The Children’s Bill

Political Caricatures

By L.E. Pep

After years of tergiversation, the Children’s Bill has now been finalised and presented for a second reading at the National Assembly. The main object of this Bill is to repeal the Child Protection Act and replace it with a more appropriate, comprehensive and modern legislative framework so as to better protect children and to give better effect to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.

However the mainstream opposition parties, the Ombudsman for children and the ex-Minister of Women’s Rights and Family Affairs are in favour of increasing the age of criminal responsibility for any act or omission from 12 to 14 years, and that sections 145,146, and 147 of the Civil Code be reformulated such that, without or without parental consent, the final decision for the marriage of minors should rest with a judge.

As for the NGOs, including the Kolektif Drwa Zenfan Morisien and Resistans ek Alternativ, which have been tirelessly pressing Government to stand by its commitments made to international organizations to respect and promote the rights of children, the Children’s Bill is a deception. They want government to bring the marriage age back to 18 and thus invalidate Section 145 of the Civil Code. If the Children’s Bill is adopted without amendment, it will contribute to perpetuate gender and social inequalities. This will therefore run counter to the non-discrimination clause included in the bill. They also point out that child marriage mainly concerns girls from disadvantaged backgrounds and keeps them in a situation of dependence, helplessness and even physical, psychological, social and economic distress.

It should be remembered that Mauritius has not signed the SADC Protocol on gender and Development, which is a commitment by member countries to fight the marriage of minors under 18 years of age. Yet five years ago, at the 35th plenary session of the SADC Forum of Parliamentarians in Mauritius, there was a strong call for the elimination of child marriage.

As a country that’s a party to the African Children’s Charter, the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Mauritius has an obligation to ensure that no person below the age of 18 gets married with or without parental consent.

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Be part of Global Climate Strike: a voice can change the world!

Global climate activists, including Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, participated in the United Nations 2019 Climate Action Summit, ahead of the annual UN General Assembly meeting of world leaders. The aim of the summit is to encourage countries to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and develop realistic plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. About 60 world leaders took part in the one-day meeting organised by UN Secretary General António Guterres.

Swedish teenage campaigner Greta Thunberg made a passionate speech to world leaders at the UN, accusing them of failing to act on climate change. “This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean, yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you? You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” the 16-year-old said. And she urged world leaders to act urgently, saying: “We will be watching you.”

Ahead of the meeting, scientists warned the signs and impacts of global warming were speeding up. The World Meteorological Organization said the amount of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere between 2015 and 2019 had grown by 20% compared with the previous five years.

Mr Guterres, who organised the meeting, said the world was “in a deep climate hole” and that urgent action was needed. “Time is running out, but it’s not too late,” he said. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her country would double to €4bn (£3.5bn; $4.4bn) its financial commitment to fight global warming. French President Emmanuel Macron said international organisations had pledged to release $500m in additional aid to protect tropical forests. New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said things “are starting to turn around” in the country. “Our gross emissions peaked in 2006, over 80% of our electricity already comes from renewable hydro and wind, and we have begun an ambitious agenda.”

What are we doing here? Mauritius has been ranked 16th on the list of countries with the highest disaster risk and 10th as the most exposed to natural hazards as per the 2018 World Risk Index. The island faces inherent environmental vulnerabilities associated with small island developing states including conflicting land uses, proneness to natural disasters, limited natural resources and sensitive ecosystems, among others, despite being a low emitter of greenhouse gases which is of the order of 0.01%. The impacts of climate variability and extreme weather events are becoming a concern to the Republic of Mauritius, including Rodrigues, St Brandon and Agalega.

Rezistans ek Alternativ (ReA), an ecosocialist party, has been clamouring in favour of a freeze of the smart cities project, a Climate Change Bill, special Climate Change National Consultations and, like Eco-Sud, an Environmentally Sensitive Area Bill. Platform Moris Lanvironnman, on its part, is campaigning for the revision of our National Development Strategy with the participation of the civil society.

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Metro Express: Enjoy the ride!

Information about the metro Express is now being given in small doses. After the revelation that we will be having one the longest escalators in the country at Rose Hill station, now we are being told that the maintenance of the third generation Urbos 100 will be around Rs 90 million per year, excluding the operational costs and the maintenance of the rail tracks.

Updating the figures that were provided at the start of the project, we can safely predict that the annual fare revenue will be cover only half of the annual operation and maintenance costs. Before we are able to secure additional revenue from the stations, the viability of the project will be heavily dependent on its ridership and the risk is that it might require heavy government subsidies to keep it going.

Building the Metro is one thing, ensuring its successful and efficient operation is another. To increase its ridership and shift car users to the metro will require some hard-hitting measures on private car users; that will surely be looked into after the next general elections. In the meantime, it’s the sweeter pill of free travel that’s being offered to the electorate… Enjoy the ride, dear reader!

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The Combined Cycle Gas Turbine stalled again

Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth and DPM Ivan Collendavelloo are not on the same wavelength with regard to the Central Electricity Board’s gas turbine project.

In the meantime, the pressure is mounting on the CEB to meet the energy needs of the country. According to an in-house engineer, it now has to face two major challenges. First, a growing demand of the order of 2% to 3% annually. Energy production, both by the CEB and IPPs, comes to around 550 MW, while consumption has almost reached 500 MW. This leaves it with a margin of 10% to cope with possible failures or for plants maintenance. That’s besides additional capacity that will be needed to cater for projects under construction – the Metro Express which will require 11MW once it is fully operational and Smart Cities, etc.

Moreover, the CEB needs to renew some of its obsolete plants and equipment. ‘A plant is designed with a service life of 20 years. With good maintenance, we can delay its replacement to 25 or even 30 years. Except that many of these plants are nearing the end of their effective lifetime,’ says the engineer, adding that ‘Fort George, which generates 130 MW, has 25 years on the meter and three other turbines are over 30 years old and it is therefore necessary to replace them.’ This increases, according to the engineer, the risks of breakdowns. ‘There are many generators but the breakdowns are happening almost daily. If several of these machines were to fail simultaneously, it will be a problem,’ he explains. Moreover, without being alarmist, he cautions against the risk of blackouts.

The CEB is awaiting a decision from the Ministry of Finance (MOF) in view of its interest to contract a loan for the financing of the Combined Cycle Gas Turbine, estimated at some Rs 7 billion. Rs 4 billion will be needed for Phase I of the project. The CEB is willing to contribute Rs 2.8 billion; the remaining Rs 1.2 billion will have to be raised through a loan.

All kinds of reasons are being given by the MOF for not proceeding with the project, namely that they are contemplating a G2G option by soliciting a foreign country for the implementation of the project and the supply of Liquefied Natural Gas for a fixed period. But it would appear that the snag lies in the two protagonists backing two different horses. One is a foreign firm with whom our dear Ivan, it is alleged, would have already taken some commitments, the other is the local coal lobby for whom it’s a matter of billions of rupees accruing from the cast-iron IPP-CEB contracts.

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The opposition rallies to the support of small cane planters

The leaders and representatives of the major opposition parties were present on Sunday, September 22, 2019 at the Octave Wiehe auditorium to support the cause of small planters.

Kreepalloo Sunghoon, President of the Small Planters Association noted that government has shut the door on small cane growers. He believes that all the reports that have been published to date on the sector are “bidon”. He also has invited the opposition parties, one of which he thinks will form the next government, to come out publicly with concrete solutions for the small planters. He reiterated that it is important that small planters be paid Rs 2,500 per ton of cane.

Pradeep Jeeha has called for an investigation into the Mauritius Sugar Syndicate. He supported the the small planters’ demand for a remuneration of Rs 2,500 per tonne of cane. He proposed the setting up of a Mauritian Small Cane Planters Syndicate and a sugar factory in which the small planters would be shareholders if the remuneration of Rs 2500 per ton of cane cannot be paid to them. He has also called for an amendment to the law to stop the importation of sugar to protect small producers.

For Paul Bérenger, leader of the MMM his presence at the meeting of small planters is a sign of solidarity to their cause and he believes that the next government will have to do its best to give smallholders what they deserve. He pledged to review the functioning of the sugar industry, which he says is in deplorable state: ‘I never make promises in the air,’ he said. He added that the country cannot continue to operate with a government lacking ideas while next year no one knows what will happen to small planters.

‘It’s a sign of intellectual bankruptcy of this government,’ said the MMM leader. He elaborated on the close link between the sugar industry and energy production. Paul Berenger promised to come up with a global solution. He took care to explain the role of sugar production in the protection of the environment – a theme that he believes is not taken seriously. He made it clear to the small planters that they will have everything to gain with the bagasse by-product. The government has failed utterly on the question of ethanol. He concluded that the MMM is in favour of concrete measures to rescue the sinking sector.

The small cane farmers’ compensation at Rs 2,500 per ton will be included in the Labour Party’s electoral programme. This is the promise made by Navin Ramgoolam to small planters. Navin Ramgoolam believes that we need to invest in cooperatives and target some niches like biofuel and special sugars. The LP leader also referred to the Sugar Insurance Fund Board (SIFB), pointing out that this organization has not been functioning as it should be. ‘“There should have been technicians on committees, not administrators who do not understand anything,” He said, and added that he could not understand why “smallholders are not enjoying the same benefits as big producers. Large producers do not pay tax whereas a small planter with two acres has to.”

As an aside, hitting back at the government for their absence, he noted that the organisers must have also misspelt the name of Seeruthun – the Minister of Agriculture (making a reference to the controversy generated by the misspelt name of the Prime Minister on a leaflet).

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Suspected fraudulent practices at Mare Chicose Landfill

The suspected fraudulent practices by one subcontractor at the Mare Chicose Landfill are about the quantities of leachates being carted away from the landfill and the number of trips effected by leachate carriers for discharge at the Roche Bois Pumping Station of the Wastewater Management Authority.

It seems that due diligence exercises were effected with regard to the subcontractors appointed by the main contractor to cart away leachates. The records on the Libra System at the weighbridge for all the subcontractors were scrutinised, but no case of fraudulent practice was identified. Other information and evidence regarding the suspected fraudulent practices have been submitted to an internal investigation team of the Ministry of Environment on 27 March 2019. Advice from the State Law Office has been sought on 01 April 2019 and the matter has been referred to the Police on 05 April 2019. The Independent Commission against Corruption has also started an investigation.

But the opposition is not satisfied. It is talking of frauds to the extent of Rs 80,000 daily, and this has been going on for years according to the report by the officers of the Ministry. In spite of this official report – a damning one blaming the Landfill Contractor – it is being alleged that the same contractor would have been granted a contract for the operation and maintenance of transfer stations at La Chaumière, La Brasserie and, most probably, at La Laura! It is also alleged that the contractor would be auto-certifying his invoices and payments.

The opposition does not expect much from ICAC’s “so-called investigations”, according to the leader of the MMM. “We want a full-fledged inquiry to determine the extent of the alleged frauds and malpractices at the Mare Chicose Landfill.”

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‘Met lisien vey sosis !’

Following the suspension and replacement of Jockey D. H. during the 21st horse racing day, 10 August 2019, that gave rise to lots of controversies and complaints from bookmakers (one of them has entered a court case), the GRA has, pursuant to section 7(n) of the Gambling Regulatory Authority Act 2007, instituted a committee of inquiry to investigate into the matter. Ravi Yerrigadoo, the legal adviser of the GRA, has been appointed to sit on that Committee.

Some opposition members consider it unethical that that the ex-Attorney General, embroiled in the Bet 365 affair and still under investigation by the ICAC, should have anything to do with that inquiry. They have not been charitable in their criticisms, going as far as saying that it’s a typical case of “met lisien vey sosis”. We sympathise with our dear Ravi.

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‘Justice à deux vitesses’

When queried about the series of cases that have been referred to ICAC some years back, for example the case relating to the former director of the Trust Fund for Specialised Medical Care, or the one concerning the former director of the Independent Broadcasting Authority, we are being told, time and again, that “the matter is under investigation”.

It’s surely just a coincidence that the person under investigation happens to be close to or is a member of the Alliance MSM/ML, and that it takes time for the ICAC to go to the bottom of these cases given “the complexity of the investigation that is being carried out”. So, we cannot impress upon or ask them to do anything, can we? And surely once the investigation completed, the matter will be referred to the DPP. Well, while ICAC is busy doing what it’s there for, the people under investigation are also prospecting opportunities for safer pastures in foreign lands, for example in Canada.

But when it’s is a case involving the opposition or people of lesser importance, there is pressure on the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). The Minister Mentor is reported to have said his astonishment that a police inquiry file regarding a particular matter was sent to the DPP without all the relevant information, and wondered what would be his stand as regards the Roches Noires case: “Nou oulé koné ki DPP pou fer. Mo pas trouvé ki manière sa bane charges la fine rayé… DPP ti fer appel dans zafer Medpoint. Mo espéré la osi li fer appel…»

Let us hope there will be a similar request from the Minister Mentor for the DPP to appeal in the Soodhun case relating to alleged sectarian statements.

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Quote: Ganessen Chinnapen (economist) in Le Mauricien

“Mauritius needs a GM capable of taking bold decisions.”

* Published in print edition on 27 September 2019

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