Whether there are any provisions for holding the Board and Executive echelons accountable to uphold good governance remains a matter of conjecture
By Jan Arden
Last week this paper’s editorial commended what at first sight looked like a belated attempt by the government to structure the process of procurement of medical supplies which run into billions annually from the public purse and taxpayers’ pockets. However, given the track record of the Ministry of Health and that of Commerce through the State Trading Corporation during and throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, for sourcing everything from vaccines, through non-functional Pack & Blister ventilators, to masks, supplies and drugs like Molnupiravir from hardware shops, we had every reason to take with a pinch of salt Minister Jagutpal’s statement that « for the purpose of good governance, there is need for accountability and transparency».
Covid Corruption. Pic – DW
Both accountability and transparency had indeed been severely battered during the pandemic. Even in the simplest saga of vaccine purchases we still have no consolidated figure of amounts spent for the quantities secured, including those that were gifted to the country and those that perished from overstocking. Their forced administration under coercive conditions with a controversial consent form, the priorities granted to working employees at the expense of the most vulnerable, marred what should have been an efficiently administered campaign. As for the tragedy that befell the most vulnerable of our citizens, those who needed twice or thrice weekly dialysis in safe and medically controlled conditions to live on among their relatives, Mr Jagatpal did his level best to avoid any inquiry on administrative and medical negligence that proved fatal for eleven of those forced to the New Souillac Dialysis Centre and, when forced to do so, has again done his level best since the investigative report was handed to him earlier this year, to hide and duck his responsibilities unto the bereaved families. They have been praying that the DPP orders a judicial inquiry as the only way to help them close those disturbing chapters in their hearts and minds. So much for transparency and accountability.
To come back to the Bill the Minister has presented to Parliament this week about the new Authority he proposes as lead agency, to govern and control the health procurement process and contracts worth several billions annually, we can concur that a reliable and dependable mechanism, using cutting edge IT technology, is absolutely indispensable to minimise hiccups, disruptions, overstocking and out-of-shelf life pharmaceuticals and a variety of medical supplies, as well as their costs to the Treasury. But questions have been raised in Parliament, in particular by Hon Reza Uteem, regarding a Board whose Chairperson and members shall be appointed by the President, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister and on such terms and conditions as the Prime Minister may determine – similarly to what obtains in the case of the Procurement Policy Office and the Central Procurement Board, created under the Public Procurement Act. The same holds for the post of Director. Is that a worrying sign that another jackpot for loyalists and courtesans could well be in the offing, a possibility reinforced by the clause that states:
« The President shall, on the advice of the Prime Minister and following a report from the Minister, at any time terminate the appointment of a member whose performance appraisal is not satisfactory. » If the salary inducements are consequential, as they will likely be, that unheard of performance appraisal clause can only guarantee adherence to instructions from those above who will keep track of the « performance » of any selected Board member and sanction those not toeing the line. Whether there are any provisions for holding the Board and Executive echelons accountable to uphold the good governance the Minister mentions in his prose remains a matter of conjecture.
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The Dollar and Us
While specialists analyse the official statements and the market realities, ordinary Mauritians have felt the constant drift in the Dollar to MRU exchange rates since the MSM government took office in 2015. It exhibits itself in how much we pay for our essential and non-essential imports which end up in supermarket or our favourite corner shop or in how much more some parents and families have to fork out for children studying abroad. With forex scarcity also came the timely availability of essential or over-the-counter drugs.
The governor of the Bank of Mauritius condemned, two months back, forex earning sectors of the economy as « unpatriotic » hoarders who impact the Central Bank’s ability to manage the national currency and its position vis-a-vis our essential trade currency, the dollar. He may have some reason to do so as the BoM has had repeatedly to borrow and inject US$ onto the market to stave off the forex scarcity. It serves however no purpose to blame market operators for an obvious lack of confidence in the BoM’s ability to maintain the MUR at a steady rate. The liberal use of the Bank’s special reserves to the tune of Rs 160 billion during the pandemic has impacted its credibility. Economic operators too can scan trends that are depressing for the consumer and unappetising for them to exchange their forex into the local currency. A cursory glance at the trend illustrated above (from 2010 to date) indicates that neither the Covid nor the Ukraine conflict look like determinant factors in our constant downward slide in the value of the Rupee against the Dollar, marked by almost regularly spaced periodic thumps (or spikes) since 2015.
That is the unenviable source of the « imported inflation » through what one might almost qualify as a cultural affinity for financing budget « goodies » through currency depreciation and therefore from our own threadbare pockets. And sadly, professional forecasters indicate that operators may require more than 50 MUR to catch a Dollar in 2024, leaving no room for complacency on the inflation front as the « tax on the lower and middle classes » will keep rising.
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Obama irks India
While Indian PM Modi was concluding what was seen as a highly successful official state visit to the US, there emanated some remarks from former President Obama about protecting muslim rights in a Hindu majority India. Such a remark coming from that country’s first black President was swept aside both by the energy and enthusiasm of the Indian diaspora in the US (all faiths combined) and the two-day official visit by PM Modi to another Muslim majority country with which Modi’s India has developed closer ties in the Middle East. In Cairo and Egypt, PM Modi was awarded the country’s highest civilian honour, the Order of the Nile, and was particularly appreciated by the Bohra Moslem community there whose roots and affinities with India were manifest in the way the Indian PM was received. That civilian honour adds to several others conferred upon PM Modi by Middle-East and Gulf states in the past few years.
Nevertheless, the strange timing Obama’s sortie was condemned both in the US and India, Ministers of Defence Rajnath Singh and Finance Nirmala Sitharamanbeing quick off the mark to slam the utter hypocrisy of such a remark from a President who, in his terms of office, had rained thousands of bombs on six Moslem states. ‘More than 26,000 bombs were dropped –from Syria and Yemen to Saudi [Arabia] and Iraq,’finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman told a press conference in New Delhi deriding the past President: ‘Why would anyone listen to any allegations from such people?’. As India-US strategic ties were blossoming, she did not need to rub in further the fact that despite an electoral pledge, Obama had not closed the Guantanamo detention and torture centre and was the last qualified to lecture India on democracy and human values.
Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 30 June 2023
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