The Leader of the Labour Party takes up the challenge of the PM

Political Caricatures

By L.E. Pep

At a time when the fervour of national solidarity, rather than national differences, has barely abated, two of our mainstream political parties are already in election mood and have started firing salvos at each other. Both are flexing their muscles and deployed their troops to crank up their mammoth electoral engines. The national discourse, which has touched a new low, is certainly going to be a casualty at the forthcoming election and the lava of vitriol has already begun to flow. Opponents are calling each other names: Bandit, Macarena or Tonton Sigar for Ramgoolam or Poltron, Linpos or Pinocchio for Jugnauth.

But the forthcoming election is also an occasion to reform politics. Let us hope that the Leader of the Labour Party, taking up the challenge of an open debate with PM, will help to change the poll narrative. Instead of name-calling, we will have them debating issues – a more focused approach to issues and policies.

There is not much to choose from the economic policies of either of them. They are much the same — statist and at best cautious and timid reformers. But such debates will help to shift the national discourse to an assessment of the political parties’ policies and programmes. How far these aim at mainstreaming the marginalised and catapulting Mauritius to the next level? How far the proposed politics of “rupture” or the “chantiers” all over the island will be challenging the power nexus of the entrenched economic elite?

Mauritius’ growth is not about Mauritius becoming a high-income economy in a few years. It is about giving practical shape to a new governance in which the system enables and empowers the lambda citizen in moving up the economic ladder and leads the nation to greater heights. It is in this perspective that their programmes and policies will have to be assessed and evaluated. How or in what ways will they bring the change that Mauritius needs?

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Raiding Central Bank’s reserves shows government’s desperation

Raiding the reserves of the central bank only illustrates the “desperation” of a government, and we should be very wary and careful while determining the value of the excess reserves, warned former Governor Duvvuri Subbarao of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) at a recent address at the CFA Society India.

“A government trying to raid the balance sheet of a central bank anywhere in the world is not a good thing. It shows that the government is desperate,” he said. Acknowledging that transfer of the excess reserves was one of the key causes of tension between the RBI and Government in the run up to Governor Urjit Patel’s resignation, Subbarao seemed to suggest that there is little use of the transfers from a fund inflow perspective.

He said international investors look at balance sheets of both the government and also its central bank, and that the same applies to distress time lending by the IMF as well. “… I do want to say that we should be very careful, very wary of what decision is ultimately taken on the transfer of the surplus reserves. But the fear and concern that strike me is that this will become a thin end of the wedge and once we see that it has become very successful, we might keep on doing it and get into pressure situations needlessly,” he said. He also advocated maintaining the autonomy of the RBI as essential because its horizons extend far beyond the immediate objective of elections which a government can be guided by.

The comments from Subbarao come at a time when the Bimal Jalan Committee on Economic Capital Framework, set up to recommend the appropriate reserves that the central bank should maintain and dividends it should pay to government, is reported to be in the final stages of finalizing its report on identifying the appropriate capital for the RBI and how to transfer the excess to the government. The Jalan Panel may suggest a staggered payout in the range of Rs 1.5 trillion to Rs 3 trillion over a period of three years.

These are sound advices that the Bank of Mauritius could follow to re-establish its independence and credibility.

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We are under a “Gestapo regime”, with the people under surveillance

Navin Ramgoolam claims that the Lepep government is a “Gestapo regime”, with the people under surveillance and under a mafia system.

Ramgoolam referred to the extradition of Shameem Korimbocus, known to be an “opponent” of the government through his humorous publications or videos. According to the former Prime Minister, there would be the hand of the government in the repatriation of Shameem Korimbocus. He promised to review the amendment brought to the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Act in November 2018, if he returns to power. Especially that of section 46, which added “annoyance” to the harm that could cause a publication on social media networks.

The former PM issued a stern warning to the National Security Service (NSS) operating under the government’s orders, which allegedly monitors and eavesdrops on the opposition: “There will be consequences, every action has a reaction,” he said. He also added that he is aware that with Israeli help, videos are being made to slander him during the upcoming election campaign.

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A lifeline for the NIC

The State has rushed to the rescue of the National Insurance Company (NIC) with the medical insurance contract. The decision of the State to confide the back-office operations of the medical insurance project for civil servants to the NIC, which has more than 130,000 insurance policy holders, is being variously interpreted. Some see it as a way to ensure the survival of the second largest insurer in the country.

The NIC, ex-BAI, will thus be relying on the medical insurance policy for civil servants to exit the red zone – a contract of Rs 200 million, announced in the last budget, which will most likely be shared between the NIC and SICOM, the two state entities.

There must be valid reasons why first SICOM, then the South African firm Old Mutual followed by Indian group Hinduja have all backed out from taking over the NIC. Has it something to do with the toxic assets comprising the whole set of overgenerous investments and insurance policies passed on to it from the ex-BAI in April 2015 without a proper assessment? Only such an assessment will indicate whether the insurance company cannot cover these toxic liabilities or will need further capitalization by Government.

Readers will recall that its earlier auditor Ernst and Young (E&Y) submitted a disclaimer report to the company’s management and the regulator, the FSC. That was quite disquieting for the many small savers and holders of the insurance policies of NIC as the audit firm did not have access to all the documentation of the company, which presupposed at the time that there was something quite wrong with its management.

Yes, it is true that the company has been restructured and has now a turnover amounting to billions of rupees. But is it out of the red zone? Pending the financial accounts which must be made public soon, let us keep our fingers crossed.

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Tourism promotion in Europe: Are we getting value for money?

In reply to a PQ on the Rs 474.3 million spent just for the promotion of Mauritius in Europe from 2016 to 2018, the Minister of Tourism tried to justify the increases in the promotion campaign expenses by comparing the growth in tourist arrivals over the period 2016-2018 to the previous period 2011-2014. That does not make much sense because international tourist arrivals, which had been growing at an average rate of 3.8% over the period 2005-14, picked up substantially to an average of 5.5% over the period 2015-2018. Any comparison that is being made should be relative to the growth of the relevant parameters in a specific year, namely the growth in international arrivals, the performance of different regions, that of our closest competitors and the growth in the arrivals from Europe, etc.

International tourist arrivals worldwide increased by 7% in 2017 and 6% in 2018, based on data reported by destinations around the world. In 2018 Africa registered a +7% led growth; sub-Saharan Africa a slightly lower figure of 6% while we barely managed to reach 4.3%. Our closest competitors, Maldives and Kenya, did even better, realising growth in tourist arrivals of 7% and 37% respectively.

Even with a much lower expenditure on promotion campaigns on European markets, Seychelles, Maldives and Kenya outperformed us with tourist arrivals from Europe in 2018 recording increases of 6%, 10% and 11%respectively whereas we’re having a growth rate of 5.7%.

The MTPA cannot continue to spend taxpayers’ money without accountability. The performance indicators for the MTPA, approved by the Ministry of Finance, should not be mere processes but allow us to track the outcomes of expenditures on the European promotion campaigns. MTPA shouldn’t be allowed to get off the hook so easily; we need clearly defined results that they are expected to deliver and a clear link between the results to be achieved and the level of accountability manifested throughout the organization.

Now they are getting away with those marketing campaigns, « en se faisant photographier avec des Miss World ou au Festival de Cannes » while the results are failing to materialize. Our treasury needs to get better at articulating what results we are buying with taxpayers’ money. It is virtually impossible to create a culture of accountability if people are unclear about the key results they are expected to deliver.

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The 95 kilograms heroin in the backhoe loader: Any arrest so far?

Seven people were questioned and no arrests have been made so far. Revealing the facts, SAJ said that on July 10, ADSU received a request from the Service Manager of Scomat, Pailles, for a visit to the premises of the company following the discovery by the workers (who were checking the engine of a backhoe loader) of three black kits which were found concealed in the engine compartment near the exhaust muffler.

“The three bags containing several rectangular parcels, suspected of being dangerous drugs, were handed over to the ADSU officers,” the minister said. He also said that, according to the information that was communicated to him by the Commissioner of Police, the backhoe loader was shipped from Brazil to Morocco on board the vessel ‘Grande Francia’ and from Morocco to Port Louis on board Vessel ‘Hoegh Antwerp’.

With respect to customs procedures, the Customs Department selects consignments for scanning and examination or search based on risk management which is automated on pre-set selectivity criteria and also based on intelligence and profiling. As the consignment was not selected by risk management and no specific intelligence was available, the backhoe loader was neither examined nor scanned. The Minister Mentor also clarified that the Bill of Entry which was passed by the shipping agent was verified on July 9 by the MRA which noted no anomaly, so that the backhoe loader was delivered the same day.

Surprisingly, Bert Cunningham, the former Comptroller of Customs who, besides his contribution to the fight against corruption, introduced a series of reforms at the customs, has, in a recent interview, alerted us to the fact that « la mafia institutionnalisée est toujours présente à la MRA et à la douane ». The Canadian made a lot of enemies here, and in 2008 he had to leave the country following the non-renewal of his work contract.

With the facility with which the backhoe loader went through the customs, should we be surprised?

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MMM wants three sections of Political Financing Bill to be promulgated

The MMM did not support the Political Financing Bill which, however, was voted by simple majority. However, the Speaker said that the Political Financing Bill was not adopted because it was not supported by a majority of three quarters in the National Assembly.

But the leader of the MMM, Paul Berenger has argued that a simple majority was enough for its adoption. He therefore considers that the Speaker was wrong to conclude that a three-quarters majority was necessary for his adoption. He is calling for the promulgation of three sections concerning:

(i) the compulsory registration of all political parties;
(ii) the need for each party to have audited accounts, and
(iii) the need for a cap on election expenses.

Given the failure to introduce a comprehensive political financing reform package, we believe it would not be doing any harm to push for the promulgation of these items which will introduce into the system some elements of accountability and transparency which are vital for a healthy democracy as well as free and fair elections.

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Deforestation in Mauritius: a threat to our biodiversity

While major projects are well underway in the country, many Mauritians deplore deforestation and the massive “bétonnage” across the island. Moreover, it has been noted that several localities are affected by floods. Stephan Gua, ecologist and member of Resistans ek Alternativ, explains the importance of forests and the impact of the heavy “bétonnage” (and little open space that can absorb the rain and replenish the precious aquifers) on biodiversity on the ReA’s Facebook page. Stephan Gua calls for a law that recognizes the rights of nature.

But we can, indeed, restore forests. Several countries are going for more tree plantations. The most outstanding example of reforestation is happening in the Philippines, an archipelago of 7,100 islands, with a total land area of 3,00,000 sq km and a population of 104 million people. Way back in 1900, about 65% of its land mass was under forest cover. Large-scale commercial deforestation brought it down to 21% by 1987. The government thereafter embarked on a reforestation project, and by 2010 forest cover rose to 26%.

It has now introduced a remarkable programme in which it makes it mandatory for each elementary, high school and college student to plant 10 trees before graduating. The mover of this idea, Gary Alejano, stresses on the need to utilise the educational system as an avenue for propagating ethical and sustainable use of natural resources among young people and to ensure the cultivation of a socially responsible and conscious citizenry. Here’s an example to follow by Mauritian students and policy makers.

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School Violence – Prevention Strategy

A workshop was organized jointly by the Association of Rectors/Assistant Presidents of Colleges and the Ministry of Education, this week, to discuss issues relating to the violent behaviour of young people at school and on new forms of school discipline. How do we handle this new situation? Are there novel ways to counter the problem? 

“The cases of violence among college students have been widely echoed on social networks since the beginning of the year which have shocked us all. The Ministry of Education’s protocols to tackle these problems no longer fit the new realities,” believes Soondress Sawmynaden, President of the Association of Rectors of State Secondary Schools. It is high time to review the strategy, he said, and all stakeholders in the school community have to be involved in this exercise and the search for solutions.

One of the main reasons for this state of affairs is that our old-fashioned education system does not prepare our youth for life’s challenges; their ideals are often battered by life’s realities and this increases their frustration and stress levels. Indeed, a balanced development of mind and body in harmony with the spirit is the key to the enrichment of the human personality and an outcome of value-based education. We must introduce yoga and breathing techniques as extracurricular activities in the education system to bring about a more holistic development of the child. It should start at the primary level.

The practice of yoga and breathing techniques can help to eliminate stress, transform negative emotions such as anger, fear, sadness, and support the whole physiology, and restore health and wellness. A large body of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) research shows that the use of specific rhythms of breathing does eliminate stress, supports the various organs and systems within the body, transforms overpowering emotions, and restores peace of mind, thus supporting the whole mind-body system. The Rectors’ Union can include this proposal, which has been found effective in many countries in reducing school violence and indiscipline, in their recommendations to the education authorities.

* Published in print edition on 9 August 2019

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