Shanty dwellings opposite posh RES

Political Caricatures

By  L.E. Pep

No, we are not referring to some Asian or Latin American country, it is here in Mauritius. It has been highlighted that in the Black River region, at a place better known as Carré d’As we have some squatters on private land — about 46 families or 150 people. Facing these squatters is a high-flying RES’s residential units under construction – another gated community with all its luxuries!

The Carré d’As families live in a precarious situation: dilapidated ramshackle houses, cooking on the floor for some, promiscuity, water supply problem, one toilet and bathroom for several families. In addition, they have to queue up for water collection every morning.

That’s the achievements that this Government is talking about. If they want to do something, as suggested by one of the participants at a recent talk on human rights, use the Land (Compulsory) Acquisition Act, a law which entitles the authorities to buy private land for social housing projects. That will be an achievement!

* * *

Cottage: Drains are not a priority!

The inhabitants of Cottage took to the streets to make their voices heard on last Tuesday morning, December 11th. They had come together to protest against the inactivity of the authorities. The reason: the floods that occurred after the heavy downpour had caused a lot of damage. They lost almost everything during the rising waters: furniture, food, appliances and even vehicles.

Retired persons, children and other adults were seen shouting their anger on the streets. According to them, the absence of proper drains to channel the water pouring down from adjoining villages was responsible for the flood in Cottage. These however do not appear to constitute the priorities of this government – thus the non-implementation of projects that have a bearing on the daily living of the small people. They are more concerned with prestige projects – the Metro Express, the Sports Complex at Cote d’Or, Smart Cities, the Anse la Raie by-pass… — all of which will supposedly change the lives of people. There are indeed urgent short-term priorities which should be tackled immediately including the consolidation of policies to boost inclusive growth. They have now allocated Rs 70 m for drains at Cottage. Après la mort, la tisane… as usual.

Construction of drains should be a priority!

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Declaration of Assets Bill: Room for improvement

The latest Declaration of Assets Bill (No. XXIII of 2018) was passed without amendment in the National Assembly on December 12. The elected members of Mauritius and Rodrigues will have to declare their assets at the beginning and at the end of their mandate. City and district councillors are also concerned, as well as members of the judiciary, the Speaker and senior officials (public officer of the grade of, or drawing salary at the level of, Deputy Permanent Secretary and above).

However, the data will not be accessible to the general public. The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) will reveal only part of the information in its possession. Why ICAC, which presently suffers from a “credibility gap”? Why are the declarations of assets and liabilities not made accessible to the public? Many are of the opinion that the bill is not sufficiently restrictive. For greater transparency and with a view to ending impunity, the opposition calls for the establishment of a verification mechanism for the information disclosed by the persons concerned and for stiffer penalties, in terms of sentences and fines, for those who make false declarations regarding their assets.

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The multi-billion Safe City project: Huawei Again!

This time even Orange is reviewing its Huawei ties. Indeed, doors are slamming shut for Huawei around the world. The Chinese multinational telecommunications equipment and consumer electronics company is coming under pressure in two more key European markets — the latest in a series of problems the Chinese company is facing around the world. Telecommunications firm Orange has ruled out the use of Huawei components in its core 5G network in France, and Germany’s Deutsche Telekom says it is reviewing purchases of Huawei equipment.

Our local media is also putting pressure on Government on this multi-billion Safe City project. “There are many issues connected with this project being implemented “à la va vite”! What is the urgency? Why is the entire project shrouded in secrecy? How was Huawei chosen and who signed it? The people want an answer from the Chairman and the CEO of Mauritius Telecom, a prominent member of ‘La Cuisine’ who is said to be one of the main proponents of this project?

* * *

Lepep Government: Le bilan 4 years on

Some negative comments noted on social media: “The party continues. Kleptocracy is at its peak. After Rs 19 m for Trilochun, Rs 15 m pour Dayal, Rs 48 m for Soodhun, Rs 25 m for Husnoo and now MP Sorefan hits the jackpot with Rs 16 m!” For the spokesperson of Lalit, “what we have been witnessing is the transformation of the state apparatus into a Jugnauth state”.

Others have this to say: “They are not developing certain sectors, …the outcome and the future impacts on our economy will be very severe and some Mauritians (if not all) will be greatly penalised. The minimum wage and the negative tax will not be enough to meet the rising cost of living that we will face shortly. (Already 77% of Mauritians have problems in settling their regular bills.) Be prepared to see everything increase and the number of poor citizens rise.” Economist Ganessen Chinnapen is of the opinion that the Lepep government has not come up with coherent policy measures for new sources of growth to propel the economy to a higher plateau of growth and a more diversified and resilient economy.

Some more positive ones: “Whether the glass is half full or half empty is a matter of perception. The fact is that there hasn’t been any shortage of people that want this government to fail. As to the performance of this government, I’ll reserve my judgement till the end of its mandate.”

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The Financial Services Sector: Piètre bilan

First you had the blatantly amateurish way they dealt with the BAI affair – much like a bull in a china shop, and we are still bearing the huge costs of this mismanagement and failed salvage operations. Then our financial centre was involved or named in a series of financial scams from Beaufort Securities to the alleged $2bn fraud of the Punjab National Bank and the jeweller Nirav Modi, to Ireo, one of India’s biggest property developers, one of Donald Trump’s business partners in India and then there were Alvaro Sobrinho and Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais of Quantum Global.

We also saw Mauritius classified as a high-risk jurisdiction by some global banks, namely Deutsche Bank, Citi, Standard Chartered and JP Morgan. Mauritius was one among the 25 countries in the list of high risk jurisdictions compiled by these global banks in India. It was followed by the damning Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group (ESAAMLG) Mutual Evaluation Report for Mauritius which prompted the authorities to come forward with appropriate amendments and legislations. And despite all the conferences and similar shows, the international interactions and the assurances of a transformation to Fintech and Innovation-Driven Financial Services, we are not reassured. There are still many gaps to be filled for a meaningful blueprint.

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BOM: Losses of Rs 587 millions

Many of the criticisms directed against the Bank of Mauritius (BOM) as regards the perceived level of incompetence and mismanagement may not hold. However the BOM should increase its expertise in reserve management to ensure that its return on the reserves could at least compensate the cost of monetary policy and the overgenerous salaries of the Governor and his Deputies.

On the question of foreign reserves, we seem to have exceeded the conventional benchmarks for reserve adequacy. One reason in the first place for the excess foreign reserve accumulation is BOM’s attempts to limit exchange rate fluctuations or to prevent the exchange rate from appreciating. Another reason is the lack of expertise at the Bank to manage the large capital inflows. In thin and illiquid local markets, open market operations are often not only costly but also ineffective. Further haemorrhaging of its balance sheet may not be a big deal but it may continue to give the impression that the required competence to take corrective actions is lacking at the BOM.

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Landscope Mauritius: Des zones d’ombre

It has been two years since Landscope Mauritius came into operation. The activities of this company, comprising the following entities – State Property Development Company Ltd (SPDC), Business Parks of Mauritius Ltd (BPML), State Land Development Company (SLDC), Belle Mare Tourist Village Ltd, Le Val Development Ltd and Les Pailles Conference Centre Ltd – range from land management to the construction of Smart Cities and the development of recreational parks. Profits to the tune of Rs 43.5 million are being realized for the financial year 2018.

The opposition has a totally different view of this company which they consider to lack transparency and accountability, especially on the awarding of contracts and the recruitment of employees. They argue that the answers to their half a dozen questions in Parliament do portray the company as inefficient due to its inability to concretize the many projects that they have earlier announced, namely the Belle Mare Tourist Village, the Côte-d’Or Smart City and the Rose Belle Business Park, despite the hefty monthly pay packets of Rs 211,000 for the top team, who supposedly have the skills to see the projects to fruition and attain outcomes effectively and efficiently.

 * * *

House adjourned to 26 march 2019

Our MPs are having some long holidays. They have had the nerve to pretend that they deserve a long break after the hard labour of the past months. Really? To us it seems they are being paid mostly to sleep, to show their tongue and other instruments, to walk out when they should not and not to walk out when they should, to challenge their opponents to ugly spats of “tombe dehors” when they are short of arguments, to create all kinds of pea-brained reasonings and ‘zizanies’, instead of trying to convince through facts and arguments or to come up with botched-up bills or bills that have to be withdrawn. One of the smart-alecs trying an amalgam of politics and football pointed to the dwindling Manchester United team making him think of some of our MPs, especially the Ministers – Big salary, many advisers, lot of stunts… but poor performance. LoL.

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Tourism sector: Still lagging behind!

The number of tourist arrivals for the first nine months of 2018 increased by 4.3% from 934,679 for the corresponding period in 2017 to reach 975,066. The forecast of tourist arrivals for 2018 will be an increase of 4.0%.

But it still lags behind the 5% growth in international tourist arrivals. Asia and the Pacific-led growth in January-September 2018, with arrivals increasing by 7%. Europe and the Middle East also recorded sound results with 6% growth; even Africa outperformed us with an increase of a 5%. Sri Lanka and Maldives will again do better than us this year. Despite all the expectations about our famous air corridor, arrivals from the People’s Republic of China continue to decrease and our relatively more expensive air fares have had an impact on the Reunion market with arrivals declining by 6.4%. These mixed results may be a wake-up call to draw our attention to some of the weaknesses and bottlenecks in the sector that have prevented us from realizing more meaningful growth rates.

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Grade 7-Extended Programme: An approximation!

If we had allowed the experienced teachers and the educationists to have their way unhindered by the cumbersome administrators and advisers, we would surely have had a better educational outcome.

One of the experienced teachers has confirmed some of our earlier doubts about the Extended Programme. The findings of his in-depth survey carried out among some teachers of Zone 3 are that “the Extended Programme students have been placed in a train and the train is on its way with no definite and fixed destination.” Will they be following the mainstream education? Will they be taking part in the National Certificate of Education (NCE) exams? Everything is still unclear.

There is need for a clear and precise orientation coupled with a well-defined evaluation system leading to the award for a recognized certificate of competence.

* Published in print edition on 21 December 2018

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