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Poverty: Lalit challenged Berenger's Special Adviser live on Radio Plus

23.10.2003

In a live debate on Radio Plus last Saturday, Lalit representative, Ashok Subron, challenged the propaganda of the MSM/MMM government that poverty and social inequality are decreasing in Mauritius.

Mr. Dharmah Mootien, Chairperson of the Trust Fund for Vulnerable Group and special adviser of the new Prime Minister was confronted to Lalit representative, during this radio program organised in the context of the International Day Against Poverty. Quoting the recent statistics and the Gini Coefficient, Mr. Mootien tried to argue that the gap between the rich have decreased in recent years. Thus, supposedly proving that government social policies are a success.

In his response Lalit representative argued that poverty is rising and the gap between the rich and the poor are widening because of the implementation of ultra-liberal economic and social policies of present and past regime.

"The Gini Coefficient should be used with great precaution" Ashok Subron replied. For example, Ashok Subron said if one compared the same Gini coefficient to that of 1991-1992 it shows that the gap have in reality increased. Ashok Subron also questioned the effectiveness of the Gini Coefficient itself, stating that with the liberalisation of exchange control real revenue is not accounted for and, with massive frauds involving rich people, it is obvious that dubious revenues are not declared in the statistics. He also added that revenue income cannot be the sole indicator of social inequality. One also needs to consider the inequality in term of property and other form of wealth (shares, bank deposit etc). He emphasized that in recent years the rich have benefited from multiple tax deductions while the working people and the poor are shouldering more and more the burden of tax. So taking revenue alone to measure social inequality is not only only absurd but incorrect, Ashok Subron said.

For the Lilt's representative it is obvious that living condition are degrading for the majority of the people. And the line between the degrading living conditions and abject poverty is becoming thinner and thinner. Ashok Subron explained the causes of this worsening of living condition: rising unemployment, low salary in major work sectors like the free zone, massive retrenchments in free zone industries affecting mainly women, rise in prices of various essential goods and services, housing crisis, casualisation of work. All these are leading to indebtedness and poverty.

Ashok Subron quoted a recent study carried by the University of Mauritius in 2002, where 91% of the people surveyed said that the rich is getting richer and the poor is getting poorer. This survey also revealed that 54% of the people interviewed had a revenue of less than Rs 4,000 per month.

Mr. Mootien, who obviously was not aware of this important study, started to lose his temper and accused Lalit's representative of making false statements. Ashok Subron, who had the study in hand, maintained what he said, and asked Mr. Mootien to keep his calm as the debate was on a critical issue which affects the life of thousands of people.

Lalit spokesperson also said that the present approach of the government to poverty corresponds more to the "poor law" model that was in force during the first half of the last century in Mauritius. For example he said the government intends to destroy basic human rights, such as old age-pension and then provide "means tested" pension to a tiny few.

At the end of the debate Ashok Subron said that he is very worried for the future, given the insistence of the present regime to implement the ultra-liberal agenda such as: privatisation of essential services (water, electricity, waste water and postal service) dismantlement of social rights (such as the introduction of a monthly fee for hospital services, abolition of Old Pensions as a universal right) and massive retrenchments coming in the free sector.

He said that there is an urgent need to introduce a Redundancy Allowencef or Free Zone Workers, unemployment benefits and the introduction of a National Minimal Salary.

To conclude Lalit representative said, that unless we question the logic of the present economic and social policy, poverty and social inequality will get worst and worst.