YAN HOOKOOMSING

Aret Kokin Nu Laplaz

KREEPALLOO SUNGHOON

Small Planters Association

Honourable Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Honourable Pravind Kumar Jugnauth,

As we are less than 6 months away from Year 2020, we would like to remind you what the Vision 2020 for Mauritius, developed with the support of the United Nations Development Programme, had foretold concerning tourism back in 1997 [highlights added]:

Quality tourism – the ’green ceiling’

Mauritius’ combination of beautiful beaches, well run hotels and friendly people has enabled tourism to grow from nothing to become one of the three main industries. Mauritius popularity is such that the number of tourists, which rose 4-fold between 1975 and 1992, could, in theory, rise a further 4-fold by 2020. However, Mauritius appeal is as a quality destination, exotic, safe, beautiful and peaceful. An equally appealing feature is the harmonious coexistence of diverse cultures which make up the Mauritian nation. Over-development would destroy this appeal, threaten the ecology of the lagoons, and deprive Mauritians of a proper share of their own beaches. Accordingly, it has been estimated that total capacity can be increased from the present 5,300 hotel rooms only to a maximum of 9,000 rooms. Beyond this ’green ceiling’, increased earnings will have to come, not from higher numbers, but from higher spending per visitor, with still higher standards of provision and a wider range of activities, including, perhaps, inland and eco-tourism.

We are today at more than 13,500 hotel rooms, well beyond the “green ceiling” of 9,000 rooms. Should we be surprised by the fall in tourism revenue and tourist arrivals?

In terms of alternatives to hotels, allow us to remind you what had been recommended in 2002 by the long-term Tourism Development Strategy for Mauritius [TDS], developed with the support of the European Union:

The danger is that irreparable damage may be inflicted on the island’s environment and, consequently, on its potential for long term sustainable tourism development. Too much compromise on environmental issues, poor quality in development and an emphasis on short term gain at long term expense, will ruin Mauritius’ ability to further develop as a unique, high quality tourist destination.”

The TDS had proposed that certain parts of the country, for instance the South Coast, be kept free from having hotels on the beach:

Opportunities exist to develop a different product from the beach hotels by promoting small scale, high quality « countryside » resorts in a parkland setting. Allowing the coastline to become developed with hotels is considered to be detrimental and counter to the overall Tourism Development Plan objective of raising the quality of the Mauritius product.”

The Mauritius Tourism Development Plan of 2002 had proposed that the State does not focus only on hotels and develops “le tourisme chez l’habitant » and eco-tourism. The National Development Strategy of 2005, which has legal force under the Planning and Development Act of 2004 recommended the same policy, with the added emphasis of encouraging small planters to go towards “le tourisme chez l’habitant » and eco-tourism, so as to ensure that agricultural lands are not abandoned and so that villages can be modernised.

Is this what the Economic Development Board is encouraging ? No. Smart City certificates are being given to the likes of Omnicane, with massive tax exemptions granted on top, and as if that was not enough, these gigantic private entities are also benefiting from enormous amounts of public funding. Omnicane has for instance benefited from Rs 600 million of taxpayers’ money that were spent on rerouting the airport motorway to go through Omnicane’s lands. The real estate value of its sugar cane fields has now increased substantially. It is the equivalent of each Mauritian adult having had to contribute Rs1,000 from his/her pocket for Omnicane’s lands to increase in resale value! That amount of money would have paid for all the drains that Cottage and Fond du Sac so desperately needed to deal with flash floods.

And EDB admitted last year in the media that the country has too many unsold luxury properties: about 4,000 units, with only 400 to 500 being sold each year. It will take us 10 years to sell the existing stock. How smart is it then to go on building so called “Smart Cities”? How about the EDB focusing rather on Smart Goodlands, Smart Chemin Grenier, Smart Flacq?

In the early 2000s, with the sugar industry having to undergo widespread and in-depth reforms, the opportunity was there for a genuinely Smart development, a real democratisation of the economy, based on the protection of our environment. But instead of enabling all Mauritians to benefit from this historical transition, a certain political and economic elite saw the opportunity to become an all-powerful and mega-wealthy ruling class. Today, ordinary Mauritians are increasingly being denied the right to have a say in the future of their lives and of their country. We are being forced to accept the status of second class citizens in our own country.

There is not much time left but it is not completely too late yet. There remains a final chance for this Government to reassure voters that they were right to believe in the promises of the Alliance Lepep.

So, Honourable Prime Minister, here are again for your consideration please, despite having submitted them in vain to you in 2017 and 2018, the budgetary proposals from the Aret Kokin Nu Laplaz [AKNL] coalition, which includes the Small Planters Association [SPA].

1. Coastal agro-tourism: preserving the coastline while giving an economic boost to small planters and coastal villages.

Government has seen fit to provide millions of taxpayers’ money for infrastructure works to support major groups in their real estate projects. If the Government can provide so much support to big groups, what about small planters and coastal village dwellers wishing to set up their own small scale tourism ventures? AKNL and the SPA therefore ask the Government to please:

A. provide millions of public money also to small planters and village inhabitants wishing to set up small scale tourism projects, as they too will need infrastructure to develop their SMEs (water, roads, electricity, drains).

B. Set up a special “small scale tourism scheme for small planters and village inhabitants, with them being given support by MauBank, SMEDA, MTPA, Tourism Authority in terms of loans, training and marketing.

C. Set up a special tourism label for the South Coast for small scale tourism operators.

D. Ban completely any new hotel construction on the coast.

E. All this will be in line with the “Lepep” Government’s many pledges, notably to enable SMEs to grow and prosper.

Please find hereafter an architectural design of how 10 eco-lodges, with rooftop photovoltaic systems, can be set up on 1 arpent of abandoned sugar cane field, to the tune of Rs 20 million. Such a setup will be very attractive to tourists in search of authenticity and sustainability, especially from Europe. All the revenues would go directly to local people, staying in the local economy. The cost estimates have been provided by experienced professionals in the construction and solar energy sectors.

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ECO-LODGES ILLUSTRATION

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Not all small planter needs to set up eco-lodges, some may want to set up a café-restaurant, others spas, others organic farms to supply the lodges. Small planters must be supported in setting up agri-solar farms, producing green electricity on top of organic produce. This is already happening in Reunion Island.

2. Agri-solar farms: democratising energy production while enabling our villages to become eco-friendly and attractive.

The Alliance Lepep has pledged that it will encourage the development of renewable energy cooperatives:

Facilities for the emergence of cooperatives in new sectors, such as Green Energy, will be put in place (paragraph 210, page 29, 2015-2020 Government programme).

Encourager la mise sur pied de sociétés coopératives qui s’engageraient dans la production d’énergie solaire et d’autres activités durablement viables (page 30, Manifeste électoral, Alliance Lepep)

Our proposal is therefore for a Solar Energy Scheme by Renewable Energy Cooperatives regrouping Small Planters and Citizens. The scheme will provide for the dissemination of 20 agri-solar farms countrywide, each having an installed PV capacity of 474 KW:

• PV panels set up on greenhouses so that agricultural land is not wasted. The land requirement for one such farm will be 2 arpents. The scheme overall will require 40 arpents spread across Mauritius. The greenhouses will be anticyclonic. As shown in the photos below, there are already 5 such farms operating in Reunion Island at much bigger sizes (1 to 2 MW each).

• Cooperatives members (contributing cash or land) get a nice return each year.

• The population gets healthy food: 80% less chemicals used when growing vegetables in greenhouses.

• Our agriculture gets a new boost.

• Solar energy in Mauritius gets a strong boost.

• Ordinary citizens can invest in such a scheme, obtaining a secure placement for their savings as well as broadening the ownership base of power plants in the country.

• The State gets a stake in the farms, enabling it to become a stronger actor in solar energy.

• Less pollution, less dependency on fossil fuel imports (more energy security) and less abandonment of agricultural land for the country.

Because of the scheme’s immense benefits for the country, we believe it would make sense for the Government to support the scheme through very strong financial incentives. The scheme relies on 3 pillars:

1. Government sets up a Coal Tax on the profits of the IPPs. The Coal Tax will generate subsidies essential for the success of the scheme. It is worth remembering here that the IPPs never paid the MID Levy on their coal pollution as it was the population who paid it, e.g. more than Rs 1.2 billion.

2. Government raises money from the public for renewable energy. This can be through the shape of Government Green Energy Bonds (GGEBs) which will provide a secure placement to Mauritian families.

3.Government provides capital grants to the renewable energy cooperatives as these cooperatives will provide many benefits to the country.