Touria Prayag's Blog

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on March 25, 2011

weekly 25-03-2010

Ali Baba’s
caravan rolls on

The long-awaited day of reckoning turned out not to be
one. The protagonist, Maya Hanoomanjee, waltzed into
the Legislative Assembly seconds before the Prime minister.
Draped in a light blue sari, she looked splendidly
confi dent. As she had said, she had nothing to fear. Paul Bérenger’s
threat that the barking dogs would bite did not shake her
confi dence. She made her way to her ministerial seat where she
sat impassive, except for one or two verbal reactions to her colleagues
from the Opposition; reactions which allowed the very careful
observer to see through the veneer of the elegant garb and subtle
make-up. She watched the parliamentary debate as if the questions
being debated had nothing to do with her.
The look on her face changed little when the exchanges between
the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime minister about the Med-
Point saga heated up, reaching boiling point as the Speaker, who handled
the session with admirable objectivity and fi rmness, had to shout
“order!” several times before some semblance of calm was restored.
A cursory glance at her leader. He looked equally if not even more
unfazed. MedPoint clinic did not belong to him, he had only fi fty
shares and he will not take the money from their sale, remember? So,
he did not once glance towards the Prime minister as the latter was
being bombarded with questions about the alleged shady deal. Guess
this is what politicians call “serene”. And they had every reason to be.
As the Prime minister took the Private Notice Question, it became
clear that those who expected light to be shed on the MedPoint
‘mari deal’ were in for a big disappointment. The whole affair is now
shrouded in an opaque cloak called the ICAC. You just utter the
four-letter word and, abracadabra, it wraps itself around and
everyone in it is safe in its obscure recesses.
The questions raised by the Leader of the Opposition were
dismissed in a masterly way with no indication as to where the
PM stands in relation to the deal. In fact, the Prime minister even
latched on them and went off on an electoral campaign-style tangent
about how his government cares for the elderly and how these
deserve the best ever care etc. etc. Those of us who have one foot in
old age were really touched. We were about to start a fund-raising
exercise there and then for another Rs. 145m to pay for some used
pair of shoes or other celebrity memorabilia our hero, Pravind Jugnauth,
may be ready to part with. Since we could not raise the money
to buy these so very valuable possessions, we hope the minister
of Finance accepts our heart-felt gratitude in lieu for having kindly
demonstrated his care and the care of his government for the elderly
by donating to the country, in exchange for the meagre sum of Rs.
145m, a wonderful clinic where we will one day be looked after in
the most caring way. We hope that he does not feel shortchanged.
And God bless Ali Baba’s caravan! The dogs continue to bark
as there is, at this point, nothing for them to sink their teeth into.
As we join in the barking symphony, we would like to highlight that
the ICAC has a unique opportunity to change its image and the
country’s perception of it. I doubt that it will have a second chance.

weekly@lexpress.mu

 

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L’express Weekly, 18 March 2011

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on March 18, 2011

Pdf weekly 18march

Editorial

Price rises and consumer woes

Mauritian households are being severely hit by the spiralling cost of living as basic food prices skyrocket to all-time records and there seems to be no end to it. Hundreds of essential items on supermarket shelves sting before you even touch them. And you cannot afford not to touch them. The runaway price of petrol, an unavoidable input in the logistical chain, compounds the food inflation conundrum.

It would be unfair to blame the price rises squarely and simply on Pravind Jugnauth and his budget. The measures he effected have arguably little to do with how deep we have to dig in our threadbare pockets today to be able to have a decent meal.

Natural calamities, the diversion of cereals to the production of bio-fuels, the civil unrest in large parts of North Africa and the Middle East, are some of the reasons which account for the food and oil crises the world is going through. The fact that we have remained heavily dependent on importation for our food needs and the hedging blunders committed by our infamous luminaries have not helped. But they tell only a tiny fraction of the story.

The opposition seized the opportunity to jump at Pravind Jugnauth’s throat. And that is understandable. They are just doing the job we pay them for. But the fact of the matter is that the critics have not put forward alternative solutions. And if truth be told, there aren’t any. Or at least there are no quick fixes to these exogenous shocks.

Shakawtally Soodun and Michael Sik Yuen have come up with some ideas. They have to be seen to be doing something. And one may argue that something is better than nothing. Soodun has made an appeal to importers’ patriotism and urged them to reduce their prices and the effect was immediate: many items of basic necessity have gone down by a few rupees. Shoppers will soon find out, however, that their relief will be short-lived. Importers will not fill their coffers with patriotism. They will soon either creepingly revert to the old prices or, worse, resort to the now well-known common practice of downsizing. In other words, to pass the rising costs on to the consumer, many firms will maintain the sticker price of the product but reduce the quantity sold. This subterfuge has proved not to turn off the average consumer. It has been established that there is a greater sensitivity in consumer markets to price rather than quantity up to a certain extent. Consumer associations therefore have to be very vigilant and ensure that the patriotic drop in the importers’ and retailers’ margins is not merely cosmetic.

The Observatory of Prices proposed by Sik Yuen has not drawn great enthusiasm largely because it is thought that it will not bring down prices. And as it happens, it won’t. It would, however, be wrong not to encourage it. Its effects in the short-term are negligible. In the long term, though, it will provide invaluable data about price evolution and whether it is consistent with world tendencies. It will also be easier to identify cases of profiteering, monopoly abuse, cartels or collusion.

In the food price inflation issue, we have to come to terms with one thing: we are in it for the long haul. We have to think in terms of sustainable palliatives, such as optimum use of arable land for local production and food security. In the meantime, we have to pez nene boire de l’huil. Except that oil too has become unaffordable.

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on March 14, 2011

L’express Weekly,11 March 2011

International
Women’s Day centenary

One hundred years of struggle and the United Nations verdict
is still alarming: nowhere in the world can women claim to
have the same rights and opportunities as their male counterparts.
Worse: the majority of those living in abject poverty (1.3
billion) are women. They are the segment of the population most likely to
be abused, exploited and their rights as human beings disregarded.
In our little paradise, we celebrated this day with great pomp. The
PM surprised everyone by announcing the introduction of quotas for
women. Ambitious women took turns with the microphone. Some
talked proudly about the great strides women have made towards equality.
Others talked about the dismal number of women in Parliament.
Some verbs like “empower” have been so used and abused that they
have become hollow.
Yes, Sheila Bappoo’s efforts to empower housewives by turning them
into “entrepreneurs” are praise-worthy. We would not like to undermine
that. However, in many cases, these women, with little training, little education
and often shackled with children end up being mere ‘achard’ makers,
shoving wedges of vegetables into pickling jars between feeding their
children, changing their babies and cooking the family meal. Some of their
‘enterprises’ bite the dust within two years.
The harsh reality is that the measures taken to help women have been
more of a cosmetic nature. The harsher reality is that the movements which
are supposed to stand up for them have tied their claims so much to the
Legislative Assembly that they have become completely cut off from the
daily realities of the ordinary woman.
The manifesto the Muvman Liberasyon Fam (MLF) unveiled this
week will hopefully reignite, inspire and channel women’s struggle for emancipation.
They have shifted the debate away from the man/woman 50/50
paradigm and focused on the problems both men and women face. Their
demands are that household chores, for example, should not be shared but
rather socialized, by providing an adequate framework which allows both
men and women to get out of the house and participate fully in the overall
development of the country.
The one simple measure which would help women on the bottom rung
of the ladder as well as those professionally trained mothers who fi nd themselves
forced to reduce their participation in the workforce and downscale
their hopes for achievement is making suffi cient resources for good quality
child care available, regulated and subsidized and having working mothers
supported by adequate pre-school and after-school programmes. Legislation
should push for having work-based child care centres.
Also, we will not make any progress in the fi ght to reduce violence
against women so long as battered wives are not taken care of by the state
and provided with accommodation and adequate support.
We all know all this but the debate has been driven by the obsessions
of the few rather than the needs of the many. So we can’t claim that we
celebrated women’s emancipation this week. It hasn’t happened yet. The
debate is only just beginning: the oppressor is not the male but the patriarchal
society we live in. The enemy is not the man we wake up next
to but the challenges we face as individuals, as couples, as families and as
a society. Progress is made through programmes not through gender.
So, between Nando Bodha and Maya Hanoomanjee, I’d still vote for
Nando Bodha. Sorry!

 

L’express Weekly, 4 March 2011

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on March 7, 2011

Pdf weekly 4 march

 

A Sun Trust Proposal

Much as the famous kiss between Brezhnev and former East
German President Honecker was touted as evidence of
the Kremlin’s regard for the latter, last week’s handshake
between the Prime minister and his minister of Finance
was meant to testify that the latter was once more in the good graces
of the Prime minister. The MBC cameras zoomed in on it. The press
photographers immortalised it: a sturdy, confi dent hand, lifting a diffi –
dent drowning one to the surface and perhaps to safety. A graceful smile
meets a grateful one. All is well. Clap clap clap. Move on!
Before we do, we have a modest proposal to make. Since the Highlands
City project has been frozen, we believe that there must be an
immediate need for public offi ce space. We would therefore like to humbly
suggest that Government buy the Sun Trust building immediately. We
must declare here that we have nothing to gain by making this suggestion
and that our motives are solely patriotic. The tender document could
look something like this, “Proposals are invited from owners of concrete
buildings located in Port Louis. The premises should be within walking
distance of the British High Commission (English being our offi cial language,
you know) and have to have served as offi ce space for the ministry
of Education in the past. Preference will be given to buildings located in
a street bearing the name of a woman. (Gender equality, you know)”
We are reliably informed that a rough estimate of the market value for
the building is around Rs. 250m, so we suggest that we get a few valuations
done to reach the fair deal of Rs.1billion. The minister of Finance
has, naturally, to declare his interest by saying, “this building belongs to
my family trust but my family and I have different dining rooms, different
tastes and different dates of birth and, objectively speaking, buying
these offi ces would be a damn good deal for the people.” He would then
leave Cabinet just before the deal is struck. The Opposition, formal and
informal, will ask questions which no one is obliged to answer. The ICAC
will try very hard to justify its existence. Some journalists will go on and
on about obscure concepts like public morality, ethics and similar things
which nobody is interested in and which, at any rate, do not rempli
ventre and the ministers involved will, thankfully, remain ‘serene’. Their
lawyer may even publicly state that we have shortchanged the owners!
Paying for this mari deal is simple. Consider this: from January
2010 to this day, 60,000 drivers have been fi ned for driving at perhaps
81km/hr on some stretches of the motorway, resulting in the State
pocketing Rs 120m! We would, therefore, like to suggest that the fi ne
be doubled and that the Road Traffi c Unit put more policemen in
strategic positions to ambush the maximum number of motorists. By
our estimate, it will take less than six months to raise enough cash to
pay for the Sun Trust building.
This purchase would save the country a lot of money in the long run,
since when we lease the Sun Trust, we pay rental and when we terminate
the lease agreement before term, we pay indemnities. So buying it would
put an end to the problem for good. If Pravind Jugnauth kept the threat
he brandished last time of gifting the money to the people of this country,
he need not worry about how we spend it. It will, one way or the other,
go back to him. With our blessings!

weekly@lexpress.mu