The civil service at the politicians’ beck and call!

Political Caricatures

By L.E. Pep

“Government is government and government decides!” So have webeen told. Now, there is a flood warning, and government decides it’s a day off for the public service; there is a public march to mark the International Day against Drugs Abuse (which will see the participation of top politicians), so the civil service is given some time off to join in. Similarly, for the inaugural ceremony of Indian Ocean Island Games, the civil service is allowed to leave early so that they can make the necessary preparations to come in force with family, friends and relatives to add to the numbers including the top brass of the regime who had already occupied the most prominent seats for the ceremony.

And of course, after our remarkable performance at the games, the Mauritian public, including our civil servants, is awarded a public holiday. Some of the grumpy ones will say that this is sheer opportunist politics. Never mind, our civil servants are all smiles for they are expecting some more goodies ahead with the coming of PM Modi and the Pope.Please note that one public holiday costs us some Rs 2 billion especially at a time when we are having problems in boosting our productivity to keep up with the over-generous wage awards of the current regime, which is more interested in winning at any cost the next elections than driving the economy forward in the interest of all Mauritians.

Is the civil service, with its workforce of about 55,000 employees across ministries/departments,which is striving to promote a clean, high performing, more accountable and transparent administration at all levels the property of this government? Is this how the civil service will carry out its work efficiently and effectively and, more importantly, provide quality service to the public? Is this how the civil service will bridge any gap between public expectations of propriety in public office-holders and the public perception of their actual behaviour?

After having hollowed out many institutions and stuffed them with loyalists, the public service, once a respected institution, is being undermined. And it will take years before we can restore it back to the days of its strict adherence to the high standards and values of integrity, objectivity, impartiality and honesty that should constitute its very foundation.

Kudos to our athletes, Red card to the politicians!

Kudos to our athletes for their brilliant performance at the 10th edition of the Indian Ocean Island Games. A great performance resulting from the tireless efforts of our athletes and their coaches and the unwavering support of the Mauritian public, all gathered together under the Mauritian flag as one people, as one nation.

As for our politicians, they deserve a red card. A red card for their abject attempts at the politicization of the games; a red card for allowing their MSM agents to selectively distribute T-shirts, tickets for the closing ceremony among their supporters.(Even councilors from the Rivière-du-Rempart District Council were invited to pick up their tickets from agents); a red card for the ticket saga, the contaminated food and a whole series of lapses… The prestige project Côte d’Or Multisport Complex costing some Rs 5 billion could not be finished in time for the games, the Rs 94 million spent on the George V stadium that turned out to be a disaster and unusable, the impossibility for most Mauritians to buy a ticket to support their athletes while black marketeers were having a field day and some privileged of the regime had access to VVIP lounges and cronies were lining up for selfies with the athletes.

A final red card for the absence of new ideas and creativity. The ten days of the games could have been accompanied by other cultural, social and intellectual events and activities that would have raised the national fervour to still higher levels by having all Mauritians participating and interacting in a “Semaine Mauricienne” that would have included our cuisine, music, exhibitions and fairs of some Mauritian “rarities” from different cultures…and intellectual debates on what constitute “Mauritianism”. It was an opportunity missed to consolidate this ephemeral wave of mauritianism or nationalism into more concrete realities that would have stood the test of time.

Air Mauritius: Yet another business model?

At its annual general meeting held recently, the board of directors of the national airline presented its “bilan” for year ended 31 March 2019 registering a loss of Rs 1 billion. The factors that explain this adverse performance were the higher fuel costs, labour costs and lease of new aircrafts. Costs have risen by 38% to reach Rs 20.6 billion, including that of fuel which recorded an increase of 25% on average over the period. The main elements of the business model that Air Mauritius plans to adopt in the short-and medium-term for its rebound was also disclosed. MK had sought the advice of a consultant, the Center for Asia Pacific Aviation India (CAPA), which has proposed that Air Mauritius reviews its business model to adapt to the new paradigm of the evolving world aviation industry where competition is so acute.

One of its main recommendations is to put into operation a plan to diversify the airline’s services and to create the conditions to absorb the losses related to fuel price volatility, which among other factors undermines the capacity of the airline to regulate its costs. This will also ensure that Air Mauritius becomes more resilient to oil price changes. It is also recommended that certain destinations and flight frequencies be reviewed. The goal is to offer customers greater flexibility while taking advantage of the growing markets. Air Mauritius is positioning itself more than ever as a bridge between Africa and Asia that will focus on South-East Asian markets currently in full expansion. Another suggestion is to consolidate the fleet with more efficient aircrafts especially on the routes where MK can expect to maximise its profitability.

After so many years of operations, one would have expected Air Mauritius capable to develop its own business model? For how long will Air Mauritius continue to rely on foreign consultants who are proposing more or less of the same that our local consultants have or would have come up with? If MK really wants to review its business model, it might do well to start at the top – starting from the board level down to what comes next…

Gender Gaps: Still a long way to go

The 10th issue of Economic and Social Indicators (ESI) on gender statistics presents a portrait of the genders in the Republic of Mauritius based on latest available sex disaggregated data from administrative sources, household surveys and censuses. The state of woman highlights the under-presentation of women in business and public life and raises questions as to why women are more numerous among the unemployed though they are more qualified than their male counterparts, why there are so few women in research, engineering and information technology, why corporates cannot make more women-friendly laws, why women find it difficult to compete in the corporate world (with average monthly income lower than men – and under-represented in decision making at the higher spheres of society) and the many ways in which women find themselves handicapped.

Despite progress in gender equality, politics remains the domain of men. Out of 69 MPs in Mauritius, only eight, including three ministers, are women. We are far from the 50% of women in parliament as advocated by SADC. Why does this gap persist?

Mauritius is ranked at a low of 109th, out of 149 countries worldwide with regard to 2018 Global Gender Gap Index (GGI) of the World Economic Forum. The Global Gender Gap Report benchmarks on their progress towards gender parity across four thematic dimensions: Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment. Our female labour force participation (LFP) has increased relative to male LFP in the last decades to the level of the average middle-income country, but remains far below the level usually observed in upper middle-income countries. According to a study by the IMF, this low participation rate has led to an estimated income loss in the range of 22 to 27% of real GDP (2004-2013) compared to a situation without gender gaps in the labour force.

The gender-statistics is really an eye-opener as it makes people realize how little policy-makers and corporates have done to empower women. Statistics after statistics have shown that women tend to bear the brunt of all crises – social, economic and political, and their lot will only improve if there are more women in leadership positions.

Pascal Laroulette and his “Zardin drom”

Pascal Laroulette elected by JCI Mauritius as ‘The Outstanding Young Person 2019’ is better known for his 20 peaks challenge (a challenge that made the buzz on social networks) including the ascent of several mountains, and his many ecological struggles, especially in the context of Project Society.

“Aspire to inspire before we expire”. This is the leitmotiv of Pascal Laroulette, who believes we can achieve the 4 Rs — “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”, to which he has added a fourth R: “Rethink”. That’s the key element, according to him, “because we are the ones who will change the game, not the industrialist.” Thus, he hopes that the message of rethinking of how we consume will reach a maximum of individuals.

After the challenge of planting 100,000 trees (almost reached), the 20 peaks challenge, and the campaign to reduce the consumption of plastic bottles, Pascal Laroulette is now promoting the idea of “zardin drom”. Or mini gardens arranged in round containers cut in half. “There are currently 700 containers already converted into gardens where non-chemical vegetables are grown. “A very simple activity with very accessible tools, which will bear fruit in a few years, when Mauritians have learned to rethink,” he says. “The earth is starting to run out and she is showing us signs. We can still change things and adopt the right gestures. We owe it to our children,” says the young dad of a 16-month-old girl for whom he decided to make ecology his mission.

Solid Waste Management: a strain to the economy

The newly released environmental statistics for the year 2018 shows that total electricity generated in 2018 from coal decreased by 4.0%, that from diesel and fuel oil together increased by 3.5%, and that from renewable sources increased by 4.0%. Electricity generated from bagasse decreased by 5.6% whereas from wind it remained almost same. The total amount of solid waste landfilled at Mare Chicose increased by 12.7% from 482,196 tonnes in 2017 to 543,197 tonnes in 2018. The per capita total solid waste landfilled increased by 29.8% from 0.94 kg/day in 2009 to 1.22 kg/day in 2018. This trend in the increase of the total amount of solid waste landfilled and the per capita solid waste landfilled is a cause for concern.

A situation that is driving the ‘Platform Moris Lanvironman’ (PML) to appeal to the government to give a boost to the implementation of the program ‘Reduce, Reuse and Recycle’. “There is a need for a renewed strategy for waste management,” it says. Such a trend in solid waste landfilled means that we will require the setting up of major disposal infrastructures with continuous increase in waste management costs that would be fiscally and environmentally unsustainable.

Some 23 manufacturing enterprises from 5 subsectors (textile, printing, chemical, agro-industry and seafood) have been assessed under the Industrial Waste Assessment project so as to enhance industrial waste management efficiency, but it seems that some of these specialized companies in waste recycling have found themselves in financial trouble. Government has to review its incentives and its tax policy on products based on their environmental impact, or their recycled content and encourage more SMEs and NGOs that promote repair, re-use and recycling of products. It should also come forward with a Waste Management Act and carry out a human resources and training needs assessment for Local and Central Government with respect to their waste management responsibilities and functions and also envisage in the longer term a cost recovery mechanism for municipal waste collection, transfer and disposal. The construction of the new landfill facility at La Chaumière should be speeded up.

The Global Innovation Index 2019: Mauritius drops to the 82th position

Ranked 40th in 2014, Mauritius regressed to the 75th position in 2018 and further down to the 82th rank in the Global Innovation Index (GII) of 2019 among 129 countries. Singapore is 8th. Our innovation efficiency has also deteriorated, which means we are getting less out of our inputs. But we have some glaring weaknesses too. We are 106th, 97th and 100th in Knowledge Creation, Knowledge Diffusion and Research and Development respectively.

GII, a benchmark for nations’ innovation capabilities, measures innovation based on a combination of innovation input (that is institutions, human capital research, infrastructure, market and business sophistication) and innovation output (that is, knowledge and technology outputs and creative outputs) in a society.

Innovation is known to be one of the best ways of creating economic growth, and the stagnancy in R&D investments and the decline in productivity can explain to some extent why we are having problems in boosting growth beyond 4% in the long run.

Perhaps we can take a cue from India’s consistent policy focus on innovation which seems to have helped it improve its ranking in the Global Innovation Index: from 81st in 2015 to 52th in 2019. Notably, its strong domestic policy focus is supplemented by the country’s ongoing diplomatic efforts – based on a strategy known as ‘innovation diplomacy’ — in forging strong economic ties with other nations. Innovation is increasingly becoming a buzzword in India. In 2016, the country launched its flagship innovation programme, Atal Innovation Mission, focused on scaling start-up incubation centres and promoting an innovation culture among schoolchildren by providing them with hands-on experience in 3D printing, the internet of things (IOT) and robotics.

Besides reassessing the role and contribution of the institutions and agencies in education and training, research and knowledge diffusion, and re-examining the strength of the overall enabling environment and the development of the links between various actors within the innovation system, it is essential that we put in more efforts at tapping global knowledge effectively. As for FDI, it’s not just a matter of getting more of productive FDI but also of how it is harnessed.

Workers Rights Bill: No commitment from Government

The technical committee chaired by the Financial Secretary, Dev Manraj, has not yet submitted its report to the government on the observations of Business Mauritius, the public and private sector unions since the Cabinet approved the two pieces of labour legislation- The Workers Rights Bill and the Employments Relations(Amendment)Bill.

The unions are demanding some drastic changes, among others, to the Portable Gratuity Retirement Fund (the proposed PRGF legal framework, with its provisions on Private Pension Scheme, eliminates the provision of a Gratuity at Retirement or Death which is guaranteed in Section 49 of the Employment Rights Act for all employees under a Private Pension Scheme) and to the amendments in Employment Relations Act which will severely undermine the position of workers vis-à-vis employers in collective bargaining process (it violates the fundamentals which ILO Experts of the Freedom of Association Committee recommended when the new law on collective bargaining and the fundamental right to strike was being enacted.)

The GWF-JNP union is urging the government not to bow down in front of the economic oligarchs’ interest. Should the government bow down like the previous one, the people will ferociously make their voices heard. For our part, we will call for massive protest actions if the interest of the more than 500,000 workers who labour for this country are NOT respected.” The entire working class will follow with a deep interest the decision of the government on this critical issue.

* Published in print edition on 2 August 2019

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