National Assembly: Arvin Boolell, Leader of the Opposition

Political Caricatures

By L.E. Pep

After the verdict of the polls, a question came up again and again. Who will be the leader of the opposition? A few candidates were eligible for the post.

First, Xavier Duval, the only party leader of the National Alliance who got elected. He has held this post before and has performed reasonably well though he lacked punch with regard to some of the issues raised in Parliament. But he did maintain the stature and decorum of the post. However his espousal of a census along ethnic lines might have disqualified him as the consensus candidate of the opposition.

As regards the Labour Party (LP), Shakeel Mohamed, who was the party’s ‘chef de file’ in the National Assembly, was also a potential candidate. His performance could have propulsed him to the position but some of his “questionable” interventions during the political campaign showed that he has still a long way to go before he can become more of a national figure.

The chosen one is Arvin Boolell, deputy leader of the LP, who has more years of experience in politics than his party colleagues, is generally appreciated for his consensual approach and is perceived as a federator. His only liability is that he is from the Old Guard who may find himself in competition with the upcoming Young Turks. Besides being the Leader of the Opposition, he will have to fight his way to the pinnacle of the Party. It follows that a true “rupture” should start within the Labour Party itself. It will require a leader that will give the Party a different image and a structure that it deserves.

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SADC Electoral Observation Mission: Professionally organized but room for improvement

In its preliminary statement, the SADC Electoral Observer Mission to the 2019 general elections in Mauritius observed that best practices that included political activities particularly campaign rallies, public meetings and door-to-door canvassing were held in a peaceful environment, which enabled voters to express their democratic will and those who sought office to campaign unhindered without any constraints.

On areas that required improvement, the Mission expressed concern about the constitutional requirement for candidates to declare their community belonging. As regards the delimitation of constituencies, the Mission noted that the voter population in constituencies should be uniform in order to guarantee voter equality, that is one-person, one-vote. “This principle is recognised in the constitution of Mauritius with respect to the delimitation of constituencies which is required to be carried out every 10 years,” reads the report.

It also notes that the President has the right to dissolve Parliament at any time thus triggering a general election, thereby creating uncertainty in the life cycle of the country’s democracy. The partiality of our national TV, relaying propaganda tirelessly, was also highlighted. The Mission also noted that members of the National Assembly could cross the floor, meaning they could switch allegiance to a different party.

We cannot say that our Electoral Supervisory Commission is totally above reproach.

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Metro: “There is still much work to be done,” says Land Transport minister

‘Part of the work has been done and there is still much work to be done,’ said Alan Ganoo, the new Minister of Transport, referring to the challenges of the Metro Express project.

The absence of dialogue between the authorities and the local communities has led to a situation of mistrust. The traffic is already a mess in many areas and it is felt that the metro project, as undertaken under the current plan, will aggravate the already hectic traffic hassles and disrupt the lives of the region’s residents.

The new minister can make a good start by renewing dialogue with residents who are of the view that there is need to review the trajectory of the Metro in some regions. A better alternative would be the installation of spans on pillars, which would have cost an additional Rs 600 or Rs 700 million; that would have been a more comfortable and environment-friendly solution suitable to the topography and characteristics of the adjoining areas of Belle-Rose and Quatre Bornes. Most of the residents of these areas will be watching the moves of the new minister to make out whether he is prepared to open a dialogue with them.

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Alan Ganoo refutes allegations of electoral bribe

Residents of Case Noyale, Petite Riviere-Noire and La Gaulette claim that they have obtained parcels of State land, located in Petite Rivière Noire. The ‘beneficiaries’ — about fifty squatters – allege that Alan Ganoo, had promised them State lands in exchange of their votes. The latter has categorically denied all the allegations levelled against him. Equipped with sabres and axes, these squatters have begun to clear the ground despite the fact that they do not have any official records or papers.
Affaire à suivre.

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Education minister Leela Devi Dookun: “There is still a lot to do”

In her first statement after taking the oath of office, Education minister Leela Devi Dookun said: “We will work to live up to expectations.” Indeed, the expectations are high given that the whole educational reform seems to have lost its momentum and we have been going at it mainly on tiptoe, in piecemeal fashion and haphazardly while avoiding to challenge the status quo.

Many Mauritians want to see real change in the education system. The dynamics or tectonic shifts in the world of technology affecting different economic sectors are giving rise to a profound question about education: in what way should our education system be rethought to equip it for future challenges? Much of today’s educational approaches, thrust and content will have to change. The reforms that are being proposed are not preparing us for the future. Are our authorities listening? Are they prepared to go beyond the small coterie of advisers to reach out to other educationists who are worried that we might be taking the wrong track?

That’s the challenge of the moment and we cannot afford to miss the boat again. After all, isn’t it said that “l’éducation, c’est le sésame du développement”?

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Reimbursement for BAI victims?

The spokesmen for BAI victims used the elections to wrest a promise for the payment of a first instalment of reimbursement of their investments in the company. That is supposed to take place as from December, nearly five years after the dismantling of the BAI group. Whether it is the MMM, the Labour Party or the Alliance Morisien, they all have made all kinds of promises to win over a particular section of the electorate. Now that a new finance minister is in office and the election fever has died down, we have to come back to the reality of the figures. Why should the taxpayer bear the follies of risk-seekers in search of opportunistic and risky higher returns?

BAI was a disaster waiting to happen. The IMF Report, entitled ‘Financial Sector Reforms’ of May 2012, raised a number of issues with respect to the BAI. The report observed that the insurance company had a substantial proportion of its assets invested in related companies and emphasised the need for this issue to be resolved; it also advised that appropriate regulatory requirements should be applied on the life insurance products issued by the company and which attracted high bonuses and could easily be cashed in.

It concluded on this serious note that the issues of the conglomerate were potentially serious for the policyholders, depositors and investors and the weaknesses that allowed the problem to remain unresolved for so long, could also result in more serious failure of a systemically more important institution. The Report made a prescient recommendation:

“The authorities should also engage in joint ‘war games’ in which they play out their reaction to a crisis in the financial sector. Contingency planning is very important, especially in a financial sector that has been lucky enough to avoid most real financial scandals. There would be advantage in devising a financial crisis scenario such as the failure of an insurance company…”

BAI was failing and an actuary who dared alert the authorities on the unsound activities of BAI was made to leave the country à la Cunningham, hunted by the mafia. The MSM-ML-PMSD government mismanaged it all. They burst the bubble instead of gradually and confidently deflating it. Are we taxpayers going to bear the cost of their mishandling of the ongoing BAI saga?

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Tourism: Another month of negative growth

Another challenge for the new government is the failing tourism sector. While international arrivals in Europe are growing by some 4%, Asia and the Pacific (+6%), Africa (+3%) and our main competitors are recording above average to moderate growth rates, the latest figures released for the first ten months of the year show a negative growth of -0.6%. From January to October 2018, the country had registered 1,109,118 visitors while for the same period this year, the number is 1,102,660.

Just for October 2019 compared to October of last year, there is a drop of -1.1% for Germany, -5.2% for the United Kingdom, -3.6% for South Africa, -12.6% for Asia and -10% from Australia. This continuous fall in tourist arrivals spells disaster ahead if immediate actions are not taken to tackle the root causes of the fast dwindling sector.

Some months back, Jose Arunasalom in an article titled ‘Drop in tourist arrivals: Who to blame?’ has been querying government on some of the serious issues facing the sector “… more and more hungry competitors and emerging destinations are around to bite our market share. The winners are countries which remain attuned to changes in market trends and consumer demands; the losers are those which do not adopt aggressive and well targeted marketing strategies. Are our policymakers taking full account of the quality side of tourism whereby an increasing number of environmentally conscious visitors prefer green and cultural tourism products? Why is it that Mauritius is absent from the list of top 100 World’s Sustainable Destinations released in March this year?”

The authorities will have to move fast and formulate appropriate sector policies that best reflect the new changes and ensure that our industry players adapt to the new thinking and trends to remain competitive.

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The Mauritian economy may take the hit

Global growth continues to be threatened by rising trade barriers together with geopolitical tensions, writes the IMF. It has revised downwards its global growth forecast for 2019 to a meagre 3% in its latest World Economic Outlook report. It expects policy makers to defuse the trade tensions by providing timely assistance to economic activity wherever needed.

The ongoing tensions between United States and China, coupled with unresolved uncertainties on Brexit, have downgraded global growth prospects. Small open economies like Mauritius are more likely to be affected by these global headwinds as its key economic sectors, namely tourism, textiles and sugar, are still very “eurocentric”. The Mauritian economy may indeed take a hit if economic slowdown continues in Europe and protectionist policy tariff-hikes keep mounting between the US and China.

The Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of Mauritius is meeting next week. Are we going in for a lowering of the interest rate to give even more breathing space to the corporate sector burdened by their high level of indebtedness? Will we be seeing further depreciation of the rupee to restore the competitiveness of the export sector?

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Quote: Gillian Genevieve in ‘Le Mauricien

“The phenomenon of identity politics and identification of others on the basis of a shared identity is the main determinant of the choice of the Mauritian voter.”

* Published in print edition on 15 November 2019

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