Touria Prayag's Blog

Weekly editorial Oct 25

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on October 29, 2012

Engineering poverty

“The poor cannot sleep because they are hungry and the rich cannot sleep because the poor are awake,” someone once said. I’d like to share these thoughts with a person who is dear to us – our minister of finance, Xavier Luc Duval. For, the devaluation of the rupee he has been engineering is tantamount to a transfer of wealth from the larger community of defenceless savers, wage earners, pensioners and taxpayers, to a handful of business owners. And, apart from a few rent-seekers, nobody is going to thank him for that. His move of handling the monetary policy elsewhere than where it is supposed to be carried out, that is in the Central Bank, is heavy-handed, ill-advised and out of line with the principle of independence of an important institution such as the Bank of Mauritius.

Frankly, this whole saga and folklore around the rupee has lasted for far too long and has to be sorted out once and for all. Before the Monetary Policy Committee sits each time, some exporters come out in droves lobbying and trying to put pressure for rupee devaluation.  To them, a devaluation of the rupee is the panacea to all their problems of competitiveness. That is too easy and, instead of feeding red meat to these lobbyists, the minister of finance would actually benefit by looking at the larger good and the interest of the country as a whole.

The business owners the minister of finance is trying to protect are not the only stakeholders in the economy. So, he cannot even be accused of defending ‘big capital’. Among the big economic operators are many importers. Rupee devaluation will naturally affect the prices they pay for their imported goods and these will also be difficult to sell to an impoverished population whose purchasing power will be further eroded as weakening our currency would cause inflation to surge out of control. It is effectively an insidiously and perniciously impoverishing tax on the public at large.

 

Xavier Duval should not and cannot go against the forces of the market. Even countries which live in the backyard of the euro zone, like Morocco and Tunisia, have allowed their currencies to free-float, thereby letting market forces and economic fundamentals determine their exchange rates.

Let’s also not forget that our rupee only seems strong because of the euro and sterling weakness, which is due to the daunting, some might say self-inflicted, macro-economic problems of Europe and the UK. Why should we make their problems ours? Don’t we have enough of our own? And those economic operators who had enough foresight to re-invest a sufficient amount of their profits in machinery rather than pay out dividends and saved for lean days have little to complain about today. They continue to play a crucial role in the economy while holding their heads high. Those who didn’t maybe have no place in the economic scene and should certainly not be subsidized by the poor. Xavier Duval should not dent his credibility to save their skin. And if neither the rich nor poor can sleep, we do not wish the consequences of that upon him.

 

 

Weekly editorial

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on October 29, 2012

Allow me to steer you away, if I may, from this talk about electoral reform the scale of which, you will concede,

has been blown well out of proportion. Allow me also to steer you away from the PRB talk, a folklore exercise

which yields the same results every time. If our top civil servants are happy with their increase, good for them.

Will this lead them to perform better and become more accountable? Not if past experience is to go by.

More than the people who represent us in our national assembly, more than the salaries and dazzling benefi ts of

some of our top civil servants and those who hold the levers of power, I would like to focus on things which intentionallyor

unintentionally get drowned and almost forgotten. As our politicians dangle the carrot of progress,

the PRB has given the workers on the lowest rung of the social ladder a symbolic increase which will not change

their lives.

In this context, I was wondering whatever happened to the Declaration of Asset Act? You know, that act which

would allow us to have the same transparency that they have in more advanced democracies. Anything you have

earned through your hard work is something you should have no problem bringing out in the open. So, what

exactly happened to this Act?

Sitting in our national assembly today are a few honourable members and holding the levers of state power are

some top civil servants who have benefi tted greatly from the “sacrifi ce” they have been making; that of servi pays

and all the privileges that go with such a great “sacrifi ce”. Some of them have acquired wealth at the expense of

the hard-working citizens of this country and some have benefi tted from state land, for themselves and their

relatives. As these honourable members go and relax in their massive bungalows paid for by the taxpayer, I

wonder whether they have thought of those who have to dig deep in their threadbare pockets to be able to see the

colour of the sea and touch the blue gold which is becoming more and more of a rarity.

When they and their in-laws build hotels on the choicest spots of the coastline, do they even think about how

quickly they have contributed to dilapidating the wealth of the nation?

The colleagues of those who have become rich at the expense of the state are just as guilty. They may not be as

corrupt but they are sitting and watching this happen. Instead of asking the right questions in parliament, they

waste their time and ours concentrating on massage parlours, absenteeism in schools and other trivial issues.

Seriously, are these the biggest problems that threaten the integrity of our country?

To those honourable members, I take the liberty of quoting below an extract from The Declaration of Assets Act

1991: apart from members declaring everything they own, “the declaration shall, in relation to children of age,

specify any property sold, transferred or donated to each one of them in any form or manner.”

I would like to see this apply to all those who are involved with public money, including some who are permanently

sitting on our national boards thanks to patronage. Let us refocus the debate. If members of our communities

are corrupt or are benefi tting from undue advantages, in what way can that make us feel better?

Weekly editorial (October 4 2012)

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on October 6, 2012
The triumph of the minority

“No electoral reform this year,” says the prime minister. I hope not. We are nearing Christmas time and changing the electoral system is not like going to the supermarket and picking up a new one off the shelf without even asking us what we would like for dinner. And if we are not going to have a 60+8+20 preposterous national assembly which looks like the Port Louis Bazaar just to allow cronies in through the back door, all the better! Now, how about looking at real issues instead. Those likely to change our lives.

What saddens me is that this talk about electoral reform and doing away with the best loser system has led to worms crawling out of the woodwork. Some demagogues who have become experts at riding on division have been insidiously trying to create a rift between communities, claiming that the majority group is getting the biggest share of the cake through undue privileges while the minorities are sitting and watching it happen. This talk is dangerous. It also diverts our attention from the real issues. Thinking that representation, best loser, changing the electoral system or having more cronies sitting on each other in the national assembly is going to change anything, is day dreaming.

It’s important that we understand semantics and not be misled by the terminology used to dupe us into believing fallacies which serve only the interests of the demagogues.

Of course there is a class of people who are constantly gravitating around power. That is the privileged ‘minority’.

No community is an innocent by-stander watching from outside this circle. The roder bout has no colour, no religion and no ethnic group. When power changes hands, members of this ‘minority’ make sure they are always on the right side and they get privileges which the rest of us can not even dream of.

This process is called nepotism. Nepotism and its cognate terms patronage, cronyism and favouritism, discriminates against capable professionals in favour of oftentimes mediocre or even substandard ones. It is a breach of a fundamental ethical obligation owed to us by government. Though Mauritius has a proud recent record of legislating to make discrimination unlawful, all too often policies and laws are exercised in a discriminatory manner.

These are the issues we should be concentrating on. A change in the electoral system will do nothing to change the system of patronage. It is against this system that the fight should be waged; against corruption, improper influence, dishonesty, fraud and graft, irrespective of which community those practising it belong to and no matter which political party is involved.

It is time we all realised who the enemy is. The battle against the system is not easy. It is worse than a battle against Hydra but as long as we keep thinking that a change in the electoral system or having more or fewer best losers will change anything, we will not even start it. Integrity of the selection processes and genuine transparency in hiring, fi ring and promotions is what we should be pushing for. We want to see the CVs and relevant work experience of those who are entrusted with state responsibilities. Clear and transparent procedures go right to the heart of the issue. If we manage to make those at the helm more accountable through proper checks and balances, who would even remember what the words ‘best loser’ and ‘first past the post’ mean? And major changes in our constitution cannot be done in a casual way behind our backs. We should all have a say in the future of our democracy.