A feast for vultures

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The company is different but the shamelessness and arrogance are the same. And so is the modus operandi. When they have backed themselves into a corner and they know that their brief moment in history is quickly coming to a close, they do what frightened animals do: thrash, spit and bellow, in an attempt to appear credible.

Yesterday, it was Air Mauritius. After an unprecedented loss of Rs1 billion, the management ate humble pie, a taste they had never experienced before, and came out to try to offer a cock and bull story about a supposed increase in the price of fuel before they eventually decided to blame their own business plan.

Today, it is the National Insurance Company (NIC). After grabbing then British American Insurance (BAI) which, even according to the nTan report commissioned by the Bank of Mauritius, between 2007 and 2014, was profitable – albeit with problems of its own which were identified – a bunch of clueless people, made up of cronies and yes-men started taking the company down with them.

You will recall that the minister in charge of this mess, Sudhir Sesungkur, had told the National Assembly on 28 March 2017, “For the period ended 30 June 2016, the draft accounts of NIC showed profits of Rs58.4 m.” He even added with a confidence hardly compatible with his brain capacity, “The business portfolio is now on its growth path with some 18,000 new policies sold to date.”

A couple of years later, what was the largest insurance company could not get a clean chit from its auditor, Ernst & Young, unless Rs3.5 billion was injected into it to bring it to solvency. Rs3.5 billion of our tax rupees. How do you go from profitability into such a need for equity in a couple of years? What depths of incompetence must you plumb to manage such a feat?

Faced with such a spectacular situation, the same Sesungkur, without blinking, is now talking about a restructuring plan for a company whose profitability he was, not so long ago, bragging about! And of course being Sesungkur, he couldn’t help doing what he does best: blaming “the mismanagement before the crash of the late BAI Group for the current financial situation of the NIC.” How pathetic!

Yet, the truth is staring him in the face: Splitting the operations from the building of the Apollo Bramwell Hospital and selling them on the cheap was one of the worst mistakes committed against the NIC shareholders. Once the operations were sold for Rs700 million – which did not go into the coffers of the NIC anyway – what is an empty shell of a building worth? Add to that the fiesta many cronies are having on the board of the NIC and you get the full picture: a district councillor close to the MSM suddenly found himself with an impressive-sounding title and responsibilities. Another who was teaching Hinduism in secondary schools suddenly acquired competence in insurance management. All were rewarded for their support by being given a position on the NIC board. And before we knew it, the newly grabbed company was in trouble.    

Everything this government touches, unfortunately, seems to go this way. Air Mauritius, the NIC, the State Bank of Mauritius and even the Central Bank! And we are not talking about the so-called private companies like Mauritius Telecom where our hard-earned money is used but we have no right to ask how. Let’s hope and pray that the much touted Metro Express does not suffer the same fate.

For every act of mismanagement they are guilty of; for every business model they are hiding behind, it is our children and grandchildren who will have to fork out.

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