Tourism caves in to the demands of pleasure crafts operators

Political Caricatures

By L.E. Pep

Given the pre-election period, will the Ministry of Tourism and the Tourism authority cave in to the demands of pleasure crafts operators with respect to regulations imposed on the latter as regards boarding points in the east of the island, especially at Belle-Mare and Trou d’Eau Douce?

Mauritius is one of the few countries in the world where you can anchor a boat anywhere, any way you want it, even if it affects or damages the coral reef ecosystem. The mooring areas limit the damage, and protect the marine environment. The new measures are meant to bring more rigour to operations at sea.

If the minister and the Tourism authority had demonstrated determination to hold on to their own prescribed regulations, we would have been spared the trouble of going through the hunger strike of Jonathan Dardenne, an operator at Trou d’Eau Douce and other contestations.

It is only now on the eve of imminent elections that the Tourism Authority is trying to find a consensus with the Pleasure Craft Federation! Such amateurism in policy making and implementation leading to unnecessary tensions will have a negative impact on the sector. Better not talk of accountability!

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Pravind Jugnauth: ‘Homme de terrain’?

It was at the Village Hall of Cottage, one of the two villages which were seriously affected by floods with torrential rains in December 2018 and early 2019 that the PM asserted: “Je suis un homme de terrain, j’y reste.” Now that works are in progress on the drains

at Fond du Sac and Cottage, he becomes un “homme de terrain”. However he was surprisingly absent when Minister Ashit Gungah and Special Adviser Prakash Maunthrooah had to face the wrath of the inhabitants of Fond du Sac and Cottage in the wake of the floods.

It would appear therefore that the Prime Minister chooses to be present in those places that are declared “safe” by the intelligence agency following proper investigations into the likelihood or otherwise of any untoward incidents.

We would not expect “our homme de terrain” to be turning out at the demonstration of the families still living in houses allegedly containing asbestos and who find themselves having to register with the NHDC for the fourth time since 2015 and are still waiting for a relocation plan.

Nor do we expect to see him at Tara knitwear where workers are still waiting to be paid their salaries for the month of July or at Beau-Bassin and Rose-Hill where inhabitants, businesses and traders are facing tremendous inconveniences due the ongoing works of the Metro…

The list is long compared to the “coupe rubans” events organised for “our homme de terrain” by the partisans of the regime…

* * *

MSM-ML’s mandate ending up with yet another embarrassment

“‘Biscuits and a bottle of water’ for our refugees but sumptuous dinners à la François de Rugy in five-star hotels for some Ministers – all at the expense of taxpayers!” That’s how our netizens are commenting the “Sinatambou affair”.

Readers will recall that France’s Environment Minister François de Rugy resigned last month after being accused of extravagant spending, including on private dinners. Our own Environment and Social Security Minister, Etienne Sinatambou, denies the allegations levelled against him as the lies of his critics and threatens to file a complaint with the police and sue the defamers in civil cases.

For many others, just the fact that the minister’s proximity to an Environmental Impact Assessment certificate applicant is sufficient to justify his resignation. Maritim Hotel had filed an application with the Ministry of the Environment for extension and renovation works that will include the construction of a new swimming pool, an administrative building and the extension of ‘La Marée’ beach restaurant.

On June 30, Etienne Sinatambou dines with five friends at the Maritim Hotel in Balaclava. On the restaurant’s note, an employee writes ‘F.O.C’, for Free of Charge.

Press comments as well as netizens have raised questions on this affair. Has there been any abuse? Lawyers and public administration executives have referred to Section 7 of the Prevention of Corruption Act (POCA) relating in particular to ‘public official using his office for gratification’. Whether it was a “complimentary accommodation request” or even if it had been paid up by the government, the perception of abuse may hang on, they opine.

Some netizens have dug from press archives reports on the Suneechara affair. The former Assistant Commissioner of Police was sentenced by the courts for having availed of a complimentary stay, in August 2002, with his relatives in a hotel he was investigating upon. In the present case, the fact that Etienne Sinatambou would have had to decide on an EIA permit application from Maritim Hotel as part of his ministerial duties is likely to cause him and the government some embarrassment.

Only a thorough enquiry can shed light on the whole affair. The Minister of Tourism’s belated intervention in this matter, wherein he stated that “hotel employees have a responsibility to respect and protect the privacy of the clients who stay in their hotels” is yet another blunder that could have been avoided.

The best strategy in such circumstances is to lie low for some time like Dayal, Tarolah, Yerigadoo…

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Another flailing sector: The SMEs

In the Government Programme 2015-2019, it is clearly spelt out that the most critical success factor in the shaping of the “second miracle” will be the emergence of a new breed of young entrepreneurs and the rise of the small and medium enterprises (SME) sector as the main engine of growth. Moreover, to democratise the economy, Government will ensure that SMEs become the backbone of the economy in the years ahead.

Successive budgets have in more grandiose terms reiterated the essential role of SMEs in the economy and stressed on the entrepreneurial spirit of our nation — a spirit which the regime wanted to inculcate in the next generation. A series of measures on multiple fronts were announced to support the SME sector. We even had a 10-year master plan, which was supposed to be the game changer to revitalizing the SME sector.

But, four years down the line, the results are appalling. Since 2015, the number of SMEs registered in Mauritius has plummeted. The latest data available on the government’s Open Data Portal show the fall in the number of SMEs is inexorable.

The number of individuals operating on their own account also fell dramatically. The country had 1,541 in 2015, but, as with companies, after 2015, it’s a freefall: 1,359 in 2016, 1,082 in 2017 and 780 in 2018. That’s almost half of the figure reached in 2015. The same pattern is noticeable regarding the participation of SMEs in public tenders. There was an initial improvement in 2015: 16.8% of public contracts allocated went to SMEs, compared to only 8.1% in the previous year. Except that this indicator fell drastically between 2017 and 2018 to 8.64%, almost the same percentage as in 2014.

Similarly, the democratisation of the economy via the SMEs does not seem to have made much headway during these past four years.

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BoM: The repo rate revised downwards to 3.35% to boost the economy

We are now being told that the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of Mauritius (BoM) took the decision to lower the key interest rate by 0.15% to give a “breathing space” for businesses and households alike in view of the uncertain international situation and the commercial tensions that are not favourable to Mauritius. Readers will recall that at budget time, when the economy was facing the same strong headwinds that are buffeting global trade and creating the uncertain international environment, there was so much chest-thumping about the developmental initiatives contained in Budget 2019-20, which we were told would truly transform and energize our economy.

It’s now being belatedly acknowledged that such expectations about the budget measures reviving the economy were ill-grounded as we had pointed then at a time when the country’s main economic sectors – textiles, tourism and offshore – are facing enormous challenges, besides those posed by Brexit, the revision of the non-double taxation treaty with India and the decrease in the number of tourist arrivals in the country.

We were expecting that the 2019-2020 budget would come forward with a range of measures, including structural ones, to redynamize these key sectors. The government failed to make the difficult choices, having instead been swayed by electoral politics to focus on feel-good giveaways to please nearly every special interest group: pensioners, civil servants, farmers, the auto industry, and consumers, etc, but which will ultimately not have any meaningful and positive impact on the long-term well-being of Mauritians.

Readers will recall that the raiding of the reserves of the Bank of Mauritius for an amount of Rs 18 billion was accompanied by the depreciation of the rupee by over 3% between June 2018 and June 2019 and that generated Rs 7 bn of valuation gains on the current level of over Rs 230 bn of foreign exchange reserves. The lower repo rate thus confirms the policy of dipping in the BOM Special Reserve Fund and that that future replenishment of the Bank’s internal capital reserves will be done in the same manner – by more rupee depreciation.

* * *

Pravind Jugnauth in power for another few years: For or against?

It was in front of an audience of schoolboys at the Rajiv Gandhi Science Centre in Bell Village on the occasion of the International Youth Day that Pravind Jugnauth asserted that he wants to stay in power for a few more years to demonstrate what he is able to ‘achieve’. Speaking of the infrastructural developments under his government, Pravind Jugnauth stated that he has a long-term vision compared to those who ‘get zis dan bout zot nene’.

But the young audience was not convinced. We could catch them arguing that the increased capital spending on prestige projects – Metro Express, Safe City Project, Cote d’or Multisports Complex, the Road Decongestion Programme, Smart Cities, etc., – has not stimulated the economy. These projects were not priority projects that would have pulled up the growth rate that has plateaued at less than 4%.

The young also argued that they have not seen in the successive budgets of this government any real attempt at tackling the challenges facing the sugar and manufacturing sectors, including textiles. They fail to see any new pillars of growth or a new culture of entrepreneurship that could have provided the country with new opportunities of strengthening its linkages to the global value chains.

They feel let down with the educational reform which does not go far enough in overhauling the system to equip them with the skills for a more knowledge-driven economy and tomorrow’s world of work. They do not want to be the generation that will have to bear not only the burden of increasing debts but also have to confront the hard choices of drastic reforms to the pension system and welfare state that successive governments have been kicking down the road.

They want more bold measures to close the gender gap and would prefer a new model of development that is far more resilient to the impact of climate change, more sustainable and inclusive and far more oriented towards achieving quality growth than the race to the bottom and far more targeted towards improving happiness and welfare indices rather than the Doing Business indicators.

* Published in print edition on 16 August 2019

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