Water: Our Priority of Priorities

By TP Saran

In the last issue of this paper for 2010, on 30 December, under the title ‘A view of Mauritius for 2011,’ we presented a list of what we expected for the country in 2011. One of the items on that list was worded as follows: That a magician or sorcerer becomes manager at the CWA. It is already four months, and the magician has not yet appeared. So our water situation is still as precarious, and such is the concern of our leaders that not a single one of them made any mention whatsoever of the water situation during their rallies on 1st May. Instead, they went on a diatribe against each other. Promises of revelations turned out to be spurious: nothing of any consequence was revealed – rather, they revelled in reviling each other. And in so doing, they reflected their own interests more than the national interest.  

That he/she will be able to order rain to fall, instruct our underground nappes to fill up. That he will be immune to heart attack. And above all, that he will be impervious to in-house attacks. 

Hence the short-shrift given to the water issue. We reiterate that this is not a mainly management matter – the present officers are managing as well as they can under the dire circumstances, and that was the case too when Mr Harry Booluck was there. The central issue has remained one of taking the vital decision at the highest level for the known main problem – too many leaks in the distribution system – namely the necessary budgetary allocation to tackle it, as well as strengthening of the technical capacity to explore, import where need be and apply available solutions.

Singapore has an average of one leak per day – which is promptly detected and immediately repaired. The country, which used to depend almost totally on Malaysia for its water supply, now is self-sufficient at 60% through recycling used water (which results in NEWater), most efficient desalination and water-catchment amongst other measures, and has set a goal of complete sufficiency by 2061 by which time its water-supply agreement with Malaysia will end, according to its information centre near Marina Barrage at the southern tip of the island. And one can bet that this goal will be achieved!

Without water we will simply die, not to speak of the inevitable social unrest that will precede compounded by food scarcity – for vegetable growers are already facing great hardships because of the drought. Clearing agricultural land to cover catchment areas with high net worth villas and malls for their residents will lead to starvation of the population at the rate that things are happening – but not on the water front!

Electricity

Closely related to the supply of water is of course that of electricity – without the energy to power the water pumps we will be even worse off. This is what we wrote:

  • That the costs of producing electricity, negotiated in favour of the independent power producers (IPPs) by a previous dispensation, not keep being passed on to the consumers all the time. That the producers accept to revise downwards their huge profit margins, which apparently are boosted up by special compensation clauses, and have some consideration for consumers. That, if they don’t, then the government must step in to force them into seeing reason.

There is no indication that attention to the energy sector is being given the immediacy it deserves, and certainly there does not seem to have been a follow-up of the issues relating to electricity production by the IPPs, especially in the matter of the contracts that were signed. Such a critical public utility is too important to be left predominantly in the hands of the private sector, and no government can accept to be held hostage on this score. For a small country like ours, the production and distribution of electricity has got to be mainly a state responsibility and not a free market affair. We have been warned sufficiently and often enough that unless urgent action is taken now, the dark shadow of a foreseeable future without enough lighting and water for everybody looms ominously, with all the social consequences that this scenario entails. Whoever is in charge had better assume the responsibility with the seriousness that is warranted.

And so the MEPD…

Namely, the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development (MEPD), whose dismantling Mohun Kanhaya rightly laments in his incisive analysis in last week’s issue of this paper (vide The Guy must go!). Indeed, for him and others in the know, the MEPD was playing an extremely important role in ‘taking initiatives in policy reforms and advocacy. The MEPD was also giving its views on important policy matters that would come up.’ Even more to the point, ‘unlike other ministries, it did not have a vested interest and so could be expected to give an unbiased opinion.’

But the TINA-wallahs led by their TINAKA (TINA Know-All) decided that they know best, and hence the utter dysfunctionality at MOFED.

From MEPD to MED-P…

Had there been MEPD, or at least its equivalent – an autonomous, independent think-tank – then perhaps the MEDPOINT scandal could have been avoided? For this would precisely have been the mandate of MEPD: to make a thorough analysis of any project proposal whether emanating from line ministries or centrally, especially one involving such a huge sum of public money, and advise on the best and optimal options for a way forward, perhaps even showing pathways for the how of doing things so as to avoid perceptions of conflict of interest.

Imagine how much of precious time and energy could have been saved if such were the case. But no, MOFED has decided that there is no need to devote time to deep thinking and input into policy matters, and thus the lacuna decried by Mohun Kanhaya. It is easier to say yes and keep in the good books. Why worry about the country as long as one collects the fat pay check at the end of the month and have the freedom to use the colourable device of capacity-building to bring over one’s cronies as heftily-paid consultants, and have a job waiting at the other end for services rendered?

From an advocacy and decision-making point of view, and that would also help the government both as regards perception and avoidance of conflict of interest, there was much sense in separating financial processes from the economic planning and development function. One would have thought that this would be only too evident to those who must put in place transparent, objective, robust and resilient governance structures that would be the bulwark of government. But the vision-thing left our shores quite some time ago, replaced by shorter-term gains that took precedence, and we are being made to bear the consequences.

How long will this situation be allowed to run amock? Oh, I forgot: the call is on for the recruitment of a TINA Consultancy in respect of office attendants serving tea at an august MOFED office. Locals strictly excluded…


* Published in print edition on 7 May 2011

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