Freeloaders Inc.

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No one should fail to applaud last week’s cabinet decision to put an end to the privileges of Air Mauritius’s past directors. Indeed, the for-life-privileges extended to all board members and their families were sucking the life out of an airline which is already bleeding itself white.

The most ludicrous of these advantages is the entitlement of each director who has ever sat on the Air Mauritius board to free tickets for as long as they live.  Business class, please, thank you.  When they pass away, their children continue to benefit from the same advantages… for life! It is like rewarding someone who sits on the board of a bank with ‘free money’ or the directors of a supermarket and their progeny with free unlimited groceries for life!

I am not quite sure what the rationale behind such a decision is or who took it in the first place. Fringe benefits are meant to act as incentives to retain good employees and encourage them to perform better. How exactly does that apply to former directors who are no longer serving the company? But then again, the board of Air Mauritius has, by and large, been a nice, cushy place to reward one’s favourite cronies by giving them the opportunity to feel self-important and at the same time milk the cow dry.

If this is going to go some way to improving the finances of our national carrier, we are entitled to expect similar measures to reduce the scandalous amounts of waste currently taking place in our different ministries and parastatals, judging by the Auditor General’s report and the huge increase in the per diem, added to the entertainment allowance, of ministers and public officers travelling next-door, to Rodrigues.

We have seen how many ministers and other dignitaries have been jetting to Rodrigues and back in the recent months. For a per diem of Rs12,000, it is indeed worth clocking in a few hours’ work far from the madding crowd in restful, laid-back Rodrigues. As for those who have developed a sudden, ravenous appetite for free long-distance travel, we cringe at the thought of the bills we must be footing on their behalf. When questions are asked, they are roundly ignored and, in the absence of a freedom of information legislation, a culture of secrecy, deliberate obstruction, abuse of official discretion and arrogant authority dismisses any concerns.

The audit report will continue to highlight the liberties the government takes with the public purse and the way government members and their protégés gobble up public funds every year. And we will continue to look the other way in disquieting indifference. An indictment on how normal the overindulgence in public money has become.

The end of the feasting on the Air Mauritius carcass is an encouraging sign but it is not meaningful for as long as profligacy and wastage of public rupees are not tackled seriously. Government extravagance towards itself and towards those close to power is a crime against the hard-working, law-abiding taxpayers.

In the aftermath of the excesses and abuses uncovered and reported in the recently published audit report, the population has the right to demand decisive action and for government to start leading by example. The first step towards that is legislating to allow transparency.

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