Open letter to the new PM



“Gouverner pour le peuple – avec le peuple”

Dear Sir Anerood Jugnauth

Congratulations on your election victory, but there is something you need to know. Many of us didn’t vote for you. We voted against Ramgoolam. If you had been allied with him, you would surely have been humiliated instead of Bérenger. Do we have blind faith in you? No. It was not without reason that you were crushed 60-0 in 1995. In 2000, you were given another chance, but your party failed to live up to expectations and was replaced once more. Of course, the alternative turned out to be even worse. Will you do better this time? We hope so.

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The Mauritian Miracle – then and now

Dear Professor Stiglitz

Sorry for taking so long to respond to your op-ed on Mauritius. Like many of your academic predecessors, the brevity of your visit earlier this year prevented you looking into the details of the state and history of Mauritius. Please permit me to fill some in.

Although free, universal education was introduced in 1976 in response to student protests, decent education is no longer free in Mauritius. Those who “have” send their children to private schools and those who “have less” pay for private tuition after school and at weekends. The children of those who “have nothing” are severely disadvantaged. Moreover, state tertiary education is largely failing to prepare students for work in call centres so forget about advanced technology.

The same is true of “universal” free, healthcare: those who “have” go to private hospitals, those who “have less” attend private surgeries and purchase medicines from pharmacies, avoiding, like the plague, the state run hospitals and their dubiously sourced pills for those who “have nothing”. For those who need expensive treatment overseas, there is a national lottery. Continue reading

Bagatelle – a thing of little importance

But not according to Prime Minister Ramgoolam. To him, the new commercial centre represents another reason for holiday-makers to visit our shores: shopping tourism. We do not share his optimism.

So who will come shopping here? Wealthy Europeans? Why should they when they can have a much greater choice and better prices at Dubai airport, transit hub for Emirates? Travellers not only enjoy one of the world’s top ten airlines (far surpassing Air Mauritius which doesn’t even provide first class seats), they also benefit from being picked up closer to home from regional airports. What about the nouveau riche from South East Asia? Well, they are spoilt for choice with 2 duty free shopping islands in Malaysia (not to mention its world class shopping centres in Kuala Lumpur) and the superb Singapore airport right on their doorstep.

So, globally speaking, Bagatelle is a thing of little importance. Except for Mauritians, to whom it represents another step closer to European living standards. As long as you have a car. However, the MID working groups, criticised the development of out-of-town shopping centres as contradictory to the principles of sustainability for the following reasons: Continue reading

Feedback on MID reports

To the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development.

We are delighted to provide feedback on the reports of the Working Groups for the MID policy development and indeed privileged to be part of the one on energy. Overall, we are happy with much of the work done so far and the comments below focus on exceptions to this. We also attempt to address some of the important issues we feel are missing from the reports and try to synthesise conflicting recommendations. After suggesting improvements to the MID process, we will turn to the security of the economy, nutrition, electricity and transport and then land use conflicts and nutrient recycling. Finally, we comment on individual recommendations that we consider notable. Continue reading

Where’s the oil coming from?

Mauritius could face an oil crisis in the coming weeks as Iran threatens to end exports to India. Mangalore refinery, which supplies all of Mauritius’ petroleum needs, is dependent on Iran for 60% of its crude oil. The problem is that US led sanctions against Iran have made it difficult for India to pay Iran for its oil and the outstanding bill is now $5 Billion. Iran is now threatening to end exports on the 1st of August.

The government of Mauritius has been aware of this problem since January. At the time the Minister of Industry and Commerce, Mr. S. Soodhun assured the country that there were sufficient supplies en route to last for several months. The very same day he announced his desire to build an oil refinery on the island.  Meanwhile the STC wants to increase the petroleum storage facilities at Port Louis apparently to avoid supply problems caused by Somali pirates.

The required investments are huge.  Even the IMF is warning that oil will become an increasingly scarce and hence expensive commodity. Their advice is to back sustainable alternative sources of energy. Mauritius’ agricultural sector has great potential to produce biofuels. To achieve energy security and protect our economy surely we should look to our own resources?

Energy self-sufficiency

At the second meeting of the MID Energy working group last week, we presented our major project of 2011: how Mauritius can be entirely self-sufficient in energy. The need to drastically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels is best illustrated by the graph showing them as a percentage of our total merchandise imports. From 1970 to 2000 they were in the range of 5-10% then, from 2000 to 2008, they rocketed up to over 20% and only fell back again as a consequence of the global financial crisis. If we get back to the “business as usual” trajectory, within a decade or two, our fuel bill will be unaffordable unless we are prepared to do without other imports like computers, refrigerators, clothes or food. Continue reading