The ‘Alliance Lepep’ (AL), made up of the MSM, PMSD and the ‘Muvman Liberater’ released their official electoral programme over the weekend. Weekly dissects and highlights the more prominent things that the AL says it wants to do.
In its programme, the AL proposes a host of measures. For a start, they propose to introduce a law forcing parliamentarians who cross the floor with less than 25 per cent of their fellow MPs in tow, to give up their seat. “How to tackle floor crossing is a very complex issue,” says Ram Seegobin of LALIT. “What the AL is proposing is a very lightweight proposition in a programme that’s just about piecemeal reforms and is very populist.” Unionist Jack Bizlall, on the other hand, sees the proposal as antidemocratic. “MPs are elected to represent a constituency,” he says. In Bizlall’s view, the lack of detail about this proposition could undermine it. For instance, the AL in its programme says that it wants to bring in electoral reform with a mixed first-past-the-post/proportional representation (PR) system. “Talking about this anti-floor crossing law just after that, they haven’t made it clear whether it will apply only to MPs making it through a party list and owe their seats to the party, to those elected directly and representing a constituency or to both,” Bizlall adds. In its proposal for electoral reform, the AL has returned to the PMSD’s old position that the eligibility threshold for nominating members from a PR party list should be put at five per cent of the national vote, instead of the 10 per cent that the Labour Party has argued for. “This is something that we too have called for,” argues Bizlall, “so in terms of the five per cent threshold we have no problem with that.”
The AL has also included the demand for a Freedom of Information Act and said that it wants to bring in a Financing of Political Parties Act to promote transparency in political party financing. But setting the demand in this way means looking at the issue from the wrong way, according to Seegobin: “Simply leaving it at looking at party fi nances is too wide. What should be argued is to strengthen the commission to control how much parties are allowed to spend on their electoral campaigns.” For Seegobin, the proposal carries with it a lot of questions: “Who would monitor and implement such a law? The state? A particular ministry under the control of a rival party? Looking at finances is an ambiguous demand, whereas setting and enforcing limits on expenditure is a relatively straightforward thing to do and one that the Electoral Commission is capable of doing,” he says. ■
LAW AND JUSTICE
On the question of law and order, the AL predictably takes a stern stand, from introducing electronic bracelets for certain prisoners released on bail to establishing an electronic register of convicted paedophiles, reviewing the Penalty Points System, the AL also calls for the introduction of ‘law officers’ in police stations to ensure proper procedural conduct during investigations along with CCTV cameras in police stations and reworking the Police Complaints Commission. These are relatively uncontroversial policies, but the departure with their political opponents takes place when the AL says that it wants to destroy the database housing information related to the new biometric ID cards. “On that we agree, the database needs to be done away with,” Seegobin insists. The AL also goes on to add that it wants to create a Financial Crime Commission to investigate various types of fraud, Ponzi schemes, corruption and money laundering. “This is something quite familiar that we keep seeing over and over again, from the now-defunct ECO, to the ICAC and the proposed Serious Fraud Office and now this,” Seegobin argues. “It’s just the acronyms that keep changing, not the substance of what every party proposes at every election.”
More interestingly, the AL calls for the establishment of a new court of appeal consisting entirely of foreign judges. This demand, Bizlall points out, is nothing all that new. “This debate has been with us ever since Mauritius became a republic in 1992,” he adds. “Right now, we have the Privy Council that has protected us somewhat from abuses of justice but I would like to see Mauritius signing up to a Commonwealth panel of judges as its apex court. That demand has always been there and it’s no surprise that in some form, it’s made its way into the AL’s programme”. ■
AGRICULTURE AND FOOD SECURITY
The AL has stated that it wants to boost food growing by introducing freight rebate schemes for local food growers to export their products as well as reintroducing insurance schemes for fruit and vegetable planters. The emphasis on food is important, for Eric Mangar, who heads the Movement for Food Security “since we lose about 100 acres of arable land every year”. But regarding the promise to relaunch insurance schemes, Mangar says that the pledge does not go far enough. “It should be extended to livestock breeders as well since many insurers are unwilling to insure more expensive varieties of livestock.” The AL says that it wants, in addition, to establish a dedicated ministry of the sea. “It’s important to have a dedicated ministry for the ocean since it’s potentially an important economic pillar,” Mangar argues. But one proposal has Mangar curious and that is the pledge to waive duties off importing 100 horsepower (HP) boat engines, ostensibly for the purpose of boosting fishing activities. Mangar argues that to fish outside the lagoon, you would need a boat engine of at least 500 HP. “With 100 HP boats, you can only fish in the lagoon where the catch is already pretty depleted,” he points out. “Just to get an idea, a couple of years ago, fishermen in the lagoon were bringing in an average of 6 kg of fish a day but now the average catch has gone down to 2.3 kg”. As far as Mangar is concerned, the incentives to small-scale fishermen proposed by the AL don’t go far enough.
The measures in education are even less novel. They relate to the reintroduction of 100 per cent subsidy on SC and HSC exam fees, abolishing the Certificate of Primary Education (CPE) exam and ‘reviewing’ the operation of the Tertiary Education Commission.
In health, the AL’s manifesto contains three simple measures, namely opening another nursing school to train 5000-6000 nurses every year, opening gyms in each ministry and giving free glucose meters to diabetics requiring home visits by doctors. ■
JOBS, POVERTY AND THE ECONOMY
The AL says in its programme that it wants to create 5,000 jobs in the public sector and training for another 5,000 jobs in the maritime sector, especially on cruise ships. For young jobseekers, the AL says it wants to extend the Youth Employment Programme, spearheaded by Former Finance Minister and PMSD Leader Xavier-Luc Duval from one to two years. “This would be seen as a good thing by both employers as well as jobseekers,” economist Vishal Rughoobur tells Weekly. “A contract period of one year is too short to learn anything substantial. For young jobseekers, it would mean more experience and for employers it means more continuity in the projects they use these young jobseekers for.” The costs, he adds, are shared between the employers and the state so the proposal doesn’t entail a significant cost dimension for Mauritian businesses. The AL also argues that it wants to bring in tax incentives for businesses hiring first-time job seekers and workers laid off for economic reasons. The AL’s programme says that it also wants to bring in training courses for 3,000 unemployed degree holders and encourage employers to hire them. “Regardless of whether companies go for it or not, any incentive would be positively viewed by Mauritian businesses,” Rughoobur argues. To make it easier for ex-prisoners to find employment, the AL stated that minor offences will be omitted from character references/ morality certificates after one year. “Not all employers ask for morality or character certificates these days. How each individual employer will react to this proposal depends on the hiring practices that s/he follows,” says Rughoobur. The Mauritius Employers’ Federation, for instance, has no formal stand either way on the issue.
The AL has stated that in terms of infrastructure, it wants to restart the Highlands project. André Bonieux, senior country partner at PwC Mauritius, is less enthusiastic about the proposal: “Do we seriously want to use taxpayers’ money or borrowed money to build a new city when so much more can be done at Ebène?” he asks. The AL’s proposal to re-start the port at Mahebourg is seen in a similar light. “It could possibly be seen as an oil terminal for the airport, but aside from that, there has been huge investment in quays, storage areas, motorways and services in Port Louis. Reproducing all of that at Mahebourg does not seem like a wise use of scarce resources,” Bonieux maintains. “I am not aware of a capacity issue in PortLouis so why duplicate a facility that’s not even stretched?” Instead, he argues for attention to be drawn to the possibility of a pipeline between Port Louis and the airport.
Aside from ‘reviewing’ the light rail transit project, the bloc has also pledged to establish a small, micro and medium enterprise development bank to aid SMEs. “In theory, it’s a necessity,” Bonieux argues, “but there has to be a less profit-focused institution at the service of these small entrepreneurs. We only have to look at the Development Bank of Mauritius to see what has become of such a noble idea.” Until public governance standards are improved, he goes on to add, the idea probably won’t work. “If a small entrepreneur has an idea, he’ll probably get a better service at a commercial bank than at a development bank. The idea of a development bank is probably ‘dépassé’ in 2014,” Bonieux concludes.
RESTRICTING FOREIGN WORKERS
All this, the AL maintains will be accompanied by the establishment of a department of economic planning and development. “All governments need a strategic and planning unit to look at developmental issues on a cross ministry basis,” Bonieux remarks but cautions that, “we have to be careful though. Under which ministry would this unit sit? Logically, it should be at the Ministry of Finance and the department should not be yet another unit with veto powers and whose clearance would be needed before a minister can take a particular decision.”
The AL has stated that it wants to restrict the importation of foreign workers to “scarce” areas. “I am concerned about who will decide what a ‘scarce’ areais. The current policy is working and permits are forthcoming in construction, fish processing and textiles industries, so what needs to be changed except the possibility that there are yet more industries that require foreign workers?” Bonieux asks. In this period of wild promises he adds, reducing the number of foreign workers “will result in a few extra local jobs but will also result in the closure of many businesses. So yes, businesses will be hurt by what appears to be a more restrictive proposal.”
Bonieux is even less charitable when it comes to the AL’s proposal to create a sovereign fund to invest in Africa. “With what money?” He asks. “We are running budget deficits every year and we want a sovereign fund? These are typical in resource- rich countries that run high budget surpluses and basically have national wealth to be invested. I am very much against the idea and absolutely for letting every single citizen decide what to do with his money and to invest it where he or she wants.”
For those lower on the income scale, the AL states that it wants to increase pensions to Rs5,000 a month, build 2,000 low-income housing units a year, has pledged not to increase VAT and abolish it completely on certain food articles. The AL has also promised to introduce a national minimum wage. “Minimum wage is something quite positive as many sectors and jobs are not covered by sectoral remuneration orders so you have people earning between Rs 2,500 and Rs 7,000 a month and that’s not a living wage,” Bizlall underlines. “Employers would be in favour of a debate on the minimum wage,” Rughoobur euphemistically adds. In addition, the AL has promised to extend the period of maternity leave for employees by two weeks.