The cost of incompetence

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Wise people agree that a bad settlement is better than a good judgment. In the Betamax case, the bright guys we elected to take decisions on our behalf were happy to run headlong into a bad judgment. And they dare insult our intelligence by calling themselves ‘patriotic’ and ‘responsible’!

Whatever the merits or demerits of the Betamax contract might be – a debate for another day – there is no doubt that it was legally binding.  One can understand that in the ‘my-crony-versus-yours’ tug of war, the government was eager to rescind the contract at any cost as soon as it took power. But should their eagerness and determination to settle scores be driven by the kind of revenge that blinds them to the interests of the country? Would they have taken similar action were they to be held personally liable for any damages or costs to be incurred? Would the government – through the State Trading Corporation, which is run by a member of the MSM politburo – have ignored the advice of the foreign consultant and that of the State Law Office and forged ahead with its suicidal action if there were the slightest chance that that might cost its members anything?

Any responsible government would have shown much more willingness to renegotiate the Betamax contract. From the information given by the government itself, Veekram Bhunjun did sit with senior ministers at the negotiating table before they suddenly left and the police started filing charges against him. Remember that that was the time when the government was still very popular and riding roughshod over anyone believed to be close to the opposition. Remember that that was the time we saw an avalanche of arbitrary arrests and provisional charges lodged systematically against political opponents. That was the time foreign nationals were being interrogated by ministers in private homes and people were terrified of even opening their mouth in case they were next on the CCID list. Bhunjun would have had no choice but to renegotiate the Betamax contract and the country would have come out a winner.

Instead, the luminaries were obdurate, inflexible and unyielding. And the government, through its spokesperson, Etienne Sinatombou – who, for the sake of our sanity, should be paid not to speak at all – promised us the moon: from now on, we would save Rs600 million on our petrol bill! But, instead of showing us the great savings, the same opacity that characterised everything they have been doing prevailed. It was only after Xavier-Luc Duval left the government that he revealed to us that we were actually paying more for the transport of our petroleum products.

When the time of reckoning came, the government stubbornly again decided to ignore a Rs4.7 billion award given in favour of Betamax by an international arbitrator chosen both by Betamax and the STC! In so doing, they are increasing the fine by Rs500,000 a day, not a penny of which will come out of the pockets of the luminaries that took the decision on our behalf or the smart ministers who were holding press conferences to show how inept they are. You can add to this the damage to our reputation internationally: How can a country aspiring to become an arbitration hub choose to disown a decision by an arbitrator against it and why doesn’t the STC want to issue a bank guarantee as is the usual practice? Top all this with the cost of having to run to Saudi Arabia begging for oil, to avoid shortages and to the Seychelles for a quick fix.   

Naturally, the spin doctors will work full time and we will get the same hogwash about how the very ‘responsible’ government has saved us from the anti-patriots and Showkutally Soodhun will come home to a hero’s welcome, transit at the Yu-lounge, have his suitcases safely taken to his car, before he starts bragging about how generous Saudi Arabia has been towards us – just as Roshi Bhadain had bragged about the generosity of India – without disclosing the terms of the generosity.

According to our sources, this ‘generosity’ is, in fact, costing us more than Rs100 million over and above what we were paying Pacific Diamond! However, we won’t know the exact cost of the government’s incompetence until it’s too late.

In the meantime, take Ashit Gungah’s word for it: we have ‘a very responsible government’. Anyone who disagrees is anti-patriotic. Please repeat that to yourself until you are convinced. Never mind if your intelligence is insulted. The alternative is far more depressing!

For more views and in-depth analysis of current issues, Weekly magazine (Price: Rs 25) or subscribe to Weekly for Rs110 a month. (Free delivery to your doorstep). Email us on: weekly@lexpress.mu

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