The tricks of the trade

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If the corruption and ineptitude of our unscrupulous politicians is the disease, its cause is our harrowing indifference. And that will continue to ring true until we acknowledge our complicity. For, passivity is the fertile soil in which abuse and opacity thrive. What happened in parliament on Tuesday is a case in point.

The minister of energy, Ivan Collendavelloo, got ‘confused’ in his answer to the leader of the opposition’s question about the newly created subsidiaries of the Central Electricity Board (CEB). One can understand how convenient it is to be ‘confused’ when faced with a document detailing how the CEB managed to bypass the Central Procurement Board (CPB) when evaluating a bid for a Rs141 million contract. I will not get into the endless debate about whether Collendavelloo misled parliament or not when he first denied this. Serious as lying to parliament may be, the information that transpired is even more worrying as it hits hard at our threadbare pockets as taxpayers.

In a nutshell, the minister decided to create three subsidiaries within the CEB, one of which is CEB FiberNet. Ostensibly, these subsidiaries are supposed to handle specific aspects of the CEB. The advantage for a crooked mind is that, in the allocation of contracts even when exceeding Rs100 million, these subsidiaries – unlike the CEB – do not have to follow the procurement rules that apply to all public entities and therefore they don’t have to go through the Central Procurement Board (CPB) – a mechanism designed precisely to prevent corruption and opacity. This magic is obtained through a tiny phrase that surreptitiously made its way to the rules as we know them: “as far as possible”. So, according to the new rules, these subsidiaries will follow the procurement rules of the CEB ‘as far as possible’. Semantics aside, it is clear why the clause was introduced. Anyone who for any reason feels obliged to do away with the rules and procedures can comfortably hide behind those nice words and serve us another slice of the meaningless and confused waffle that we heard in parliament on Tuesday.

The magic above is not restricted to the CEB. It is a great invention that takes various names and serves different purposes. In the Metro Express project, for example, the magic is called ‘Special Purpose Vehicles’ (SPVs). The SPVs are private companies using public funds! This is an absolutely ingenious way of allowing the looting of the state coffers to proceed unhindered. These companies can turn into a feeding trough for all the cronies. The money comes from India so we, our children and grandchildren will have to pay it back but, because it goes through SPVs, no accountability will be possible as these are privately run companies. So if there is any looting, we will not get the answers in parliament! The guy given to foaming at the mouth over everything will foam at the mouth a bit more and look stunned that anyone even dared ask questions about private companies! Don’t you know it’s sensitive information? A bit like Mauritius Telecom – no information can be disclosed because it’s a private company. End of the conversation.

So a bunch of inept, incompetent people of staggering inexperience and a great appetite could be employed to spend our hard-earned money and we will dutifully pay back every penny of it. We will not be able to question either their incompetence or their voracity. Saved by the Special Purpose Vehicles – vehicles specifically designed to promote opacity while we continue to watch passively and helplessly. Our money but none of our business!

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