There was every reason to assume that as new Minister for economic affairs and national development, but, even more, as future PM to be nominated following SAJ’s imminent but unspecified departure from office, Pravind Jugnauth would receive in India an intrigued but kindly hearing. Enduring State relations with a steadfast ally, in fair or rough weather, run far deeper than governments, particularly when one of them is so obviously in a state of internal turmoil.
On his return Pravind Jugnauth made clear his feelings that the only “revival” that was taking place concerned the Light Rail Transport system, the Metro-leger or whatever alternative name it is designated by now, rather than the Heritage City project which he himself and his senior advisor, Gerard Sanspeur, acting on his behest, had so effectively dismantled in a concerted assault on its opacity and massive funding scales. Will this augur more internal disruptions behind the scenes until the matter is definitively resolved in all its dimensions, including ongoing CCID and ICAC enquiries?
On the economic assistance front, the Finance Minister confirmed the Rs 12.7 billion that had been awarded by the Indian authorities during Minister Bhadain’s official delegation in May 2016 when the Double Taxation Avoidance Treaty was being renegotiated. The resulting MOU had then been announced as a “historic breakthrough” by the Minister Bhadain. Most of the funds were to be injected into various components of the Heritage City project he himself controlled. Operators felt the ill-advised MOU was a “firesale” of the Offshore Financial services sector on the dubious altar of Heritage, a costly blunder whose multiple implications were detailed by Moody’s, with a massive deficit of Rs 3 billion annually on our balance of payments.
We have to assume that pending clarification of the “on-off” fate of Heritage City and the massive implications on public funds for roads, drains and utilities, not to mention the eventual re-routing of the Metro-leger, the exact allotment of the Rs 12.7 billion and its annual disbursement schedule against project milestones, has yet to be defined or redefined. Minister Jugnauth has meantime also announced that he has requested India to consider an additional credit-line of US$ 200 m for as yet undefined investment projects, which could bring Indian financial assistance to about Rs 20 billion.
It may be recalled here that during Indian PM Modi’s state visit early last year, several agreements were signed and major announcements were made as concrete expressions of India’s enduring relationships and bonds with the people of Mauritius. On the economic and development assistance front, these included, amongst others, the promise of 500m US$ towards major investment projects in the country, an approval that Mauritian authorities could reallocate to other investment projects the credit-line of 200m US$ that had been secured by the previous government against the Metro-leger project, the commissioning of the Barracuda (some Rs 1.7 billion) and promises to undertake sea and air communication facilities in Agalega. A total of some Rs 25 billion or even more if blue ocean or other security investments are added.
It is not clear at this stage to what extent those funding pledges made by PM Modi are included in Minister Jugnauth’s request presented in India this week. It could be that the massive profit reserves of Rs 5 billion or more being generated by the CEB or State Trading annually on fuel prices passed on to the consumer, have lowered the extent of external financing required from India for major investment projects.
This query aside, there is nothing here that diminishes the scale and generosity of Indian assistance to our troubled economy or detracts from Minister Jugnauth’s presentation of his mission in India as a successful one. We would certainly prefer that sobriety to the spin-doctored ministerial presentations of the past two years, each purporting to have engineered “historic” achievements. When results have been so paltry and functioning so unpredictable, people may feel some normalcy and a focus on getting simple things right, might be a huge relief…