Fire in Lanka

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Never has the saying “Difé dans Lanka” been more appropriate. In fact, one can very easily confuse Sri Lanka and Mauritius these days so striking are the similarities in socio-economic conditions: scary debt levels, high inflation/rising food prices, major economic sectors under stress (especially tourism), huge fiscal and current account deficits, declining foreign investments in productive areas, collapsing exports, depleting net foreign exchange reserves, steep currency depreciation, scarcity of hard currencies to pay for imports, useless/costly infrastructure projects, rising energy prices and rapid impoverishment of the middle class. 

Just like in Sri Lanka, the government is run like a familyowned business. The head of government behaves as though he owns the country and thus dispenses patronage at will to his “inner circle” by distributing state assets, awarding handsome contracts in murky conditions and nominating his cronies at all institutions. 

Is it surprising that there is unbridled corruption with all state-controlled institutions having been chatwaised i.e. turned into doormats with highlyremunerated chatwas promoting the interests of their “patron” as opposed to the interests of the country? 

For several years now, well before Covid-19 struck, government spending has been significantly exceeding revenues. Depleting the reserves of statecontrolled institutions and borrowing have become the government’s main source of “revenue” for “balancing the books” as highlighted in the latest audit report. Even the use of special purpose vehicles to hide tens of billions has not prevented the “official” debt level from exceeding 100% of GDP. Debt servicing, especially if interest rates rise, will inevitably add increased pressure on our finances and we may end up with the infernal cycle where we will resort to increased borrowing to settle maturing debts. 

Quite worryingly, the worst is yet to come because, in his desperate bid to retain power at any cost, Pravind Jugnauth will almost certainly increase universal basic pension to Rs14,000 before the next general elections. He obviously knows that this proposition is financially unsustainable in the long run. But staying in power to save his family empire is more important to him than the country. 

Targeting and increasing the age of eligibility for state pensions will eventually become inevitable. However, Pravind Jugnauth is unlikely to find the courage or the honesty to say it before he secures a mandate in 2024 because losing power may prove disastrous for the family empire. 

There is undoubtedly what we commonly call “difé dans Lanka”. In such times, more than ever, the country needs a competent government and especially people of integrity. Unfortunately for us, there is a very huge gap between the government that we need and the government that we actually have. 

Instead of (finally) expecting appropriate action starting with a real fight against wastage, inefficiency, nepotism and corruption (starting with some decent explanations about Angus Rd that do not insult our intelligence), we should instead expect nothing more than some “grand” speeches that the “great leader” will deliver at forthcoming “socio-cultural events”. 

Lies and manipulations will thus continue to prevail and with even more intensity. Renganaden Padayachy has learnt the tricks fast and his next budget, just like his previous ones, will be another web of lies, bluff and manipulation. And he will deliver it with his habitual arrogance whilst openly displaying his ignorance and incapacity to address the real issues affecting our country. In any event, he needs to pursue the big economic lies concocted by Pravind Jugnauth with his own collaboration when he was at the Bank of Mauritius. 

Besides the lies, bluff and manipulation, we should also expect increased repression against those who will raise their voices to condemn the manifest incompetence of the government, the nauseating nepotism and unparalleled corruption. The latest example is the overnight detention of four persons who dared say “leurs quatre vérités” to some members of government who seem to think that the country belongs to them and that they will be in power forever. 

The difé dans Lanka has only now started and will intensify over the coming years.

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