SUNIL DOWARKASING

The committee of supply was voted at an electric speed recently, which indicated that the budgetary exercise is over and we will have to wait another year in the hope of witnessing some real crazy measures to save our island’s much affected natural resources.

The first post-pandemic budget was read on the eve of the World Environment Day. There was no better time to come with up with some real green measures that would have changed the usual landscape. The budget has been a melting pot of ideas and as usual paying lip service to the protection of the environment despite some “buzz phrases” like “100 billions to secure a greener and more inclusive development while preserving a strong social fabric”, transition to cleaner, sustainable, low emission and climate resilient country, acceleration towards ecological transition, circular economy, recycling and segregation of waste . The way and the timing that the Rs. 100 bn was announced, hailed as a watershed and gave the impression that a lot of funding will go to the protection of the environment while securing a greener future. The ecological transition that we were all expecting did happen, but through slogans. The measures and financial support did not follow.

It is true that solving environmental challenges and their impact cannot be achieved by financial support only; the right policies and good institutions are needed to implement them. (We have many examples where there is huge spending either by governments and institutions like the UN and others on safeguarding the environment failed). The pandemic has slashed global GHG emissions that we as a global community failed to muster during the last 30 years and it allowed nature to breathe again. This moment was an eye opener for us. As a nation it was an opportunity for us to reflect whether we are doing the right things and doing the things rightly. Unfortunately, our policy makers are back on track wearing the same old shoes. The budgetary measures were pure an exercise of environmental house keeping.

• Only 2 % of the Rs. 100 billion have been dedicated to the NEF and out of which 1.2% for drains in flood prone areas. What is left really for the safeguard of the environment is Rs. 800 million.

• 314 million goes to the continuation of road stabilisation works. This is to complement ongoing work is more which is more infrastructural works rather than pure environmental work.

• Rs. 215 million for the protection of our beaches, lagoons and coral reefs and Rs. 207 million for cleaning and embellishment programs. Earmarking nearly the same budget for the protection of three major marine ecosystems – heavily impacted like our beaches, lagoons and coral reefs – with the budget for cleaning and embellishment establishes two things; i) either our policy makers’ total ignorance of the level that these ecosystems are impacted or ii) paying lip service to safeguard these vital natural assets.

• Paragraph 247, ignited some nostalgic memories of the Ex-MID Commission. Ex-MID Commission was already implementing many of the measures announced. 38 Eco bins were already placed as a pilot project in the district of Grand Port in 2013, composting of green market waste was at an advanced project stage at the Vacoas municipality before the commission was dismantled. As a first step to segregation of domestic waste – The MID Commission launched the household compost bins project. Sorting out and composting of household green waste was already initiated. 7 years ago these projects were knocked down when the MID Commission was dismantled and now these projects are back – it’s a good thing but along the way we lost 7 years.

• I am trying to understand the rationale behind developing “Air Quality Index” (paragraph 252) – every year the Statistics Office comes up with data on ambient air quality in different parts of the island. What is wrong with the actual system? There are established WHO norms on air quality which we need to observe, so why an Air Quality Index? How will that help to improve our worsening air quality?

• Why specific recycling measures only for used tyres and not PET bottles when the latter is far more harmful? (There are only around 30,000 used tyres compared to 100 million pet bottles produced as waste annually)

 

• How does the minister of finance propose to protect the lagoon as he himself announced when there is not a single wastewater project along the eastern and western coast? Is he aware that there are built canals that are used to discharge used water and probably overflowing sewerage directly to the lagoons and that as at 2017 only 27% of the households are connected?

These are some of the issues that I wanted to share; more will follow soon. In fact, we have failed to use the lessons of COVID-19 to better position ourselves better for the creeping tide of climate change. The new normal is just like the old normal of 2019. We should not have even tried to get back there again, but unfortunately the 2020/21 budgetary environmental measures does just this?