Humiliation for the Partner – Muvman Liberater

Political Caricatures

By L.E. Pep

Since they got their ambassador to Australia, there is very little they have succeeded in obtaining from their partner. First, there was their Minister, who was perceived to be accumulating blunder upon blunder and was unceremoniously moved from health to tourism. Next, came the proposal for a strategic partner for the CWA and the upward revision of water tariffs in the context of the reform of the water sector with the backing of the World Bank and the IFC, both of which were let down in the Budget speech.

Subsequently, there was the Muvman Liberater’s appointee, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, who was forced to vacate the State House on tiptoe, as a result of her involvement in what came to be known as the Sobrinho-Gurib Fakim scandal. And lately, the masterful snub from the MSM and the Independent Review Panel in connection with the Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) project. They instructed their front man, the Financial Secretary, to issue a humiliating public note to the DPM about seeking clearance from the Ministry of Finance for his project followed by the rebuff from the Independent Review Panel for the Rs 8 billion CCGT project.

The DPM new year’s resolution will be a game changer. Indeed, watch out – in 2019, ML will make sure that its partner no longer treads on its toes without consequences.

* * *

The Economist Intelligence unit: Growing anti-government sentiment

The Economist Intelligence unit (EIU) expects our real GDP growth to be 3.6% in 2019 owing mainly to a deceleration in the growth momentum of Mauritius’s key trading partners — Europe, the US and China — which will lead to a fall in exports. Both the fiscal deficit and current account deficit of the Balance of Payments are expected to widen, and inflationary pressures will increase in 2019.

The EIU expects the government to make some progress on implementing pro-business measures but to remain slow at improving competitiveness owing to its interventionist tendencies.

On the political front, it notes that the already modest popularity of Alliance Lepep with voters is in any case likely to decline as the election approaches, given the relatively sluggish economic growth and an increasing popular perception of cronyism and corruption within government. They are, however, quite optimistic about the opposition who, they believe, will take advantage of the growing anti-government sentiment – just like the Alliance Lepep did in December 2014.

* * *

2018 – Infrastructure projects: Lots of inconveniences

Many of our urban dwellers are hoping that the metro and construction works in 2019 will not be as disruptive as they have been in 2018. The lack of proper planning has created in 2018 significant disturbance in the lives of people – worsening traffic congestion, noise pollution, businesses and traders affected and customers having difficulty reaching the shops, dirty sewerage flooding some localities and the invasion of rats and proliferation of mosquitoes. The Terre Rouge/Verdun Motorway, which will stick forever to the former Minister of Public Infrastructure and his technical team for their failure to ensure the required geological surveys, is claiming another victim in the present Minister of infrastructure. For four years now, he has been struggling with this project and there are still lots of problems ahead, not only with this project, but also with the second phase of the metro project, the A1-M1 Link Road, the Rose-Hill and Victoria Urban Terminals…

The Minister of infrastructure seems to be much better at building his image, with the help of the subservient MBC, than communicating to the concerned citizens on the inconveniences of the major infrastructure projects. We keep our fingers crossed for 2019.

* * *

Lalit: Artificially boosted growth

Lalit is of the view that the country’s growth is based on land speculation, and as such is not sustainable. We are selling villas, but it’s one-off investment. Is it really FDI? (Around 50% of the FDI for the first semester of 2018 went to real estate activities.)

Mauritius is selling off its agricultural lands. The country is being converted into a concrete jungle for expatriates and foreigners. This model is not sustainable and the state is distorting the true growth figures. Lalit believes our growth can be made more sustainable if we have a real agricultural policy oriented towards building a solid agro-industrial base and a thriving fishing industry. “How can the government invest Rs 20 billion in the sugar sector – a dying sector – and is not able to provide Rs 5 billion to the fishing sector? We let the foreigners fish in our waters. They bring the catches home and we turn them into finished products for re-export.”

We have not been investing in building the necessary technical know-how and logistics for deep-sea fishing, but we keep on saying that the Ocean economy is the new economic frontier. Meanwhile the sharing of the optimal rent (rent from land speculation) between the political and economic elites goes on as before with the difference that it has now become somewhat more inclusive on the margin. 

* * *

The Smart cities: The Mauritian divide

On one side, we have the Smart Cities, conceptualised by the elite and the corporates, imposing their model of development. On the other side, we have the others, crammed into smaller and smaller and relatively poorer areas. That’s the Mauritian divide, an economy “à deux ou à trois vitesses” – one geared to the high-tech, towards the new advances of the internet of things, the other the rapidly impoverishing middle and lower classes which are clinging to whatever opportunities the elite may choose to dangle to them. And we are caught in this competitive race for the few crumbs that they leave for us.

The elite have imposed their will, their linear thinking, and imprisoned us in their archaic conformism and attitudes. But once a while when we come face to face with the tribulations of the marginalised, those living on the fringe – such as the two retired elderly citizens trying to earn some extra money as night watchmen and who were brutally murdered, or the case of a small kid and his parents of Cité Anoshka caught up in the fire of their shanty houses, or even 50 years after independence when our smart city people are designing a metro express to criss-cross the island and protecting themselves with 4000 expensive smart cameras , some regions still lack the basic infrastructure while others continuously face an irregular supply of water — we are shocked, we are concerned, we question this model of development. But it’s momentary… We then go back to business as usual. We have every reason to have our own “Gilets Jaunes”…

* * *

The GRA again: not fit for purpose

Even where betting is concerned, the Gambling Regulatory Authority (GRA) is found wanting, unable to shoulder its responsibility. The Stevenhills company has accused two companies of circumventing the law by authorizing illegal bets. These two operators, it is alleged, have allowed customers to bet on football matches through SMS, which is prohibited by law.

Stevenhills says it does not understand how the GRA can allow these two operators to circumvent the law. “I have concrete evidence in my possession that a person was able to bet on football via SMS”, Stevenhills assert, quoting the dates of 13 and 14 December. It is calling for an investigation to shed light on what it considers as a big irregularity on the part of these two operators.

The GRA cannot afford to allow people to continue having doubts on its ability to be a worthy regulator in gambling activities.

* * *

Leaving Party for the Indian HC, Mr Abhay Takur

Though the former High Commissioner of India, Mr Abhay Takur might not have been that popular with the political class, politicians of all stripes were present at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Indian Culture for his departure ceremony. He had been called to lead the Nigerian High Commission. In his farewell speech he pointed out that he is leaving with a feeling of having fulfilled his duty here.

In some gossip quarters, they claim that it was a private call to the Indian PM, Mr Narendra Modi, that culminated in Mr Takur’s immediate transfer as he had committed the “unpardonable and inexpiable infamy” of meeting with one of the leaders of the opposition parties — a consequence of the Safe City cameras at work.

In politics you have tall men and small ones – especially those who have not achieved greatness but have had greatness thrust upon them. What can you expect? Small minds, small actions!

* * *

EIA Licence to NMH: Irresponsibility of the Ministry of Environment

A case had been lodged with the Environmental and Land Use Appeal Tribunal by Rezistans ek Alternativ (ReA) challenging the EIA license granted to NMH for the proposed construction of a resort hotel at Les Salines, Riviere-Noire leading to the destruction of ESA Wetlands No. 76. The Beachcomber group has proposed a new “grand managed wetland” to replace the old one. ReA has repeatedly denounced the planned destruction of ESA Wetland 76 by New Mauritius Hotels. A wetland which, it should be remembered, is in the top 5 of the ESAs Wetlands with the greatest diversity of fauna, out of the 230 classified ESAs Wetlands.

Moreover, ReA argues that the new proposed wetland cannot replace the old one because they are not of the same nature. Following the evaluation of the site by Dr Piet-Louis Grundling (Research Associate at the Center of Environmental Studies, University of Free State, South Africa), a world-renowned expert on Wetlands, it was established that the new wetland proposed by New Mauritius Hotels as part of its hotel project could not function as the “tidal salt marsh” wetland and therefore it could not be considered a “like for like” replacement measure to compensate for the destruction of “Natural salt marsh”.

Will the Ministry of the Environment assume its responsibility?

* * *

In line with Vision 2030, the Public Sector Transformation Strategy aims at transforming the public sector through the development of strong organisational capabilities and creating a culture of integrity, trust, accountability, entrepreneurship, innovation and excellence while focusing on “outcomes” at all times.

We have been talking about this transformation for years now – a transition that can be characterized as moving from administration to management with the civil service through its main pillars of reform – the Human Resource Management Information System (HRMIS) and the Performance Management System (PMS). But there are important cogs missing for a successful transformation – first, a full-fledged and real performance and policy-based Program-Based Budgeting that had kick-started the process of improving public sector performance; second, the transition towards a more managerial (results- focused) role, rather than an administrative (process-driven) role, requires a redefinition of the institutional setting with clearer ministerial vs. administrative roles in terms of accountability for results, enhanced financial management authority at the ministry level, and an overall change of mindset from the traditional establishment process to a modern, proactive approach based on service delivery improvements; third, an improved system for medium-term HR planning, and lastly the roles and accountabilities of ministers and senior managers have to be clearly defined , especially their authority to deliver on their new roles and KPIs. Otherwise, it will just be blah-blahs as it has been till now.

* * *

Sugar Sector: Small planters protest march

The ‘Mouvement Ti Planteurs’ is organizing a protest march in front of Government House and the offices of the of the Mauritius Sugar Syndicate (MSS) at the beginning of the year. Pradeep Jeeha, one of the representatives of the small planters, made a strong case for the planters who are being given a mere pittance of an additional Rs 257. The small planters are incurring expenses of Rs 1,800 per ton and should have been paid Rs 2,500 per ton of cane. Planters are barely scraping 70 kg of sugar per ton of cane and are earning an average Rs 1,300 per ton.

Pradeep Jeeha has also denounced the system of vouchers for fertilizers, given that the small planters had already fertilized their fields before government took the decision and these planters will have to be compensated. He also pointed out the exaggerated expenses of the MSS and the perceived case of conflict of interest of G. Rajpati as member of the Fact Finding committee and the SIFB.

* * *

GDP forecasts conundrum: Nothing new

One of the local newspapers happens to give it much publicity two to three days before the publication of the article of the ex-Governor of the Bank of Mauritius titled “GDP forecasts conundrum…”. The article did introduce us to some of the common jargon in international economics which had yet to find its expression in our domestic economic discourse, namely the new normal, Voodoo economics, the protestant ethic that “in the long run, you can’t live beyond your means”… and which indeed gives the article a tinge of the scholarly, of the knowledgeable to coat the content which did not amount to much.

Without the trendy packaging and superfluous verbiage to accompany it, we did highlight in these very columns the question of the low investment multiplier, the slowing down of exports growth of goods and services, the investment rate stuck at around 18% of GDP (since private investments account for three quarters of total investments) and the shrinking net exports of goods and services as a percentage of GDP, that were plateauing or deflating the growth rate. But we restricted ourselves to facts and we dare not tread where crystal ball gazers stand a better chance – the crackdown on drug dealers and the Alvaro Sobrinho effects or even the quarterly dip in capital flows which came after a huge abnormal surplus in the previous quarter. As it may be too early to start crying wolf.

Everyone is entitled to his opinion but not to his own facts.

* Published in print edition on 11 January 2019

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