As always, the stirrings of crises in the economy, with all the conflicts this produces between different sectors within the capitalist class as well as with other classes, have an effect on political events. So let’s begin with a glance at the past fortnight’s news on the economic front. This helps us keep in mind the pressures that will be impinging on the bourgeois political parties, as they prepare for either a by-election, or a general election, or both.
Economic background over the past two weeks
Perhaps we can start with some of the institutional reports and conflicts, within the bourgeoisie, that have been in the Press this last fortnight..
The International Monetary Fund has given its Report on Mauritius (what the IMF bureaucracy calls “Article IV Report”) and found three sources of concern, each with a proposed remedy.
1. The external balance of payment debt is too high (it is, LALIT adds) and it’s getting higher. For this they propose depreciation of the Mauritian Rupee, a sure way to make working people bear the brunt of a problem caused by the capitalists. It does not cross the IMF mind to call on the Government to stimulate agricultural and industrial production and exports.
2. Prices have gone up, and interest rates are low. All they suggest is raising interest rates a bit. To them, price rises are as inevitable as anything god-given. It does not cross the IMF mind to call for import substitution, a ceiling on mark-ups, or anything else sensible.
3. There is a budget deficit for which they propose, rather obviously, increasing government revenue, and then decreasing expenditure. Since the IMF had the Government lower all income tax, and even company tax, and since two-thirds of government revenue is from the regressive VAT, there is a hint for VAT to be increased. Of course, they always want the government to decrease welfare state expenses: pensions, health care, education, social security.
Central Bank’s view
- The Central Bank chief, Mr Basant Roi, says that the burden of the welfare state is too high. He thinks that the working people should bear the brunt of capitalist ineptness, too. (See his interview in Le Mauricien 26 August).
- The Independent Commission against Corruption is trying to get another anti-corruption body, the Financial Services Commission to hand over its Minutes of proceedings. This is in connection with a fight between the national bourgeoisie (Rogers, Swan and Espitalier Noel Ltd) and two international consortiums being brought in by Attorney Robin Mardaymootoo, who, both lots, want to get control over New Mauritius Hotels, which they think is undervalued.
And now let’s have a glance at some of the big sectors. It has been a fortnight of a lot of drama.
With sugar cane covering almost all the arable land, it is still central to Mauritius, and the price has plummeted as predicted by LALIT since our campaign “What Future is there in Sugar?” which we ran in 1984, until the then Jugnauth Government banned our meetings, and naming the precise time of the crisis biting, September 2017, from about 2005 when we started our campaign for a new politics of the economy. Anyway, there is generalized panic in the country – the bosses, all the bourgeois parties, and the State having all gone hysterical as though the fall of some Rs 4,000 they now dread has suddenly hit them out of the blue! LALIT predicted this overproduction on the world market. And it was not easy to do, if you aren’t bewitched by sugar cane, as the ruling class of Mauritius is. To them, anyone who says move away from sugar cane is a blasphemer. Cane is their religion.
And Paul Bérenger, one of the Opposition leaders, stands up once again to “save the sugar cane industry”. His party, the MMM has even set up a special committee last week to come up with precise proposals on how to save the sugar cane industry. So as to be politically correct, Bérenger adds, “particulierement les petits planteurs”. (See Week-End 20 August).
Arvin Boolell, Labour Party Leader, the third biggest Opposition Party, was not to be out-done. Arvind Boolell, just like his father Satcam Boolell, is dedicated to saving the sugar cane industry. They all see this as the Historic Bloc – in the Gramsci sense, where the bourgeoisie grabs other classes into an alliance around a sector.
Ashok Subron not only wants to save the sugar cane industry, but he publicly took an oath of allegiance to do so. He even claims the Mauritian sugar cane industry is “blossoming”, while not mentioning that the profits come, not from Mauritius, but from delocalization to exploit workers in Mozambique and Cote Ivoire, and by selling of the land of the country for rich men’s villas.
The cane planters’ representatives also swear by cane.
The Chamber of Agriculture and the bosses’ Mauritius Sugar Syndicate, which markets the sugar, have said this fortnight that they expect an industry-wide short-fall of one billion rupees a year. They are already indebted up to the neck. Instead of going bust like any other industry would under the usual capitalist rules, they call for:
- Use to be made of the Sugar Insurance Fund Board stock of money. (Interestingly, there is some confusion as to how much this is. The newspapers say Rs3.5 billion, while Kreepalloo Sunghoon of the Sugar Syndicate says, according to Bérenger that is Rs 5 billion, while other sources say it is Rs1.5 billion! Lordy!)
- Abolition of the CESS (a tax of 4%)
- Support from the state for sugar estates’ Biomass plans, making ethanol 35% of car fuel.
- Reduce work force, and allow bosses to sack people with the Voluntary Retirement Scheme benefits, while using seasonal labour.
And the Government is once again set to save the cane industry.
At the same time, Ashok Subron is, once again, set to use the Joint Negotiating Panel to play his populist games woven into trade union weakness.
The tourism sector, which is in many ways part of the cane industry and biting into arable land like a shark, is in debt to the tune of Rs40 billion, it was announced this week. Here are some details of the different real estate projects announced in the past fortnight in the news.
The big company around the sugar estates of the North that had rebranded itself as “Terra” so as to leave their sugar estate unpopular names behind, have this fortnight come up with a new, new name: Novaterra.
In some ways, there seems to be (at least in their verbiage) a reaction to LALIT’s campaign to stop selling off arable land:
- They now vow to be following a new vision in which they will take the future into account in their planning, not just the exigencies of the present. Or so they say.
- They are now going to plan, not just for their own good, but “for the good of the whole area”.
They have announced, in the same breath, that as from January 2018, the following three big projects will be “operational”
- Beau Plan Smart City
- African Leadership Campus (costing a student a minimum of $ 10,000 or 3.3 million Mauritian Rupees, while half of Mauritians earn less than $ 5,500 per year or Rs 180,000.)
- Mavros Jewellers
And, so as to assure a diverse palette of investments, they will also be opening a Golf Resort at Balaclava. All projects that serve the parasitic capitalist class unashamedly. So much for economic diversity.
The Southern Sugar Estates are launching Mon Tresor Smart City – and as usual, while talking about job creation for show, the first phase is ... residential. So once again it means selling off villas and apartments to the super-rich from abroad! There will be 409 of these residential units sold off.
The Verandah group of Hotels has announced, this last fortnight, investments of Rs2 billion. Once again, investments being poured down the drain of tourism, instead of into production, in particular production that creates proper productive work.
The Preskil Hotel, the one that finances Eco-Sud and in turn AKNL, has announced its expansion. It has moved on from being a relatively modest hotel, La Croix du Sud, to being a big four-star hotel today.
The above gives an idea of the ransacking, in primitive pillage of the Mauritian countryside and coastal areas.
In the urban axis, the Government is meanwhile causing some instability, in a desperate attempt to get a grip on the near total seizure of traffic at rush hours, as it sets about preparing to build the Metro Express. And just as Minister of Infrastructure Nando Bodha was putting some order, another Minister, the Minister of Utilities, Ivan Collendavelloo, is now in charge of the relationship between the Train system and the surrounding infrastructure.
So, there are the problems of displacing people and shops. And there are unions crying out for written guarantees of job protection. Ms Frivet, who represents the bosses’ controlled union at UBS, rocked up to negotiations with 3 PMSD lawyers, Adrien Duval, Assad Peeroo and Kushal Lobin. Reeaz Chuttoo who has taken a stand in favour of the Metro Express (naming environmental and decongestion reasons, and conditional on job assurance for transport workers), while Ashok Subron again plays the role of populist unionist.
Women workers who clean up around schools are threatening a hunger strike if they do not get their work conditions and pay settled. They are being hired on a “split day” system, which is not legal. This allows them to be paid the same rates as workers who clean and do other domestic-type work, on an hourly basis.
The free zone factories continue to shut down. This fortnight it is Avant Mauritius. Once again, we have the situation where they have worked for two months without pay.
The Mediterranean Shipping Company is threatening to move operations to Oman, if the Cargo Handling Corporation does not become “more efficient”.
Fishermen are mobilizing in three different ways right now. The fishers in the port area are rallying around Rama Valayden, while Judex Ramphul is mobilizing around which particular fishermen are to get loans for big boats. LALIT is mobilizing fishermen around many of the debarkader.
The capital Port Louis is going to be very destabilized by the sudden increase of commercial rents, after a number of postponements. The new date is January 2018. Many shops are very small enterprises and if rents are liberalized, we can expect huge numbers of bankruptcies.
A new set of electoral boundaries are due to be published in December. This is always problem for the simple reason that colonial communalist “acquired reflexes” have still not been exorcised since Independence now 50 years ago.
Again this fortnight, LALIT’s campaigns have all been right at the centre of news. First, the open letter to Jeremy Corbyn has been commented upon, and in general Diego Garcia, one of LALIT’s flagship ongoing campaigns, is right in the centre of the politic arena, with the ICJ case coming up. Second, our campaign on “the land question” is still the central issue of the day. The Mauritian Kreol language is in the news, with the language being, for the first time, examined at primary school ending exam. Kreol literary texts are now prescribed at Universities in Mauritius. The Open University is running courses for professionals in how to write Kreol properly. The ID Card issue, too, has remained centre-stage. The BDS campaign against Israel’s occupation of Israel is also in the news almost every day.
As to the by-election, LALIT is waiting until the election writ comes out before making any decision. The stakes are meanwhile extremely confused. Some 9 or 10 candidates have already signified their intention to stand. While the parties in power have implied, so far, that they will desist. This makes the election even more confused. The only thing it will decide is, maybe, which bourgeois party will ally with which other bourgeois party at the general elections that need to be held in about 2019.
There is still no sign of the MSM putting up a candidate for the by-election. Minister Sesungkur said maybe the MSM will support “another candidate”. There are vague and faint signs, meanwhile, that the MMM and MSM are chumming up a bit, with a view to an electoral alliance. The massive economic crisis brewing forces the bourgeois parties to attempt alliances they do not necessarily want.
The MMM, at the same time, has had to field a new candidate, Nita Juddoo, and withdraw the experienced Vijay Makan, so that they can, if necessary, cobble together an alliance with Arvin Boolell, if he can oust Navin Ramgoolam.
Pravind Jugnauth, after MSM had developed a conflict-ridden relationship with the Press, called in journalists for a behind-doors chat. And they are now on all sides pretending to be very happy with a new modus operandi. As if good relations with the press could, in any way, address the crisis Mauritius finds itself heading towards.
(On the issue of the Press, maybe it is a good moment for LALIT, to bring up the excellent Geoffrey Robertson Report and the Freedom of Information Act?)
It seems that the MSM has two possibilities: to delay the by election for as long as possible, even set it in motion, and then before we get to it, to dissolve parliament and go for early general elections. This would be to prevent its popularity failing even more. Or, alternatively, it could hold on, hoping that the launch of phase one of the Metro Express will pick up its popularity right at the end of the mandate.
MP Adeel Meeah is disgrace with Bérenger because of some meeting, or attempted meeting, with Pravind Jugnauth at a cocktail party given by the Indian High Commission.
Meanwhile, the MMM is preparing its list of candidates for general elections. This is always Paul Bérenger’s way out of the crisis of being an eternal parliamentary opposition: act as if elections are next month from one month after the last ones.
There is little to say about the PMSD. It seems to be a weak Opposition. And yet, the other parties in Government and Opposition are all so weak, politically speaking, that the PMSD might be able to somehow re-invent itself as a new Macron-like party, simply because it has never led a Government, thus never taken the full responsibility for its sins, as it were.
For someone who provoked the by-election, he is very quiet. The Britam commission of enquiry continues. Maybe we will learn something from this? Maybe not?
Rezistans ek Alternativ: Their candidate, the stock broker, has been fairly quiet after a big start. CARES, NGO close to RA, has sent members to a Tribunal against finance capital held in Johannesburg, but in the article they sent to Forum in Le Mauricien they do not say who organized it nor who the judges were.
The Press is still not asking who forged the documents that were used in the AKNL case against Le Chaland. So, the public is left in the dark.
Muvman Premye Me
Having dissolved itself, the MPM has, just as easily, revived itself, and is back again. It was announced to be responsible only for organizing Labour Day celebrations, having dissolved itself into something called “Muvman Larz”. Then after the 2014 elections, both were not very visible.
Now, as a by election approaches, Jack Bizlall has squeezed Dev Ramano out, as candidate, had himself nominated, while simultaneously making a hypocritical call unity of the left. In his case, “left” needs to be in inverted commas.
Because Ram Seegobin replied when asked by a journalist, that LALIT does not take Bizlall seriously, Bizlall then, when asked in turn by a journalist why he thought LALIT did not take him seriously, said, as if this were an explanation, that there was a personal conflict between him and LALIT members! On radio, he was reported as announcing that since he and Dev Ramano were “inkonturnab”, and that, if Dev Ramano leaves the struggle, he will too. How’s that for a non sequitur.
In LALIT’s struggle against the new repressive ID Card system in Mauritius, we drew people’s attention to the court case against the Aadhaar Card in India. The Supreme Court in India has finally found the card infringes privacy laws. Both in Mauritius and world-wide, there is growing concern about the surveillance that ID Cards and their technology involve. So, our campaign was spot on.
Geopolitics of the fortnight
The India-China world-wide vying for diplomatic and economic influence, has popped up in Mauritius. Each has a project of geopolitical importance (India the Agalega Port and Airport, and China the Fishing Port near Port Louis). Both are having big cocktail parties, too.
The new British High Commissioner, Keith Allen, seems to be very experienced. He will have to tide Britain over a fraught period with the ICJ case coming up next year. Meanwhile, the ex-High Commissioner, David Snoxell, must have infuriated the Foreign Office by, in public, taking a very critical view of the last High Commissioner, Jonathan Drew’s stand on Diego Garcia and Chagos.
Recently the Prison Commissioner, Vinod Appadoo, former anti-drugs cop, when asked on radio by Nawaaz Noorbux, why so many prisoners had cell phones, and while explaining how the “jamming system” had to be turned off because it was jamming neighbours’ phones too, he said, “nu finn mem fer apel a bann Izraelyin” [we even had to call in the Israelis] to fix it. LALIT will try to find out who is responsible for this very bad decision to call in an Israeli firm, while in Mauritius everyone, including all Governments, protest at Israel’s continued colonization of Palestine. When Israel withdraws from the West Bank and ends the siege of Gaza, then Mr Appadoo can “call in the Israelis”, but not before.
The insipid and patronizing Corporate Social Responsibility charity work now fills the press. Newspapers are always showing which firm has been so generous as to give what money to which deserving poor. This week there is a new tendency: the press even failed even to mention which NGO received money. They did not fail to mention which bosses are giving it. They even now for the photo opportunity make big dummy cheques, the size of a coffin, which they hand over.
On the religious front, the Catholic Church at its annual St. Louis mass made a very clear and good stand on the Diego Garcia issue, saying: “Nous sommes Chagossiens!” and “Maurice Republique Archipel” – and appealed for everyone to make common cause with the State’s case against Britain.
In fact, with Diego Garcia being one of LALIT’s main campaigns, we have for years had to put up with people saying to us, even on radio, “You in LALIT are just wasting your time!” But now, now that we have finally forced the Government to go to the UN and to the ICJ, and when Britain is clearly embarrassed, absolutely everyone pretends loudly that they have always been a supporter of this campaign. It was the same in the anti-apartheid struggle. Then too, LALIT, was wasting its time opposing apartheid. Then, when Nelson Mandela came, victorious, to Mauritius, they all queued up to hug him. As the French say, people tend to run au secours de succes.
Another event on the religious front, Dalthamun is out and Ramdhean is in, as head of the Sanatan Dharma Temples Federation, the super-political receiver of state subsidies for religion. This is a sign that the Labour Party has lifted from the rock-bottom it was in after Ramgoolam was so disgraced, not just by his defeat, but by the hordes of money found in his house, and the scandals around his mistress and a case in Roche Noire.
The Prison Commissioner was invited by Nawaaz Noorbux to a chat show. Another item (other than cell phones) that the Prison Commissioner brought up was how much it costs to feed prisoners. Vinod Appadoo went on and on about how it costs Rs12 million a year just to buy chicken (and how prisoners are supposedly so spoilt that they refuse to eat the wings or pope’s noses and have to be fed chicken breasts!) The next day some listeners were ringing in to suggest that the death penalty be brought in – to save this money! Luckily Jugdish Joypaul was there and he can always to be relied on to be down-to-earth, and he said, in understatement, how many of those locked up are not exactly candidates for the death penalty. Half of them are pre-trial prisoners, and could be the very man ringing in! The calculations are quite easy, anyway. Mr Appadoo pretends people can’t use a calculator. Assuming there is no theft, or other corruption, which is a major assumption, in 2015 there were some 2,800 convicted prisoners in jail according to the Prisons site, and the National Human Rights Commission said in its 2016 annual report that half of all prisoners were pre-trial prisoners. So that means around 5,600 prisoners were fed each day. That means they each got Rs6 per day on chicken, or Rs 41 per week. It is a very small portion twice or three times a week. If you got the wing or popes nose, it would be disappointing. Mr Appadoo, just to show his punitive frame of mind, said he was sorry it was nowadays illegal to put prisoners on bread-and-water diets. He also said his main accomplishment was no-one had broken out during his one year as head of prisons, because he said, this is the main purpose of prison, to lock people up, full stop.
Primary School Achievement Certificate (PSAC)
There are two novelties in the education system this last fortnight.
The Primary School Achievement Certificate will be replacing the CPE exam for 12 year-olds next week.
And Mauritian Kreol will be a subject in the end of primary school exam.
And the new exam heralds a major reorientation in education. Next year, all Form I’s will go into non-Star Colleges, and these ex-star colleges will be the new Form VI Academies. The effects will be wide-reaching.
The Drugs Commission of Enquiry is about to get to an interesting stage: high profile political barristers as well as the Prime Minister, are due to give evidence. Yet the Commission will do absolutely nothing to address the problem itself – other than increase hysteria about drugs, and thus aggravate the problem. Its terms of reference are very reductive – nothing but repression is envisaged – and the Judge presiding is not known for enlightened thinking.
Meanwhile, within the family, murders and assassinations continue apace, tragedy following tragedy, reflecting the increasing inability of the fragile structure of the family to face up to the massive dislocation being caused by the lack of any real future in terms of work for people. It is perhaps the most disturbing of the effects of the economic crisis that we outlined at the beginning of this article.
Contents of this Article Discussed at LALIT Central Committee