The week of heavy flooding has put external pressure on the Government, adding to the internal political forces that are now tending to split it apart. Yesterday’s MSM political bureau has, according to the Press, shown the kind of “entropy” that is taking its toll on the Government that remains without any real programmatic coherence that could bind it together.
Not only “the elements” and internal instability are challenging the Lepep Government, not only is LALIT criticizing its economic strategy, but even parts of the bourgeoisie (none other than Tim Taylor, Abbas Currimjee and Eric Ng) and even the Press (none other than L’Express, the main bourgeois press organ, with the main big title on Monday, 8 February, “Port Louis: de smart city a ville morte?”) are furious about the Smart Cities or some of them.
Taken at the same time, there are two things, internal to the MSM, that are bound to cause conflict: the MSM leader Pravind Jugnauth not being in Cabinet and the super-minister Roshi Bhadain not having the least political culture, or even experience.
So, Pravind Jugnauth takes Roshi Bhadain to task for his excessive word, “monster” (monstre), to describe the DPP, Satyadit Boolell. Bhadain replies, it is said, that he said a “constitutional monster”. Whatever. The disagreement is clear. The powerless leader knows that you don’t use this kind of language with impunity in politics. The over-powerful neophyte technocrat could not care less, and why should he listen to someone outside the Cabinet. Now, the DPP has gone and sworn an affidavit, quite rightly, saying that it is clear that Bhadain has exposed his strategy as just to get rid of him as DPP. In fact, Minister Collendavelloo went even further, and this is also in the affidavit, asking the DPP to accept a nomination as Judge, as though that was the prerogative of any Minister to offer. Meanwhile, the MSM leader would quite reasonably prefer to be less confrontational with the DPP, when his own case might just be appealed against, should he win, if the DPP is enraged.
And what with the Lepep Alliance not having a coherent program, while social problems arise in the labile way that typifies Mauritian society, we can count on Roshi Bhadain to go on rushing in where angels fear to tread. All over the place. For example, he just announces that he is moving Parliament, no less, from Port Louis to cane fields near Moka. He announces he is moving even the seat of Government. All this announced, but the formal launch of the Master Plan for “Heritage City” will only be made public, Minister Bhadain says, this coming week. Meanwhile, he will, it seems, close down Port Louis within three years in order to build up his personal Smart City (Heritage City) on some perfectly arable land, while Finance Minister Lutchmeenaraidoo has no time-frame for his Port Louis Smart City, which is only now being thought up, as if to fill the void being created by the intempestive Minister Bhadain.
Mr. Bhadain, as Minister in charge of MBC, uses the evening TV bulletins shamelessly. Last night, 13 February, he was filmed for 10 minutes on the Kreol and 10 minutes on the French news, blathering on in a smart suit about on-line statistics for the Financial Services Commission.
And in the same week, the headlong politics of Shawkutally Soodhun have continued, too. He just puts his head down and, like a bull, charges. And he has done it again.
First, he is quoted in the on-line Saudi Gazette of 10 February as making a number of major boobs. And it is worth noting that he is bowing down low, cow-towing you could say, to the Saudis, just when their regime is being exposed publicly world-wide as one of the worst on the planet, having, inter alia, first sentenced to death on totally trumped-up charges a poet and art curator, Ashraf Fayadh, and now sentencing this same gentle person to 8 years in prison and 800 lashes. And the European union is within the next 24 hours going to be confirming (hopefully) the first-ever embargo on arms sales to Saudi Arabia. And this, not to mention the Saudi kingdom nurturing ISIS, which would be described as a “monster” better than the DPP is. And the two issues are related in yet another way, other than the issue of “monsters”: Roshi Bhadain, having first announced that “his” Smart City would be financed by Dubai, then announced that it would be financed by ... yes, you have guessed, Saudi Arabia.
Anyway, Soodhun is quoted as saying that:
1. He is Minister, not just of Housing, not just Vice Prime Minister, as we all thought, but also head of a new Ministry nobody knew about called “Islamic Affairs”.
2. “We [himself and the Mauritian State] are giving Saudi investors free land plots along the sea shores to establish their businesses.” He corrected this, and said “not free”, but on the same conditions as all other foreign investors.
3. “Mauritius backs Kingdom’s Tough Action Against Iran”, the headline reads, thus announcing and then giving further elaboration of a sudden new position that the Minister of Foreign Affairs must be ignorant of.
4. “All the measures the Kingdom has taken against terrorism and the terrorists are legitimate and necessary to safeguard its safety and stability,” he added. This seems to refer, inter alia, to having beheaded 47 people on 2 January.
5. And getting further carried away, that Mauritius wanted to “upgrade bilateral ties to the level of strategic partnership to boost security and stability in the region and to preserve world peace.” [This at a time when there is a world-wide movement to force the UK and USA to stop their condoning of and complicity with this dangerously right-wing regime.]
And secondly, Minister Soodhun has made a big fuss about denying the content of an internet posting, forwarded by one Hassenjee Ruhomally to the effect that the Minister had a Rs396 176 debt written off by the Apollo Bramwell clinic for an operation he had undergone, and the CCID actually arrested and detained Mr Ruhomally and his wife on this rather minor offense that would better be considered under civil law. It now turns out that Soodhun’s denial may have been only on the year of the writing off. (As the brilliant cartoonist Deven T. put it: “JE N’AI JAMAIS MENTI DE MA VIE ... EN 2014”.) Soodhun refuses to clarify. But, the trauma meanwhile suffered by the Ruhomally couple has already taken place. Once again, there is the use of the CCID for clearly political advantage. Today’s Star announces that Soodhun has withdrawn his complaint. As though criminal charges are withdrawable in Mauritius, as they are in Saudi Arabia. But, so much the better.
And with this past week having been the week of the big international conference on Smart Cities, with the participation of Microsoft, IBM, Airbus, CISCO and other multinationals, we also find that the Cap Tamarin Smart City has very nearly been OK’d, showing that some interests transcend party politics, the Jhuboo clan being intricately linked with the ousted Labour Party. However, the Jhuboo’s are also Free Masons, which always helps transcend such hurdles. This new development as a Smart City, also shows what the real aim behind the MCB-Jhuboo-Rezistans “Eco-Bridge” festival was: to put a veneer of ecological “political correctness” before getting State authorization to fill up wetlands with concrete – and this coming just at the precise moment when floods due, in large part, to this kind of foolish planning, are hitting Mauritius. At the last minute, the Cabinet decision to grant this permit, and other Smart City certificates, was postponed. There is strife in the Cabinet.
This brings up the issue of how the existing projects (Airport City and Cap Tamarin, for example) become Smart Cities. How do they comply with all the conditions in retrospect? Does the State re-pay taxation already paid? None of this is clear. All is being played by ear, it seems, by the Cabinet; thus the postponement.
Meanwhile, the on-going conflicts between the MSM and PMSD continue to flare up. The most recent was Minister Perraud appointing Jean Max Baya as her new Press Attaché to replace Noor Adam Essack. The PMO had OK’d the nomination but then, after two weeks at work, Mr Baya was revoked - after an intervention by the Prime Minister’s Office - “for political reasons”. For “for political reasons”, we can read “for being too close to the Labour Party” – something that was not new.
Strife within the Alliance, too
And, the Lepep Alliance, having got bogged down the part of its program for “cleaning up” of the mess made by the Labour regime, is now discovering that it’s a case of Aegean Stables. The National Transport Authority is now submerged in a massive corruption scandal that is spreading like an oil slick. At the same time, talks for privatization of the service have hit a stumbling block – under normal circumstances, one would say “fortunately”, but given the scope of the scandal, no-one would understand the point one was making. The Government wants a levy on each vehicle checked by the private company/ies. The NTA, for all its faults, actually makes money for the State.
And this is not to mention the conflict between Muvman Liberater’s Minister Sangeet Fowdur and Raj Dayal who turned up just after a meeting in his constituency.
Discourse lacking, even when decisions seem wise
Even when the Government takes good decisions, it is unable to explain them, at best, or is taking the decisions for the wrong reasons, at worst. The CEB having built up a massive capital accumulation because of the low oil prices, Minister Collendavelloo could come forward and hold a public meeting, justifying that this capital will be re-invested, in order to prevent any need to privatize a vital sector like energy. But, this would involve the kind of anti-capitalist discourse that is only used just before elections, not during office!
Port privatization, negotiations with DB Ports are on. And this time, the unions have found themselves in the difficult position of being on the defensive, with the President of PLMEA and the Assistant Secretary suspended from work, just when they need to be on the counter-offensive on privatization. Tactical errors by trade union bureaucracies can cost unions and the working class as a whole dearly. But the importance of the battle against privatization must take precedence.
Semi-Low-Floor buses and smart cards for travelling on all buses is due to be introduced. This was partly in response to the Government’s inability to control the sums claimed by bus companies and individual buses for repayments for pensioners and students who travel free at the point of travel. But many pensioners and students do not understand the mechanism, and come into conflict with transport workers, on a totally irrational basis. But the question of what will happen to bus conductors has not yet come up? Will they be made redundant? This issue has been coming on to the agenda for some years now, and the unions have been rather slow to react.
Workers in both the port and the transport sector are going to have to keep a tighter democratic control over the bureaucracies that tend to use them in order to further their own interests. The challenges are too severe to allow these bureaucracies a free hand.
Labour Party, still groggy from its knock-out at the general elections, and the clean-up campaign that shows up worse and worse aspects of the Labour Party State, is trying to stand up. The occasion? The 80th anniversary of the Party, to be celebrated at the University of Mauritius Octave Wiehe Auditorium next weekend.
MMM, also still groggy from its shared knock-out of its alliance with Labour, is faring rather better. It is taking stands more coherently than it has for years, although still often in the interests of the historic bourgeoisie, when push comes to shove, as seems its destiny. Perhaps the PMSD taking over the MMM’s role as a “national party” (for the word “national” read “multi-communal”) is somehow pushing the MMM into some semblance of a political line, after 35 years of avoiding one.
To conclude this week’s revue of the situation, it goes without saying that the newspapers have been bigger than usual and full of advertisements. It is yet another of those commercial holidays: St. Valentine’s Day. Proving that literally anything can be commodified, commercialised and sold in these dark times.
Lindsey Collen, for LALIT
14 February 2016