Watergate

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Sir Anerood Jugnauth, all smiles, swooped down on Rodrigues as chief guest for the country’s 15th anniversary of autonomy. He was bearing no gifts for Rodriguans and certainly no promise of alleviating their water woes. In his usual ‘elegant’ way of pi..ing on his subjects, he even chastised them for assuming he might be remotely interested in that.

“Do you think I have come here to bring you water?” our minister mentor rhetorically asked. “Next, you will ask me to bathe you!” How he gets away with making the most contemptuous statements about people to their face is a world mystery, up there with the building of the pyramids and the Great Wall.

But Anerood Jugnauth’s outburst was sincere. He didn’t go to Rodrigues to solve their water problems but to cut ribbons, rest, collect his per diem and smile for the MBC cameras. As it happens, he did not bring any water to the rest of the country either despite the 2014 hefty promises. Despite the Bagatelle dam that was at an advanced stage of construction when his government took over. Why?

A collaborator in Weekly, former director general of the Central Water Authority (CWA), sheds light on this issue in this week’s edition. In a nutshell, the dam was ready last year but the water needed to be treated and distributed. A government with vision would have got distribution pipes and a water treatment plant up and running as the last touches were being put to the dam. Unfortunately, the one heading the Ministry of Energy was too busy with far too many more important issues to have the CWA deliver the right projects on time: First, he was busy looking into the eyes of the Angolan millionaire, Álvaro Sobrinho, and vouching for the fact that his money – coming from one of the most corrupt countries in the world – is clean. He later got busy forging ahead with a very controversial project: washing his hands of the whole water issue by privatising the CWA, leaving customers at the mercy of profit-driven private companies. Then he busied himself appointing his very close female friend as high commissioner to Australia. He later got on with organising a costly Divali celebration in his constituency and spent the rest of his time accusing anyone who thought the money could be better spent of being anti-patriotic!

Ah the water-treatment plant! It was not exactly forgotten altogether. It was merely subjected to the bickering and opacity that have become so typical of this government: First, a tender was launched and the Central Procurement Board (CPB) – the independent body in charge of approving the award of contracts – selected the most suitable company. But this wouldn’t do. Two firms objected and the CWA embarked on a re-evaluation exercise through a foreign consultant. When the CPB still maintained its preference for the first firm, the CWA found nothing better to do than challenge the decision in the Supreme Court!  

So, for two years, the works of the legitimately chosen company were stalled and, in the end, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the firm selected twice by the CPB! In the meantime, the construction works of the water treatment plant were delayed by at least two years and a huge bill has to be footed by the CWA, first in legal costs in an unprecedented legal case, in payment to the foreign consultant – for totally unnecessary work – and in damages to the company which has had to wait for two years to start work it would perhaps have finished by now! Naturally, the taxpayer will pick up the tab for the government’s inane decisions. As we did for Betamax. As we are likely to do for Neotown and British American Investment.

So, SAJ was right. The water problems in Rodrigues are not his problem. Neither are the water problems in this part of Mauritius those of his government. Their concerns are elsewhere. As you know. Expect the situation to worsen as time starts running out for them.

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