Not a single rupee of the CSR money has gone to the poor!

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Weekly speaks to MMM MP Aadil Ameer Meaa about the questions asked in parliament, his leader’s apparent absence from parliamentary debates, the concerns about the various scandals and who the MMM is likely to jump into bed with for the next election. We also take the opportunity to talk about the political situation in general.

Let’s start with a question that you put to the prime minister last week that went almost unnoticed, about Neotown. Can you remind us about the question you asked and what the answer was?

The question was about the land that the previous government leased out to the Neotown promoters. I wanted to know whether the land has been taken back and if there are any legal claims against the state of Mauritius for having terminated the contract. Unfortunately, the prime minister gave only half the information. For me, the other half is equally if not more important because, according to my information, the promoters of Neotown are suing the state of Mauritius for billions of rupees. The prime minister did confirm there is a legal case but he didn’t give the amount of the claim being asked for.

He said that he’s not aware.

I don’t think he is unaware. I think he deliberately refused to give the information. If I have this information, he should be aware of it too. It’s one of the habits of this government, not only the prime minister but also the other ministers, that whenever you ask a question associated with the Parliamentary Question (PQ), they say they don’t have the information because there was no specific question. As if you should write all the supplementary questions now in the PQ! I find this appalling.

Why do they do that?

They don’t want to give the figures. I think in the case of Neotown, Pravind Jugnauth did not want to give the figure of the claim because, with the claims from the British American Insurance, Betamax and CT Power, the list of claims becomes even longer.

How much money are we likely to pay if we lose all these cases?

Over a hundred billion rupees. It’s not good for the country that international promoters come here, sign contracts and then these are unilaterally terminated by the government.

This week, you asked about private television. How is that a priority considering all that is going on?

As you know, this has been one of the numerous promises of this so-called Alliance Lepep and unfortunately, they haven’t delivered on that either.

There are so many promises and they haven’t delivered on. Why this one?

Because it’s at the heart of our democracy. The MBC today is raping democracy every day. It’s scandalous. All you see is Jugnauth senior, Jugnauth junior and every member of government promoting the government. That’s why I attach so much importance to this question. It’s time we had private television as we have private radios.

Is it more important than a Freedom of Information Act?

It is equally important. If we had had a Freedom of Information Act, we would have had access to all the speaker’s travel expenses, for example, as they do in the House of Commons. There, the speaker has to give all his or her expenses, be it overseas travel, house allowance, car allowance, restaurant bills, everything. So, a Freedom of Information Act is as important as private television.

You must concede that the Alliance Lepep did keep their promise of having live broadcasting from parliament.

(Laughs) They did and I congratulate them for that. They are going to pay for it dearly in the next election because the population is now seeing clearly the level of their incompetence. The last example is Minister Alain Wong. The way he answered that question about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)! It’s a shame and a real pity what the government is doing with the CSR.

But why pick on poor Wong?

He is the minister in charge of the alleviation of poverty.

He has just taken over the portfolio.

Even then, he should do his homework before coming to the national assembly. My question was a specific one: How much money has been disbursed in the CSR programme so far.

And what do you think the answer is to your question? You obviously knew the answer before you put the question!

I had an idea but I didn’t know the exact amount.

What is the idea that you have? One hundred million rupees?

I would have loved if they had spent Rs100 million of CSR money in the alleviation of poverty.

Have they?

No! What they did was appoint their own people and started giving monthly salaries of Rs75,000 to the chairman and Rs20,000 to board members and not a single rupee of the CSR money has gone to the poor! Let’s face it – the CSR was a fantastic idea when it was introduced by the previous government. This government should have left it in place instead of imposing that companies give the money to government which then decides who to give this money to. My fear is that there is political intervention in which people to target, which constituencies, which agents etc. It is very dangerous!

Beyond the nice concepts of private television and even freedom of information, the most urgent thing for me is the Metro Express, which is not given enough importance in parliament. Aren’t you worried about the implications of a half-baked project like that?

Yes, very worried. Last week again, I had two PQs on the Metro Leger, one about the cost and one about the land being taken for this purpose.

Those are political questions. I’m talking about the implications on the economy.

They are political and economic at the same time. The economic implications is that we are embarking on a massive, heavy financial project and I can say without hesitation that we don’t have a team in government to handle such a project. The government just wants to score points politically without thinking about the implications. The leader of the Mouvement Militant Mauricien (MMM) said that even if India has given us financial help, which we are very grateful for, if their companies are coming to construct the metro, we can’t allow the same companies to supervise the work! It should be someone totally independent so that we know where we are going and that we have value for money. We should be careful.

When this project was presented by the former government, it was going to cost Rs25 billion Today, we hear that sum has come down to Rs20 billion. Are you also concerned about this huge reduction in cost?

I am. The way this government is going about the project is “we have to cut costs, even if we have to go through houses and villages, even if we have to move a football ground just to reduce costs and make it happen. And even that, I’m not sure that the figure of Rs20 billion rupees that they gave will suffice for this project. And we are not happy with the new project.

Minister of Minister of Public Infrastructure and Land Transport Nando Bodha said in parliament that they are sticking to the route drawn by the previous government. So, where is the problem?

Even if they stick to the same route, this route is no longer elevated but is on ground level!

What does it change?

Everything! The metro running on the same roads as the rest of the traffic will disrupt everything. When it is elevated, life continues underneath.

To move on to what is highly topical issue, the leader of the opposition has written an open letter and he’s in the middle of discussing it with the leader of the MMM and with the other members of the opposition. Why do you think such drastic measures are justified?

We, the MMM through its leader, have made a public appeal for the president to resign by herself so that we don’t go through so many petitions, letters, public calls, meetings, gatherings and all that. But, she doesn’t seem to be paying heed to what we are saying. That’s why in a democratic country, we as parliamentarians, we are putting our concerns on paper, on record, to show that we are playing the role that we have to play in a democracy. It’s clear that it is not the role of the president to bring investors in the country.

But what’s the harm if she wants to help the country?

(A bit puzzled) The harm? Investment is the role of the Executive through the Financial Services Commission (FSC), the Financial Intelligence Unit, the Board of Investment etc. They have the staff and expertise to carry out checks. The president doesn’t have that.

But she says all investors contact the State House when they want to invest and Álvaro Sobrinho is no exception. Do you agree with that?

I don’t agree with that. Every serious investor who wants to invest billions in Mauritius uses the usual channel.

What exactly do you hold against the president as things stand?

The thing is that she has embarked on a project that has, today, brought disrepute to our offshore sector. I went on Google myself to find out about Sobrinho. I just typed his name and I found so many things.

But, he’s never been convicted, has he?

But there are so many cases against him in Portugal, his money has been frozen in Switzerland. I think that’s enough for us to say, ‘OK, we don’t need this type of money and we don’t need this type of guy here in Mauritius’. The president instead, when the emails were out, we found out that she had used her Gmail account to put pressure on the officers in the FSC to have Sobrinho’s licence delivered quickly and thanked and congratulated them for having facilitated the process.

What’s wrong with that?

(Getting exasperated) This is not a game! Again, it is not the role of the president to do that.

But, when she took over the office, she said, “I’m not going to be a vase à fleurs president. I am going to help my country because I am an entrepreneur and a scientist.”

I don’t dispute the fact that she is a scientist but she must be very careful about using the word ‘entrepreneur’. We’ve seen all the risks associated with big offshore businesses, in investment banks and everything. Now, she should know that entrepreneurs should follow the proper channel to venture in this sector.

Are you saying that whatever happened, happened and that it was all in good faith and that she just didn’t have the staff to help her?

I never said that she did it in good faith. My principal argument is that it’s not her role to do what she did or monitor what’s happening with the licences at the FSC. These are our principal contentions against the president.

Coming back to parliament, because now we can see live what is going on, we have noticed that the leader of the MMM is almost absent from the national assembly. Is that his new strategy since he is no longer the leader of the opposition?

It’s not true that he is always absent. It was only the last session that he wasn’t there. He was there in the morning.

Yes, he was but he didn’t contribute much to the debate.

On the very important day of the motion against the speaker, he was there since the morning until he was expelled at 10pm. But I can tell you, he has been prime minister and leader of the opposition; now he wants to give a leeway to the new leader of the opposition to do his job.

You mean, it’s out of kindness?

Not out of kindness, but out of respect for the post of leader of the opposition.

Does out of respect for the leader of the opposition mean you don’t ask any questions?

He did ask some supplementary questions, but I think this will change after some time.

So, you do concede that for the time being, he’s not contributing much to the debates in parliament?

There have only been three sessions if I’m not wrong. We’ll see how it goes.

Gérard Sanspeur's salary was revealed to the whole nation on Tuesday. Are you shocked, surprised or do you think it is normal?                       

The way things are going on under this government, I am neither shocked nor surprised. My information is that there are many more like Sanspeur and Sumputh! I find this totally unacceptable.

I hear the opposition asking for an election, which is what the opposition always does – whether they genuinely want it or not is another story. What kind of alliances are likely to take place for the next election?

Well, I don’t have a crystal ball so I can’t predict the future, but what I can tell you is that the MMM is determined to go it alone for the next election.

You’ve always said that, but you’ve ended up in bed with someone...

We went alone in 2010 and we had 20 MPs. We have done it before in 1983 and 1987.

But then, the MMM was much stronger than it is today, wasn’t it?

Yes, I will tell you frankly, my feeling is that morality will play a very important role in the next election. We’ve all seen what happened from 2005 to 2014, and we’ve seen what happened after 2014 with the present government. I feel that the people of Mauritius will give the MMM a chance to be in government. We all know that Paul Bérenger is the cleanest of all the leaders that we have. For a party that’s been here for almost 50 years, not to have a single case of corruption against its leader is something that should be acknowledged. I think the MMM is well equipped to change the course of history in Mauritius.

What about those who think that, come what may, the coalition that we will face at the next election will be the MMM with the Mouvement Socialiste Militant (MSM)?

Striking an alliance with the MSM would be a very bad joke. And something that really bugs me is the Vijaya Sumputh case. It’s as if they are really unaware that she was getting the salary of Rs323, 000! They gave the figures and there has been a change after that. But, who appointed Sumputh? It’s the same government! Who was prime minister? Even Minister of Health Anwar Husnoo was in cabinet. Every time the government does something wrong and it’s uncovered, they change it and then they are very happy about the change and applaud their initiative. But they decided it in the first place! The guys in the government are very strange. With all the drug cases and cover-up attempts added to the excuses they give, there is no way we will have an alliance with the MSM.

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