The political instability that continues to rock the country has, this fortnight, been amplified by the launch of works on the new Metro Express Train, which have provoked small uprisings against the house demolitions in La Butte and Barkly, followed by court injunctions to be decided this coming week.
Rada Kistnasamy, who’s turn it was for a fortnight’s “turdorizon” at LALIT’s central committee meeting this weekend, said that this instability was, nevertheless, the ongoing effects of deep economic crisis that LALIT has been warning of for decades, finally reaching its deadline: 30 September is the end of the European union protection for sugar exports.
And the Mauritian State and the bourgeoisie remain stuck in the molasses, so to speak, he said, unable to move on, and now getting sugar sales subsidized by some 10%, while getting the CESS tax cut altogether.
This represents a breakdown of capitalism in Mauritius, and a proof, if one was needed, that there was never any independent capitalist system here, but merely an imperialist dictate to make sugar for first Britain, then the EU. Everything in the sugar industry was planned, even dictated: the price, quotas, the market, not just who the mills could sell their sugar to, but who the small planters could sell their cane to. And when all this comes to an abrupt, if totally forewarned, end with the WTO rules, then the sugar bosses, and the Mauritians State in tow, just squandered the billions of EU money given as compensation and supposedly for restructuring the economy, on closing down sugar industry jobs, and paying workers off, while selling off good agricultural land in real estate scams to billionaires, and now mere millionaires, from abroad.
Deadlines worsen instability
So, this is the week that the 30 September deadline for total sugar sales liberalization is upon us, Rada Kistnasamy said.
And 20 September, following straight on, is the last day for the Writ to be issued for a by-election in Quatre Bornes, following the resignation of ex-Minister of Good Governance, Roshi Bhadain. The slight madness of the by-election reflects the economic crisis, without most people realizing it. No-one knows the real reason why Roshi Bhadain resigned. He himself has not a clear idea of what the stakes in the by-election are. Then the MSM and ML Government are either not putting up a candidate, or pretending they will not. This means, unpopular or not, the Government gets away with the Opposition parties fighting each other rather than it. So, once the Commission of Enquiry on Drugs turned to examine Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth, Paul Bérenger announced that his MMM would not comment on the Commission until it was done with all the hearings. Now, he announces that one should not politicize the Metro Express. This is because the Labour Party and the PMSD have been jumping in to support piece-meal protests against the Metro Express. Kuggan Parapen, candidate for Rezistans (RA) called these two parties “vultures”. RA also criticized Roshi Bhadain and Jack Bizlall, another candidate, for appealing to the Indian Government over the Metro Express. They were right in this. However, they forget that Ashok Subron supported a petition, addressed to Obama, effectively assuming the US army could arrange jobs for Chagossians either on the Diego Garcia military base, or on the other Islands not even leased by the USA!
But, let’s begin with the economy, Rada Kistnasamy said in his look at the past two weeks.
The sugar industry crisis is now in full blown form. The price is expected to fall to around Rs13,000 per ton, and the harvest is expected to be lower than usual. So, the bosses are moaning like mad about production being down, and about running at a loss. They expect to produce 380,000 tons of sugar this year, and as one of our members who works there always reminds us, the VRAC or Bulk Sugar terminal, has now reversed its pumps to pump in brown sugar from Brazil – to the tune of 115,000 tons. This means the sugar industry has gone so mad as to import nearly one third of the 495,000 tones they expect now to refine! Of that, they sell some 35,000 tons in Mauritius.
So, the Government has set aside Rs 1,250 subsidy per ton. which is just short of 10% of the price. The money will be taken from the Sugar Insurance Fund Board, thus robbing the insurance fund. The Cess tax has been frozen, too, accounting for some Rs200 million further transfer from the State to the sugar bosses. This kind of subsidy is outrageous, not of itself, but because the sugar industry not only fails to create jobs, but destroys them; because there is no longer an export tax on sugar; because the sugar revenue is a puny part of overall foreign exchange; and finally, worst of all, because this very same industry is pillaging the very land from the country, selling of the best arable land, cementing it up with villas for millionaires, while criminally removing the capital it made in the past to countries where it can exploit workers more deeply: Mozambique, Cote d’Ivoire, and anywhere else where they can do it.
And that is not all. The sugar bosses, together with those in other export industries (textiles, tourism) are calling for a depreciation of the rupee, and to some extent getting it. In addition, another rare intervention by the State: The Government will guarantee that the Rupee remains stable relative to the dollar at Rs34.50 by topping up any money missing in the real exchange rate, straight into the pockets of the exporters. It is expected to be some Rs 2.50 for each sale of a dollar.
As if this were not the bottom. The Bank of Mauritius, flying in the face of IMF advice which for once was not bad, has decided to reduce the Repo Rate by 50 points (Roughly 0.5% drop in interest rates). This means pensioners or others with modest savings, get even lower interest rates than the robber banks are at present paying out, and that the bosses have less to pay back on their enormous debts. Rada said he was not exaggerating about the debts of the bosses.
The Construction Industry owes its banks some Rs90 billion. Hotels own some Rs 40 billion. The total debt of the private sector bosses is Rs 300 billion. They will get some Rs1.5 billion by the Government’s measure to lower the Repo Rate. Straight into their long pockets.
Pravind Jugnauth and the bosses
It is at this moment that Prime Minister, Pravind Jugnauth, following neatly in the footsteps of his father the previous Prime Minister in the 2030 speech to the bosses, has sworn allegiance to the sugar bosses.
In just one fortnight, he cut the ribbon for the Omnicane sugar bosses (ex-Savannah) motorway, where the State has spent Rs600 million to give more value to the real estate projects there, while infrastructure in the rest of the country gets shabbier and shabbier. Then he cut another ribbon. This time at the Mon Choisy Smart City with all their plans for luxury villas and swimming pools for the rich. Then he has just cut the ribbon for the launch of Medine’s Smart City, Unicity. At this last ribbon-cutting launch, the Prime Minister thanked the bosses for their donation of land for the Metro Express. But, the land was not given. There is compensation for compulsory land acquisition. The feudal kneeling down before the sugar bosses, as they move into land speculation and other businesses, continues.
And the State continues to pump money into their failing cane industry, while cutting ribbons for the destruction of the land of the country.
Lindsey Collen’s article for LALIT in Le Mauricien on this issue has provoked a lot of response, including a long article by Sanjay Jagatsingh also in Le Mauricien, agreeing that the sugar industry should not be favoured this way, and adding further key arguments. He does not take a stand against land speculation in his article, however.
Crisis in fish canning
Now the lack of investment in a big fishing industry is being sorely felt. LALIT has again and again called for the State to take the initiative to encourage a robust fishing industry. Mauritius is after all the 18th biggest country in terms of its sea.
However, successive Governments of Mauritius have contented themselves with allowing the bosses to squander all their own capital, and even the State’s European union compensation capital thrown in, in investments that do not create work or help food security, or even bring in long-term foreign exchange benefits. So, instead Mauritius went into a “free zone for fish canning”, buying fish off the French, Spanish, Koreans’ big ships, and canning it. 8,000 workers work in this sector. And now, they have hit against a shortage of fish. In order to benefit from European preferences, the fish has to come from the Indian Ocean. And now all the companies that supply the fish have used up their quotas, and sold them elsewhere no doubt. So there is not enough fish. The Government is desperately trying to beg a derogation, to allow imports from non-Indian Ocean sources. But the fragility of this kind of colonialist economy continues into the 21st Century.
So, against this background, the Government is preparing its Metro Express, to link up all the towns with the Capital, Port Louis. The two uprisings have produced a flurry of court cases around injunctions. There is an interim injunction already. The issues concerned are what kind of compensation to pay to people who are not land-owners who live on the planned route, and whether the Environment Impact Assessment has been got around in a manner that is legal. The court cases, in turn, produced some drama, with the attorney getting two Labour Party lawyers (Peeroo senior and junior) replaced by another two Labour Party lawyers (Yousouf Mohamed and Rama Valayden). Rada Kistnasamy said he did not know exactly why, but it seems to be different strategies for negotiations.
Anyway, Labour and PMSD went in and stirred up the uprisings, so that when the Ministers Collendavelloo, Gayan and Sinatambou tried to go and have a meeting, they had to be escorted away into their big cars really quickly.
LALIT is to prepare a paper on all that’s missing for the Metro Express to be a successful way of solving the vehicle over-population crisis, and the endless traffic jams.
Meanwhile, there are other strange and unexpected effects of this Metro Express event.
The MBC, the main Government propaganda machine, did not cover the events to the satisfaction of Pravind Jugnauth. So, the Director General, Mekraj Baldowa, was suspended, given a warning and re-integrated, David Boodna resigned and was asked to take back his letter, and Jagdish Jattoo is suspended, pending a Disciplinary Hearing at a Board meeting. So, this was and still is, a major crisis.
At the same time, and for reasons to do with the election of the Sanatan Dharma Federation leader, the head of the National Security Service has been transferred to some remote place, and replaced altogether by ACP Mohunlall Madhow. The previous head of the National Security Service, Lockhdev Hoolash was very close to the previous Prime Minister.
At the same time, as if to underline all the uncertainty, all the old top brass from Labour seem to have come back into their own in the Police Service.
So, both the propaganda ministry (the MBC) and the secret service have been shaken this last fortnight. This, Rada Kistnasamy explained, is why he used the term “instability”. It is not an exaggeration. The bourgeois state is in a mess.
And it goes on.
The huge sum owed by the State Trading Corporation to the petrol tanker firm Betamax following private arbitration, when the MSM Government rescinded its contract, has been given executive effect under Mauritian law by the Supreme Court. The STC has put in an appeal. They stand to owe Rs 4.5 billion for breaking off this contract. This is also a major problem.
And then the Commission of Enquiry into the Britam sale for Rs 2.3 billion, following the offer of Rs 4.3 billion, goes on. Roshi Bhadain gave evidence, saying he was not in charge of this, and in any case there was no such offer of Rs 4.3 billion. He rather too quickly says that Rs 2.3 million is a good price. He blames his old enemy, Lutchmeenaraidoo who was Finance Minister at the time for making Pravind Jugnauth make a mistake. Rada Kistnasamy also took note that Bhadain does not criticize Jugnauth much in the by-election campaign either. This he added may just be structural because the MSM has not (yet?) got a candidate. he only criticizes the MMM, PMSD and Labour. His campaign is on Facebook, in conferences, and billboards. And he has the petition (mentioned earlier) to the Indian Government (!) against the Metro Express.
The MMM meanwhile, pretends, as it has for the past 40 years that general elections are “just around the corner”. He is aligning his 60 candidates, including it seems Sheila Bunwaree, who was part of Ivan Collendavelloo’s party for a few days, before setting up her own Social Justice Party, and also Danielle Selvon who was an MSM MP, turned Independent. All this is no doubt to bolster his team, in readiness for an alliance, no doubt with the MSM.
The MSM is having difficulty on the terrain. The surprise defeat of their candidate in the Sanatan Dharma elections is a symptom of their typical obliviousness to their unpopularity. The new man, Rajendra Ramdhean is very much a Labour man.
Meanwhile, Ashok Subron unlike his RA colleague Stephan Gua who announced they would consider the issue, has turned down Jack Bizlall’s admittedly frivolous call for a joint candidate on the supposed “left”. What with Jack Bizlall being against political parties, and with the RA being “not against capitalism”, it is hard to understand his proposal as anything but frivolous.
LALIT will decide whether or not to field a candidate in the by-election only once the Writ is out and the stakes are clearer.
Social issues over the past fortnight
On the education front, the new 9-year-schooling is underway. The first exam proving this has taken place. The second will be in October. Then there will be a Form III exam, after which there will be three streams: the academia, the regional colleges, and the polytechnics. Although the competition has been shifted to form 3, children are still suffering from the harm done when the mother tongue is not being used as medium of instruction.