The Leader of the Opposition and Pravind Jugnauth have clashed head-on, point by point. The parliamentary session on Tuesday 26 will be known as one of the most heated. The Private Notice Question (PNQ) focused on the general discontent with the fuel price hike leading to widespread protest. The PM announced some relief measures after his consultation with importers and the Mauritius Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI).
White Elephant Projects and Dilapidations
The country is indeed in turmoil with the hikes and the retaliation of the population! And in this spirit Xavier Luc Duval has beefed up his PNQ to get the PM to react and immediately. The highlight began with his demand for the “White Elephants Projects” and to “put money to support family in Mauritius”.
XLD listed these tons of money squandered in citing the “Rs 20 billion after the dismantling of BAI, the Rs 6 billion Betamax deal, the Rs 5 billion Côte d’Or stadium, Rs 18 billion in the Safe City project, Rs 23 billion with Air Mauritius, Rs 400 million in the failed Liverpool Football Club advertisement, Rs 320 million in Splashgate, Rs 70 million for the purchase of Molnupiravir” before he was cut off. The Leader of the Opposition returned with the question “Isn’t it time to abandon white elephant projects?” demanding the withdrawal of investments in the Rs 230 million National Identity Card project, the Rs 500 million E-Passport and the Rs 234 million allocated for the renovation of the State House. “I am sure that the President of the Republic would not mind if it is postponed and that the money is used to support the struggling Mauritian families. Pravind Jugnauth replied that XLD was talking without taking into consideration the legal situations that such decisions could create and what these ‘Breach of Contract’ will entail. “There are projects that started years ago and others that have already been allocated. We will be in breach of contract, and we will be sued. The government will have to pay billions of rupees in damages. You should stop that type of demagogy,” the PM said. He earlier made it clear that despite everything “Life should not stop”…
Pensions divides again
Listing the projects and allowances introduced by the MSM government in 2014, the PM mentioned “free tertiary education, subsidies for SC/HSC exams, for the acquisition of water tanks, on commodities like rice and flour. Pointing out that Rs 27 billion has been disbursed to support salaries during the Covid period of the increase. He dwelt on the pensions offered to the elderly and otherwise able-bodied, a subject that gave rise to another tension and a series of retorts. The PM said, “He is the last person who can give us lessons on pensions. He was in the previous government and he knows how much was offered to people. The Opposition leader reminded the assembly that “it was Nando Bodha and I who drafted the 2014 election manifesto. At the time, Pravind Jugnauth was not even interested in the pension,” he said, before launching into “Come on! I know it hurts. I know it hurts; I know it hurts.” Called to order by the speaker Sooroojdev Phokeer, the opposition leader added “I can feel that they are hurting”. The proceedings were not without audible reactions from the chamber.
During his PNQ, the Opposition Leader demanded that the PM “pay immediate salary compensation.
Relief to come
A series of reliefs will soon take effect. In response to the opposition’s accusations of “alleged government inaction,” the Prime Minister announced that he had consulted the Chamber of Commerce and importers and announced these forthcoming reliefs: “The current food prices and subsidies are being reviewed to better protect consumers… The mark-up of the 15 most consumed medicines in Mauritius is being revised downwards to make medicines affordable to the public… A ministerial committee has been set up to look into additional measures to further support the population… Subsidies will be increased for rice ration and flour to keep them at their current prices… The total subsidy for flour amounts to Rs 1.4 billion for the year 2022 and the subsidy for other essential commodities to Rs 1.2 billion.”The Opposition Leader commented that these reliefs”seem like too little too late.” Sniping at his opponent, the PM said, “I hope the honourable leader of the opposition is not wearing blinkers and sees what is happening in the world. The PM invited the Opposition Leader to consult the FAO report and to consider the international context. “The whole world is facing a double crisis due to Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine”, the PM supported his reply by quoting the recent report of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, which attests that the food price index reached a new record in March 2022, an increase of 17.9 points in only one month.
PM’s rationale for the Police
The other part of the opposition leader’s PNQ focused on last Friday’s riots, its management by the police and the use of firearms. Also, 179 hand grenades and 87 tear gas canisters were used against the protesters. “Faced with these sporadic incidents in some localities, the use of force and firearms by the police was in strict compliance with the Standing Operating Procedures and Legal Framework in order to protect the population. The PM reminded the chamber that “police stations and police vehicles were attacked with Molotov cocktails and public infrastructure was damaged… 21 police officers and one firefighter suffered serious injuries, according to the PM. Three protesters were arrested.” Pravind Jugnauth blamed the “inconsiderate politicians” and warned the population to beware of demagogues. He also mentioned deliberate acts by destructionists and non-patriots.
Breakwater Project cancelled
Tuesday’s session was also marked by other waves at the PMQT. In sum, responding to Kushal Lobin Pravind Jugnauth announced that the Breakwater project at the Port Louis harbour and the construction of a fishing harbour at Fort William has been cancelled due to the pandemic and the downturn in the global economy. However, the PM announced that “the Mauritius Ports Authority (MPA) would proceed with the implementation of a new Ports Master Plan”.
Stéphanie Anquetil surprised by the answers
Responding to Stephanie Anquetil, regarding the suspension of Senior Journalist Manisha Jooty from the MBC, the PM said it was not his place to pass judgment on the matter. “It is inappropriate for me to come and give my opinion,” he said. The suspension follows the incident on 10 December when the journalist did not interview Deputy Chief Whip and MSM MP Kenny Dhunnoo at an official event to see the progress of the metro in Curepipe.
Labour MP Stephanie Anquetil’s question to Minister Kalpana Koojo-Shah “how many entrepreneurs attended the International Women Entrepreneur (IWE) conference in Dubai in October 2021” brought to light a still unexplained total of Rs 667,000. The Minister replied that “no entrepreneur was part of the Mauritian delegation” which caused astonishment to the MP and the House. The MP also expressed surprise at the per diem allowances amounting to Rs 131,000 for two days received by the Minister for Gender Equality and Family Welfare.
Medical cannabis coming to Victoria Hospital
Sandra Mayotte asked Health Minister Kailesh Jagutpal about the use of medical cannabis. He said that this project would start on a pilot basis at Victoria Hospital. A therapeutic committee will be set up at the regional level”. The Health Minister also elaborated on the establishment of a National Steering Committee for the local and industrial production of cannabis in order to develop a new economic avenue.
Patrice Armance fired
Opposition Chief Whip Patrice Armance was ordered to leave the Chamber by the Speaker, Sooroojdev Phokeer. This followed comments, deemed derogatory, that he made during the speech of Avinash Teeluck, Minister of Arts and Cultural Heritage, on the National flags, Arms of Mauritius, National Anthem, and other National Symbols of Mauritius Bill. The Minister made an outburst contradicting XLD’s demands to stop unnecessary projects while other PMSD MPs were asking about the progress of certain projects in their constituencies. Patrice Armance will have grumbled!