barely at the beginning of summer, and rationing has already started! On radio programmes, the supply of water is one of the most frequent complaints that is made, and from all over the island. For example, a lady from an EDC ‘cité’ in Mahebourg said that they’ve had no water from the tap for nearly a month, and repeated phone calls to the CWA were required before a water lorry turned up, and meanwhile they had to bother relatives and neighbours for water provision. On Divali day there was such a trickle from the tap that it took nearly an hour to fill one ‘dekchi’ of water! Do the authorities find this normal? Are they at all bothered?
Is a second republic and electoral reform more important than the vital need for water? In what way will a second republic and a president with powers, AND TWENTY MEMBERS IN THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY ease the situation of citizens who face chronic shortages of water year-in year-out? Can’t it be seen that electoral reform and second republic are going to add to the cost of government, and that this money would be better used to fulfil the genuine needs of the Mauritian people?
Mr Mamade Bundhoo of the CWA is having to run about like a mad hatter answering calls from distressed customers and doing crisis management to sort out their water needs – not to mention having to respond to the anchors on radio. There are also falling levels of water in the reservoirs and depleting underground stock, along with leakages in the distribution network that have been evoked by all governments repeatedly – and to date no decision taken to put in the investment needed to build a new network. Of course it is not easy – but it must be done!
On the other hand, since our leaders keep referring to the Singapore model, then why is wastewater not recycled to the 5th degree as is done there so as to make it fit for human consumption? At the St Martin station, the water is purified only to the 3rd degree, because no investment has been forthcoming to raise the purification level.
Another aspect is water harvesting, an established technique in water resources management: has its scope and possibilities been properly studied locally? This could start with residential areas where, logically, assistance and incentives could be provided to existing constructions for resorting to it. As for new constructions, there would be a need for policies and legislation to make the practice mandatory. It goes without saying that all these must be supported by a comprehensive communications campaign, much as has been done in respect of the laying of sewerage lines. In the case of the latter, there have been some rumbles e.g. in Quatre-Bornes but there hasn’t been any street revolt precisely because of the communications strategy that was deployed.
And this brings us to the proposed métro léger, due to cost Rs 22 billion or more which is several times the estimates that have surfaced from the time it was first thought of more than two decades ago, with a succession of consultants and consultant reports whose cumulative cost probably equals if not surpasses the initial estimated outlay of the project. And this is where integrated development comes in even more forcefully. Because constructing the raised railway tracks for the metro is going to need a lot of water, otherwise how will the millions of tonnes of cement be mixed? And that is only part of the story, because all the other parts of the constructions too will similarly require water. This means that the risks of water shortage are bound to increase. Have the authorities taken this into consideration, have they made a quantitative estimate of the water shortage impact that the construction of the metro will entail, let alone tell to the population how they are going to maintain an adequate water supply for the more basic needs of drinking, cooking and cleaning?
There is absolutely no official indication that this aspect has been factored into their project. If it has, then they must clearly spell it out.
But first of all, there is a needs argument concerning the metro that is meant to service the Curepipe-Port Louis corridor. Here, the government is contradicting itself: whatever the cynics say, there is general agreement that the expansion of the road infrastructure under Minister Bachoo has made traffic flow more fluid in many parts of the island and, crucially, the Verdun bypass to the north and the three-lane highway to Port-Louis has shortened and eased travel time to the capital from the south.
Given this fact, where is the urgency for a metro in that corridor? In fact, isn’t it somewhat redundant and a distraction at this stage? If anything, it is the highly successful Curitiba bus route model – evoked a number of times in this paper – that should be seriously considered. Why have the authorities not done so in earnest? Why, should Minister Bachoo come back, what with his experience in the matter, his drive and energy, he would be the ideal person to pilot such a project that would not only further ease traffic – and perhaps link the rural areas too – but would generate much-needed employment as well.
There is a capital investment and debt argument that has been amply made over and over again. Cost overruns will likely double the capital investment required – and the debt servicing will be an enormous, unsustainable burden on the coming generation. That is why the Curitiba model is a more appealing alternative, and ought to be seriously taken up by a future government.
As regards the operational costs argument, again experts have computed that the cost of tickets will be exorbitant, and based on experience elsewhere (e.g. Malaysia which is far richer than Mauritius) there are likely to be losses and a need for subsidising by authorities. This will put an additional debt burden on the population.
The major opportunity cost argument obviously is water. Given the undeniable and ongoing gravity of the water shortage problem, can any leader in his right sense counter that addressing it must be our priority of priorities? Shouldn’t the authorities give their undivided attention to this element which is absolutely crucial to our sheer survival, and direct the required investment towards water security rather than on the prestige project that the metro represents?
This example was chosen as an illustration because of the current acuteness of the water problem and the topicality of the metro dossier. But there are certainly other sectors that have close links and where integrated development must perforce be envisaged if we do not want to face crisis situations. The aim and exhortation to have one graduate per family is no doubt very ambitious, perhaps even noble. But what will graduates do if there are no or grossly insufficient jobs to match their numbers once they are out on the market? It is evident that there is an even greater justification for integrated planning and development in this as well as all other cases.
We must not allow ourselves, in this period of electioneering, to be taken in by the gossipy, juicy bits that the politicians are flinging at each other. We must demand from them what are their concrete proposals to address the areas of priority that directly concern us as a whole – water, food security – and the young in particular, namely employment. Vague allusions have been made, but there is nothing definitive that has been talked about so far to address the inadequacies of the strategies to create more opportunities for the young. That is what they want to hear about.
* Published in print edition on 31 Ocotober 2014