When there is an economic crisis of the proportions that Mauritius is already beginning to face, there are generally only two ways out: so-called "austerity", which means that workers pay the price of the crisis that the capitalists themselves got everyone into, and this goes together with State repression because working people will obviously revolt, OR, if working people can mobilize behind clear demands in time, they can use political methods to force government to act or to make employers act so as to move the economy forwards in the interests of the majority of people, by creating worthwhile jobs. Here are Lalit's proposals for the coming Government Budget, so as to avoid working people bearing the brunt of the crisis in sugar, textiles, oil prices, tourism fragility:
1 The Budget should clearly spell out that the European "accompagnement" money will be used to create jobs in agriculture and agro-industries not destroy jobs, like the bosses and Agro-Industry Minister propose. The measure we propose can be used in order to increase the amount granted by Europe.
2 The Budget should include legislation to oblige sugar companies to progressively develop interline cropping until it exists throughout their vast cane estates. In the past, only when new cane was planted every 7 years did the Sugar Estates plant (or lease) their inter-lines, because in "repousse" cane the inter-line crop gets crowded out too soon. The MSIRI (Le Mauricien 10 March) has found that if two rows of cane are close together, with a wider space between each pair, sugar extraction is higher than with the usual equidistant rows. Government should ensure that the Estates make the bigger space wide enough to allow space for generalized interline cropping. The Estates can either employ people in this diversification, or cede the land to metayers to work. Potatoes, tomatoes, beans, peanuts, peas, soya, sunflower, maize have all been tried and tested.
3. With diversification in mind, the Budget should announce that it is converting the Sugar Authority into a wider body, say an "Optimal Land Utilization Authority", which can then provide the research and planning for this massive diversification.
4 Government should announce a new deal for its permit to close down a Sugar Mill. Instead of permits being granting without conditions, they will be granted on condition that the companies use their existing infra-structure (building, roads, electricity connections, water, telecom lines) and invest in some other form of processing, preserving, transforming, or creation of new products. If the sugar estates themselves do not want to do this, the infrastructure should be given over to workers to run co-operative agricultural processing plants.
5 The Budget should include amendment to Blueprint and VRS schemes to ensure that each worker gets an arpent of land on lease for agricultural diversification, to be worked collectively.
6 The Budget should set up an Agricultural Marketing Authority to go out and find markets for agricultural and agro-industrial produce (as the MTPA dooes for hotel owners), organize storage (like VRAC does for sugar), plan agricultural credit for non-cane agricultural and agro-industrial production (as is done all over the world), and put in place the same kind of insurance for cyclones and drought that cane planters have had for years.
7 In the context of marketing agricultural produce, Government should legislate at once for Mauritius to become a niche market for "GMO-free" products. They already fetch higher prices.
This will have positive spin-offs for tourism.
8 Government should announce that it is no longer giving exemptions and permits that entail destroying agricultural land, especially prime land, to make way for buildings or unproductive and risky IRS projects.
9 The Budget must announce Government investment and encouragement of other large-scale investment in fish farming, and industrial, ecologically planned fishing.
10 The Budget must set up of a Renewable Energy Development Authority. In addition it must announce its own investment in and measures to encourage massive investment in wave and tide energy, solar energy and wind energy.
11 The Budget should announce mass Government-run courses in scientific farming, fish farming and industrial fishing for school leavers as well as workers laid off in sugar and textiles, using existing infra-structure like schools.
12 The Budget must announce Government taking control of foreign exchange back from the private sector to stop provoked rupee devaluation.
13 The Budget must make provision for an "unemployment benefit" which is enough for someone to survive on when he or she has no job. The Budget should explain how this measure puts constant pressure on the Government and on the bosses to in fact create jobs.