Loan/Grant from India: Onus is on Mauritius

The Metro Express should not be a matter of prestige or legacy at the end of the government’s mandate. It should be a genuine practical solution to the traffic congestion problem

A communique from the Government Information Services (GIS) on 01 December, 2016 gave details of the grant by India of a financial envelope amounting to Rs 1.9 billion to Mauritius, as follows:

‘GIS – 01 December, 2016: The Government of India has allocated US $ 52.95 million, an equivalent of approximately Rs 1.9 billion representing 15 percent of the total grant of Rs 12.7 billion allocated by the Government of India for the implementation of priority projects in Mauritius.

In this context, the High Commissioner of India to Mauritius, Mr Abhay Thakur, handed over a cheque yesterday to the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Mr Pravind Jugnauth, at the Government Centre in Port Louis.

It will be recalled that earlier in November, Mauritius and India signed a Memorandum of Understanding in Port Louis to finalise the grant assistance to the tune of Rs 12.7 billion allocated by the Government of India for development projects in Mauritius.

The Rs 12.7 billion in the form of grants will be used to finance the following five major projects:

– Rs 9.9 billion for the Metro Express project;

– Rs 1.1 billion for a New Supreme Court Building;

– Rs 500 million for the provision of Tablets to primary students;

– Rs 700 million for the construction of some 1,000 social housing units; and

– Rs 500 million for a state-of-the–art ENT hospital.

These projects which are considered crucial for the socio-economic development of Mauritius encompass various sectors of the economy such as public transportation, education, health care, social housing and the judiciary.

India agreed to provide grant funding to the Mauritian Government during the visit of the Finance Minister Pravind Jugnauth, to India in September this year during which the Government of India responded positively and promptly in disbursing funds for several projects in Mauritius.’

In the name of transparency and accountability, which government itself emphasizes, the population needs clarification on two aspects: a) an update on at what stage have we reached on these projects; b) the modality of disbursement of these sums of money and how they are going to be managed project-wise, with a breakdown of how much will go into administrative costs and how much into the core project. These should be in line with established global practices.

Grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, for example, are subjected to definitive and there is post-grant monitoring to ensure that the moneys are going where they are intended to and are not being siphoned off into other channels.

About two weeks ago Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth made another trip to India and came back to announce that he had managed to secure a further line of credit of $500 million, approximately Rs 18 billion. These are mind-boggling sums for a majority of people who are struggling to make ends meet, and who nevertheless will have to contribute to pay back this loan through the tax that will be levied on them as well.

Again, there is every need for the government to come clean and explain to the people clearly what are the gains and benefits for them in these bargains, as well as the modality of disbursement and the management of these sums so that they are go where they are meant to be.

The people are not fooled: whether this money figures or not in the budget, it is public debt for which they and their children, possibly children’s children too, will have to foot the bill. Add to that the burden of the payment due to Betamax and the others that are likely to follow, and there is cause for great worry for the future of the country.

As regards the Metro Express, in the past the government has been requested a number of times to give the pertinent details about it, and these are still not available. We are given to understand that the bidding firms are basically contractors for the construction of the Metro Express, and are not its operators except for an initial period of 2-3 years. Besides, all they do is to construct according to the plan and specifications decided by the party concerned, in our case the government.

Therefore the government must clearly inform the people what exactly is the Metro Express? Is it a tramway, with the rail lines at road level, and that will go through the current thoroughfares with a high likelihood of causing traffic mayhem? Or will it be a proper metro, but running overhead on a raised platform?

These are the only two options in Mauritius, because there is no possibility of an underground metro here for geological reasons.

And thus comes another issue: how far is the responsibility of the bidding firms engaged when it comes to what option will be chosen? If they are made to build a tramway and there is chaos as a result, we can foresee that they will be made to bear the blame, what with our propensity towards pas moisa li sa. We think that this is a very serious point that must absolutely be resolved before any contract is signed.

The Metro Express should not be a matter of prestige or legacy at the end of the government’s mandate. It should be a genuine practical solution to the traffic congestion problem that commuters daily face. As citizens, we must know what is in store for us, and the sooner the proper information is provided the better it will be for all parties concerned.

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