TRANSPARENCY, WATER AND THE MÉTRO LÉGER—Water justice is social justice

THE NESC should be congratulated for the publication of its recent report entitled “Management of Water Resources’ and for bringing the water issue back to the surface for debate.  Or, should I rather say to attention since debating national issues seems to be far remote from the agenda of the current political class.
Discussing the water issue in Mauritius, the NESC states:
Our water pipes are very old and cause a lot of waste and inefficiency. To all those who are concerned with modernization, and have a pragmatic mind, we put a very simple question: Isn’t it better to address the water question than go for the opaque and very costly Métro léger project at this particular juncture.
Water is a fundamental human right and it is often said that the next war will be that of water. Not too long ago, we saw people burning car tyres because of absence of water in their homes. Competing water needs frequently trigger conflicts between users such as the rich and the poor, big business and small business, between rural and urban areas, between well endowed and deprived zones. The water crisis is the most pervasive, most severe and most invisible dimension of the ecological devastation of the earth. It is a shame for a country which wishes to project itself as an ‘Ile durable’ to allow such wastage and inefficiency to persist in the water sector. What a contradiction and incoherence! On the one hand, the country talks of sustainability, on the other, it does nothing to optimise its water resources.  All of this while the Statistics Bureau tells us that pollution level is on the rise in the country.
Modernisation, High Income Economy and Prioritisation
Modernisation is not about opacity but about transparency, efficiency as well as dignity of the human being. Modernization is also about prioritization, especially when it comes to utilization of resources and fundamental rights of human beings. Access to water is not only a fundamental human right but also fundamental to an economy which is aspiring to become a high income country since every new pillar of the economy would need more water to ensure its growth and development. A high income country presupposes that we will have to develop our tourism industry and all other industrial activities multiple fold to attain our main objective.
The NESC report also writes:
‘A main current problem being faced by the CWA, the utility responsible for supply of water in the country, is that its distribution piping networks in the main populated areas are decades and centuries old and leaking. The problem is colossal: some 200 million litres of water is lost on a daily basis….’  
I wonder what would the modernizers say?
Rivers and Canals Act of 1863
The ‘modernizers’  should also revisit the Rivers and Canals Act of 1863 – more than 2 centuries old.  This is a very old piece of legislation that modern Mauritius needs to urgently revisit but if  parliament closes at the whim and fancy of the PM while the opposition conveniently keeps silent, there will be little effort towards progress and modernisation. Commenting on this legislation the NESC notes:
“The free use of water following the act two centuries ago is implicit that it would be for irrigation and agricultural use only. However, the free use of water through the water rights is reported to being extended to commercial uses as well as golf courses, IRS or other estate development….”
The issue of Non Revenue Water remains most pertinent. Other countries have been able to cut down on their Non Revenue Water by huge proportions but the government of Mauritius seems to have shelved the issue. ID cards, métro léger, the purchase of 6 Airbus seem to be the utmost priority before the next election.
Questions such as ‘where is the Social Impact Study regarding the métro léger project, what is the potential loss of jobs in the transport sector in the event of the métro léger coming up, what guarantee do we have that the price of the métro léger ticket will not be more expensive than the bus ticket?  if it is going to be the same as some of our leaders wish to make us think, where will the money come from? What are its implications for a country which is so heavily indebted? Will the métro léger run free of charge? Is this some kind of political bait for the next elections…..those who ask such questions are often taxed as ‘des passéistes’ who are not in favour of modernization. It seems that some have discovered the notion of transparency on American soil. Perhaps our African brothers who are so familiar with Chinese investments on the continent should have asked our PM what sort of transparency prevails when investments come to Mauritius- we are all too familiar with Jin Fei - the phantom project and the hunger strikes that the planters had undergone and to which some reacted ‘les zot kreve si zot anvi kreve.’
The government programme 2012 2015 itself notes:
‘To promote greater efficiency, coherence and optimal use of resources, Government has decided on a major institutional reform in the water sector. All the four agencies currently involved in the management of water will be integrated into a single institution. This will benefit both present and future generations…”
Why is this not done yet is a question worth posing although we know that creating one stop shop may be a necessary but not sufficient condition to address the inefficiencies of the system.
Thinking Modernity and Modernization Requires Rethinking of Democracy.
Democracy is about how we take our destiny in our own hands and how we shape it rather than live it as a mere electoral ritual. Taking our destiny in our own hands requires that we have the power to determine how our natural resources are owned, distributed to whom, for what purpose and by whom, how our thirst and that of future generations is quenched and so on. Allow me to end by asking a few questions and encourage our pragmatic modernizers and preachers of transparency to reflect:
Is the Bagatelle dam operational and when will the Rivière des Anguilles dam be operational?
When will the merging of the water institutions so pompously announced in the government programme 2012-2015 take place? What happened to the idea of a Utility Regulatory  Authority?
How many hotels in Mauritius are now equipped with desalination plants? The government programme also mentioned that it will legislate to this effect.
Water justice is social justice and we are concerned citizens.