Good governance at ICTA

Tit-bits

Following a PQ in Parliament, the PM has expressed “shock” that the ICTA, had embroiled itself in what has become known as the “19m Rs saga” towards a blue-eyed Lepep lawyer of such undisputable competencies that he had also become legal advisor to the Police Commissioner in a court case and was on retinue for several parastatals, not to mention Chairman of the Financial Intel Unit (FIU).

We need not go over the widely-publicised details of the “affair” or the legitimate questions left unanswered. It should be remembered that the ICTA falls under the direct purview of PMO since the ministerial musical-chair of March 2016. Its Board duly includes the experienced Secretary for Home Affairs, although strangely enough for an institution of such importance, it has no ex-officio representatives of Finance and ICT Ministry to guide the uncertainly qualified political nominees on the Board.

In the above-referred contract for legal services, ICTA has willingly taxed itself probably far more than what any mature local QC chambers or even any UK top-notch professional might have asked for a single commercial case. To give a sense of perspective, 19m Rs (or 22 mRs in total forked out by ICTA) is more than the total financial compensation being proposed by government to mop up the catastrophic consequences of the mishandled FMD epidemic currently ravaging the livelihoods of farmers and butchers in Mauritius and Rodrigues.

To assume that the political ICTA Board collectively went berserk or buckled atrociously under amicable (?) “pressures” or acted on such unprecedented scale without clearances from “higher quarters”, would severely test common-sense! In elementary governance, a Board that now apparently “shocks” the PM is a disgrace if it does not immediately tender its collective resignation.

The population is rightfully furious and expects more than belated expressions of surprise, particularly from a no-nonsense PM who is wont these days to threaten functionaries with a “zot faner, zot bizin payer” credo. All in the name of good governance.

Good governance at Heritage

Only one month ago, it was simply inconceivable that the Heritage City project could flounder so miserably. Still less on the same unassailable grounds of good governance that clearly demand action in the ICTA matter.

In this case, as the bitter Minister of Good Governance explained publicly after Cabinet had overturned its own blessing secured a fortnight earlier, a “fearless” advisor, Mr Gerard Sanspeur, had single-handedly punctured like a hot-air balloon an 800m US$ project that was to epitomise Lepep achievement in office, break “chains of mediocrity” and constitute a formidable legacy of the PM to future generations.

A shining marvel at no costs to Mauritian taxpayers the ministerial promoters had gushed for most of last year, dismissing dissenting concerns cavalierly and rather conveniently overlooking state lands, costly consultancies and even costlier infrastructure, including highways, drainage, electricity and water not to mention the necessary re-routing extra costs in government’s proposal to resume the metro-leger project.

In reality, none of the regularly announced oil-rich investors, either from Dubai sheikhs or from Saudi princes, or from a consortium of foreign, Indian, Saudi and local banks ever materialised, despite the strenuous efforts of Minister Soodhun, who had ensconced himself as government’s privileged go-between in all Middle East matters that could be in the pipeline. And yet, international funds at interest rates close to zero (or even negative in certain cases) are relatively easily available for secure, viable and professionally documented investment projects, validated by reputable international financial agencies or audit firms. Ask the former Minister of Finance!…

It was disturbing that neither the phantom heavy money investors in the Middle East nor the reputable international banks were willing to “walk the (ministerial) talk” and entertain Heritage City as a viable investment opportunity, but our promoters ploughed on regardless.

On the basis of the as-yet undisclosed G2G agreement with Dubai, one of the earliest countries to have shied away from this golden investment plan, Stree Consulting was nonetheless recruited to provide “professional services… for an amount not exceeding USD 4.3 m for the detailed Master Plan; engineering design of the Government offices; the schematic design including infrastructure design, ICT infrastructure, renewable energy component of the 6 government buildings” as per the Good Governance Minister’s own answer in Parliament on 19th April this year.

At such rates (barely more than 1%) for the announced public component of 375 mUS$, local professionals must have been flabbergasted and the audience in Parliament speechless: too good to be true? There are now allegations that there may have been an “artful” or “economical” presentation of total Stree fees in Parliament which could in reality have reached the billion Rs mark for the whole project. This being contrasted with Lux Consult fees for the much wider area coverage of the Highlands project.

Shortly after the budget, the “fearless advisor”, acting on behalf of the Minister of Finance, clearly expressed total dissatisfaction with a variety of major project risks, but his harshest bite centred on the opacity of dealings surrounding selection of and payments made or due to Stree Consulting. In a single blow the axe effectively felled the banyan, raising questions of good, safe and prudential governance concerning public funds and highlighting the crucial role of the high-powered vetting and monitoring committee (HPC: Sec-Cab, FS & Sol-Gen), which had conveyed its considered blessings to Cabinet only a few weeks before.

Was the HPC fully satisfied with the G2G agreement that allowed political top-brass to breezily by-pass of Sol-Gen advice, Lux Consult services or proper tendering for professional services? And whether all deliverables from Stree mentioned above by the Minister were in its possession and had been diligently validated by knowledgeable experts if some 155 mRs are due or have been paid up? Or had it too had been bulldozed or artfully led along the garden path? So many questions of good governance…

In any case, now that Cabinet has belatedly but purposefully sunk the marvel in the making, who will ensure transparent communication of consolidated damages to the general public? Who will face the music, other than taxpayers, that is? Who will spread the message of good governance within the nexus of Lepep government and high administrators, urging them to fearlessly stand for the public good in all circumstances?…

Lepep versions

Strangely, for a government that created a Ministry to that end, good governance, like its crude avatar “netwayaz”, looks set to become a household joke. The ICTA and Heritage sagas are standing out as sore thumbs but one would be hard pressed to find instances where good governance has been fearlessly applied from the start. There may of course be much more behind the scenes than meets the layman’s eye but the past twenty months have been more destructive than constructive. The state of Lepep government, lurching from one crisis of good governance to another, sounds like a hapless story, the budget already buried under new controversies, leaving private sector and investors more and more mystified.

In barely twenty months, Lepep has moved away resolutely from v1.0 which was about “economic miracles” from the campaign-pledged twin team of SAJ and Vishnu Lutchmeenaraidoo. It lasted barely four months as v2.0 quickly took over, with new VVIPs benefitting from the full support of SAJ. Until the judicial Medpoint deus ex-machina touched Hon Pravind Jugnauth and launched in orbit the v3.0 mix of ferocious appetites and devouring ambitions of those who heard their calling or felt anointed, amidst accusations of operating with KGB ruthlessness and Stone-age tools…

Following the Supreme Court decision, we are now in v4.0, centred on rebuilding the MSM leader’s image and restoring some authority over the party and government. Is Gerard Sanspeur a solitary “hirondelle” or is there a forthcoming spring clean? If so, it could mark a shift, however tardy, away from political vendettas as a panacea for political survival. A realisation that systematic heavy-handedness, a consistent series of gaffes, an extravagant policy of largesses to kith and kin, some unexplainable incompetencies, a pervasive noubanism, record ministerial trips around the globe and an abuse of procedures against opponents, administrators and institutions, particularly in a context of paltry economic performance, have weighed heavily on Lepep’s ratings, invigorating opponents, most particularly the Labour party.

To hope bucking the trend, the MSM leadership restauration process cannot afford noisy energy sappers from within party ranks who have consistently and often with some arrogance, hogged the limelight, blowing their own trumpets. To wit, in his latest tirade against editor-in-chief Touria Prayag, Minister Soodhun, President of the MSM, multi-portfolio top-notch Minister of Lepep, plumbs new depths with his statement that “he will show her where Chinese folk sow their firecrackers!”. The guy may have forgotten that we neither flog, cane, lapidate women or dissenting opinion here or that his lifestyle and privileges have been paid for by ordinary taxpayers. He may be simply overworked and stressed out, a sort of overheat stage requiring rest and urgent attention from head to foot. In the necessary leadership refocus agenda, some faces have clearly reached the over-exposure or “PR burn-out” phase. More political “cutting down to size” and dress-downs, if not actual head-rolls, within the MSM hierarchy cannot therefore be excluded at this stage.

SAJ, as a seasoned veteran, can only take stock and appreciate his own son’s moves on the treacherous chess board of local politics. Whatever his discomfiture in Cabinet about the ill-starred Heritage project, he may be receptive to the subliminal message that conditions and necessity for generational changes are being reached. Extending his patronage through an overdue ministerial reshuffle to accompany the perceptible thrust for a new order, centred on Hon Pravind Jugnauth’s ambitions, is no longer beyond the pale.

Other political parties must have taken stock. Even the leader of the Opposition, fully aware of both the government’s dwindling popularity and his own party’s enfeebled state, has taken note and the MMM front bench has duly bent over in unison to coyly coo over Hon Pravind Jugnauth’s budget. Whether the latter is receptive to courtship from MMM fragments or will simply keep koz-kozer alive while bidding his time for enthronement remains to be seen. But speculations are rife about more leadership reshuffling in the not too distant future, an upcoming v5.0, accompanied or not by new political alliances…

U.C.

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