Awaiting the next budget

Many boats are still stuck in the sand, and the struggle of the middle class becomes harder by the day

One of the Cabinet decisions taken last week is the setting up of a Ministerial Committee, under the chairmanship of the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, to look into and make recommendations on the repercussions of the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union.

The repercussions will be in several areas, and although we have a ‘window’ period of two years during which existing EU laws and agreements will continue to apply as regards our Economic Partnership Agreement with the UK, it is none too soon to start preparing for the next phase of the status of our agreements and partnership with the UK and the EU. As the UK frees itself from the binding arrangements with the EU, we will definitely have to renegotiate in respect of several matters, such as visas and travel to the UK, taxes on our exports there, including sugar, and forge new cooperation deals. So the ministerial committee has a lot of issues to sort out, and the road ahead is not likely to be easy. There will be similar and additional issues to be worked out with the EU as well.

Thus the coming budget will be prepared under, inevitably, the shadow of this new development at the EU level. The new Minister of Finance and Economic Development is faced with the huge expectation of the ‘second miracle’ that his predecessor was not able to bring about. There will be a carry-over of many of the problems that the first budget tried to tackle, and some of them remain not only topical but critical. The parliamentarians, especially ministers, have seen their already generous allocations being further enhanced by the PRB recommendations that they have agreed to, and the people are hoping that a similar spirit vis-à-vis their needs will permeate the budgetary exercise.

Measures for the swelling numbers of unemployed graduates, incentives for Mauritian professionals settled abroad who might be interested in coming back, stimulus for an enhanced SME culture, getting rid of the zougadere mindset among others are some of the issues that had been raised, and an update is needed about what has been the outcome to date in concrete terms. Further, there is also the fallout from the revamped DTAA with India that will have to be factored in.

On the other hand, the growing disparities juxtaposed to the ostentatious displays of luxury living strike an unacceptable image of a country that has been pretending that the rising tide will lift all the boats. Many boats are still stuck in the sand, and the struggle of the middle class becomes harder by the day. Ask any young couple wanting to own their first home, despite the waiver of registration fees on Rs 1.5 million.

However, we will give the benefit of the doubt to the Finance Minister, and sincerely wish that he achieves the second economic miracle, sooner rather than later, for the benefit of all citizens.

* * *

How many more vehicles on our roads?

Another decision of the Cabinet relates to ‘the Minister of Industry, Commerce and Consumer Protection reconsidering the conditions for the importation and sale of second-hand motor vehicles to better protect the interests of consumers, following representations received to the effect that damaged and accidented motor vehicles are being imported. The current regulations would be reviewed to provide for more restrictive conditions and other additional measures, including:

(a) the revision of the upper limit of the age criterion of the different categories of vehicles;

(b) the imposition of new conditions in regard to the Pre-shipment Inspection Certificate;

(c) the provision of additional certificates and information from the country of origin on vehicle imported, e.g., roadworthiness certificate, certificate of identity, vehicle identification, complete history of vehicle, deregistration certificate; and

(d) the importation and sale of second-hand vehicles to be only through an authorised dealer.’

While this is to be welcomed, we would wish that an in-depth study be commissioned too about the related transport and traffic problems that are growing day by day due to the increasing number of vehicles that are being imported. Is it time to set a quote for individual importers? How many vehicles can this small country sustain on its roads? What about the efficient public transport that has been studied, discussed, reported upon over and over again by experts?

It is more than high time that these questions be addressed positively and conclusively once and for all, and the budget may be an occasion to send the necessary signal to reassure the population on all these counts.

* Published in print edition on 1 July 2016

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