Touria Prayag's Blog

L’express Weekly, 17 December 2010

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on December 17, 2010

Pdf weekly 16

Grand corruption:
a glimmer of hope?

Anti-Corruption Day, celebrated last week, triggered
vigorous debate about the level of corruption in this
country. If some indulged in self-satisfaction about
Mauritius being ranked second in Africa, 80% of our
online survey respondents expressed the view that even the middling
score we received is undeservedly too good. Who can blame
them: the only people who have ever been convicted are the petty
corrupt. Not a single high profile case has been successfully prosecuted
and two come to mind: the MCB/NPF and the Air Mauritius
cases. In both, there is prima facie evidence. And in both,
supposedly bad health gets in the way of justice.
The announcement by the Director of Public Prosecutions
of the resumption of the case against Tirvengadum was received
with welcome relief. Relief that maybe there is but one justice for
all in this country. The single thing to retain about Raj Bunsgraz’s
fly-by passage at Air Mauritius is the way he unwittingly, some
would say serendipitously for the cause of justice, woke up sleeping
dogs, albeit allegedly sick ones. He paid a heavy price for it. Tirvengadum’s
miraculously sudden recovery from a progressively
degenerative disease is a unique chance this country has of reversing
a perception which is rife that there exist double standards in
the justice system of this country, one for the rich, powerful and
famous, and another one for the common people. The former
can afford to pay the hefty fees of an armada of celebrity lawyers
to ensure that they are able to walk out (and in some famously
theatrical cases, be pushed out on a stretcher) of the court room
free, their alleged crimes unpunished, whilst the full force of the
justice system is meted out to the latter for what is often petty
corruption in comparison. All eyes, and hopes, are now therefore
pinned on the medical profession and the judiciary. What they
decide to do in the case against Tirvengadum might raise this
country’s Corruption Index score closer to the enviable level of
Singapore overnight. There is, therefore, a glimmer of hope.
We have no doubt that, in the interest of justice, the court requires
a very high standard of evidence to exempt suspects from
attending trial. However, in high profile cases, perception is as important
as reality and in this case, people may rightly or wrongly,
have the perception that some private doctors may do anything
for money and public service doctors take orders from their ministry
and are answerable to the government of the day so they
may not be really perceived as being independent.
To show total transparency and reassure the population that
there is no jiggering, the DPP might decide to call on a panel of
eminent foreign doctors, who can be trusted to act without fear
or favour, to offer their expert judgment on Tirvengadum’s fitness
to face trial. For the record, in the Kaya case, we had recourse to
foreign expertise and the population felt all the better for it.
In a country where the perception of corruption is so high and
where we often have good reason to have faith in the integrity and
competence of select foreigners, such a respected medical panel
would send a strong signal to the nation that the powers that be
really mean business in exposing and punishing acts of corruption,
big or small, regardless of the standing of the perpetrators.

 

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L’express Weekly, 10 December 2010

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on December 17, 2010

weekly 10 december

Born to be
indispensible

It has become an expected pattern: the body politic denounces
‘jobs for the boys’ while politicians speak of meritocracy,
equal opportunity, good governance…please tell me
more…And for every such position going, there are droves
of sycophants and all manner of other courtesans lining up and
making themselves obsequiously visible, crawling and charming
in the hope of being rewarded. The message sent to our youth is
‘if you are not well-connected, arret rever kamarad!’
Even seen against this backdrop, the whiff of one nomination announced
this week is jaw-dropping as it collides against all the principled
beliefs you could ever have held.
You perhaps thought that no one was indispensible. Well, think
again. Krishna Muni Reddy is back from oblivion. We already knew
that he was ‘born to stay ahead’. We now know that he was also born to
be indispensible; so indispensible in fact that he has been called back…
to run the State Bank of Mauritius! No Mauritian, apparently, fits the
bill. That of being a non-executive part-time chairman of a bank staffed
with professionals doing the job any way.
Before anyone drags the debate onto some facile xenophobic
grounds, let us remind our readers that we have always been staunch
proponents of opening up to the world and attracting foreign talent.
We have never shied from advocating the recruitment of foreigners
to bring their experience and expertise to contribution whenever and
wherever that is needed.
Mr. Reddy’ situation is a totally different kettle of fish. Here we have
a foreign retiree being called back to fill a position which notoriously
serves the purpose of rewarding friendship and loyalty.
And let no one talk about some unique competence. The banks in
this country have all benefited from a buoyant and robust economy
in the roaring ‘90s and, as the aphorism aptly goes, ‘a rising tide lifts
all boats’. Attributing the ‘success’ of SBM to one person would be
egregiously simplistic. Attributing it to a single foreigner is unfair to
the legions of managers and staff who have toiled hard to make SBM
successful. For the record, the biggest bank in this country, which incidentally
is also one of the oldest surviving banks in the world, is entirely
staffed and run by Mauritians.
While Mr. Reddy is called upon to favour the nation with the privilege
of chairing the Board, the chairman’s remuneration is a matter of
legitimate public interest. SBM is a public company, listed on the stock
exchange, in which the Government, directly and indirectly, has an
aggregate controlling interest. We learn from the bank’s annual reports
that the non-executive directors were paid a whopping Rs 67 million in
2008, Rs 18 million in 2009 & Rs 19 million in 2010! Surprisingly for
a bank that professes adherence to the highest standards of corporate
governance, in these reports, it is stated that “Remuneration of directors
has not been disclosed on an individual basis due to commercial sensitivity”!!!
Why such opacity? Could the truth be that this information
is too politically sensitive? It is telling that SBM’s competitors do not
patently harbour the same paranoia, as they have no difficulty in publishing
in detail individual directors’ fees.
It is common knowledge that the Chairman normally pockets the
lion’s share of Board fees. Add to this the usual humongous per diems
and other perks and you will understand why Mr. Reddy must be quite
ecstatic to interrupt his golden retirement after years of serving SBM as
Chief Executive and then Chairman to return as…Messiah Chairman
to rescue the bank!
Meritocracy, transparency, equal opportunity… Carry on,
I am sooo interested!

L’express Weekly, 3 December 2010

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on December 17, 2010

Weekly 3rd Dec

Behind the façade of
the weeping Madonna

I would like to apologize to all the hunger strikers
we have seen in performance during the last
few months. I once called them opportunists.
Forgive me. What I meant was that they are irredeemable
opportunists. The kind who put forward
their misery, hide their real motivation and try to
attract sympathy.
For the uninitiated, the hunger strike mini-series
started at the beginning of the year. Unfortunately for
those watching, the only plot change is the price tag
hunger strikers attach to their misery. The latest episode
has been the strike by two Riche Terre planters
with a woman hopping on to the band wagon for good
measure to bring the number up to a startling three
and, more importantly, to create the racial balance
needed. For the record, the female striker is neither a
planter nor married to either of the hunger strikers.
Why did she join the strike, then? Ask me another!
Behind the façade of the weeping Madonna;
behind the hullabaloo of two supposedly desperate
hard-working planters who are asking for nothing
more than to be able to till their land to feed their
compatriots, so much so that they even threatened
to approach the Food and Agriculture Organization,
the only legitimate claim made in what had become
an ocean of incoherent, unreasonable demands and
wild speculation is the publication of the Noël/Ramkissoon
report. I don’t really understand why Satish
Faugoo persisted in his stubbornness. As it turned
out, the report had little more to offer than what was
already on the table. Well, not quite. According to
Eric Mangar, another one of the planters’ spokespersons
who manifestly grossly outnumber the strikers
themselves (at the last count the ratio was 20 to 1),
there is “a new option” for those who “do not wish to
go back and work the land… the planters are happy
to have this option.” Yes, you have understood: the
option of not working the land they were fi ghting for!
The spokesperson adds, answering a question he was
never asked, that “those who support hunger strikers
[ten additional celebrity seeking individuals every
morning] have no hidden agenda.” I rest my case!
Well, all is well that ends well. The extortion scam
has worked and the celebratory feast has started as
the menu of the ex-planters, who are now too rich to
be interested in planting, is made public in a scene
reminiscent of the “petit déjeuner du roi” of Napoleon
Bonaparte.
And, for those who worry that the country is now
geared for boredom, cheer up! The “victory” being
trumpeted is bound to trigger more hunger strikes.
So, spokesmen of all guilds, don’t get off stage. The
best is yet to come!

I would like to apologize to all the hunger strikers
we have seen in performance during the last
few months. I once called them opportunists.
Forgive me. What I meant was that they are irredeemable
opportunists. The kind who put forward
their misery, hide their real motivation and try to
attract sympathy.
For the uninitiated, the hunger strike mini-series
started at the beginning of the year. Unfortunately for
those watching, the only plot change is the price tag
hunger strikers attach to their misery. The latest episode
has been the strike by two Riche Terre planters
with a woman hopping on to the band wagon for good
measure to bring the number up to a startling three
and, more importantly, to create the racial balance
needed. For the record, the female striker is neither a
planter nor married to either of the hunger strikers.
Why did she join the strike, then? Ask me another!
Behind the façade of the weeping Madonna;
behind the hullabaloo of two supposedly desperate
hard-working planters who are asking for nothing
more than to be able to till their land to feed their
compatriots, so much so that they even threatened
to approach the Food and Agriculture Organization,
the only legitimate claim made in what had become
an ocean of incoherent, unreasonable demands and
wild speculation is the publication of the Noël/Ramkissoon
report. I don’t really understand why Satish
Faugoo persisted in his stubbornness. As it turned
out, the report had little more to offer than what was
already on the table. Well, not quite. According to
Eric Mangar, another one of the planters’ spokespersons
who manifestly grossly outnumber the strikers
themselves (at the last count the ratio was 20 to 1),
there is “a new option” for those who “do not wish to
go back and work the land… the planters are happy
to have this option.” Yes, you have understood: the
option of not working the land they were fi ghting for!
The spokesperson adds, answering a question he was
never asked, that “those who support hunger strikers
[ten additional celebrity seeking individuals every
morning] have no hidden agenda.” I rest my case!
Well, all is well that ends well. The extortion scam
has worked and the celebratory feast has started as
the menu of the ex-planters, who are now too rich to
be interested in planting, is made public in a scene
reminiscent of the “petit déjeuner du roi” of Napoleon
Bonaparte.
And, for those who worry that the country is now
geared for boredom, cheer up! The “victory” being
trumpeted is bound to trigger more hunger strikes.
So, spokesmen of all guilds, don’t get off stage. The
best is yet to come!

L’express Weekly, 26 November 2010

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on December 10, 2010

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Budget speech: back to the future

Those who feared that Pravind Jugnauth might terminate
the measures initiated by Rama Sithanen
and which he never tired of criticizing may have
overlooked how little a minister of Finance (especially
one devoid of knowledge of fi nance and economics)
can bring his personal infl uence to bear on the budget he
presents. A horde of civil servants, advisers and cabinet
ministers all have a say in what is to be presented to the
population and the Prime minister puts the fi nal seal. It is
hardly surprising then that the neo-liberal philosophy, softened
with humaneness, underlying the measures proposed is
substantially unchanged. And it is wise that the bulk of the
policies and schemes which steered us away from trouble
when the Great Recession hit its strongest have been kept.
The measures which have generated the most negative reactions
are the ‘sin tax’ on cigarettes, alcohol and gambling and the
‘Robin Hood tax’, aka ‘solidarity tax’ which was bravely slapped
on those at the very top of the income scale.
The fi rst tax is long overdue. Cigarettes are a cancer- literally
and metaphorically – insidiously eating away at our society and
alcohol is ravaging homes and causing irreparable damage to families.
There is no doubt that a price increase is the single most effective
measure to reduce consumption. Who can argue against these
measures? No one. Except hotel operators that is, on whom, by the
way, the government is planning to spend 1billion rupees in the
promotion of Mauritius abroad. Their concern? That their profi ts
might go down! Anybody listening here? A small bottle (330ml) of
beer costs Rs20 in the shops. The hotels are selling the same quantity
of draft beer at Rs 120 and we should all weep because their
profi ts might be reduced by one rupee?! As for gaming houses, only
one piece of advice to those who operate them: lie low – very low!
Concerning the ‘Robin Hood’ tax, no one who has a minimal
sense of social justice can put a cogent case against those
who earn more than Rs 2 million a year (2,500 out a total of 150,
000 tax payers!) dishing out a meagre percentage of ten percent
from their EXEMPT INCOME only! It is a very small price the
super-rich are asked to pay for social cohesion, peace and public
weal. The fallacy some ‘advisory fi rms’ have been peddling and
the doomsday scenario they are painting are hard to understand.
Their scaremongering arguments of capital fl ight and discouraging
of foreign investors are ludicrous sophistries. Where would
the capital go? To countries like the UK, for example, where the
tax reaches 50%? Even then, unless the capital is illegally stashed
away, taxation applies to the worldwide income of the taxpayer.
As for investors, tax is just one consideration. Top of their decision
tree of where to invest is the prospect of making profi ts. A clean,
safe and socially just environment, offering a high quality of life,
where time is spent effi ciently instead of sitting in traffi c jams are
other major considerations for bona fi de and desirable investors.
Government can only provide this enabling environment if it has
adequate funds to invest in creating, upgrading and maintaining it.
What we should be criticizing instead is the lack of any measures
in this budget to stem waste in government and parastatals,
as exposed year in, year out by the National Audit Bureau. Yet,
for as long as that is not done, a big chunk of the money raised by
government will be squandered by unscrupulous parasites. Again.

Budget speech:
back to the future

L’express Weekly, 19 November 2010

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on December 10, 2010

Read l’Express Weekly 19 Nov

‘A quelle sauce sera-t-on mangé’?

This evening, Pravind Jugnauth sets out to present
the budget he has been crafting. Like everybody
else, he deserves his day in court and we would not
like to jump to the trial beforehand. Some refl ections
are, however, in order.
One thing is for sure – whatever he does, he will not meet everyone’s
expectations. The nominal increase he has granted the workers
was judged disappointing at best and humiliating and farcical
at worst by the trade unions while at the same time ambitious and
disproportional according to the Mauritius Employers’ Federation.
Nor should he aim to please everyone. One can never forget that
the budget has two legs. You cannot hope to increase expenditure
enormously without making provision for income, and striking a
balance between the economy and politics is a challenge for any
minister of Finance. The good thing about a post-election budget is
that the minister of Finance does not feel the lights of the popularity
contest shine too much on him. The complacency he shows is perhaps
born out of this happy position. There is plenty of time for the
freebies. For the time being, his priority should be to keep fi rm hands
on the wheel to prevent the economic situation from going astray.
It is therefore an opportunity for him to tackle the urgent problems
and lay the foundation for long term challenges.
The fi rst of these is transport, the biggest destroyer of the quality
of life in this country. For years, we have been hearing about
reports being commissioned one after the other and each competing
with the other to squeeze into dusty drawers to serve as food
for mites. It is high time some of these reports were dusted to allow
the suffocating island to breathe. With our current infrastructure,
no progress is feasible.
Jobs are very important and the minister of Finance is likely to
repeat the same mantra as his predecessors, “This is a Budget for
jobs.” Nothing wrong with that. There is nothing as emotive and
morale sapping as unemployment. However, one must guard against
giving in to the lobbies of those who are always seeking bailouts and
brandishing the threat of layoffs. In the interview Kee Chong Li
Kwong Wing grants us today, he enumerates the advantages these
“parasites” have already benefi tted from. These include pre-fabricated
industrial parks, cheap loans, tax breaks, subsidized water and
electricity, a special wage regime for special sectors, the Additional
Stimulus Package and the Economic Restructuring and Competitiveness
Programme. When you add to this the drastic decrease in
repo rate, you wonder whether the unskilled jobs they provide can
be saved after all. Maybe the answer is in launching a new initiative
to give unemployed people additional training to enable them to
reinvent themselves in new jobs.
One section of the population should not be forgotten: our senior
citizens. We have an ageing population and we owe it to them
in a civilized democracy to do our utmost so that in the crepuscular
stage of life, they do not live in destitution. Also, there is an urgent
need to incentivize professionally active citizens to provide more for
their own retirement by re-introducing fi scal incentives on personal
pension contributions. The responsibility for self-sustainment will
then shift away from the state and allow those who have worked hard
and contributed to the development of the country to have decent
lives in retirement.
Expectations are high and lobbies strong but it seems that,
whatever happens, frugality and fi scal prudence will be on the
menu. ‘la bous dou’ is for another day.

This evening, Pravind Jugnauth sets out to present
the budget he has been crafting. Like everybody
else, he deserves his day in court and we would not
like to jump to the trial beforehand. Some refl ections
are, however, in order.
One thing is for sure – whatever he does, he will not meet everyone’s
expectations. The nominal increase he has granted the workers
was judged disappointing at best and humiliating and farcical
at worst by the trade unions while at the same time ambitious and
disproportional according to the Mauritius Employers’ Federation.
Nor should he aim to please everyone. One can never forget that
the budget has two legs. You cannot hope to increase expenditure
enormously without making provision for income, and striking a
balance between the economy and politics is a challenge for any
minister of Finance. The good thing about a post-election budget is
that the minister of Finance does not feel the lights of the popularity
contest shine too much on him. The complacency he shows is perhaps
born out of this happy position. There is plenty of time for the
freebies. For the time being, his priority should be to keep fi rm hands
on the wheel to prevent the economic situation from going astray.
It is therefore an opportunity for him to tackle the urgent problems
and lay the foundation for long term challenges.
The fi rst of these is transport, the biggest destroyer of the quality
of life in this country. For years, we have been hearing about
reports being commissioned one after the other and each competing
with the other to squeeze into dusty drawers to serve as food
for mites. It is high time some of these reports were dusted to allow
the suffocating island to breathe. With our current infrastructure,
no progress is feasible.
Jobs are very important and the minister of Finance is likely to
repeat the same mantra as his predecessors, “This is a Budget for
jobs.” Nothing wrong with that. There is nothing as emotive and
morale sapping as unemployment. However, one must guard against
giving in to the lobbies of those who are always seeking bailouts and
brandishing the threat of layoffs. In the interview Kee Chong Li
Kwong Wing grants us today, he enumerates the advantages these
“parasites” have already benefi tted from. These include pre-fabricated
industrial parks, cheap loans, tax breaks, subsidized water and
electricity, a special wage regime for special sectors, the Additional
Stimulus Package and the Economic Restructuring and Competitiveness
Programme. When you add to this the drastic decrease in
repo rate, you wonder whether the unskilled jobs they provide can
be saved after all. Maybe the answer is in launching a new initiative
to give unemployed people additional training to enable them to
reinvent themselves in new jobs.
One section of the population should not be forgotten: our senior
citizens. We have an ageing population and we owe it to them
in a civilized democracy to do our utmost so that in the crepuscular
stage of life, they do not live in destitution. Also, there is an urgent
need to incentivize professionally active citizens to provide more for
their own retirement by re-introducing fi scal incentives on personal
pension contributions. The responsibility for self-sustainment will
then shift away from the state and allow those who have worked hard
and contributed to the development of the country to have decent
lives in retirement.
Expectations are high and lobbies strong but it seems that,
whatever happens, frugality and fi scal prudence will be on the
menu. ‘la bous dou’ is for another day.