Mauritius at the Crossroad
Madam Speaker, at the outset I wish to place on record that I have had very fruitful meetings with various stakeholders during the recent Budget consultation exercise. I extend my thanks to all those who have participated, for their views and suggestions. Indeed, their contribution has been most helpful in today’s Budget presentation.
2. The priorities and concerns voiced out by the stakeholders reflect very much the sentiments that have led to our crushing victory in the last election. The electorate gave us a clear mandate to clean up the mess and give our country a fresh start. Vox Populi Vox Dei.
3. In setting things right, it is essential that we have a clear vision of the future we want for our nation. It will not be enough to plan for the creation of greater national wealth. We also need to be concerned with better sharing. If we believe, as we should, that as a nation we are one, then we should put the principle of sharing at the very heart of our policies. A proper policy of national sharing is also crucial for maintaining social peace, a sine qua non condition for sustained economic progress. Therefore, greater sharing will underscore all the main policy decisions in this Budget.
4. Madam Speaker, before coming to the objectives of the Budget and to our policies for attaining those objectives, I wish first to explain the rationale behind the change in the budgeting approach – from a Programme Based Budgeting to Performance Based Budgeting. There was a consensus that the Programme Based Budgeting was bulky and too complicated for legislative purposes and for the public. It made the appropriation process tedious and very often opaque. We are shifting to a more transparent, and simpler to understand Budgeting process.
5. Second, following the amendment to the Finance and Audit Act, I am presenting to the House two Budget estimates. The first one covers the six months from January to June 2015 and the second one covers the 12 months period from July to June 2016.
6. In line with our commitment to a policy of transparency, we are circulating a Supplement entitled “The Economic and Social Backdrop to Budget 2015/16 along with the Budget Speech. I am also circulating, with the Budget Speech, an Annex that gives more details on the measures of this Budget and outlines the main legislative changes being proposed.
II. ECONOMIC REVIEW
7. In regard to the domestic economy, we note that growth has continued to oscillate around an anaemic 3 per cent for the last decade. Such a low growth rate cannot generate enough employment and improvement in living standards. At this sub-par rate we will soon be overtaken by other countries. In 2014, the unemployment rate stood at 7.8 per cent, with a high concentration of jobless among our youths and women. Here it is worth noting that in the latter part of the 1980s, it took a growth rate of around 6.5 per cent to achieve full employment.
8. The recent declining trend in the petroleum prices has helped to keep inflation subdued. But our external trade and current account deficits remain in a precarious state. We ended the year 2014 with a huge trade deficit of Rs 76.8 billion, representing 19.9 per cent of GDP. And the current account showed a deficit of Rs 39.6 billion, representing 10.3 per cent of GDP. Deficits of such magnitude on our external accounts cannot be sustained as they will undermine macroeconomic fundamentals.
9. As regards the budget deficit for 2014, it came to 3.2 per cent of GDP, with total revenue and grants amounting to Rs 79.7 billion and total expenditure of Rs 92.2 billion.
10. Public sector debt for the purpose of the statutory debt ceiling, increased to 54.2 per cent of GDP by end 2014. When measured using IMF definition, it has reached an alarming level of 61 per cent.
11. For 2015/2016, we expect GDP growth to go up to 5.3 per cent and for 2016/2017 we are targeting a growth rate of 5.7 per cent. As I announce the policies and measures in this Budget, this House and the nation will better understand my optimism.
12. We also expect inflation to remain subdued and the unemployment rate to decline.
13. However, there are risks and uncertainties at the global level. Deflation is looming. Growth is fading. The outlook for the global economy is rather grim. Any major black swan event can and will play havoc in the world economy, and affect us negatively.
III. MAURITIUS AT THE CROSSROAD
14. Madam Speaker, I will now speak about the objectives of this Budget. Let me first of all draw the attention of the nation on some fundamental realities and questions that have cropped up my mind.
15. Madam Speaker, I have not an iota of doubt that Mauritius is at a major crossroad. We are indeed at THE crossroad. A no-policy-change and a business-as-usual approach will condemn the country to low anaemic growth, high unemployment and a bleak future.
16. Almost all the areas of our economy are at the crossroad. Decisions we take now, decisions we take in this Budget, will have a profound impact on the country’s future, and will determine whether we will make it to the next level.
17. Similarly for social justice. We are at the crossroad. If we do not choose an alternative path, more and more families will be left outside the mainstream, poverty will keep on rising and income inequality will widen further.
18. Our environment and ecosystems are also at the crossroad. If we continue with business as usual, we will be perpetuating the decay of our environment and quality of life.
19. To make the hard choices and put our country on the right path ahead, we need to ask fundamental questions.
? Knowing that our society is at the crossroad, do we continue to be inward-looking in our action and insular in our mind-set, or do we go all out for a policy of opening our economy and country to the global system and foreign know-how?
? Do we continue to witness the social ills that are wearing down the fabric of our society, or do we go all out for effectively dealing with them?
? Our system for transparency and good governance is also at the crossroad. Do we stay with the present system characterised by opacity that breeds corruption or do we go all out for a cleansing that will inject more meritocracy, transparency, good governance in the management of public affairs?
? Do we continue to accept the prevalence of so many pockets of poverty in our country or do we go, in a determined way, to resolve them and restore our credibility as a caring nation?
? We are also at the crossroad in our economic and social policies. Do we limit our sight to the current generation or do we work and invest for future generations as well?
20. Madam Speaker, this Budget has been crafted on the basis of these questions, and also on the basis of other considerations that I will explain as we go along. That is why the four main objectives of this Budget are to:
First, steer the economy towards a path of high investment, and high employment.
Second, secure long term sustainable development for all.
Third, achieve greater equity and social justice for one and all.
And fourth, promote transparency and good governance in the management of public affairs.
IV. HIGH INVESTMENT AND HIGH EMPLOYMENT
21. Madam Speaker, let me now address the first objective of high investment and high employment.
‘Maurice: Un Vaste Chantier de Développement’
22. No economy can generate high growth without high investment levels. ‘Notre économie est dans une phase d’éssouflement.’ Our traditional sectors are experiencing low growth, low investment and therefore low employment creation- even shedding jobs. We need to go out of the box if we want to create jobs at a rapid pace. And this is what this Budget does, Madam Speaker.
The 13 Mega Projects
23. Our very first action is to unlock 13 employment-rich mega-projects that will be spread across the country. Eight of these projects will be designed on the ‘Smart City’ concept that will bring about a total revolution in the way we live, work and play. The smart cities will be designed to:
? Be environment friendly
? Generate its own resources in terms of energy and water
? Provide for state of the art connectivity
? Provide smart modern transportation
? And reduce traffic congestion across the island.
24. Madam Speaker, this is a legacy we will want to leave for our children and for their children.
25. These ‘ Smart City’ projects include
i. The Omnicane airport city in the south-east.
ii. St Félix Village projects in the south.
iii. The Médine Integrated Park in the west.
iv. Roches Noires in the north-east.
v. The Azuri Phase 2 project in the north.
vi. The Terra project in the north.
vii. The Highlands City in the centre.
viii. The Richeterre Project in the vicinity of Port Louis.
ix. And 5 ‘Technopoles’ at Highlands, Rose Belle, Flacq, Rivière du Rempart and Bambous.
26. Madam Speaker, six of these projects are ready for implementation.
27. Altogether, the 13 megaprojects will drastically optimise the utilisation of some 7,000 arpents of land, mobilise some Rs 120 billion rupees of much needed private and foreign direct investments, create thousands of jobs, and give a tremendous boost to the construction industry which has been contracting since 2011. Our country will soon be ‘ un vaste chantier de développement’
SMEs -‘ Île Maurice Nation D’entrepreneurs’ : The SME Bank
28. Madam Speaker, I now come to the most ambitious goal of this Government – making the SME sector the backbone of our economy.
29. Let me ask this question. Should we continue with business as usual and perpetuate an economic system that favours concentration of the productive assets of our economy in the hands of a few? Or do we empower more of our citizens to become entrepreneurs to have a wider participation and better sharing of the wealth we create as a nation?
30. Madam Speaker, here also we have come to the crossroad and we must choose the right course.
31. So far we have only seen a piecemeal and fragmented approach to providing support to the SME sector. The outcomes have been far below expectations.
32. We need a more coherent strategy and scheme that provide meaningful support at all levels to young entrepreneurs; from conceptualisation of a project, to its realisation. It will cover support on financing, choice of production methods and technology, and marketing. To achieve this, I am proposing a comprehensive “One Stop Shop” approach to the SME sector.
33. First, I am launching the Small and Medium Enterprises Bank (SME Bank) to provide seed capital to entrepreneurs without any need for personal guarantee. As I have said on several occasions, an amount of Rs 10 billion will be made available to the Bank over the next five years, starting with a share capital of Rs 200 million and a line of credit of Rs 2 billion from Government for its first year of operation. The SME Bank will be located on the ground floor of SICOM Tower at Ebene.
34. Second, we are setting up a One-Stop-Shop which will provide under one roof, all the support, financing and information, as well as the delivery of all the permits and licenses that SMEs require to start and grow their businesses. This One Stop Shop, managed by SMEDA, will be located on the first three floors of the SICOM Tower at Ebene.
35. Third, to further facilitate the young entrepreneurs in their business ventures, access to working capital will be ensured by the State Bank of Mauritius which will have a dedicated desk in the SICOM Tower.
36. Fourth, SMEDA will operate on a fast track mechanism to ensure that all necessary permits and approvals needed to carry out business are delivered within the minimum time. In this context, the number of permits and licenses will be streamlined and reduced to the strict minimum.
37. Fifth, in line with the spirit of One Stop Shop, the New SMEDA will be empowered to collect Trade Fees on behalf of local authorities.
38. Sixth, – and this is a major fiscal incentive – SMEs registered under the Scheme will be exempted from the payment of corporate tax for a period of 8 years.
39. Seventh, Government is significantly increasing the industrial space for SMEs by creating 7 more SME Parks in addition to the 3 recent ones at Roche Bois, La Tour Koenig and Bambous.
40. Eighth, VAT registration threshold is being increased from Rs 4 million to Rs 6 million. This measure concerns all SMEs.
41. Ninth, the turnover threshold for submission of quarterly return under the Advance Payment System is being raised from Rs 4 million to Rs 10 million.
42. Tenth, the annual fee payable to the Registrar of Companies by a small private company with turnover not exceeding Rs 10 million is being reduced from Rs 2,500 to Rs 500.
43. We are confident that our youth will boldly move in this sector of great future. In fact, Madam Speaker, this generous package of incentives will be further improved. I am inviting the youth of our country to motivate us to bring about further improvements.
Transforming the Port-Louis Harbour: From a Destination Port to a Regional Hub
44. Madam Speaker, after dealing with the forthcoming mega projects to put our country on the path of a modern smart Mauritius, – after introducing the ambitious SME “Ile Maurice Nation d’Entrepreneurs” project – our next endeavour for high investment-high employment is the transformation of the Port-Louis Harbour from a destination port to a regional hub.
45. I have indicated to the nation on several occasions, that there will be unprecedented high investments over the next five years in the port infrastructure. This project will connect Port-Louis to almost all the ports in the region and many more beyond our region. It will enable thousands of vessels to drop anchor in our harbour while supplying a wider variety of port and maritime services. Thus, the port will become a key contributor to the development of the ocean economy, creating vast opportunities for our SMEs, and thousands of new jobs for our labour force.
46. This ambitious project will entail developing the port on an area extending from Grand River North West to Baie du Tombeau.
47. This single project has the potential of a double-digit contribution to GDP in the long-term. The sheer scale of that development warrants a well-thought-out strategy.
48. The Mauritius Ports Authority is therefore coming up with a new Masterplan focused on making the Port-Louis harbour a hub for bunkering, seafood, transshipment, cruise and petroleum.
49. The Masterplan will also include the development of a full-fledged marina.
50. Huge investments are already being made to expand the activities of the port, including extension of the berths at the Mauritius Container Terminal, refurbishment of three existing quays cranes, and development of the Island Container Terminal.
51. Offshore bunkering activities will start before the end of this year, while the storage facilities for onshore bunkering are being expanded significantly with the participation of international petroleum companies.
Restructuring the IRS/RES
52. Madam Speaker, let me come to the issue of IRS/RES as another contributor to our high investment- high employment objective. We believe that the IRS and RES schemes need to be reviewed in depth. We are deeply concerned with the adverse impact of IRS and RES projects on our society. While the two schemes have brought benefits we have also seen undesirable consequences. The most serious is that many of these projects, if not all, have become enclaves which constitute a serious risk to the very fabric of our society.
53. Government is therefore carrying out an in-depth analysis of the weaknesses and shortcomings of the IRS and RES. Our aim is to design a single scheme that would be centered on inclusive development, doing away with gated communities and providing for a wide range of living, employment and leisure opportunities to both locals and foreigners. New regulations under the Investment Promotion Act will then set out the parameters of the new scheme. New Planning Policy Guidelines will also come in force. The new package will be announced next month.
V. TRAINING AND HUMAN RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT
54. Madam Speaker, the mega projects as well as the development of the SME sector will require substantial appropriately trained labour force, especially at the technical and middle management level.
55. We have an education and training system that is not capable of producing such skills at the pace and quantum that the economy needs.
56. We are certainly at the crossroad for our education system also. Do we want to continue producing hundreds of ‘Gradués Chomeurs’ every year, who have received training in fields for which there is no outlet. Or do we want an education system that caters for the need of the new economy? We are in dire shortage of middle management and qualified skills.
57. So, we are engaging today in a new direction on this question of manpower training and development.
58. First, Government will use the three campuses presently under construction at Réduit, Montagne Blanche and Pamplemousses as follows:
? The Réduit campus will be used to house a Polytechnic which will offer courses in Middle Management, ICT and other ICT-related fields.
? The Montagne Blanche campus will be reserved for a Polytechnic offering courses, mainly in Tourism, and Hotel Management, including cruise tourism.
? The Pamplemousses campus will offer courses mainly in health care for nurses, technicians and trained personnel in the medical field, especially in the maintenance of sophisticated medical equipment.
59. Second, there are presently some 3000 ‘gradués chomeurs’, whose training does not match market requirements. To improve their chances of getting a job, the University of Mauritius and other qualified institutions will develop tailor-made crash courses in fields with high job prospects. Government will cover the cost of fees amounting to around Rs 80,000 per student per year.
60. Third, the role and functions of the Mauritius Intitute of Training and Development (MITD) will be reviewed to put a much greater emphasis on training plumbers, electricians, welders, masons, carpenters, and other technicians for which there will be increasing demand as the ‘vaste chantier de développement’ unfolds.
61. Fourth, a ‘Chambre des Métiers’ is being set up with a view to giving greater recognition to the skills and competencies of trade persons and other technicians. It will deliver ‘cartes de compétences’ to its registered members.
VI. BUSINESS FACILITATION AND INVESTMENT
62. Madam Speaker, after dealing with investment, employment and training, let me come to the issue of business facilitation. To generate the kind of investment that will generate a growth rate exceeding 5 per cent will require a conducive business environment, one that is free of cumbersome procedures, and that will allow for fast decision making.
63. To this end, greater powers will be given to the Fast Track Committee to expedite the approval process and facilitate the implementation of major investment projects.
64. Second, we plan to abolish a total of 70 – yes 70 permits and licenses that have become obsolete, and irrelevant.
65. Third, the renewal of some types of licenses and permits annually will become automatic simply upon payment of fees, including through e-payment.
66. Fourth, operators will also be given the possibility for renewing their licenses for a period of up to 3 years.
67. Fifth, operators in the tourism sector will be given the possibility of an omnibus permit for their various activities.
68. Sixth, Madam Speaker, an appropriate wage policy is an essential component of a favourable investment climate for attracting FDI. Government is carrying out a study of the labour market and the wage policy to bring it in line with the need to boost investment. Every worker and employee in our society must get his fair due in the development process.
VII. SECTORAL REVIEW
69. Madam Speaker, I will now announce our strategies to boost investment and employment in key traditional sectors of our economy.
Agro industry and fishing
70. First, small planters. As we know, small sugarcane planters, defined as those producing up to 60 tons of sugar, have been facing difficulties due to adverse market conditions for sugar. Indeed, the price per ton has dropped from Rs 17,500 for crop 2012 to Rs 12,400 for crop 2014. I am pleased to announce that the SIFB will give to those small planters a one-off compensation of Rs 3,400 per ton of sugar for crop 2014, while the remaining categories will receive Rs 2,000 per ton.
71. Second, DBM will waive all interests and penalties on loans of up to Rs 100,000, to planters, fishermen and breeders, provided they pay back the outstanding capital amount within a period of 90 days.
72. Third, for pig breeders the arrears of interest and penalties will be waived on the loans advanced under the Pig Sector Restructuring Programme.
73. Fourth, the subsidy provided to animal feed, including for cows, will be doubled to Rs 4 per kilo.
74. Fifth, concerning the fisheries sector, Government is creating vast new opportunities for fishermen to engage more and more in aquaculture through partnership with large operators.
75. Coming to bio-food, Madam Speaker, the quality of food we consume has a direct correlation with the health of the population. Yet, we have noticed a disturbing trend during the last decades. The food we consume is more and more contaminated with pesticides, insecticides, fungicides and other chemicals. Studies are confirming that a number of diseases are linked to this new consumption pattern. To deal with this issue we are launching an intensive campaign to sensitise the population on these risks and to shift to the consumption of bio food.
76. To encourage the production of bio food, we are introducing a “Bio Farming Development Certificate”. This will include a package of incentives among which will be, an 8 year tax holiday, and exemption from various taxes and duties on importation of bio food inputs. Bio-farming will be one of the priority sectors under the SME scheme I have just announced. We have the ambition of producing no less than 50 per cent of our total local food production according to bio norms.
77. We must also ensure that food is distributed under right hygienic conditions. To this end, Government is investing some Rs 370 million in a national wholesale vegetable market and Rs 223 million in a modern slaughterhouse.
78. Madam Speaker, the manufacturing sector is not being left to itself. An inter-ministerial committee has been set up to look into the issue of tariff protection for sensitive local industries especially against dumping practices.
79. To facilitate the modernisation programme, particularly in the textiles sector, the Accelerated Annual Allowances provisions in the Income Tax Act will be improved.
80. Furthermore, the Freight Rebate Scheme will be extended to other ports in Africa and open to all shipping lines.
81. We are providing Rs 442 million in this Budget to the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Consumer Protection to support the manufacturing sector as it gears up to meet the challenges of stiffer global competition.
82. As regards the tourism sector, we are increasing in a big way the Budget for MTPA from Rs 390 million to Rs 560 million.
83. Second, the MTPA will be restructured for greater flexibility and effectiveness to meet the objectives set for the tourism industry.
84. Third, Government is taking a more liberal approach to open air access.
85. Thus, starting October 2015 Austrian Airlines will operate one weekly flight to Mauritius.
86. And, as from December 2015, Lufthansa will operate two weekly flights to Mauritius.
87. Government will negotiate with airline companies for stopovers in Mauritius on the UK-Australia route.
88. Negotiations are also being engaged with other airlines to expand the air connectivity to Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
89. Fourth, the Budget also provides for a tourism sites embellishment programme and for raising the standards of operators in the industry.
Developing the ICT sector as a Key Driver of Development
90. I will now announce our policies to boost investment, growth and employment in the ICT/BPO sector.
91. First, as our ICT sector moves up the value chain, Mauritius will have a third international gateway through the installation of a new submarine cable. This will connect both Mauritius and Rodrigues to the rest of world.
92. Second, the whole island will have full broadband fibre connectivity within the next 3 years.
93. Third, to ensure an adequate pool of appropriately qualified personnel, the ICT Skills Development Programme will be extended to cover training for unemployed youths even if they do not have a job placement.
94. Fourth, we are introducing a Scheme whereby ICT companies that recruit a minimum of 100 employees will be allowed to bring in a quota of foreign qualified employees. This will encourage the big global ICT players to set up business in Mauritius.
95. Fifth, the number of free WIFI hotspots will be increased from 15 to 350.
96. Sixth, I am pleased to announce the abolition of the 10 cents levy on SMS.
97. Seventh, I am providing Rs 125 million to fund a National Innovation Programme. The main aims of the Programme are to foster a new culture of research and development and give a spur to the creation of new and innovative products and services.
A Sound, Stable and Inclusive Financial Services Sector
98. As regards the financial services sector our measures and policies are aimed at consolidating and diversifying both our product base and markets.
99. First, Government will introduce a special Financial Sector Incentive Scheme to attract international Asset and Fund Managers to relocate their front-office operations in Mauritius.
100. Second, The Financial Services Promotion Agency will be reactivated for more effective promotion campaigns, especially to diversify our Global Business activities in Africa.
101. Third, a Financial Services Institute is being set up at Réduit to provide specialised training courses that are focused on the actual needs of the industry.
102. Fourth, to revitalise the secondary market for Government Securities, the Bank of Mauritius will provide market makers with an exit mechanism.
103. Fifth, the Income Tax Act is being amended to exempt non-resident corporate bond holders from withholding tax.
104. Sixth, the Insurance Act will be amended to enable the issue of insurance policy documents in digital format.
105. And seventh, the clear statement made by Prime Minister Modi during his last visit in Mauritius has reassured all stakeholders in the global business sector that India will do nothing to harm this sector. We will cooperate fully with Indian authorities to bring to a fruitful conclusion our discussions on outstanding issues relating to the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement.
106. Madam Speaker, concerning the ocean economy, a new Petroleum Bill will be introduced shortly to provide the legal and fiscal framework for exploration and exploitation of hydro-carbon resources in our Exclusive Economic Zone.
107. Government is also setting up a National Ocean Council to ensure better coordination among all stakeholders both public and private to implement the Ocean Economy project.
108. I must also add that the new Faculty of Ocean Studies at the University of Mauritius is offering courses in Oil and Gas Enterprise Management in collaboration with Aberdeen University.
VIII. ENVIRONMENT, ENERGY, WATER AND WASTE MANAGEMENT
109. Madam Speaker, I will now speak about the policies and measures to better protect and enhance our environment.
110. We have seen how global overexploitation of natural resources and carelessly planned development can cause irreversible damage to our planet and its ecosystem. Madam Speaker, “notre planète est en détresse” and we should not underestimate the urgency for exceptional measures worldwide to save our planet.
111. The need to take urgent and immediate measures for the protection of the environment is compelling. It’s now or never.
112. Let us not forget that our planet can well exist without us but we cannot live without this planet.
113. Our future is in our own hands.
114. That is why this Government has formulated a comprehensive set of measures to protect the environment.
115. First, the National Environment Commission, chaired by the Prime Minister, will be revived to create better synergy among the various stakeholders to address important environment concerns and issues.
116. Second, as natural calamities can seriously damage the environment, we need to be constantly in a state of preparedness. In this context, Government has set up the National Disaster Management Centre under the aegis of the Ministry of Environment to ensure quick response to any major unforeseen event.
117. Third, to address the recurring and often tragic problem of flooding, I am providing total resources of Rs 1.3 billion in this Budget for priority drain works across the island.
118. Fourth, on our last mission to Rodrigues, I was impressed by the decision of the Rodrigues Regional Assembly to ban plastic bags. We realised that this ban has enabled the flourishing of small scale initiatives to replace plastic bags. After careful consideration and consultation we have decided to ban the use of plastic bags in Mauritius effective on 1st January 2016.
119. Fifth, a Mauritius Renewable Energy Agency is being set up to promote the development of renewable energies. In this context, it will work out a package of incentives for small energy producers. Government is aiming to raise the share of local renewable energy in the electricity generation mix to 35% or even higher by 2025.
120. Sixth, to encourage households to have their own solar energy unit, I am allowing the total investment in such equipment to be deductible from chargeable income.
121. Seventh, investment in solar and other renewable energy will be eligible for financing as well as other incentives under the SME Scheme I announced earlier.
Wastewater and Solid Waste Management
122. Madam Speaker, wastewater and solid waste management are also crucial to our policies to protect and enhance the environment.
123. Regarding wastewater services, priority will be given to regions that are highly vulnerable to environmental and health hazards. Accordingly, a total of Rs 3 billion will be invested by June 2018.
124. An amount of Rs 229 million will be invested in an interim facility for the storage of hazardous wastes at La Chaumière for subsequent exportation to treatment and disposal facilities abroad.
125. A new waste recycling facility will be implemented at La Brasserie.
126. Government is conscious of the injurious effects of asbestos on the health of the population. We are therefore, earmarking an amount of Rs 100 million for dealing with the asbestos issue in public buildings.
Water: A Basic Human Right
127. I now come to the utility sector. I will first announce measures for the water sector.
128. Madam Speaker, water is a basic human right. Some countries such as South Africa have even enshrined it in their constitution and offering a certain level of water supply free of charge.
129. This Government fully subscribes to this philosophy. Therefore, every household in our country will be entitled to at least 6 cubic metres of water per month free of charge. The new Utility Regulatory Authority will be responsible to implement this decision.
130. Madam Speaker, we have decided to change all the defective water pipes in the network to reduce the huge losses in transmission. To this end, I am introducing an item in the Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) with a project value of Rs 20 billion to be implemented during the next 8 years.
131. In this Budget, I am providing a total of Rs 3.5 billion for the water sector.
IX. MODERNISING LAND TRANSPORT
132. Madam Speaker, I now come to land transport. As promised during the electoral campaign we have, as a matter of top priority, modified the penalty point system to the satisfaction of all drivers. Road safety remains, however, a concern which this Government will address in a meaningful way.
133. The whole population was shocked to learn about the extensive damages to the Terre Rouge – Verdun motorway, in such a short period of time after its inauguration.
134. Government is urgently tackling this problem.
135. Furthermore, Government is investing in:
First, a fly-over at Decaen street to reduce traffic congestion in and out of Port-Louis.
Second, the design of the fly-over over the Phoenix and Jumbo roundabouts will be accelerated.
Third, a new bridge to link Coromandel with the motor way. 23
And fourth, a study to examine the feasibility of operating a ferry boat between Pointe aux Sables, Port-Louis, and Baie du Tombeau.
136. As regards public transport, the National Transport Corporation will proceed with the acquisition of 100 semi low floor buses to modernise its fleet.
X. OPENING MAURITIUS TO THE WORLD
137. I now turn to our economic partnership with Africa and the crucial role which this partnership will play in future.
138. Our first action will be to redefine the role of the Mauritius Africa Fund which will concentrate on the development of Special Economic Zones (SEZ) in various African countries. Three countries namely Madagascar, Ghana and Senegal have already expressed their intention to work with Mauritius on the above projects.
139. Second, we are setting up a regional shipping line to expand regional trade and the role of our port in the region.
140. Third, the Board of Investment will be posting 8 Trade and Investment Managers in strategic cities around the world, that include Beijing, Geneva, Pretoria, London, Moscow, Mumbai, New York, and Paris. They will be based in our embassies.
XI. RODRIGUES AND OUTER ISLANDS
141. Madam Speaker, I now come to Rodrigues. I would like to speak about important actions we are taking to ensure that the development of Rodrigues keeps pace with that of Mauritius.
142. We owe this to the Rodriguan people – the more so because, as in Mauritius, there is great scope in Rodrigues for rapid progress in diverse economic sectors.
143. During my pre-Budget visit to Rodrigues, I saw for myself various areas of development where action can be taken in the immediate. Indeed, I announced a series of measures to help their implementation. Among the actions taken, was the reduction in the return airfare from Rodrigues to Mauritius which has been effective since 15th February; the guaranteed price scheme for certain basic products and the extension of the Youth Employment Programme to Rodriguans.
144. In this Budget, we are doing more. We are providing funds for starting the implementation of three major projects that will improve significantly connectivity with Rodrigues.
145. These include:
First, the acquisition of an appropriate new vessel for both merchandise and passenger transport in replacement of the Mauritius Pride.
Second, the extension of the Sir Gaetan Duval airport with a project value of Rs 2 billion to accommodate larger aircraft. In this connection, Air Austral will operate twice weekly flights on the Reunion-Rodrigues route as from May this year.
Thirdly, a consortium is being put up by Mauritius Telecom to install and operate the undersea fiber optic cable linking Rodrigues to Mauritius and to the rest of the world.
146. Moreover, we are providing for:
? An SME ICT park for the ICT/BPO activities;
? The conversion of the unutilized slaughter house into an SMEs Agro-Industrial Park;
? Further developing the fishing industry and providing for new training facilities for fishermen;
? And, a special training and placement scheme for Rodriguan graduates.
147. To enhance the income of planters in Rodrigues, the Agricultural Marketing Board will purchase the whole surplus production of onion, garlic, saffron, ginger and red beans at guaranteed prices.
148. In view of the acute shortage of fresh water in Rodrigues there is an urgent need for desalination of sea water. To this end, Rs 120 million has been provided in the two Budgets.
149. This Budget also makes a provision of Rs 2.4 billion to meet the recurrent and capital Budget of Rodrigues Regional Assembly for calendar year 2015.
150. We are confident that our visit to Rodrigues has laid the foundation for a new paradigm based on mutual respect and acknowledgement of the specificities of Rodrigues within the Republic.
151. Regarding Agalega, with the assistance of the Indian Government, Rs 750 million will be invested in the construction of a new airstrip and new jetty facilities.
152. Regarding LOCAL AUTHORITIES. A glaring issue that local authorities will be dealing with in this financial year is the relocation of street hawkers. A Hawkers Centre at the Northern Bus Terminal in Port-Louis has been approved. Implementation of this project will start this year.
153. Grant in aid to Local Authorities has been increased to Rs 2.8 billion.
XII. SOCIAL REVIEW
154. I will now elaborate on our policies for the social sector.
155. I shall touch successively on health care, education, Marshall Plan Against Poverty, law and order, ‘nation zougadère’, child protection and family welfare, youth, sports, arts and culture.
156. Madam Speaker, on health care our policy is to improve quality and delivery, reduce waiting time, and keep up with latest medical technologies while promoting greater efficiency.
157. To this end, Government is providing an amount of Rs 9.7 billion in this Budget.
158. A number of new projects will be implemented ranging from the setting up of a New Cancer Centre, to the implementation of the e-health project, and to the construction of a new state-of-the-art ENT hospital.
159. Furthermore, the primary health care services will be improved by implementing round the clock services in several Mediclinics and Area Health Centres.
160. To reduce long queues and backlog for surgery in hospitals, we are recruiting one hundred doctors on a full time basis and other specialists on a sessional basis.
161. Furthermore, we are recruiting another 1,400 supporting medical staff ranging from nurses to pharmacy technicians, and health care assistants.
Education: Building the Knowledge hub of the future
162. I will now speak about education. I am providing an amount of Rs 14.7 billion to the Ministry of Education to improve the quality of education from pre-primary to tertiary level, implement the nine year schooling, reform the tertiary sector as well as revamp and adapt vocational training to the new needs of our society.
163. This Government will also do away with the malpractices which have damaged the reputation of our tertiary education sector.
164. To rebuild the reputation of that sector, raise quality and meet international standards, Government is coming up with a new Higher Education Bill.
165. Government is also introducing a more transparent and efficient Financing Model based on performance for Publicly Funded Tertiary Education Institutions.
166. Madam Speaker, earlier in the speech I spoke on the necessity to place sharing at the centre of our development agenda. We cannot maintain social peace without a policy of sharing and caring, and without social peace, no sustainable economic progress is possible.
167. We all know the tremendous and exceptional effort that this Government has made in the very first week of its mandate to improve the income of our elderly, handicapped, widows, orphans and other recipients of social benefits. The population is aware that by this single measure we improved the daily life of more than 240,000 of our citizens who were amongst those who suffered the most from the increased gap between the rich and the poor.
168. For the period January 2015 to June 2016, we have made a total provision of Rs 27.5 billion for social security expenditure. The social security Budget tops the list.
169. We are a nation that has always shown generosity and compassion when it comes to national solidarity. This is borne out by the spontaneous act of generosity and solidarity that we all witnessed following the flash flood in Port Louis in March 2013. We are aware that quite a number of our senior citizens wish to donate their old age pension to charitable institutions. I am pleased to announce that all those who donate their pension towards the Marshall Plan Against Poverty managed by the CSR committee, will be exempted from payment of income tax on this amount.
170. Madam Speaker, I now come to housing. To meet the challenges of housing for the low and middle income groups, we are taking the following bold measures:
First, we are providing funds to the Ministry of Housing and Lands for the construction of 1,000 low cost housing units for families whose monthly income is below Rs 10,000.
Second, the size of these housing units will now be increased from 39 square meters to 50 square meters.
Third, we are providing funds for the construction of 700 housing units in the next two years for vulnerable families under the National Empowerment Foundation.
Fourth, we are increasing the grant for casting of roof slab from Rs 65,000 to Rs 75,000 for families earning a 29 monthly income of up to Rs 10,000. This income limit was previously Rs 8,500.
Fifth, we are broadening the categories of households eligible for the grant for casting of slabs. Thus, families earning between Rs 10,000 – Rs 15,000 monthly will benefit from a grant of up to Rs 40,000.
Sixth, we are increasing the grant for purchase of building materials from Rs 55,000 to Rs 65,000 for families earning up to Rs 10,000 monthly.
Seventh, Government is providing 436 serviced plots for families earning a monthly income in the range of Rs 10,000 – Rs 25,000.
Eighth, the exemption from payment of registration duty for a first time buyer of land is being increased from Rs 1 million to Rs 1.5 million
The Marshall Plan Against Poverty
171. The plight of vulnerable families has been getting worse in recent years. The challenge in front of us is formidable. We need to face it with maximum compassion. We also need to be bold. That is why the Prime Minister has announced an Anti-Poverty Marshall Plan so as to get rid of the problem altogether. Today we are creating a solid foundation for that Marshall Plan.
172. I am pleased to announce, under the first leg of the Marshall Plan a major innovative approach in dealing with the problem of poverty. The general and indirect approach adopted so far in the relief of poverty has proven to be most ineffective. The lot of these families has hardly improved. Instead, there has been a deterioration in their quality of life. That is why we have decided to go for a more direct approach in extending support to the very poor families living in identified ‘cités’ and other ‘poches de pauvreté’. The support will be comprehensive, designed to lift in a meaningful way, living conditions and quality of life of these unfortunate families.
173. Madam Speaker, I would like to develop a new concept to allow for institutions that are contributing to CSR to take under their wings those unsustainable pockets of poverty in our country. I am speaking here of the concept of ‘parrainage’. An indicative list of 38 pockets of poverty is at Annex.
174. This concept of ‘parrainage’ is one which extends into the medium and long-term in the sense that when a company takes under its wings a ‘cité ouvrière’, it will take under its responsibility the short, medium and long-term development of that cité.
175. The ‘Parrainage’ will include the following:
? Improving living conditions generally
? Raising the level of employment
? Curbing social ills
? Ensuring that all children attend school and develop fully their talents
? Creating sports and leisure facilities
? And improving quality of life generally.
176. Immediately after the Budget, I will start meeting with major companies to participate in this national initiative to resolve once for all the problem of poverty in those ‘poches de grande pauvreté’.
177. The second leg of the Marshall Plan is to revisit the structure of the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) system to make it more effective. During pre-Budget consultations, several NGOs have raised their concerns on the constraints in accessing support under the CSR system as it is now structured.
178. I have given deep thoughts to the matter, and I have decided to review the CSR system in depth. I have come to the conclusion that the preferred alternative is to let companies decide on how best to fulfil their social responsibility and obligation in a most effective manner. Companies, hereon, will be free to allocate the 2 per cent of CSR according to their own set of priorities.
179. As for NGOs who are looking for support, it will be incumbent on them to convince the companies that their action and programmes deserve support.
180. I am therefore removing all existing CSR guidelines. All companies will however have to submit their annual return to the MRA.
Law and Order
181. Madam Speaker, we are all concerned about the law and order situation in our country. It has been deteriorating rapidly in recent years and we need to redress the situation.
182. First, in this Budget I am making a provision of Rs 7.9 billion for the Police Force.
183. Second, 600 additional police officers will be recruited during the coming year. A modern full-fledged Police Academy is being set up to boost training capacity. New recruits will undergo an intensive training at the Academy before being deployed to police stations. This will go a long way towards a more professional Police Force.
184. Third, we are also providing for the recruitment of specialist forensic accountants and analysts as well as computer and mobile phone experts to improve police investigations.
185. Fourth, an independent Police Complaints Commission will be set up that will be presided by a former Judge of the Supreme Court to ensure that fundamental human rights of citizens are respected.
186. To combat crime we need an effective justice system, one that can deliver justice more speedily. We are therefore increasing the budget of the Judiciary to Rs 600 million to improve Court infrastructure and allow for the recruitment of one hundred additional court personnel.
187. I now come to the thorny issue of ‘Nation Zougadère’.
188. Madam Speaker, during the electoral campaign we took a strong commitment to put order in this mess.
189. Let me announce those measures:
190. First, a total ban on gambling advertisement. This decision takes effect immediately.
191. Second, a total ban on issue of new gaming and betting licenses except for casinos, for a period of five years.
192. Third, a total ban on scratch cards also known as ‘cartes à gratter’.
193. Fourth, we are increasing substantially gaming licence fees and betting taxes. The full details thereof are given in the Annex to this Budget.
194. Fifth, municipalities and district councils will, within a period of 3 years, relocate all gaming houses from city centres to approved designated areas. Government will participate in the cost of relocation.
195. As the House is already aware the number of race meetings has been reduced from 43 to 35.
196. The Gambling Regulatory Authority under the aegis of the Prime Minister’s Office will also come up shortly with more details on operational measures to further curb gambling.
197. Madam Speaker, ‘nation zougadère’ is based on the illusion that life is a jackpot – if you play it right you become a millionaire. Our forefathers taught us the contrary – that prosperity comes with hard work, discipline and dedication.
198. I now come to the issue of consumer protection.
199. Madam Speaker, we have become a nation of consumers and much less a nation of producers of goods and services. In fact, we are becoming too much of a consumer society as borne out by the proliferation of hypermarkets and shopping malls.
200. This trend toward consumerism has had 3 major consequences in our country.
201. First, official statistics are confirming that household debt has attained unsustainable levels. No responsible Government can ignore this trend.
202. Second, this surge in consumption has put unbearable pressure on our imports and the balance of trade has reached alarming levels never seen before. Madam Speaker, our imports have exceeded our exports by a massive Rs 76.8 billion in 2014. This trend cannot be sustained.
203. Third, consumers, very often unknowingly, are being fleeced by stores and financing institutions that sell goods on hire purchase. Consumers are paying 19 per cent interest on hire purchase and a further penalty rate of 5 per cent is charged for any late payment.
204. This scandalous state of affairs cannot continue. I am, therefore, proposing a series of measures to further protect consumers.
First, concerning hire purchase, I am reducing the maximum interest rate from 19 per cent to 12 per cent, and the penalty rate from 5 per cent to 2 per cent.
Second, all suppliers of goods and services must display prices inclusive of VAT. This measure concerns all hotels, restaurants, shopping malls, hypermarkets, supermarkets, and all other distribution networks. In the case of shops, the price tags should display only the price inclusive of VAT. The Finance Bill will provide for appropriate sanctions in case of non-compliance.
Third, coming to banks, numerous consumers have complained about excessive fees charged by banks, including on credit card transactions. As a first step I am setting up an Office of Ombudsperson on Financial Institutions which will deal with complaints received and recommend appropriate remedial action. Furthermore, the Bank of Mauritius is planning to implement the report on abuses of commercial banks released recently.
Fourth, a special committee is being set up to examine the Report of the Commission of Enquiry on Sale by Levy for expediting the implementation of its recommendations.
205. I am confident that these measures will go a long way to protect consumers.
Child Protection, Family welfare, and Development Gender Equality
206. Madam Speaker, I now come to our measures to ensure greater child protection, family welfare and gender equality.
207. I must emphasize that child protection remains a primary concern to this Government. This is because children very often bear the brunt of poverty and violence in our society.
208. First, I am doubling the provision for joint government and civil society initiatives to support children and women in distress.
209. Second, I am increasing the number of technical staff at the Child Development Unit by over 50 per cent for the protection of children and families.
210. Third, I am making provision for the Ministry to recruit six more child psychologists.
211. Fourth, the financial assistance scheme for upgrading of the level of services of crèches in deprived areas is being extended pending the implementation of the Marshall Plan against Poverty.
212. Fifth, I am also increasing the capitation grant to NGOs working with children who are victims of abuse by 50 per cent.
Youth, Sports, Leisure, Arts and Culture
213. Madame Speaker, our policies to promote the well-being of our population cannot be comprehensive if we do not give due consideration to the development of sports, leisure facilities, and arts and culture.
214. In spite of Mauritians being great football fans, local football has been practically inexistent for a long period of time.
215. It is only recently that we have seen a pickup in attendance at football matches between professional teams in our Premier League. This positive development must be encouraged.
216. I am, therefore, making a provision of Rs 26 million as Government contribution to the project of professional football.
217. We are also providing for the upgrading of the ‘Centre Technique Francois Blaquart’ at Réduit to provide facilities to our young footballers.
218. To encourage our athletes who are putting in tremendous efforts to represent our country internationally, I am making a provision of Rs 60 million for the Indian Ocean Islands Games.
219. Madam Speaker, ‘Un pays sans culture est un pays sans âme’. We have witnessed over the years a serious decay of our ‘patrimoine nationale’ and a deep feeling of ‘découragement’ among our local artists.
220. To remedy this chaotic situation, we are setting up a Task Force that will comprise experienced people who are dedicated to the cause of arts and culture, to assess the situation and recommend actions.
221. In the meantime, our efforts will be focused on mobilising the required resources under a Public, Private Partnership (PPP) initiative to renovate the Plaza theatre and the Port-Louis theatre, upgrade our museums and other heritage sites, and transform La Citadelle into an ‘espace artistique’.
222. All Smart Cities will be required to invest in dedicated space for the development of arts and culture.
223. Moreover, the SME Bank will have a special desk to assist local artists, sculptors, and musicians to modernise and expand their business.
224. We are also providing for a study on the ‘Stade Musical’ for concerts by local and international artists and the setting up of a National Centre for Performing Arts.
XIII. ENSURING TRANSPARENCY AND GOOD
225. Madam Speaker, I will now speak about our action to achieve the fourth main objective of the Budget which is to ensure transparency, accountability and good governance.
226. Madam Speaker, we cannot overemphasise the importance of transparency and good governance in the management of public affairs. This is an area where Government needs to be constantly vigilant and also ready to effect changes wherever necessary. In this Budget, we are introducing changes which have been long overdue, especially in the crucial areas of meritocracy, procurement, and management of state lands.
227. I will start with meritocracy. We stand firm in our deep faith that every individual should be able to progress in our society, based on his ability and talent rather than on class privilege, political and religious affiliations or wealth.
228. Madam Speaker, job discrimination is unacceptable in the new paradigm of Nation for all – which explains why transparency in job recruitment is quickly gaining ground at all levels.
229. The principle of meritocracy will also be extended to procurement procedures. In view of the opacity surrounding allocation of contracts in the past which has led to shady deals and widespread corruption, we have decided, as a matter of transparency, that all contracts will henceforth be allocated after full and transparent tender procedures. The Public Procurement Act will be amended accordingly.
230. The Central Procurement Board itself will be restructured and it will have more staff in order to expedite the allocation of contracts in a more transparent manner.
Greater transparency in the allocation of state lands
231. Madam Speaker, I now come to state lands, where the need for transparency is greater than ever. We have seen how state lands have been dished out to political ‘protégés’ who sold their rights for hundreds of million of rupees.
232. Madam Speaker, we will start in a determined way to have greater transparency in the process for allocation and management of state lands.
233. First, a Digital State Land Register will be compiled and made public. It will provide comprehensive data on state lands already leased as well as unallocated state lands that may be developed for commercial, industrial and other uses.
234. Second, allocation of state lands will be made on a transparent basis like in Singapore.
235. Third, Government is making it mandatory for the names of beneficiaries of new leases of state lands to be published in the Government Gazette giving details of the lands leased and proposed usage.
236. Madam Speaker, for better governance, we are also reviewing the functioning of the Board of Directors of public sector bodies. The chairpersons will not get involved in the day to day operations of the organisation and will not be entitled to a permanent office. As far as possible CEOs who are directly accountable to the Board of Directors will be recruited on a transparent basis.
Public Sector Reforms
237. I now refer to public sector reforms.
238. I am pleased to announce that at long last the Civil Service College will become a reality. This will be crucial to continuously upgrading the skills and knowledge of public officers through refresher courses and e-learning platform.
239. Government is also investing to make digital technology more pervasive in the Civil Service.
240. Madam Speaker, on a different note, we are increasing the provisions for the Trade Union Trust Fund and the Media Trust by 33 per cent.
Legacy Sovereign Fund: Our legacy to future generations.
241. Madam Speaker, we have a long culture of work and saving for the future. In fact our country would never have achieved so much without this culture of hard work and savings passed on by our forefathers. It is our responsibility to hand over this culture to our children.
242. We are therefore setting up a Legacy Sovereign Fund that will invest for future generations.
243. First, one per cent of total government revenue collection will be credited to the Fund each year.
244. Second, the population will remember that we sold 40 per cent of our shareholding in Mauritius Telecom for around Rs 7 billion rupees and squandered the money. In the same vein, we bypassed international tenders for the SSR airport and paidRs 14 billion for a contract that was not worth more than Rs 8 billion. This gross mismanagement of public funds has unfairly indebted future generations. Madam Speaker, we want to move away from this way of doing things. As from today ALL the proceeds from the sales of government properties will be credited to the Legacy Sovereign Fund for long term investment.
245. Third, Madam Speaker, I would like to recall that I set up in the eighties institutions like the State Investment Corporation, the Mauritius Duty Free Paradise, the Casino de Maurice just to name a few, to inculcate world class management practices in the public sector. I never thought that all those institutions would end up in the shameful situation they are in today. The population will understand our concern not to allow such state of affairs to recur in the future. Therefore, the Legacy Sovereign Fund will be answerable to Parliament to ensure total accountability and transparency as well as robust management.
246. Madam Speaker, many families in Mauritius have sons and daughters who have chosen to stay abroad after their studies. Many of them are highly qualified and experienced professionals. The State has invested in them and their departure constitutes a brain drain and a loss for their country and their family.
247. We are therefore proposing an exceptionally bold package of incentives to attract them back to our country. I am pleased to announce the following measures to encourage the Mauritian diaspora abroad to return and serve our country.
First, an exemption from income tax for a full period of ten years on all their income including worldwide income. 41
Second, an exemption from payment of customs duties of up to a maximum of Rs 2 million on a car that can be purchased in Mauritius or abroad.
Third, they will be entitled to bring back their personal belongings without payment of customs duties and VAT. All Mauritians holding a Mauritian passport as well as their children, whether they have a Mauritian passport or not, are eligible to apply. Those who do not have a Mauritian passport will be granted a permanent residence permit.
All professionals who have worked a minimum of ten years abroad are eligible.
The Board of Investment will manage the whole scheme.
So Madam Speaker, if I have to sum up our appeal to the Mauritian diaspora in four words, I would say: OUR COUNTRY NEEDS YOU.
XIV. MACROECONOMIC POLICIES AND TAXATION
248. Madam Speaker, I will now speak about macroeconomic policies. The Bank of Mauritius will have full independence in formulating and implementing both exchange rate and monetary policies. We are strengthening coordination between the Bank and my Ministry so as to ensure that at all times we have a consistent macroeconomic policy mix.
Prospects for 2015/16
249. Madam Speaker, as regards budgetary prospects for the financial year 2015/2016, recurrent expenditure will require a provision of Rs 93.6 billion, and capital expenditure Rs 12.6 billion.
250. Total revenue is expected to be Rs 90.8 billion, of which tax receipts of Rs 77.8 billion.
251. The budget deficit for 2015/2016 will thus be 3.5 per cent of GDP.
252. Public sector debt will be 54.2 per cent of GDP whereas, if measured by IMF standards, it will be 58.6 per cent.
253. I would like to mention that, in line with our objective to bring greater transparency in the management of public finances, all Special Funds will be closed by end June except the National Resilience Fund and the Build Mauritius Fund which will be phased out gradually.
254. Concerning budgetary figures for the first six months period January to June 2015, they are available in the Estimates 2015 (January to June) which are being circulated. However, the statistical ratios have not been compiled because they are not very meaningful as they should normally be computed on a twelve months basis.
255. Madam Speaker, I will now announce measures on tax administration.
First, I am reducing from 30 per cent to 10 per cent the deposit required from a taxpayer for lodging an objection against a tax assessment made by the MRA or by the Registrar-General’s Department.
Second, the statutory time limit for an assessment is being reduced from 4 years to 3 years. 43
Third, the MRA will have to obtain the approval of the Assessment Review Committee before raising an additional assessment after that period of 3 years.
256. I wish to add that the Finance Bill I will bring to the House soon will contain amendments to various enactments relating to tax administration, public finance and other areas, in line with the objectives of this Budget. These amendments are explained in the Annex to the Budget Speech.
257. Madam Speaker, let me now announce the revision of allowances on personal income tax.
258. First, I am raising all the Income Exemption Thresholds by Rs 10,000. Thus, any individual deriving an income of Rs 285,000 will not have to pay any income tax. Likewise, a couple with two young children and a total income of up to Rs 495,000 will have no income tax to pay.
259. Second, I am also raising the additional deduction in respect of children who are pursuing tertiary studies, whether in Mauritius or abroad, to Rs 135,000 per child. Moreover, I am raising the allowable number of years from 3 years of study to 6 years.
260. My third measure is meant to assist those families who are striving to become the owner of a first home. I have indeed received several representations about the present restrictions in the Interest Relief provisions which limit the deduction to the first 5 years and to a maximum amount of Rs 120,000. I find those requests sensible and accordingly I am taking the following decisions:
? I am eliminating the 5 years restriction; and
? I am also abolishing the cap of Rs 120,000.
As a result, a first-time home-owner will be able to claim relief for the full amount of interest he paid on his mortgage loan and for the full duration of that loan.
261. Fourth, the exemption threshold on the lump sum received as pension, retiring allowance or severance allowance is being raised from Rs 1.5 million to Rs 2 million.
262. Madam Speaker, after announcing those significant tax concessions, after providing for the various Budget measures I have enumerated and after Budgeting for a major strengthening in the social protection system, let me now turn to other fiscal measures.
263. There are a number of options open to me. One option is to increase the rates of excise duty on the usual victims: consumers of cigarettes and alcohol. Another option I have is to reinstate tax on dividends. I have given careful thoughts to those possibilities and I have considered that none of them would be in consonance with the spirit of this Budget.
264. I am therefore pleased to announce, Madam Speaker, that the first Budget of this Government is a NO TAX BUDGET.
265. Madam Speaker, I would like to dedicate this Budget to Sir Anerood Jugnauth, our Prime Minister who has always been a constant source of inspiration to me.
266. I have consulted with all my colleague Ministers and I thank them for all their support and collaboration.
267. I would extend my deep thanks to the Financial Secretary and all the staff of my Ministry for their total dedication and unflinching support.
268. I shall now conclude.
269. Madam Speaker, this Budget goes far beyond a classical Budget and presents to the nation a ‘véritable projet de société’.
270. We are at the crossroad.
271. This Budget is a wake-up call to the nation.
272. The choice is ours.
273. We can choose to adopt a business as usual and allow our society, our economy to decay further.
274. Or we can choose to take the tough decisions needed for a better future for ourselves and our children.
275. Can we take this leap of faith?
276. Madam Speaker, I am confident that we, as a nation, can and will do it.
277. Madam Speaker, I now commend the two Bills to the House.
Mauritius at the Crossroad