A Dream Merchant as defined by Google is “a person, as a moviemaker or advertiser, who ponders on or seeks to develop the public’s craving for luxury, romance, or escapism.” We have many such persons in our country and they will have their season very soon and the public in general will be witnessing their presentations in the very near future.
The National Budget 2023/2024 will be presented in our National Assembly on Friday. That event, if it can be called so, will be given lots of visibility and, as in the past, many hours shall be allocated for debating upon the contents thereof. All members of the National Assembly, from both sides of the House, are allotted time to give their views on the proposals. But very few will talk on the Budget proposals and rather seize the opportunity to glorify the government and its ministers. In so doing they go beyond the point of debate in mudslinging the opponents by reading well prepared speeches in sitting positions. It is often observed that very few of our Honourable members will, in fact, be debating.
In order to have a clearer vision of the whole scenery we need to go back to the various reports of the Director of Audit on which no time is allocated for debating or commenting upon. Rather it goes on as a simple footnote that the Report of the National Audit Office (NAO) has been tabled and circulated.
Since the question of allocation of agricultural state lands is currently in the limelight, it would be appropriate to note that the NAO has remarked in its 2021-2022 report that “Due diligence should be exercised by the Ministry before approving the pledge of leased agricultural land by lessee.”
It further mentions “Under utilisation of cultivable lands (in experimental stations), leading to reduction in vegetable seeds and propagating materials of flowers and fruits crops production.” No wonder why Mauritius is relying on imported planting materials and also the lack of agricultural diversification.
All the land that was agreed to be vested to Government as per negotiations with the Sugar Estates has still not been retrieved. The same Audit Report further mentions that “of the 10,227.92 acres of agricultural land vested in the Ministry only 7,500.48 acres were leased, out of which 382.8 acres were left in an abandoned state. 3,110 acres of arable lands were not used for agricultural purposes.”
It is unfortunate that many well worked out projects, be it investment-wise and technically viable, have been turned down because of the decisions at the land allocation committee level. One such project that comes to mind is the certified seed production project for which the farsighted Permanent Secretary had allocated 25 acres in a suitable region but the investors preferred backing out (after having already invested a big amount on preliminary works) because of the unwillingness of the forestry services to allow the felling down of some 10 huge tamarind trees which would adversely affect the project. The other one being the production of medicinal and nutraceutical plants and the extraction of materials therefrom. Both projects would give much awaited visibility and recognition. But as it is commonly said, who cares?
On another subject still related to the Ministry of Agro Industry, the NAO (2020-2021) mentions that “The setting up of a National Wholesale Market was contemplated by the Ministry since the year 2008. The main objectives of the project were, among others, to improve the financial livelihood of the planters, provide quality products at an affordable price to consumers and to create a modern marketing infrastructure for handling of fruits and vegetables in compliance with relevant legislations as well as agricultural norms/standards.”
A total amount of Rs 434,9 million had been disbursed on the project including consultancy fees of Rs 16.8 million. It is to be noted that a contract of some Rs 389 million was awarded on 4 October 2018. It ought to have been completed by January 1, 2020. So Covid should not be an excuse in this case.
Many other non-compliance issues have also been observed. Recommendations like revisiting of roadmap for implementation, proper feasibility study and surveys should be carried out and inputs need to be sought from all stakeholders in order to avoid unnecessary expenditure and delays; and the Ministry should investigate extensively on interests of planters prior to coming up with schemes.
We have heard with thunderous applauses from Ministers of Finance (past and present) of many schemes like Promotion of Organic Agriculture, Introduction of Macadamia Nuts as a new export-oriented product, Creation of an Agricultural Park at Melrose and increases in subsidies provided to farmers in order to outdo what predecessors had announced. We are yet to see the results therefrom.
The Report is extensive and mentions many flaws in other Ministries as well. There are various parastatals of different Ministries which have not submitted their annual reports to the National Assembly as prescribed by law. Why is it so? It would not be improper to call them outlaw organisations.
Out of the various living species, three stand out: plants, animals and human beings. It is a known fact that a plant, however big, takes only the amount of water and nutrients that it requires and whenever they are not available, it goes without for a certain time. Similarly, an animal will eat and drink only the quantity of food and water it requires. But man is never satisfied with whatever he gets in life, and he wants even more food, money, power. Why is it so? According to a famous Indian Sage, the reason is simply greed. The fire of greed once awakened in a human, takes greater proportion and it grows until he stops it himself. It is possible to extinguish the fire of greed by thinking of one’s requirements. All one has to do is to ask oneself a simple question whenever the fire of greed for power, money or position is aroused. Is it necessary? Just as in the case of the plant and animal if the answer is no, it is preferable to stop there only. But as the fire of greed is so powerful, it is very difficult to contain it. A human being has to think of his fellow human’s satisfaction as well and not to act as a dream merchant.
One derives power from the mind which activates it through philosophy, altruism and sacrifice. The moment one decides to attain power, the mind activates accordingly. But if the sacrifice and altruism is orchestrated for ulterior motives for self and not to uplift the society, then doom is inevitable. As such it is advised to listen, analyse, assimilate the meanings of the measures before applauding and behaving as a dream merchant. One should be faithful to the oath one has sworn.