No pain, all gain! Is that really possible?

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I must be getting a little too old for this yearly budget-listening exercise. Two hours solid ingesting a minister of finance who, year in year out, seems hell-bent on winning micro plaudits rather than tackling the really tough issues, excites me less and less.

From a confetti-consumer point of view, this budget actually does a fine job, as we will see. However, it offers no comprehensive solution for the sugar industry plight (besides taxing imported sugar), it offers no inkling of a remedy to the demographic challenges lying ahead in full view, it does not attempt to tackle the pensions quandary, it will not revive our lagoons and make them pristine again, it does not attempt to “target” welfare benefits in favour of the really needy. There is not much on productivity except for some more wishful thinking. I cannot see much tangible to tackle the horrible balance of trade situation.

 Actually, we have applauded the 10.7 months of forex reserves we hold, which just illustrate how vulnerable we are if foreign money should ever feel uneasy and start backpacking outwards!

Anyway, and as surmised earlier, this is a budget that is meant to feel all gain, with no pain. The measures to tackle falling unemployment further are welcome and will cost a billion. Reducing the tax rate for salaried people below Rs 650,000 per year, from 15% to 10% rates as “genius”. Internet for Agalega feels good. A technology park in Rodrigues is perhaps a tad too much, but will flatter. Until it may deceive. Reducing Mogas, gasoil and LPG carries the right punch lines.The old age pension’s progress by 65% between December 2014 and now just had to be dragged out as a reminder.

I did not understand what 1000 more police officers will achieve, convinced that I am that the issue is quality, not quantity, and NOT increasing water rates will earn kudos and gasps of satisfaction even though they resolve nothing fundamental. How Collendavelloo found it within himself to applaud, we will not know until some other day, but Rs 3.3 bn will come from the taxpayer to replace pipe work and build service dams to further improve service for... the consumers. Not the… right pocket but the left one, then. Fat deal!

We were promised an extension to the airport and breakwaters in the Port. There will be Rs 1 bn available at 3% at DBM for start-ups and 9 funeral incinerators more, we can only suppose, to respond to higher demand... There will be more coding in schools and AI will get its “Council” no less, to guide the nation along the right path. Outstanding Pig loans are cancelled (just think of anyone who repaid his loan studiously!) and the budget has even found room to treat special needs kids four times more decently than now! 

Mention rain harvesting, 6 800 housing units over 2 years, no BoM limits on housing and even commercial building loans, a medical hub at Côte d’Or and a hundred more items and you pinch yourself! Is that all possible? With public sector debt going down?

Not even drinkers and smokers will be called upon to foot the bill. Only gamblers (only the winners, at that!) and swimming pool owners – only if they consume more than 50m3 per month, so we understood.

 Quite a feat this budget! The coming weeks will explain how. The coming months may add some of the untackled items... Or, we will hear about those again after the next elections, when the same issues will have festered some more.

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