Yuvan A. Beejadhur

President, EnForce Maurice!

In the 1980s, my parents would bring us to Ganga-Talao where we would often stop at Mare-aux-Vacoas. Standing there, I watched that dark blue reservoir and was impressed yet sceptical, like every child, that “this is the water you drink”. Over the years, I have tried to understand the reasons as to why ‘Water For All’ has remained an elusive goal. By 2025, with growing demands from more industries and with more scarcity as climate change hits us, can the CWA guarantee 24/7 quality water?

We have come a long way, thanks to the visions of SSR, SAJ, NCR, PRB, SGD and others – and to the hard work of our nation supported by a vibrant yet limited private sector. This generation needs to build on our inheritance to join the advanced nations. An important ingredient on our quest for High-Income Status will be protecting, valuing and securing sustainably our blue assets (water, rivers, ponds, watersheds, lake, aquifers, oceans) vis-a-vis our green assets (land, soil, agriculture, mountains, forests, etc.).

A triple crisis looms. A crisis of ‘too much’, where water is flooding places like Fond-du-Sac, from kitchens to kids’ rooms.  Industries are also paying too little of a price for so much water use. A crisis of ‘too little’, where in Cité Attlee, not being able to flush the toilet or cook is degrading and incompatible with the standards of advanced nations. Last, a crisis of “response”. How is it possible that as a society we cannot solve these problems? Is it lack of oversight or Indifference? Fatalism or overreliance on politicians?

“Pena delo”, “legim ser”, “zanfan gagn tranpe dan labou”, “pa pe kapav begne” have become the new normal. Our health and food, economy and social harmony are at stake. I co-led a study which showed that we run the risk of losing 7% of our GDP with cyclones only.

Doesn’t it appear that our collective ability to counter our water, food and energy challenges in Mauritius is weakening? Mr. P. Jugnauth can fix this perception by doing the necessary reforms. If done well, he can show that he is following in the footsteps of his predecessors in taking the country forward. The PM needs to launch a new transformational Water-Energy-Food paradigm, accompanied by predictable financing. We need strategic global partner(s) to help us refine our understanding of which sector reforms are needed and how to go about it. We also need to tap into the wisdom of the crowds and have interested stakeholder associations and the broader population come together.  Let’s start a mapping across the island with an initial emphasis on the CWA.

First, we should diagnose what is working and what is not, and what results have been achieved:

Lessons from the past: Contracts with Vivendi/Lyonnaise des Eaux (1999), UK Severn Trent Water International (water loss in the system, 2003), Singapore Consortium (rehabilitation works in network zones, 2013) proved incomplete, or led to nowhere. EnForce Maurice! demands to know what prevented the successful delivery.

CWA is like an old airplane, with a Rs. 3 billion debt that needs servicing and a crew. Why has staffing, HR issues and morale of staff been so sub-optimal? With an understaffing of around 1400 (only 40 technical staff), i.e. a ratio of 2.8 staff/1000 connections, how can we expect it to deliver? Can remuneration packages be more attractive? Any reason why governance issues with pre-qualification criteria for procurement practices remain erratic? Why is merit based promotion rare? Key staff retiring leave little opportunity for knowledge transfer.

Mauritius is vulnerable. As a water-stressed country (below 1,700m3/capita/yr.), it is expected to fall under the water-scarce category by 2020 (below the 1,000m3 threshold). Availability, quality and accessibility will be hurt. Poor urbanisation, deforestation, destruction of our aquifers, boreholes and wetlands, climate change and weak adaptation programs make it only harder.

Growing demands are thirsty. Sectors are reducing not only availability but also quality with discharges. Aquifers are over-exploited. Sea-level rise and low coverage of sanitation facilities are changing sedimentation dynamics/groundwater quality.

Service delivery is inefficient: More households have access to water yet these irregular supplies (average of 18hrs/day, even in the years of normal rain) impacting women and children disproportionately. 9 months for pipe-network procurement! The commercial department’s business acumen will take a long time to strengthen as long as it is under a government-led ministry. We are all frustrated with the delays (150,000 complaints a year – 39% no water; 29% physical leakage and 16% broken communication pipes).

Our grey infrastructure/networks need revamp without harming our green/natural infrastructure. Modern roads yes, but we have all seen leakages/dirt/poor sewerage and many pipes have asbestos cement dating 96 years old, meaning risks to our health. 600,000 malfunctioning meter-readers! Let’s modernize our wastewater treatments focusing not only on organic matters but also on pollutants/household/industrial chemicals/pharmaceuticals/care products/pesticides.

With so little investments, CWA will not be able to make the pitch for full economic tariffs – and without massive investments, it will remain a non-credible institution.

To implement this Water-Energy-Food paradigm, a new business model is warranted:

Creating a “Rs 100 billion Action Plan”: Our economy needs a new boost. Large sustainable and innovative investments to transform our water, food and energy sectors should be leveraged. Key deliverables could include increasing storage capacity (La Nicolière), increase efficient water supply and irrigation in the northern region (Calebasses dam) and in the South (Rivière des Anguilles), a push for Climate-Smart Agriculture and new energy mixes. But where will Mauritius obtain such amounts when we are massively indebted (with a 65 % Debt to GDP ratio)? Does the EDB have the answer? Is the Rs. 5bn Build Mauritius Fund (BMF) sustainable? We need Debt-for-Nature swaps, Carbon Markets, airline and petrol tax, taxes on unhealthy products (cigarettes, alcohol, sodas), Resources for Infrastructure (RfI), tax financed subsidies, Blue Bonds to kick in.

A new Public-Private-Partnership (PPP): Similar to our port needing a strategic partner to develop our ocean economy, it’s time to implement a 20-year PPP concession-type contract with a local/global partner – one who will need to work in tandem with other local partners on the blue/green agendas. A tailored affermage type contract (for example with CWA having greater control in the first years and increase gradually, depending on performance) should be considered. GoM could incorporate targets for technical/collection efficiency in the partner’s remuneration formula, penalizing failure to attain the targets/rewarding outperformance. These could provide strong financial incentives to reduce leakages/improve billing/collection. East Manila concession (access to continuous potable water increased from 26% to 98%) and Senegal affermage (where the access ratio went up from 58% to 76%) are successful examples, whereas lesser ones include Bueno Aires case. Organizations have advised on this and Government should not delay on way forward. This process of partner selection, which jobs need transition/what happens to pensions, tariffs/taxes/transfers need to be transparent.

Training and Decent Jobs: The CWA as the only supplier of potable water, would delegate core functions yet become an asset holder. The partner would need to create more jobs, train staff and ensure high salaries/pensions. The experiences of MK (with shareholders like Rogers, Air France and Air India), MT, STC need to be shared. CWA could focus on enforcing the performance of works, determine tariffs, etc.

Transition to Renewable Energy. We need to shift immediately our energy production towards one which is de-carbonized and renewable. Ocean, tidal, wave, wind, solar/other has to happen. Any new Government should put an end to the petroleum hub/dirty polluting coal on our island!

Adding value to our nature. What we don’t value we can’t protect. Our children need to be taught about sharing our country/reducing inequalities. Knowing our footprint is imperative: how much of soil/water/forest/agriculture/fisheries/minerals we have and how we are depreciating/restoring it. Natural Capital Accounts and implementing ecosystem services like Colombia/Costa-Rica or Botswana have done with water accounts would be excellent. It would also be appealing to tourists who want nature-based tourism. Can we push for a modern Water Bill with appropriate tariff levels, water rights issues like in the South-African constitution? Can we consider having people/industries billed proportionately on their income levels? Families not paying for water (63,000) may increase with inequality/poverty, encouraging a situation of dependency.

Food security for all: We are still importing too much food (around 80%). Land needs to be made available for greater local production. In case of war/pandemics/ calamities, we shall be in bad shape. This will require also a parallel war against the big diseases of our country. The PM pushing for healthy lifestyle is a welcome move.

The PM can break the way that traditional political parties have been addressing these issues so far and lead us in a holistic/technical manner. EnForce Maurice! is there to support him if he has the courage to lead us to a better future.

Water/drainage/the ocean economy could have been the priorities over the metro. Should future governments allow citizens/NGOs/associations/youth groups, to be more involved in those key decisions? Absolutely, and this is what EnForce Maurice! is pushing for.

Water, panee, shui, eau, dilo, wasser, agua, voda, or whichever name we give it, is Life.

Our existence is blue. 75% of a newborn and 68 % of our brain is water. As we age and die, we lose water. In between, we will depend on a constant flow of water/food/energy. Our ability to live and build the future ‘Mauritius We All Want’ depends greatly on our relationship with these three things. The role of Government is to facilitate these.

Let me ask you now. What should the PM do with Ministers who can’t deliver? EnForce Maurice! is there support the PM to take the difficult but right decisions to make our country a place where we feel, breathe and live prosperous lives and are keen to have our children stay for a brighter future.