Shades of Grey

By  Jan Arden

As we all emerge from the difficulties and pains of year 2021, a year that seems to have been marked by shades of grey: positive notes on some fronts, which the authorities would like us to latch on, and a flurry of affairs that belie an “all is well and under control” official messaging, where might 2022 lead us to?

The pluses

On the positive front, works on the rapid transit system (Metro Express) are certainly progressing apace from Rose-Hill through Quatre-Bornes and onto Curepipe, linking the main urban agglomerations and these look set to be completed for the most part by end 2022 while the extension link between Rose-Hill junction and Reduit/Ebene could well be on track to delivery. While such works carry their lot of temporary inconveniences, and the financial sustainability of the project, including annual public subsidy levels, has yet to be independently assessed, few will deny its socioeconomic importance and strategic contribution to local commuter transport. It will undoubtedly constitute a feather in the cap of the authorities that will be waved across all sympathetic platforms government can rely on.

We could add to that aura of official comfort, the final removal of the country after two years of joint efforts from private and public bodies, from the IMF/FATF “grey list” and, within weeks we trust, from the EU blacklist. Celebrations from the Financial Services sector were naturally muted as nobody in higher government spheres would want reminding the public how we sank into the pit in the first place.

On a somewhat similar note government will be relieved to have circumnavigated the Wakashio maritime disaster and oil-spill of such international impact. The Court of Investigation has concluded its hearings in December this year with charges and convictions limited, as we understand it, to the ship captain and his second, both pleading guilty, sentenced to 20 months, about to be or already released and repatriated to India and Sri Lanka respectively. With the allowance paid out this week to those most affected, the authorities can feel relieved, end of story!

Barring the tragic Sir Gaetan tug twist, but then nobody really expected the Wakashio Court, which is not a Commission of Inquiry, to delve into the multiple levels of failings that allowed the vagrant vessel with unknown cargo to end up beached onto the sensitive coral reefs of Pointe d’Esny and was allowed to wallow there until it was belly up and belched out its tons of heavy fuel.

The tedium

It is earnestly hoped that some effective lessons have been drawn regarding our capacities to continuously and professionally manage our coastal and economic zones, keep the southern “safe passage” under scrutiny and revamp our National Security and Coast Guard Services during 2022. Or about the selection and experience, capacities and professionalism of square peg political appointees overseeing and managing personnel, equipment, resources and contingency plans for such major sectors of our country as the port.

If none of these above events had any causative link with the Covid pandemic, the latter will provide its broad shoulders to help government steer the conversation away from political appointee ineptness in dwindling Air Mauritius (MK) fortunes since 2019, when its finances dipped into the red after ill-timed brand new aircraft purchases had to be leased out. The Covid-related travel industry crisis that started early 2020 did the rest and MK, as many other imprudent airlines, spiralled into voluntary administration, avoiding bankruptcy through a severe hair-cut accounting exercise accompanied by the creation of the mega-structure Airport Holdings limited, controlling everything related to the airport and airline sector, including MK. Year 2022 should see some positive rebound for our fabled carrier despite the pandemic uncertainties although we have yet to see the outline of a master-plan.

We will refrain to add to those grey shades many other important factors and even the lesser ones. Economists, accounting and banking specialists will watch closely the state of the economy and in particular, the inflation in pharmaceuticals and imported food prices hitting the low and middle classes, the true state of the national reserves at the Central Bank or the slide of our currency against our trading partners during 2022.

As mentioned by Cardinal Piat in an extract of his end of year message, “De plus, le coût de la vie monte en flèche pendant que la roupie dégringole. Notre économie, déjà fragilisée, doit composer avec un avenir incertain…” before wishing the faithful that Christmas brings cheers, joys and hope “au milieu de toute cette détresse”.

Nothing there that ordinary Mauritians are not feeling in their pinched pockets and lifestyles while they read weekly columns on the “largesses” towards the nomenklatura, yet this passage amongst others was censored and left out on the national broadcaster version of the Cardinal’s season’s greetings, a first in MBC annals. Most observers suspect such a censorship could only happen under instructions from higher quarters, which takes us to the more dismal perspectives for 2022.

The shocking

And here, how can we avoid mentioning the naked fraudulent purchases which have taken place at Health during 2021 as in 2020, under the supervision of the same Minister, senior cadres, a High-Level Committee, astute advisors and various pharmaco-vigilance committees? After the shocking revelations of 2020, how can the Molnupiravir drug purchase saga, being investigated by our anti-corruption agency, with new twists revealed in the press, have taken place under such strict vigilance, wonders the layman.

Or has the corruption rot developed systemic and organic roots, known to insiders, even if a couple of high echelon civil servants are ultimately made to carry the can? For the sake of governance and transparency, will the authorities consider issuing a press release concerning all vaccines ordered/received and amounts paid for since 2020?

The other major area where the nation could hope for evolution during 2022 concerns the authoritarian drift of the regime which has already manifested itself in a number of police provisional charges or in new legislations curbing private radio stations and internet users under the impulsion, it seems, of the same spirit that has led to the censorship of the Cardinal’s telecast Christmas message. It would sadly be a triumph of hope against experience. There is ample evidence that the regime intends soldiering on, marching under the banner of its Sol Invictus, undeterred and undistracted by grumblings and rumblings which it feels it can easily reabsorb at the appropriate time, with the appropriate handouts.

Nevertheless, we trust everybody, having endured so much already, whatever the glitz, glamour and razzmatazz, keeps as safe as necessary to see 2022 through.

* Published in print edition on 31 December 2021

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