No to new bank notes

This is the kind of wastage that the country can simply not afford

In response to questions in the Parliament, the Minister of Finance and Economic Development Hon Pravind Jugnauth gave the following reply: ‘Pursuant to section 36 of the Bank of Mauritius Act, currency notes to be issued are determined by the Central Bank after consultation with the Minister of Finance. I have already conveyed to the Bank of Mauritius that I do not support its proposal to issue a new family of banknotes.’ In this project, ‘the portraits of personalities on the existing banknotes’ were to be ‘replaced by illustrative elements that may include the country’s national heritage, history, culture, endemic species of the Mauritian flora and fauna and distinctive landscapes’.

This decision by the Minister of Finance must be greeted as a step in the right direction, especially after the uncertainties in the wake of Brexit but generally also because of the precarious economic situation, what with a growth projected at about 3.4 %. The replacement of the old bank notes by new ones would have cost a whopping Rs 600 million, and one must question even the idea of the decision by the Bank of Mauritius that was taken in February this year. For even at that time, the economic situation was not at all brilliant.

In any case, but a little reflection will lead us to query whether at this juncture the replacement of bank notes is a priority for the country? The answer is clearly in the negative, and will likely remain so for quite some time to come if we take into account all the problems related to infrastructure, energy, unemployment and so on that the country is facing.

This is the kind of wastage that the country can simply not afford, and now that this bold announcement has been made, it may be just the right time to send a signal about the chronic wastage of public expenditure across the board in all ministries that are regularly pointed out in the annual Audit Report. There are so many items of expenditure which can be scrutinized, and the cost-benefit worked out. Many may then be found to be unnecessary, and eliminating or cutting down on them will have a salutary effect on the country’s finances.

The best way to go about this exercise – which indeed must an ongoing one – is to start with the annual Audit Report, which is always very revealing, and of course comprehensive as it concerns all sectors of government. Thus it can serve as a valuable guide to identify the sources of wastage and their curtailing. Rs 600 million of taxpayers’ money have been spared, and that sum can surely be put to use in a more productive manner.

Brexit, terror…

Practically these two topics are dominating news items on several news channels, and all types of imagined or apparently imminent exits are finding glory in the fancy new names being used. Thus, Frexit is about France leaving the EU, Dexit about Germany. There’s Crexit, about Crimea. And the fever has spread now, so there is a contagion of exits – Braxit is about Brazil leaving, since apparently it has now come under the right-wing elements that are allies of the new president who replaced Mrs. Dilma Rousseff, Mr Temer. If this happens, will we be left with RICS instead of BRICS, or will some new allies join in and expand the group?

On the terror front, there has been widespread condemnation of the attack on the Prophet’s mosque in the city of Medina in Saudi Arabia, apparently perpetrated by ISIS, and resulting in the killing of four security officers. Coming in the wake of the deadly explosion and the conflagration in Baghdad that has resulted in the death of 215 people at the last count, and nearly 200 injured, and the horror massacre in the Bangladesh capital Dhaka in an upmarket restaurant frequented essentially by foreigners, the shock is even greater as these attacks add to many more that have kept taking place during the holy month of Ramadan.

A recurrent theme in the post-terrorist attack analyses has been the lack of coordination among multiple agencies charged with countering the terror menace. It seems to have been almost a foregone conclusion of the reports that were submitted to the respective governments, and the latest is the one about the Paris attacks at Bataclan in November last.

The recommendation is that all these agencies should be merged into a national anti-terror agency, for better coordination and a more effective response whenever an attack takes place. This is so commonsensical that it sounds blindingly obvious, and the citizen may well ask why the hell it hasn’t been the case after so many attacks have been taking place?

There are perhaps no easy answers, and it was the same thing when the 26/11 attack took place in Mumbai in 2009. So far the recommendation to set up a single national agency for counterterrorism has not materialized. It is true that meanwhile many attempts have been foiled, but that does not obviate the genuine, spelt out need for a centralized agency.

The world will be impatient to see whether the leaders will deliver. They had better do so if more attacks are to be averted, or at least the damage mitigated.

* Published in print edition on 8 July 2016

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