Oral Answers to Questions - 17 April 2001
MBC – CHANNELS 1 & 2 – RECEPTION AT BEL AIR RIVIERE SECHE & GRSE
(No. B/196) Mr R. Daureeawoo (Third Member for Montagne Blanche and GRSE) asked the Prime Minister, Minister of Defence and Home Affairs and Minister of External Communications whether, in view of the fact that the existing quality of television reception of MBC 1 and MBC 2 is bad at Bel Air Rivière Sèche and GRSE, he will, for the benefit of the House, obtain information as to what measures the Corporation is contemplating to remedy the situation.
The Prime Minister: Sir, I am advised by the MBC that, with the installation of the relay station at GRSE in July last year, the T.V. reception in the region of Bel Air Rivière Sèche and GRSE has improved significantly, except for about 100 households which are not receiving a good picture of MBC 2 due to the topography of the sites where these houses are located. Otherwise, the low reception, wherever it occurs, may be due to viewers not being equipped with the appropriate antenna.
(No. B/198) Mr A.K. Gungah (Second Member for Grand' Baie and Poudre d'Or) asked the Prime Minister, Minister of Defence and Home Affairs and Minister of External Communications whether he will, for the benefit of the House, obtain from the MBC, the terms and conditions of employment of Mr Trilock Dwarka, as Director-General of the MBC.
The Prime Minister: Sir, I am advised by the MBC as follows:-
Mr Trilock Dwarka was initially appointed Director-General on 20 May 1996, on contract for a period of three years. The contract was subsequently renewed at the expiry of his first term of office for a further period of three years. However, he resigned from his post on 13 September 2000.
As regards the terms and conditions of his contract, he was entitled to the following:-
Rs22,500 a month, this amount was increased to Rs34,270 after the PRB Report of 1998;
25% of actual salary drawn and payable annually;
Chauffeur-driven car of up to 1850 cc and payment of a petrol allowance of Rs2,500 monthly. However, Mr Dwarka claimed all
The fuel costs incurred by him (a monthly average of Rs5,100) and the MBC paid accordingly;
Rent free telephone and free local calls;
Colour TV set provided free of charge at his residence;
Leave & Passages:
As provided for in the P.R.B Report, as follows:
Sick Leave at the rate of 21 working days per annum on completion of one year's service. Sick Leave not taken in a particular year may not be convertible into cash.
21 working days for every year of contract. Annual Leave not taken may be cashed at the end of every year of contract or may be accumulated if contract is renewed.
5% of annual salary.
In addition, with the approval of the then Chairman of the MBC Board, he was paid a monthly allowance of Rs10,670 as from the date of his appointment. Subsequently, on 18 August 1997, the covering approval of the Prime Minister was obtained.
Mr Gungah: Is the hon. Prime Minister aware of the number of trips Mr Dwarka had abroad while he was Director-General at the MBC?
The Prime Minister: No, Sir. I need notice of that question.
(No. B/199) Mr V. Baloomoody (Third Member for Rivière des Anguilles and Souillac) asked the Prime Minister, Minister of Defence and Home Affairs and Minister of External Communications whether he will, for the benefit of the House, obtain information and state the number of cases prosecuted for non payment of alimony since the amendment of the Criminal Code Act in 1998.
The Prime Minister: Sir, I am informed by the Commissioner of Police that between 18 August 1998, date on which the amendment to the Criminal Code was effective to 12 April 2001, thirty-seven (37) cases of non-payment of alimony have been reported to the Police. In these thirty-seven (37) cases, there are four (4) cases of reporting for the second time.
Six of the cases have already been classified; six others have been sent to Court.
The remaining twenty-five (25) cases are still under inquiry.
Mr Baloomoody: Sir, being given that alimony is essential, may I know from the hon. Prime Minister how long it takes once a complaint has been made and the time it is lodged in court. As it is supposed to be urgent, may we know how long it has taken in each case?
The Prime Minister: There is no prescribed time. I suppose that if due diligence is shown in such cases it depends on each case and circumstances also.
Mr Collendavelloo: Sir, since this section is intended primarily to protect poor women who are deprived of support, will the hon. Prime Minister agree, as a matter of policy, to direct the Commissioner of Police that each complaint should be lodged before the Court at least within three weeks to four weeks of the date of such complaint so that people get their money because women and children are left without alimony and support? So, as a matter of policy a directive should be issued.
The Prime Minister: I can do that, but to be fair I must say that it must be done as soon as possible.
(No. B/201) Mr R. Daureeawoo (Third Member for Montagne Blanche and GRSE) asked the Minister of Public Infrastructure, Land Transport and Shipping whether in view of the fact that heavy traffic along the Royal Road from Bel Air towards Grand River South East is increasing, he will state if it is proposed to arrange for pavements to be built along the said road starting from the New Educational College up to Ernest Florent.
Mr Bachoo: Sir, technicians of my Ministry have carried out a survey and they have recommended the construction of footpaths and drains from New Educational College to Ernest Florent over a length of 1.3 km.
The works which are estimated to cost about Rs8 m. have been included in the Ministry's programme of works for the next financial year, and will be implemented if funds are available.
(No. B/202) Mr A. Nancy (First Member for Rodrigues) asked the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance whether in regard to the Loan Guarantee Fund managed by the DBM in Rodrigues, he will state -
(a) the amount earmarked therefor;
(b) the purpose of the Fund;
(c) if this facility is still available; and
(d) whether it will be renewed during the next financial year
The Deputy Prime Minister: Mr Speaker, Sir, the DBM does not manage a Loan Guarantee Fund in Rodrigues. However, I am informed that a company namely, the Rodrigues Venture Capital and Leasing Fund Company Ltd, whose shareholders are the Development Bank of Mauritius and the State Investment Corporation Ltd, is managing the Rodrigues Guarantee Fund.
In respect of parts (a) and (b) of the question, I am informed that the company has at its disposal funds amounting to Rs13 m. for providing security on loans granted by the DBM and other financial institutions, including commercial banks.
Thus, the Rodrigues Guarantee Fund enables small Rodriguan entrepreneurs to raise loans of up to Rs150,000 from financial institutions which, in the normal course, would not have been possible for lack of adequate security. The Rodrigues Guarantee Fund has provided guarantee cover for 364 loans for a total amount of Rs10,765,253. All the loans have been provided by the DBM Ltd.
Insofar as parts (c) and (d) are concerned, I wish to inform the House that the facility under the Loan Guarantee Fund is still available and is ongoing.
(No. B/203) Mr A. Nancy (First Member for Rodrigues) asked the Minister of Labour and Industrial Relations whether in regard to manual workers employed by the State Trading Corporation in Rodrigues, he will state -
(a) the number employed;
(b) the terms and conditions of their employment;
(c) if he received representations from them during his recent visit to Rodrigues; and
(d) if it is proposed to review their conditions of service and, if so, will he make a statement thereon.
Mr Soodhun: Sir, as regards part (a), I am advised that in Rodrigues, the State Trading Corporation employs 9 workers on Permanent and Pensionable Establishment while 89 are employed on a casual basis during the unloading of MV Mauritius Pride.
As regards part (b), the casual workers are paid Rs127.50 per day on the day they attend work, and in addition Rs15.01 per 100 bags handled. They are also entitled to a refund of travelling expenses and a meal allowance of Rs50.
As regards part (c), during my visit to Rodrigues, I met among others a delegation of casual workers of the State Trading Corporation who made various representations with regard to their conditions of employment.
As regards part (d), the Labour Inspector in Rodrigues is conducting an inquiry on these representations.
Mr Clair: I would like to ask the hon. Minister whether the casual workers of the State Trading Corporation are concerned by the Labour (Amendment) Act of 1996 concerning part-time workers?
Mr Soodhun: Sir, there is a provision in the Labour Act concerning contract workers, but as I mentioned, the Labour Inspector in Rodrigues is conducting an inquiry and I am waiting for same so that I can pronounce myself on the conditions of work.
(No. B/204) Mr M. Dowarkasing (Third Member for Curepipe and Midlands) asked the Minister of Education and Scientific Research whether in regard to educational reforms being proposed at the primary level, he will state -
(a) whether ranking at CPE will be abolished;
(b) how the existing inequalities in the present system of education will be reduced;
(c) how the Information Technology programme will be implemented so as to minimize the disparities that it may cause; and
(d) the time frame for the implementation of the new measures.
Mr Obeegadoo: Sir, concerning part (a), having regard to the proposed reforms in education at the primary level, I am proposing that ranking at CPE be
abolished as from the year 2002 so that this year's CPE examination be the last one to be held with the ranking system as we know it.
As regards part (b), the reform proposed aims at reducing the existing inequalities in the present system of education. The abolition of CPE ranking, will do away with the rat race competition in primary schools and will shift the focus on the needs of the child. The new primary curriculum aims at providing a broad-based education to all children and creating, through an integrated and child-centred approach, conditions for their full development.
With regard to part (c), Information Technology (IT) will be taught in all schools by a subject teacher and there will be a minimum of one computer laboratory in each school. The IT curriculum focuses not only on an understanding of IT, but also in its use across the curriculum.
The introduction of this new subject will provide opportunities for all children. By virtue of the "hand-on" and practical methodology and approach to be used, the teaching of IT will provide opportunities for collaborative learning among pupils.
As regards part (d), the Primary Curriculum Renewal Project will be phased in as from next year to be fully operational by 2004. The details are provided in a document which has been circulated to all Members of the House. As the hon. Member is aware, I also held a special briefing session on the subject at the National Assembly on Wednesday last and take this opportunity to thank all Members who attended.
As regards abolition of CPE ranking and associated reforms, details will be made public shortly.
Mr Dowarkasing: Mr Speaker, Sir, to enforce the IT programme, specialist teachers will be needed. Can the hon. Minister inform the House how he intends to overcome this problem?
Mr Obeegadoo: I do not foresee any particular problem, Mr Speaker, Sir. The procedures are under way for the recruitment, in a very short while, of teachers in sufficient numbers to take charge of our computer labs in primary schools. They will be offered a crash training course - as explained in the document which the Member has been communicated - up to the end of this year so that they be available for posting in schools as from next year and facilities provided for further upgrading in due course.
Mr Dowarkasing: We know today that the education sector is suffering a lot in terms of infrastructure; and now each school will be needing an additional IT lab. What is the hon. Minister's plan in terms of improving the structures of the schools?
Mr Obeegadoo: What is envisaged, Mr Speaker, Sir, is that wherever there are available spare rooms in existing primary schools, those rooms where they lend themselves to conversion would be converted into computer labs. Where that is not possible, at least one computer lab will be built. What is envisaged in that for all primary schools with one, two or three streams, we will have one computer lab. In schools where there are more than three streams, there will be, at least, two computer labs. Everything has been minutely planned. We foresee the need for the construction of 222 new computer labs. Funds have been made available. Government has already approved the plans. We are in the process of working with other Ministries concerned such as the Ministry of Public Infrastructure for the detailed phasing in of those constructions.
Mr Chumroo: Will the hon. Minister tell us whether the MIE has been organised to respond to the demands for the teachers' training so as to cope with the situation next year?
Mr Obeegadoo: That is under way, Mr Speaker, Sir. In fact, there is a combined effort of the MIE, of the NCITRC which is located at my Ministry and the Technical School Management Trust Fund to provide training and the infrastructural back-up for the training of those teachers.
Mr Dowarkasing: Regarding the low-achieving schools, does the hon. Minister have any plans in terms of the IT Programme? Because those schools already get some special attention, and will that special attention be given in the IT Programme?
Mr Obeegadoo: Certainly, Mr Speaker, Sir, the hon. gentleman can rest assured that in whatever we are going to undertake in the educational field, priority of consideration will be given to the deprived areas of the country and to the special support schools.
(No. B/205) Mr M. Dowarkasing (Third Member for Curepipe and Midlands) asked the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance whether following the appointment of a Receiver Manager for the Bonair Knitwear, he will -
(a) state if that company has delocalized its activities and has invested elsewhere to the detriment of Mauritian workers;
(b) consider the advisability of laying on the Table of the National Assembly a financial report of the Bonair Knitwear, indicating the investment made, income generated and profit/loss made during the last 5 years;
(c) say if his Ministry has prepared any plan or programme for the preservation of jobs in the textile sector; and
(d) if a comprehensive inquiry aimed at understanding the real situation in the textile sector has or will be carried out.
The Deputy Prime Minister: Mr Speaker, Sir, I shall first reply to parts (c) and (d) of the question before referring to the specific case of Bonair Knitwear.
Mr Speaker, Sir, as the House is aware, the EPZ sector has been facing important challenges, both internal and external. On the external front, it has to face increasing competition from low cost countries while on the domestic front it has had to reckon with rising cost of production. Wage increases in this sector have not been matched by similar labour productivity gains with the result that unit labour costs have been increasing.
In addition to structural problems, last year the EPZ sector was confronted with a sharp depreciation of the euro.
Despite the difficulties that I have just mentioned, the then Government, as usual, did not take any measure to relieve the EPZ sector, thereby putting thousands of jobs at stake. As the House is aware, Mr Speaker, some 380 workers were laid off by Floreal Knitwear in June last year. By contrast, upon assuming office, this Government, after consultations with the various stakeholders involved, including commercial banks, the Joint Economic Council, and the MEPZA, urgently came out with a package of measures.
As the House is aware, the Bank of Mauritius introduced a special scheme for minimising the exposure to foreign exchange risks of EPZ companies exporting to the euro zone. Furthermore, the Bank extended a special line of credit to EPZ enterprises exporting at least 50% of their output to the euro zone. The loans are exclusively for financing modernisation projects aiming at increasing the competitiveness and productivity of those EPZ enterprises.
Indeed, Mr Speaker, it is only through improvement of competitiveness and productivity that jobs can be preserved in this sector. Fully conscious of the need for improving productivity, this Government has set up a separate Ministry responsible for training, skills development and productivity. This Ministry is working out a new training strategy and a programme for expanding skills of our workers. The National Productivity and Competitiveness Council, on its part, has launched various initiatives for improving productivity, both at the level of enterprises and at the national level.
I would also like to inform the House that a study on the textile and clothing sector has recently been commissioned by the Ministry of Industry with the assistance of UNDP and UNIDO. The study has highlighted the strengths, weaknesses, challenges and prospects of the sector in the context of the evolving international trading environment. The report has emphasised that competitiveness of our enterprises can be recovered by upgrading performances with both capital and labour intensive activities. The recommendations made in the report are being implemented by Government and its support institutions.
For its part, the EPZDA, under the aegis of the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and International Trade, is implementing in-plant productivity improvement programmes and is providing consultancy services for business process re-engineering. Furthermore, the Ministry of Industry is providing cost-sharing grants on a demand-driven basis to promote technology driven industrialisation. Priority of consideration is also being given to realise maximum productivity gains through the use of Information Technology.
Mr Speaker, as regards the Bonair group, it has been facing serious financial problems for a number of years. The situation slightly eased up when the euro picked up at the beginning of the year. But the euro has gone down again since around mid February this year, affecting significantly the viability and cash flow of the group.
The group informed both the Prime Minister and myself of the situation. Government used its good offices to secure a sale and lease back arrangement of the group's property assets with a view to preventing the closure of the business. However, the solution proposed required the injection of new capital by the shareholders. As the latter were not prepared to bring in additional working capital, the group finally went into receivership.
With regard to part (a) of the question, Mr Speaker, according to information available, Bonair Knitwear has not delocalised its activities as such. However, I am informed that the group invested about Rs4 m in a knitting plant in Madagascar last year, as have done other operators in the textile sector, and that the investment commitment of the group in Madagascar is about Rs14 m.
Regarding part (b) of the question, in accordance with the provisions of the Companies Act, all companies are required to file their annual returns, including audited accounts, with the Registrar of Companies. The returns submitted by the Bonair group may thus be consulted at the office of the Registrar of Companies.
Mr Dowarkasing: We have listened carefully to all the problems that the EPZ sector is facing, but the problems that the industries are facing cut across all industries. Bonair Knitwear was being considered as being one of the jewels of our textile industry. I think there is something quite fishy there. In 1999, this company made a profit of Rs60 m; in April 2000, they bought a company in Madagascar and in April 2001, they declared bankruptcy. In light of all these information, won't it be advisable that a proper inquiry be conducted on the running of the Bonair Knitwear to see whether, in fact, what they are saying is genuine or not?
The Deputy Prime Minister: We are dealing with a private company and all available information is at the Registrar of Companies. Secondly, I am sure the hon. Member will agree with me, the priority of priority is to try and get somebody to take over the Bonair set-up as an ongoing concern and preserve the employment of the 2,500 employees concerned. This is the priority of priority.
Secondly, Mr Speaker, I am not prepared to say that, in the case of Bonair as in other cases, management has been a hundred per cent above board. I am not prepared to say either that the banks perform always at hundred per cent as they should, but I do not think, specially in the case of Bonair, we should be looking for scapegoats. As I said the priority of priority is to try and get somebody to take over the enterprise on an ongoing basis; and I am sure my colleague, the Minister of Industry and myself, as far as the banks are concerned, we will be taking further measures to do all we can to preserve employment in the EPZ sector and further develop the EPZ sector.
Mr Duval: Can I ask the Deputy Prime Minister what is the situation concerning any companies or persons who may wish to take over the business and assets of Bonair? As he seems to be aware of the situation, can I ask him, who is interested in taking over Bonair?
The Deputy Prime Minister: There is an official receiver who has been appointed as per the law. We are kept informed, the Prime Minister and myself. I understand that there are several groups that are interested. We hope that it will be successful with, at least, one of the groups concerned. The Government, as a facilitator, will do what it can for the enterprise to be kept functioning and the employees to keep their employment.
Mr Duval: May I ask the Deputy Prime Minister whether he is aware of what will happen to the unsecured creditors and to their employees, whether with this new purchaser coming along, if he comes along, the employees and unsecured creditors will get their money back or whether this is now lost to them?
The Deputy Prime Minister: The law provides for all this as the hon. Member knows, even better than me. So, there is an official receiver who has been appointed. As I said, we are only there as a facilitator, but we will see to it that all the provisions of the law are abided by. I repeat, our main concern, the priority of priority, is the employment of those 2,500 employees. It is true, as hon. Dowarkasing said, that the Bonair group had been the flagship of the EPZ and when this happens to Bonair, it is confirmation that the situation is very, very serious in the EPZ sector. This having been said, the Government, since assuming office, has been doing all it can to help the EPZ sector pull through a difficult étape. I am confident that the euro will be better again in the months to come and that will be very helpful.
Mr Duval: The Deputy Prime Minister knows, I am sure, that the longer it takes to find a buyer, the harder it is to sell the company because customers tend to leave and go elsewhere when the company is in receivership. Can I ask him when does the Government expect that a new purchaser will come along?
The Deputy Prime Minister: I cannot give any time frame. The hon. Member knows as well as I do that the purchasers, those who are interested are not charitable institutions. They are looking for the best conditions from their point of view. The law is there. The receiver has been appointed. Government is a facilitator. We shall do all we can to help a deal to be struck as early as possible and to protect the interests of the employees and everybody else.
Dr. Ramgoolam: It is good that the Deputy Prime Minister has taken that attitude that, it is a private company and Government is doing everything to help it, in contrast with what the Minister of Labour and Industrial Relations, hon. Soodhun, said on television, as if pinpointing fingers to the people at Bonair Knitwear. In fact, the Deputy Prime Minister could confirm that the company is in difficulty since end 1993 to 1994.
The Deputy Prime Minister: I congratulate my colleague, hon. Soodhun, who, with courage, went to meet the employees to tell them the truth and to reassure them that Government is doing all it can as a facilitator to pull through. This having been said, for a number of years, the Bonair group has been in difficulty. As I said, I am not prepared to say that there has been no case of mismanagement down the road, but that is not our priority these days; the priority is to try and get the enterprise ongoing.
Dr. Chady: Although I am glad about what the Deputy Prime Minister said as far as the textile industry is concerned, but we know that there has not been a mismanagement in this particular case. I am glad that the Deputy Prime Minister covered the whole textile industry. May I ask him - he has got a lot of facts and figures in front of him – whether with the euro change, is it not possible that a particular industry which is making a profit of Rs60 m. with a turnover of Rs800 m., can swing from a profit to a loss situation in a matter of months?
The Deputy Prime Minister: Mr Speaker, Sir, what happened to the euro last year was deadly and, in fact, I am pleasantly surprised that our enterprises with the help of some of the banks have managed to face this bad behaviour of the euro. As we know, the euro hit all-time low in October last year then it picked up until February and it went up by some 20%, if my memory serves right, but, unfortunately, since February, it has lost two-third roughly of this 20% that it had gained. I remain confident that in the months to come, the euro will pick up again and that makes a big difference. But I would wish to repeat what I said, Mr Speaker, Sir. It is only through improvement of competitiveness and productivity that jobs can be preserved in the EPZ sector and we must talk about development of vertical integration benefiting to the full from the Africa Growth Act. Unfortunately, or fortunately, that is another matter, but when flagship like Bonair is hit like that, it brings everybody down to earth. It is a tough world out there and I think Government, the Opposition, the managers but also the trade unions and the labour force should realise that it is a very tough world outside and that we must all pool together.
(No. B/206) Mr M. Dowarkasing (Third Member for Curepipe & Midlands) asked the Minister of Agriculture, Food Technology and Natural Resources whether, regarding the inquiry on the outbreak of the lumpy skin disease chaired by Mr Harry Ganoo, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Co-operation, he will –
(a) state the outcome thereof and the ensuing measures and sanctions, if any, taken;
(b) ascertain –
(i) whether all parties involved were invited to depone
(ii) the names and professions of the members of the committee of inquiry, indicating
(A) how they were selected and
(B) whether all of them had a clean criminal record and, if not, indicate the nature of the offences committed by any member, his name and the date of such offence.
Mr P. Jugnauth: Sir, as regards to part (a) the Committee of Inquiry chaired by Permanent Secretary, Mr Harry Ganoo, has not yet completed its task.
As regards part (b) of the question, a press communiqué was issued on 2, 3 and 4 December 2000 in two dailies, namely L'Express' and Le Mauricien' inviting any person wishing to depone before the Committee to contact the Secretary of the Committee.
As far as part (c) is concerned, the Committee comprises the following persons –
Mr Harry Ganoo, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Cooperation
Mr Ram Prakash Nowbuth, Principal Assistant Secretary, and
Dr. R. Kailaysur, MVSc, Veterinary Surgeon
As regards part (d), the members of the Committee were selected taking into consideration their administrative experience as well as experience in the relevant field.
As regards part (e), the members of the Committee have clean criminal record.
Mr Dowarkasing: Mr Speaker, Sir, I would like to say that out of the 11 Veterinary Officers, only 3 were allowed to depone before this Committee. One Veterinary Officer insisted that he be called to depone and the other Veterinary Officers were not called.
Secondly, concerning Dr. Kailaysur, he has had many Police records. On 10 November 1996, he was accused of damaging property; on 12 May 1998, he was accused of assaulting a Municipal Inspector and on 11 July 1999, he was accused of wounds and blows on neighbours. Could the hon. Minister check and inform the House?
Mr P. Jugnauth: I have, of course, requested information from the Commissioner of Police who has certified that Dr. Kailaysur has got a clean criminal record. As far as the question of people wishing to depone before the Committee is concerned, I do not see any problem. If there is anyone who wishes to depone and he is not being allowed, he should give a declaration and also write to me. I am prepared to look into the matter. If the hon. Member has got the names of people who wanted to depone and have not been allowed to do so, I will be prepared to look into the matter with the Chairman of the Committee.
Mr Dowarkasing: I have forgotten to refer to the MSPCA where Dr. Kailaysur was working. He was accused of fraud and robbery, dishonesty and gross professional negligence. Is it proper that such a person conducts an inquiry on behalf of his Ministry?
Mr P. Jugnauth: If there have been so many allegations as has been stated by the hon. Member, I find it strange that, up to now, nothing has been done. I can't go by mere allegations. There must be at least a criminal case before the Court and he must have been found guilty. Otherwise, we will never finish.
(No. B/207) Mr M. Allet (Third Member for Beau Bassin & Petite Rivière) asked the Minister of Local Government, Rodrigues and Rural and Urban Development whether, in regard to the traffic centre at Albion, he will state -
(a) the cost of the project;
(b) whether all works associated with the commissioning of the traffic centre have been completed;
(c) by whom it is managed;
(d) the average number of buses using the centre daily; and
(e) whether regular cleaning services are provided thereat and, if so, by whom.
Mr Lesjongard: Sir, I am advised that –
(a) the total costs of the traffic centre project at Albion amounted to Rs9.7 m.
(b) all the works associated with the commissioning of the traffic centre such as telephone, water and electricity installation have been completed;
(c) the management of the traffic centre falls under the responsibility of the Land Transport Division of the Ministry of Public Infrastructure, Land Transport and Shipping;
(d) five buses operate daily between Albion and Rose Hill and four between Albion and Port Louis. The number of releases between Albion and Rose Hill is 44 and between Albion and Port Louis is 20;
(e) since August 2000 the management of the traffic centre was handed over to the then Ministry of Land Transport, Shipping and Port Development. I am informed that the Black River District Council has since then been providing cleaning services at the centre on an ad hoc basis.
However, my Ministry proposes to take up the matter with the Ministry of Public Infrastructure, Land Transport and Shipping with regard to the provision of regular cleaning services at the centre.
(No. B/208) Mr M. Allet (Third Member for Beau Bassin & Petite Rivière) asked the Minister of Fisheries whether he will say if he has received any request for the removal of the old pump near the Albion Fisheries Research Centre and, if so will he state what action has been taken in relation thereto.
Mr Michel: Sir, a request has been received for the removal of the old pump near Albion Fisheries Research Centre.
Tender documents have been prepared and it is estimated that the works will cost more than Rs200,000. Tenders will be floated as soon as necessary clearances are obtained from the Ministry of Environment and the Black River District Council.
I have further been informed that work will start in a month's time.
(No. B/209) Mr A. K. Gungah (Second Member for Grand'Baie & Poudre d'Or) asked the Minister of Tourism whether he will state if there is any project for the creation of a waterfront at Grand'Baie and, if so, will he make a statement thereon.
Mr Bodha: Sir, the creation of a waterfront at Grand'Baie forms part of the integrated resort development project designed for the locality, the end-result being a quality resort development maintaining the authencity of the island with the upliftment of the community. Trou d'Eau Douce and Flic-en-Flac will follow later. The project at Grand'Baie aims at redesigning and redeveloping the existing seafront of Grand'Baie. It consists of four main components –
The upgrading of the village
The development will focus upon upon –
Improving and realigning the existing coastal road.
Creating a new public realm' along this stretch of road as promenade'
Encouraging the urban renewal of existing buildings along the Promenade and within the residential area;
Constructing an inner bypass that will relieve traffic on the Royal Road;
Landscaping and architectural harmonisation; and
Upgrading of the quality of life of the community of Grand'Baie
The project estimate, based on the concept plan provided by the Deloitte & Touche Consultants, is about Rs75 m.
The Grand'Baie Integrated Resort Project will be a milestone in tourism development because it will allow the public and the private sector to join hands together for the benefit of the tourism sector and the people of Grand'Baie.
I wish to inform the House that the Grand'Baie Integrated Resort Project proposal has been approved in principle at the fourth meeting on 29 January 2001 on the tourism sector chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance.
Mr Chumroo: Is the Minister proposing anything with regard to the already congested marine activities in the Grand Bay lagoon?
Mr Bodha: The demands of the different stakeholders in the industry such as the fishermen and the pleasure crafts will be taken into consideration. We have the possibility of creating a marina and a waterfront. We will take on board all the demands of the stakeholders.
Mr Chumroo: Can the Minister say whether we are going to shift the existing parking of the boats?
Mr Bodha: At present, all the pleasure crafts are in the bay. We have two possibilities - either to have the marina near Le Mauricia Hotel, that is, where the boats are now or to have them shifted to another marina near Le Capitaine Restaurant. We are working on the technical possibilities, Mr Speaker, Sir.
(No. B/210) Mr V. Baloomoody (Third Member for Rivière des Anguilles & Souillac) asked the Minister of Industry, Commerce & International Trade whether, in regard to the importation of basmati rice in 1999, he will give –
(a) the details of the bids received;
(b) the name of the successful tenderer;
(c) the date the rice was received in Mauritius and the exact date on which it was put for sale;
(d) whether the rice had to be given away as gift due to its poor quality, and
(e) whether there is any case pending in Court regarding the quality of the rice and the repudiation of the contract.
Mr Cuttaree: Sir, in regard to the importation of basmati rice in 1999, the reply is as follows -
(a) At the opening of tenders on 26 February 1999, launched for the supply of 15,000 metric tons of basmati rice in 1999, 15 offers were received from 12 tenderers. The details of the bids received are being tabled.
(b) Of the 15 offers received, the Evaluation Committee of the STC recommended the rejection of 8 offers for non-compliance with tender conditions. Following legal advice, two additional offers were subsequently rejected for non-compliance with tender documents with respect to the tender bond. From the remaining five valid offers, the STC Board further rejected the offer from Doon Valley Rice Ltd. though it was the lowest tenderer, on the grounds that the tenderer has indicated in its offer that –
(i) the inspection report at loading should be final and binding on both parties; and
(ii) it would pay overage premium only for vessels above 25 years,
and also because the samples submitted by Doon Valley to the STC appeared to contain a high percentage of chalky grain.
The STC had also received a correspondence from STC (India) reporting that Doon Valley had not honoured a deal which they had sub-contracted to it in 1995-96 and that legal action was being taken accordingly.
The Board of the STC, at its meeting on 11 March 1999, thus recommended to award the contract to State Trading Corporation (India) for the supply of 15,000 MT of basmati rice of top grade quality, that is, with 2% brokens, at the price of USD 635 per metric ton C & F in containers.
In spite of all these issues, the then Government overruled the recommendation of the STC Board and nevertheless decided on 02 April 1999 to award the contract to Doon Valley Rice Ltd. for the supply of 15,000 MT of basmati rice with 4% brokens at the price of USD 500 per metric ton.
(c) A first consignment of 5,475 MT was shipped on 24 June 1999 and arrived at Port Louis on 19 July 1999. This consignment was originally scheduled to arrive by end of May 1999. The reason for the delay was that the quality of the rice supplied was not compliant with the tender specifications. A first inspection carried by Bureau Veritas (inspection agency appointed by the STC) at loading showed non-compliance with specifications. However, a second inspection carried after re-processing (trier), showed compliance.
Bureau Veritas (Mauritius) and the Mauritius Standards Bureau took samples of the rice during unloading operations for re-certification tests. Reports submitted in August 1999 showed compliance with specifications.
The rice was finally put on sale on 06 October 1999 at the retail price of Rs8.60 per ½ kg and wholesale price of Rs780 per 50 kg bag. The STC did not consider it opportune to put the rice on the market during the period August to September 1999 as, officially, the market situation during that period showed a glut of the product. But I am given to understand that the real reason was that it was not found advisable to put this poor quality rice on sale during the by-election campaign in Constituency No. 20.
(d) Given the slow sales during the months of October and November 1999, the STC Board recommended to Government to reduce the retail price to Rs8.00 per ½ kg. However, as the rice was developing weevils (moutouk), it was estimated that it should be disposed of within six months. The then Government therefore reduced the price to Rs7.00 per ½ kg as a "millennium promotion sales". I am also informed that 21 bags of 50kg and 46 packs of 2.5kg of this basmati rice, of a total value of Rs14,443 were given as gift to charitable institutions in the context of the millennium celebrations.
The wholesale price was further reduced in August 2000 from Rs610 to Rs540 per bag of 50kg so as to get rid of the rice as quickly as possible.
Presently, some 200 tons of this deteriorating rice still remain to be sold and the STC is likely to register a loss of Rs28 m on this item.
(e) In view of the very poor public response to the rice put on sale, the STC reached an agreement with the supplier to cancel the contract for the remaining 9525 metric tons. The STC thus paid back the performance bond of USD 375,000 to the account of Doon Valley at State Bank of India, but it appears that the bank has not returned the money to Doon Valley. Hence, a case has been entered in Court in India against the STC, State Bank International Mauritius Ltd. and State Bank of India for having restrained the payment of the performance bond. The matter is still pending before Karnal Court in India.
Dr. Ramgoolam: I don't want to talk about anything that took place in Cabinet, but I remember that different reasons were given for different decisions taken, as the hon. Minister is saying. If this is a case of serious maldonne, why doesn't the Minister open an inquiry in all transparency? I would invite him to open an inquiry.
Mr Cuttaree: I will probably send the file to the Economic Crime Office.
Mr Baloomoody: It's clear that there has been political interference and maldonne in this case, and probably more than that. Can I ask the hon. Minister to send the file to the Economic Crime Office for it to investigate into the matter?
Mr Cuttaree: I will have to talk to the hon. Prime Minister about that, but I have no objection to do it.
(No. B/211) Mr S. Sakaram (Second Member for Vacoas & Floreal) asked the Minister of Public Utilities whether, in regard to major sewerage works to be carried out in Cité Mangalkhan Housing Estate, Floréal, he will –
(a) state the total estimated costs of the project, and
(b) say when the project is likely to be implemented.
Mr Ganoo: Sir, the cost of the sewerage works at Cité Mangalkhan is estimated at about Rs30.4 m. Implementation of the project is expected to start in early November this year.
The House may wish to note that Cité Mangalkhan is one component of the Rehabilitation of Infrastructure on CHA Estates - Phase II to be co-financed by the Government of Mauritius and the European Union whereby the sewerage infrastructure on seven housing estates will be rehabilitated. The total cost of the whole project is estimated at Rs226.8 m.
Tenders for the construction works will be floated as soon as the clearance of the European Union is obtained.
(No. B/212) Mr F. Abdoola (Third Member for Stanley and Rose Hill) asked the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance whether, he will, for the benefit of the House, obtain from the State Investment Corporation the following information regarding contracts awarded to "Padco Ltd" for works carried out at Domaine Les Pailles –
(a) whether the works were carried out in accordance with specifications laid down in the contract documents;
(b) whether the terms and conditions of the contract were respected; and
(c) whether any irregularity has been noted and, if so, will he make a statement thereon.
The Deputy Prime Minister: Sir, I am informed that infrastructure works have been undertaken by PAD & Co in the Guibies Valley for Prime Real Estate Ltd, a subsidiary of the SIC, at a total cost of Rs82.5 m. The works started on 23 December 1998 and consisted mainly of construction of drains as part of the infrastructure of a racecourse in the valley.
Preliminary inquiries conducted by the new management of SIC have indicated that there might have been major irregularities in the appointment of the contractor, in the manner in which the project was implemented and in the quantum and timings of the payments. An in-depth investigation into the matter is currently under way.
The House may rest assured that if any case of malpractice is established, the matter would be referred to the Police.
Mr Abdoola: I would like to know from the Deputy Prime Minister whether he would consider extending the inquiry to the Shopping Paradise for the same case?
The Deputy Prime Minister: The Shopping Paradise is a subsidiary of SIC, which is referred to in the question. I am aware that there is prima facie evidence of another massive fraud at the Shopping Paradise under the previous Government, under the previous SIC, and that, as in the case to which I have just referred, a full inquiry is under way, with the assistance of the Revenue Authority.
(No. B/213) Mr J.C. Barbier (First Member for GRNW & Port Louis West) asked the Minister of Information Technology & Telecommunications whether, in regard to NHDC housing estate at Bambous, he will say if arrangement will be made for the provision of additional public telephone booths, pending the installation of domestic telephone lines.
Mr Jeeha: Sir, I am advised by Mauritius Telecom that the works for the provision of domestic telephone service at the NHDC estate, Bambous, have been completed and 45 applications have been received for a telephone line. The applicants are being invited to pay the necessary connection fees, following which they will be provided with phone facilities.
Mauritius Telecom has, this week, received an application for the setting up of a public booth there and the request is being attended to.
(No. B/214) Mr J.C. Barbier (First Member for GRNW & Port Louis West) asked the Minister of Education & Scientific Research whether, in view of the overpopulation at the two primary schools of Bambous, he will say if he intends to set up new classrooms at those schools or alternatively to consider the advisability of constructing a new school in Bambous.
Mr Obeegadoo: Sir, as the House may be aware, within the context of the proposed reform programme, my Ministry has embarked on an ambitious construction schedule for the conversion of 7 former SSS or State Secondary Schools (Vocational) and the extension of four State Secondary Schools by the end of this year, and further, the construction of 22 new secondary educational institutions by the end of 2002.
Moreover, within the context of information technology development of the country, my Ministry is embarking upon the no less ambitious programme of construction of 222 computer labs and 116 reading rooms in our primary schools.
It is, therefore, obvious, Mr Speaker, Sir, that my Ministry will be stretching to the fullest its own resources, as well as those of other Ministries, especially the Ministry of Public Infrastructure, to meet these objectives.
It would, therefore, not be realistic to take on the construction of new primary schools at this juncture. Besides, according to current demographic trends, I am not expecting a marked increase in the primary school population in the years to come. In the light of what obtains, my Ministry will come up with proper arrangements wherever overcrowding problems exist or are likely to crop up.
As for Bambous, I am informed that Bambous A Government School has a school population of 889 pupils in 22 classes whilst in Bambous B Government School, there are 582 pupils in 13 classes. In each class for both schools, there is slightly more than the country average of 37 pupils per class. A plan involving a redefinition of the catchment area is being considered to allow for the redirecting of the excess school population from these schools to Cascavelle Government School which is found at a distance of barely 2 kms from Bambous.
This plan could also cater for any increase in the school population of the area which may come as a result of projected construction of new blocks of NHDC flats in the region.
I wish to inform the House that, where justified, my Ministry will envisage providing free bus transport facilities to ease off any undue hardship to pupils.
Nevertheless, in view of representations received, an overall survey is being carried out to identify problem cases or problem areas and study all possible solutions in the medium to long-term, including construction of new primary schools exceptionally, as and when funds may become available.
Mr Barbier: Can the hon. Minister tell the House what is the recommended number of pupils per class in the primary sector actually?
Mr Obeegadoo: There is no recommended number of pupils. The average is 37 per class at primary level.
Mr Barbier: As far as I know, Mr Speaker, Sir, concerning the pre-primary schools, actually it is recommended that the number of pupils per teacher should not be above 30. For example, at the Municipality of Port Louis, we cannot recruit more than 30 pupils per teacher, per class. So, what about the primary sector? Is there no recommendation at all for an acceptable number of pupils per class?
Mr Obeegadoo: What I am aware of, Mr Speaker, Sir, is that beyond a certain number – if I am not mistaken, it is 40 – the Minister's authorisation is required for a class to be run. The average in the country is 37 and our objective, of course, would be to keep lowering the number of students per class. The objective would be 35 and then 30, 25, 20, bettering the situation as we go along. What needs to be understood is that the average is 37, but we have some schools with 11 students in a class and some where it borders upon 50. So, clearly, the population of a school depends not only on the actual demand in the area, but upon the parental perception of the school as well. What we really need is a multi-facetted approach to the problem. But, of course, in line with all the reforms which are being brought about, the ultimate objective is a reduction in the number of students per class.
Mr Chumroo: Is it, therefore, implied that if the Municipality of Port Louis wants to increase the number to 40, it may do so? As far as pre-primary schools are concerned, where the demand is high, can the Municipality of Port Louis be allowed to take up to 40 pupils in a class?
Mr Obeegadoo: I am not aware of any particular request from the Municipality of Port Louis in that direction, Sir, but I shall look into it.
Mr Chumroo: If there is a request, they will be allowed to…
Mr Speaker: I have to draw the attention of hon. Members that this question is specifically on Bambous.
Dr. Chady: The Minister talked about the whole island in his reply. He said that it is not acceptable to have classes of above 40 pupils. There are more than 50, 55 in certain classes. I am just passing the information to the Minister of Education, because he makes it look as simple and easy. As usual, this is bla-bla-bla.
This is why they are not taking it seriously. Can the Minister say when the survey he wants to carry out will start and when it will end?
Mr Obeegadoo: What I said, Mr Speaker, Sir, is that, naturally, we have had representations from different Members of the House concerning such and such areas. Various problems have been raised here; problem of 16ème Mile, Albion, Grand Baie, La Flora. So, what is being done is an overall survey to identify what I call problem areas, the problem areas being where we have experienced a sudden rise in the population due, for instance, to movement of population, construction of new NHDC blocks where the resources of the existing primary school are stretched to the limit by a sudden increase in demand. In those cases, we shall envisage all different possible solutions like, as I said, redefinition of catchment area, provision of free bus facilities which is the case in many areas and, exceptionally, where there is no other realistic solution, construction of a new primary school in the medium to long-term, because this, of course, implies huge investments.
At 1.05 p.m. the sitting was suspended.
On resuming at 12.35 p.m. with the Deputy Speaker in the Chair.
(No. B/215) Mrs F. Labelle (Second Member for Beau Bassin & Petite Rivière) asked the Minister of Education & Scientific Research whether he will state what action he proposes to take for the repair of the wall behind Marcel Cabon State Secondary School, which was damaged following flooding of the school yard in December last.
Mr Obeegadoo: Sir, immediately after it was reported that the wall behind Marcel Cabon State Secondary School had been damaged, my Ministry assessed the extent and nature of work that was required. Thereafter, tenders have been floated, and a contract has been awarded for the erection of a reinforced concrete retaining wall of 28.5 m in length in replacement of the damaged wall. The contract period is six weeks.
Works have already started last week, with the demolition of the damaged boundary block wall and construction of the new wall should be completed in six weeks' time.
(No. B/216) Mrs F. Labelle (Second Member for Beau Bassin & Petite Rivière) asked the Minister of Social Security, National Solidarity & Senior Citizen Welfare & Reform Institutions whether he will make a statement on the policy of his Ministry regarding domiciliary visits to bedridden persons, indicating the sequence of such visits.
Mr Lauthan: Sir, since the end of 1990, free domiciliary visits are being provided to persons aged 90 years and over by private medical practitioners who are employed on a part-time sessional basis by my Ministry. Some 1040 persons are examined on a monthly basis. 27 medical practitioners are on our panel. The total financial implication is around Rs3 m per annum.
We have received suggestions to cover genuine bedridden cases of those aged 75 and above. However, we are conscious that in case we have to extend this scheme, this will pause practical problems as the number of persons aged 75 and above exceeds 25,000 and it is estimated that there will be about 7000 bedridden who will have to be catered for. This would also entail financial implications to around Rs9 m and further the number of doctors will have to be increased considerably. It is a fact that we are presently experiencing difficulties in recruiting medical practitioners.
In spite of these budgetary and human resource constraints, Sir, I still feel that we do a lot to alleviate the sufferings and improve the general welfare of the elderly. Apart from medical care, what our bedridden elderly persons need most, Sir, is befriending, the physical presence of people, whether relatives or not, who care for them, who provide for their emotional and psychological needs. As soon as I took office as Minister responsible for the general welfare of our senior citizens I came to realise that there are various categories of elderly. There are those who are well and independent, those who group themselves in senior citizens clubs, others who are being taken care of in our charitable institutions and private homes and finally those who are bedridden in the family. I have invited the healthy elderly in senior citizens club to organise themselves in collaboration with youth clubs to arrange for visits to this last category of senior citizens. Such a project brings about as outcome a lot of advantages -
It facilitates an intergeneration activity involving young and old in a single event. Such visits confront the helper or befriender with his/her own feelings about old age, illness, death, loss and bereavement. It helps family members develop their capacity-building in dealing with the bedridden and otherwise lonely person. It develops empathy and understanding instead of sympathy and pity.
Sir, as the question relates to policy, I have the pleasure to announce that my Ministry, with the collaboration of other Ministries is finalising a national policy paper and it is the first time in this country that we will have
a national strategy for the elderly and of which the health issue will be a major component.
My Ministry is also seizing this golden opportunity of the International Year of volunteers to promote such changes in beliefs, attitudes, behaviour towards not only the bedridden and the elderly, but also towards other target groups for which my Ministry has a mandate to care and other vulnerable groups.
(No. B/217) Mr M. Chumroo (First Member for Port Louis North and Montagne Longue) asked the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance whether, he will, for the benefit of the House, obtain from the State Investment Corporation, information regarding the financial situation of the Casino of Mauritius for the last five years and make a statement thereon.
The Deputy Prime Minister: Mr Speaker, Sir, the State Investment Corporation (SIC) has 51% direct shareholding in five casino companies namely Casino de Maurice Ltd, Sun Casinos Ltd, Beach Casinos Ltd, Le Grand Casino du Domaine Ltee and Le Caudan Waterfront Casino Ltd. SIC, through its subsidiary SIC Management Services Co Ltd., also manages the casino units of these companies.
I am informed that the casino turnover has evolved from Rs533 m in 1996 to Rs785 m in year 2000, representing an average annual growth rate of about 10%. This compares unfavourably with a growth rate of about 20% in the preceding five year period i.e. from 1991 to 1995. The average profit margin over the five year period 1996/2000 is 8.8% as compared to 13.8% over the preceding five year period.
The growth in turnover over the period 1996 to 2000 is mainly attributable to the opening of the Caudan casino in 1996 which in year 2000 realised alone a turnover of Rs257 m representing 33% of the casino market.
The only other casino which has witnessed growth is Le Grand Casino du Domaine. The other casinos, namely Casino de Maurice, Sun Casinos Ltd and Beach Casinos Ltd have witnessed negative growths.
Also, during the last five years, three casinos were closed down, namely Belle Mare Plage Casino, Le Morne Casino and Le Victoria Casino.
There was no serious move by the previous management to address the problem and to ensure the long-term sustainability of the business. The situation was marked by lack of professionalism and gross mismanagement. Recruitments and promotions were done without proper procedures and clear criteria. It was, in fact, the "politique des petits copains" that prevailed and this resulted in frustration and low morale of employees and also poor industrial relations.
There has also been lack of investment in technology and game innovation.
The new management team, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, is having a more professional approach in the running of the casinos, and is determined to put order in the house. All necessary steps are being taken to promote good industrial relations, boost the morale of employees and improve the overall performance of the casinos.
Mr Chumroo: Given the fact that things are improving now at the casino, can the Deputy Prime Minister confirm whether there will be a pension scheme for the workers at the casino shortly?
The Deputy Prime Minister: I am glad that the hon. Member has put that question because, in fact, the industrial relations there were awful. There was massive mismanagement, wastage of funds and so on. No serious consideration was given to the issue of the employees not having a pension fund. I am glad to report that the SIC informs me that the trade union concerned is now collaborating fully with management who has gone to the extent of proposing the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding which has already been drafted and that covers, in particular, the institution of a long awaited pension plan. This is going to cost a lot of money and, as I said, there is an awful mess that has to be sorted out, but, at the same time, I hope the new managers will set up a long awaited pension plan at the same time.
Mr Baloomoody: I am glad to hear that we are trying to put some order in the casinos. May I ask the Deputy Prime Minister whether special inquiries can be carried out on certain specific issues? Because during the last five years we have heard on many occasions that cash in transit - thousands of rupees - has been lost and not a single declaration has been made to the Police regarding this alleged theft. So, may I ask the Deputy Prime Minister to request management to look into all these cases so that the culprit is caught?
The Deputy Prime Minister: The hon. Member knows the mess at the casinos well. So, if he has any information, he should please come forward. The new management would be ruthless in dealing with all cases of fraud, abuses and so on and it is true that it has been an awful mess there. So, whatever information is forthcoming will be most welcome.
(No. B/218) Mr M. Chumroo (First Member for Port Louis North and Montagne Longue) asked the Minister of Health and Quality of Life whether in regard to the increasing number of patients suffering from diseases relating to mental health, he will state if it is proposed to set up special wards in all hospitals to deal with such cases.
Mr A. Jugnauth: Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, apart from the Brown Sequard Hospital, my Ministry is already providing a mental health service in the five regional hospitals and three district hospitals, namely Souillac, Mahebourg and Long Mountain. The patients are followed up by specialists (Psychiatrics) who have been posted to these hospitals.
Statistics for the last year indicate that some 11,403 patients with mental health problems were admitted in the Brown Sequard Hospital, the regional hospitals and the three above-mentioned district hospitals. Of the 11,403 admissions, 6,066 patients were admitted in the regional hospitals and the three district hospitals, out of which 5,192 were admitted for problems related to alcoholism.
In line with the provision of the Mental Health Act, my Ministry is planning to have comprehensive mental health services in every region. These will include in-patients wards for men and women and separate facilities for children in every regional hospital. There will also be out-patient services in every region. Provision will be made to staff these wards with specialised medical and para-medical personnel.
As regards the treatment of alcoholics, my Minisry will develop a network of facilities in every region, including separate in-patients accommodation for detoxification, the treatment of withdrawal and the establishment of effective rehabilitation of patients. These wards will be located far from the normal medical wards so that other patients are not disturbed.
My Ministry is giving high priority to mental health within our general strategy in combating non communicable diseases, as we cannot continue to bear as a nation, the terrible social and economic costs of preventable and treatable mental disorders. Moreover, I am convinced that the decentralisation of this programme to the regions will make the services more accessible to local people, with better results and better use of resources.
I wish to inform the House that a new Psychiatric Hospital will be built to replace the present Brown Sequard Mental Health Care Centre. The preliminary drawings have almost been finalised.
(No. B/219) Mr M. Chumroo (First Member for Port Louis North and Montagne Longue) asked the Minister of Health and Quality of Life whether in regard to the nauseous smell prevailing at Princes Tuna at Riche Terre along the highway towards the North and the high pollution level at Richelieu, Le Hochet, he will state what action he is proposing to take against the defaulting companies.
Mr P. Jugnauth: Sir, I am advised that following a complaint received on 19 December 2000 from the inhabitants of Roche Bois regarding odour nuisance at the Princes Tuna Mauritius Ltd., a meeting was held the next day under the chairmanship of the Ministry of Environment with all parties concerned, that is, with the Forces Vives de Roche Bois, the Managing Director of the factory and officers of my Ministry.
Subsequently, several site visits were effected and it was observed that offensive odours were emanating from manholes of the sewer line serving the area and from the chemical treatment plant installed at the factory to treat effluent from the tuna processing plant. The treat effluent from the chemical treatment plant was mixed with sewage from the toilet blocks within the factory prior to discharge into the public sewer. The sludge produced in the tank and the filter to press dryer at the treatment plant generated offensive odours.
Following discussions held with the management of Princes Tuna Mauritius Ltd. remedial action has been taken by the company to abate the problem of odour at the chemical treatment plant and at the manholes found in the affected area.
In fact, a site visit effected on 10 April 2001 revealed that there were no more offensive odours. These measures taken can be considered as short- term solutions which consist of the carting away of effluents by means of tankers to St. Martin sewerage plant. The management will inform the Ministry of its long-term solutions, which will require indepth treatment of the effluents at source itself.
The effectiveness of the odour abatement measures is being monitored by a Standing Committee, chaired by the Head of the Department of Environment of the Ministry of Environment. In case of recurrence of odour nuisance, my Ministry will take legal action in accordance with the Public Health Act or the Environment Protection Act, as appropriate.
As regards Richfield Textiles Ltd., I am informed that since two years now, complaints have been repeatedly received from the inhabitants of the region regarding dust, odour and noise emanating from the textile factory.
Following visits effected by officers of my Ministry and those of the Ministry of Environment, it emerged that the problems which arose at the industry were due to the malfunctioning of its boilers and the chimneys which were inadequate in height to disperse the stack emission of smoke and dust.
Consequently, several meetings were held with the management of the factory, after which the height of the two chimneys of the plant has been raised in accordance with good engineering practice and a qualified technician was recruited by the company to monitor closely the tuning of the boilers and blowers to ensure that smoke and soot are not emitted in the atmosphere. I am informed that at present, there is no high pollution level there.
However, to ensure that the inhabitants are not affected by any type of pollution from the industry, my Ministry together with the Ministry of Environment will monitor closely the situation in the region.
Mr Chumroo: My first question relates to the first part of the answer - the odour at Riche Terre. I am sure that everyone, passing by the highway, would have noticed that the smell has not abated as it is said in the answer. Anyway, I hope that fresh measures will be taken so as to abate the odour because it is really a nuisance to everyone. My second question would be about Richefield factory. In fact, nothing has been done...
The Deputy Speaker: Would the hon. Member put his question, please?
Mr Chumroo: The Ministry of Health, I am told, has granted a certificate saying that there is no health hazard at the Richefield factory area. May I know whether this is true?
Mr Jugnauth: I need notice of this question. I wouldn't know unless the certificate is produced.
Mr Chumroo: I suggest that a fresh survey be carried out because as far as the device is concerned, none has been placed to check the level of pollution at the Richefield factory.
Mr Jugnauth: Mr Speaker, Sir, as I have stated, my Ministry together with the Ministry of Environment are closely monitoring the situation. Of course, I said short-term decisions have been taken, however long-term decisions have to be taken and this will be jointly done by my Ministry, the Ministry of Environment and the Managing Director of the company.
Dr. Chady: Regarding Richefield factory, it has been said that they would elevate their chimney, put new boilers and all that. It is also true that this has not remedied the situation. Following the supplementary question of hon. Chumroo, I am confirming that the answer given by the Minister is misleading, because in fact, that problem is still the same.
Mr Jugnauth: This is not true, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir. I have been advised that several meetings have been carried out between on one side, the responsible parties of the companies and on the other side, the Ministries of Environment and Health. As far as I have been advised, certain works have already been done to abate the nuisance, may be not completely to the satisfaction of everybody. As I said, these were short-term measures, of course. When such problems arise, it is not easy to get the solution at the same time. There are short-term and long-term remedies. Of course, as I said, short-term remedies have been taken, but there is still the long-term remedy to be taken, and this is being worked out jointly by my Ministry and the Ministry of Environment on one side and the parties responsible on the other side.
(No. B/220) Mr M. Chumroo (First Member for Port Louis North and Montagne Longue) asked the Minister of Education and Scientific Research whether, in regard to the new curriculum for the primary education sector, he will state if provision is being made for medical or psychiatric personnel to be attached to all schools, with a view to detecting children with socio-psychological problems.
Mr Obeegadoo: Sir, the proposed new curriculum for primary education aims at providing a broad-based education to all pupils and Health and Physical Education will be one of the subjects taught at primary level. This will help pupils to know about their body and to develop healthy ways of living.
Furthermore, I have last year set up an ad hoc committee at the level of my Ministry to develop a strategy for the education of children with special needs. The committee comprises officials of my Ministry, other stakeholders like the Ministry of Women's Rights, Child Development and Family Welfare and the Ministry of Social Security, National Solidarity & Senior Citizen Welfare and Reform Institutions as well as most, if not all, NGOs actively involved in this field. The committee, which has met on various occasions, is presently finalising its report.
The Health and Anti-Drug Unit and the Socio-Psychological Unit of my Ministry will be reorganised so as to ensure prompt detection of cases of pupils with special needs and proper remedial action taken. In this context, my Ministry will be working in close collaboration with various Ministries like the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Women's Rights, Child Development and Family Welfare, Ministry of Social Security, National Solidarity & Senior Citizen Welfare and Reform Institutions Government and Non-Governmental Organisations.
For its part, the Ministry of Health will continue its routine screening exercise for pupils in primary schools and any cases identified will be referred to the authorities concerned for specialised care and treatment.
Mr Chumroo: In fact, I am sure that the Minister will recall right from 1994.
The Deputy Speaker: Hon. Chumroo, please put your question.
Mr Chumroo: In fact, I would like to elaborate a bit before putting the question otherwise it will be meaningless. I'll be very brief. Regarding the Pastoral Care Unit which was established in 1994 and was supposed to go further and be established in all schools, I am given to understand that it is no longer in practice and many schools do not have the pastoral care anymore. It is in this line that psychologists would have been of great help at schools to detect cases of children with socio-psychological problems. Therefore, teachers are not in a position to do so....
The Deputy Speaker: Hon. Chumroo, please put your question, you are making a statement.
Mr Chumroo: For the past five years, nothing has been done as far as pastoral care is concerned. What is the Ministry proposing as far as pastoral care is concerned in schools?
Mr Obeegadoo: As regards psychologists, I was surprised to learn that out of the five posts which exist at the Ministry of Education, only two are presently filled, the incumbents of the three posts are on authorised leave, some of whom are actually undergoing training for the precise object of working in schools thereafter. All I can say, Mr Deputy Speaker, in addition to what I have already said, is that the Socio-Psychological Unit is being reorganised. We are requesting, for the new budget, additional posts of psychologists attached to the Ministry of Education and when these posts would be filled, priority of consideration will be given to the special support schools in the zone d'éducation prioritaire.
Dr. Chady: I think the question is very pertinent and quite appropriate. The socio-psychological problems that exist in all our schools are the basis of the failures that we have got - les recalés. The hon. Minister has said that there would be an association with the Ministry of Health to address the problem, but the problem is a socio-psychological one which needs psychologists.
The Deputy Speaker: Would the hon. Member just put his question?
Dr. Chady: The Minister said that he is coming with plans, we would like to know what are those plans and how he is going to deal with them right away.
Mr Obeegadoo: Mr Speaker, as I have just explained, the problem of failure at schools is a complex one which does not date back to six months when we assumed office. Now, the matter is being tackled through various reforms of which the hon. Member is well aware. We are looking again at the curriculum. There are structural reforms. There is a curriculum renewal project which has already been presented. I have just announced the review of the operation of the Socio-Psychological Unit with more posts created, with emphasis on the criteria. I cannot add anymore.
Dr. Maudarbocus: Being given that, as the Minister said, we do not have enough people to fill the post of psychologists, is he going to amend his priority list and make psychology become a priority field of study of the Ministry? Secondly, are the teachers, during their training, given certain background, are taught how to detect, not to diagnose, who are the children who need psychological help?
Mr Obeegadoo: I will certainly look into the first suggestion concerning psychology as a field of study. As regards the second part of the question, yes, Mr Deputy Speaker, the MIE trainees are given basic training as regards detection of special needs.
(No. B/221) Mr F. Abdoola (Third Member for Stanley & Rose Hill) asked the Attorney-General & Minister of Justice and Human Rights whether, in regard to the drafting of the MCCB Liquidation Act, he will state if the services of a legal adviser in private practice were enlisted and, if so, the amount paid in relation thereto.
Mr Leung Shing: Sir, I am advised that the Mauritius Co-operative Central Bank (Liquidation) Bill 1996, not the Act, was initially drafted by the Attorney-General's Office and was subsequently finalised with the assistance of the Bank of Mauritius.
According to our records and information received, no payment has been effected to any legal adviser in the private practice in connection with the drafting of the Bill.
(i) CARD – ISSUE
(ii) CHILDREN - SCHOLARSHIP
(No. B/222) Mr C. Leopold (Fourth Member for Rodrigues) asked the Minister of Fisheries whether, in regard to fishermen in Rodrigues, he will state –
(a) when the provisional fishermen card will be issued to bank/off lagoon fishermen, as in the case in mainland Mauritius;
(b) if scholarship to children of professional fishermen will be extended to those of bank/off lagoon fishermen and, if not, why not; and
(c) what further action he proposes to take to promote the welfare of these fishermen.
Mr Michel: Sir, with regard to part (a) of the question, provisional bank fishermen card will be issued to fishermen in Rodrigues as soon as companies engaged in bank/off lagoon fisheries start operating from Rodrigues. At present, since all the bank fishing companies are in Mauritius, the Rodriguan fishermen are being registered here.
With regard to part (b), the responsibility for the award of scholarships to children of fishermen in Mauritius and Rodrigues has recently been entrusted to the Fishermen Welfare Fund.
Presently, artisanal fishermen in Rodrigues are being awarded CPE and SC scholarships. I have been informed that the Fishermen Welfare Fund intends to increase the number of scholarships for Rodrigues. The Fund will also extend HSC scholarship to children of Rodriguan registered professional fishermen who have been successful at the HSC exams to follow courses at any IVTB approved institution or university.
The scholarship will also cover bank fishermen/off-lagoon fishermen as soon as they register in Rodrigues.
With regard to part (c), my Ministry is organising a meeting with all categories of fishermen, including those who have applied for fishermen cards, on Saturday 05 May at Camp du Roi Stadium. I wish to inform the House that following the meeting, appropriate measures will be taken to promote the welfare of fishermen in Rodrigues.
(No. B/223) Mr C. Leopold (Fourth Member for Rodrigues) asked the Minister of Education and Scientific Research whether, in regard to students from Rodrigues attending the Lycée Polytechnique de Flacq, he will state -
(a) the number thereof;
(b) if their travelling allowances are being paid on a regular basis and, if not, the reasons for any delay;
(c) the amount and the month for which they have last been paid; and
(d) the measures he intends to take to ensure regular payments.
Mr Obeegadoo: Sir, with regard to part (a) of the question, I am informed that there are 9 trainees from Rodrigues who are at present following courses at the Lycée Polytechnique Sir Guy Forget, Flacq.
With regard to part (b), after each two months period, the Lycée submits to the Ministry of Local Government, Rodrigues and Rural and Urban Development a return in that connection which thereafter entitles each student for a refund of their travelling expenditure, i.e, the amount they pay as bus fare from place of residence in Mauritius to the Lycée.
I am informed that there was a delay in submission of returns for the months of September 2000 to January 2001. This was due to the fact that the Ministry for Rodrigues queried the returns submitted. It appears that some students had claimed different amounts for the same trip. The query was attended to and the returns submitted again on 22 March 2001.
With regard to part (c), the last returns which are for the months of February and March 2001 and which amount to Rs2,302 and Rs3,058 respectively have already been sent to the Ministry for Rodrigues on 10 April last.
With regard to part (d), arrangements are being made for the returns to be submitted on a monthly basis so as to ensure that the students have their travelling allowances at the beginning of each month.
(No. B/224) Mr C. Leopold (Fourth Member for Rodrigues) asked the Minister of Labour and Industrial Relations whether, following his recent visit to Rodrigues, he will -
(a) state the measures he intends to take to ensure that industries operate according to norms;
(b) make a statement on the outcome of his visit.
Mr Soodhun: Sir, regarding the first part of the question, I wish to mention that the problem is mainly a lack of enforcement of the existing legislation. Officers of my Ministry will visit Rodrigues more frequently with a view to ensuring the enforcement of labour laws and occupational safety, health and welfare standards, pending the recruitment of a Labour Officer and a Factory Inspector on the establishment of Rodrigues.
With regard to part (b), following my visit there has been the creation of a greater awareness concerning non-compliance to Remuneration Orders and unhealthy occupational safety and health conditions prevailing at certain places of work.
With a view to promoting better industrial relations, works councils are being set up at various workplaces with the assistance of the labour Inspector in Rodrigues.
It was noted that workers do not seem to be aware of their rights. To attend to this problem, a plot of land has been identified for the setting up of a workers' education centre where training on various issues ranging from industrial relations to occupational safety and health will be dispensed.
However, pending the setting up of the centre, the training will start next month in the Rodrigues Administration building.
Last but not least, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, reasonable deadlines have been set for the non-compliant employers to redress the situation failing which legal proceedings would be initiated against them. Officers of my Ministry will be in Rodrigues next month to monitor the situation closely.
(No. B/225) Mr M. Dulloo (Third Member for Grand' Baie & Poudre d'Or) asked the Minister of Housing and Lands whether, he will make arrangements for regularising the situation of a group of inhabitants of Camp Gervaise at Pavillon, Cap Malheureux and ensure that title deeds are issued to them to enable them to invest further in the improvement of their house and their living environment.
Mr Choonee: Sir, my Ministry has already initiated procedures to regularise the situation of 55 squatters occupying State land at Pavillon, Cap Malheureux, commonly known as Camp Gervaise, following a decision taken in April 1992.
Out of this number, 11 cases have already been finalised, and lease agreements drawn up and signed.
Mr Dulloo: May I ask the hon. Minister what will happen to the remaining persons? Because they have been occupying those plots of land almost simultaneously as the others who have got their title deeds already. After contacting the various administrations, at one moment, they said that the matter was referred to the State Law Office, but I understand that it has been processed and it is back to the Ministry. I would like to ask the Minister whether the matter could be expedited as far as the rest of the list is concerned.
Mr Choonee: Mr Speaker, Sir, I would like to bring to the information of the House that some cases have been struck out because there was a repetition of names and some of the squatters were land owners. Actually there are 38 remaining cases, out of which 11 have been completed, action is awaited for 27 remaining cases because the potential beneficiaries have not submitted the necessary papers for the Ministry to process.
(No. B/226) Mr M. Dulloo (Third Member for Grand'Baie & Poudre d'Or) asked the Minister of Health and Quality of Life whether there is, at present, an outbreak of an epidemic caused by the virus rhinovirus and d'adénovirus and, if so, will he state what measures are being taken to safeguard public health.
Mr A. Jugnauth: Sir, I am advised by the Virologist of the Central Laboratory at Victoria Hospital that presently, there is no epidemic outbreak caused by rhinovirus and adenovirus.
I am also advised that the common cold is usually caused by rhinovirus and there are more than 300 serotypes. On the other hand, adenovirus which consists of 28 serotypes, causes infections of the respiratory tract accompanied by acute infection of the throat and fever. Both viruses are present in microscopic droplets obtained while sneezing or coughing and tend to spread from person to person when atmospheric humidity is high and there is gathering of crowds in closed circuits.
There has been a slight increase in the number of cases of influenza-like illness. However, the increase is not significant enough to call it an epidemic (15,884 cases in March 2001 compared to 14,541 in March 2000). Usually with changes in temperature of the environment, the virus can multiply and cause infection of the upper respiratory tract.
In order to cope with the situation, my Ministry provides facilities for counselling, care and management of all such cases at all hospitals and area and community health centres. Any complication is dealt with promptly. However, according to the International Public Health Authority, there are no effective public health (preventive and control) measures that can be taken in cases of epidemic caused by these viruses.
Mr Dulloo: I do not know whether I have been referring to the same Virologist because I am relying on a declaration that was made public by a Virologist of Victoria Hospital who stated that these two viruses …
I will give the Minister the name later. Alright, I will mention the name, it is Dr. Pyndiah, Virologist at Victoria Hospital, who stated that there is an epidemic right now and he said that certain actions should be taken about it though it is benign. The various symptoms have been listed out, two of which have been mentioned by the Minister. He even went so far as saying that this virus …
The Deputy Speaker: The hon. Member should put his question.
Mr Dulloo: I am asking the Minister whether he is aware of this public declaration made by this Virologist who even compared this virus to be of the same type …
The Deputy Speaker: Hon. Dulloo, please put your question!
Mr Dulloo: I am asking the Minister whether he is aware of a statement made by a Virologist whereby there is an epidemic situation right now and that this virus is of the same type as those causing the foot and mouth disease.
The Deputy Speaker: Hon. Dulloo, you have made your point.
Mr Dulloo: Is the Minister aware that this virus is of epidemic proportion and can he tell us whether it is of the same type as the foot and mouth virus?
Mr A. Jugnauth: Fortunately or unfortunately, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, all the information has been supplied to me by one and the same Virologist, that is, Dr. Pyndiah.
Mr Dulloo: Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, for the benefit of the House and of the hon. Minister, I am tabling a public declaration made by the Virologist concerning these viruses, and in this declaration he equates this virus to the same causing the foot and mouth disease. I understand that he also said that it is benign, but of epidemic dimension right now.
Mr A. Jugnauth: Mr Deputy Speaker, I will, if you allow me, quote the last paragraph of the information supplied to me by Dr. Pyndiah. I quote:
"Please note that the rhinovirus has nothing to do with the insect rhinoceros attacking the coconut trees".
(No. B/227) Mr M. Dulloo (Third Member for Grand'Baie & Poudre d'Or) asked the Minister of Agriculture, Food Technology & Natural Resources whether he will state the number of model integrated farms being set up under the supervision of his Ministry with the assistance of Professor Chan, indicating the progress achieved so far, more particularly, in regard to the co-operative pig breeding farm at St. Martin and the Andrea Farm at Union St. Aubin Sugar Estate.
Mr P. Jugnauth: Sir, there is no model integrated farm being set up under the supervision of my Ministry. However, a Ministerial Committee under the chairmanship of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance and comprising the following Ministers:
Minister of Agriculture, Food Technology & Natural Resources
Minister of Environment
Minister of Health & Quality of Life
Minister of Local Government, Rodrigues and Rural & Urban Development
Minister of Economic Development, Financial Services & Corporate Affairs
Minister of Co-operatives & Handicraft
Minister of Housing & Lands
was set up to study the problems of pig farming.
The Ministerial Committee has delegated the responsibility to work out a policy paper on pig farming to a Technical Advisory Committee. The report of the Technical Advisory Committee has just been submitted and its recommendations are being studied.
The possibility of shifting the pig breeding activities at St. Martin as well as that at Roche Bois to another area where the integrated farming system could be used is being investigated. In view of the highly polluting nature of pig farming, such issues as scarcity of land, the economic viability of the integrated farming system and socioeconomic aspect should be studied.
As regards Andrea Farm at Union St. Aubin, my Ministry has not been involved in either its establishment or its supervision. However, I am informed that the Ministry of Health has been monitoring the microbiological load of crayfish produced and marketed by the company.
Mr Dulloo: May I ask the hon. Minister whether he is aware that the Andrea Farm Ltd. of Union St. Aubin which has adopted this system of integrated farming, as advocated, has had problems, and that they have had to cease operation of their aquaculture breeding station because of contamination caused by bacteria as a result of the use of effluents from animal breeding that have been treated?
Mr P. Jugnauth: I am aware that the system of farming that has been adopted by Andrea Farm of Union St. Aubin is not the same as the one prescribed by Professor Chan. The health authorities have been monitoring the microbiological load of the crayfish produced by that farm and has recently declared that the product is unfit for human consumption and a ban on the same is presently in course. May I also reassure the House that it is not the same type of integrated farming that has been prescribed by Professor Chan.
Mr Barbier: May I ask the hon. Minister whether he is agreeable to place a copy of the report he referred to in the Library of the National Assembly?
Mr P. Jugnauth: I referred to the report of the Advisory Committee, but it has to go to Cabinet before being rendered public.
(No. B/228) Mr M. Dulloo (Third Member for Grand'Baie & Poudre d'Or) asked the Minsiter of Social Security, National Solidarity & Senior Citizen Welfare and Reform Institutions whether, in view of the public outcry and the representations made by workers and their trade unions against any proposal to bring up the age of retirement to 65 years, he will state if Government is still considering this option in the context of the proposed pension modernisation plan following the World Bank Report and the current actuarial review of the National Pension Fund.
Mr Lauthan: Sir, there has not been any public outcry as such about raising the retirement age to 65 years. Although I made it clear before, during and after the recent Open Conference on Pension Reform that the Government had not committed itself in any way whatsoever with the World Bank on this issue, a few trade unionists, out of demagogy and bad faith, have tried to convince their affiliates and the general public that Government had already accepted what they called the "diktat" of the World Bank.
To clarify matters once for all, Government has ruled out the raising of retirement age as an option in the process of pension reform at the Cabinet meeting held on Friday 06 April 2001, thus proving, if need be, that we had no agreed obligation towards the World Bank to extend the retirement age to 65 years.
Mr Dulloo: In the report of the World Bank that was discussed with the various bodies present at the conference there were two proposals by the World Bank in order to make the Fund viable because of the danger of what may happen around the years 2013-2015? The two proposals are either to raise the age of retirement to 65 years or increase the contributions of employees and employers in order to make the Fund viable. Were these two options suggested and Government has now dropped one of them, that is, raising the age of retirement?
Mr Lauthan: Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, it is true that the last actuarial report mentioned that the National Pension Fund will be facing difficulties around the years 2013-2015. In this connection, may I point out that the actuarial report for the period ending year 1995 had been submitted to the previous Government in 1998 and that nothing had been done to try to sustain that Fund? As soon as we took over, we have seized the opportunity to bring all the stakeholders together and discuss all the options openly, in a very democratic way. It is not true that the World Bank made two proposals and that Government has chosen one of them. A package was proposed. Even in the Battersby report, there is a package of options. During the conference, no formal recommendations were made. All the options were openly discussed in a very democratic way. The hon. Member, himself, in the formulation of his question, mentioned the current actuarial review of the National Pension Fund. Government has decided to wait for the actuarial report for the period ending year 2000 and, unlike the previous Government which waited three years, I have personally impressed upon Mr Battersby to have the report during the current year around the month of June. It is only then that Government will consider all the options and take necessary measures, after consultation, of course with the stakeholders.
Mr Dulloo: Can the Minister confirm that, at the open conference in question, there were representatives of trade unions who were present and, subsequently, other representatives of trade unions who were not present met officials of the World Bank to discuss some of the recommendations, and that one of the recommendations was actually the raising of retirement age to 65?
Mr Lauthan: No, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir. In fact, the hon. Member is very badly informed. In a spirit of openness and democracy, my Ministry invited all the trade unionists not only as participants, but as panelists, so that they could defend their position and challenge that of the World Bank or even the Battersby report. A few had already agreed to attend, but under pressure from others, they just back-pedalled and did not attend. Even then, arrangements were made so that they could meet these experts outside the conference and also the Director of the Government Actuaries Department, who is, in fact, the head and the boss of Mr Battersby. Arrangements were made by the Ministry for them to, at least, meet those experts even if they refused to attend the conference, so that they could ventilate and discuss their ideas. We have not yet had the official report of the minutes of this conference which is due in the days to come. We hope that the next actuary report will be submitted in June, and then Government, as I have said, will discuss with the stakeholders and come to the necessary decision to sustain the Fund.
Mr Dulloo: Was that question of raising the age of retirement to 65 discussed in the course of the open conference and was it one of the issues that were subsequently discussed in consultation with other people?
Mr Lauthan: It was already in the actuarial report submitted to the previous Government in 1998. All the options were discussed, but no decision was reached.
Dr. Chady: It makes us laugh when we think that Government has entertained this issue of retirement age at the age of 65. Now, I am asking the Minister why, suddenly, after three or four weeks that this has been entertained and discussed widely in the press, by the NGOs et dans tous les secteurs, there is a back-pedalling on the part of the Prime Minister?
The Deputy Speaker: Hon. Dr. Chady, please put your question.
Dr. Chady: My question is why there has been back-pedalling after three weeks.
Mr Lauthan: Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, I am afraid the hon. Member is yet another victim of these trade unionists, because the question was never entertained by Government. It is only in their minds. In a spirit to clarify matters, Cabinet took officially the decision. If he had heard me well, I said that it is the Cabinet's decision.
(No. B/229) Dr. S. Chady (Second Member for Port Louis Maritime & Port Louis East) asked the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance whether he will state when the post of Comptroller of Customs will become vacant and say how the vacancy will be filled, indicating the terms and conditions of service of the new incumbent.
The Deputy Prime Minister: Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, on 28 March 2001, Mr S. Gunnoo, Comptroller of Customs, applied for permission to retire from the service on ground of age, as a special case under section 6(1)(a) of the Pensions Act. The Public Service Commission has approved the application. Mr S. Gunnoo has agreed to remain in post until the appointment of a new Comptroller of Customs. After his retirement, it is proposed to appoint Mr Gunnoo as Adviser to the Ministry.
Among the four Deputy Comptrollers of Customs who may aspire to become Comptroller of Customs, the seniormost one is on leave without pay since August 2000 for a period of three years, working for COMESA, for which, I should point out, he had not been sponsored by Government. Before that, he had been severely blamed in the report of the Commission of Inquiry, chaired by Senior Puisne Judge Sik Yuen, which was made public in April 1999. The next two seniormost officers were appointed to the post of Deputy Comptroller of Customs in July 1998 and June 1999 respectively, whilst the third one is in post since January this year only.
It is of public knowledge that the Sik Yuen Commission of Inquiry has hit hard on the senior management of Customs. Previously, the Consultants De Chazal Du Mée had also severely criticised the Customs Administration in a study carried out in 1997. Recently, the Consultants Price Water House/Coopers have highlighted a number of serious weaknesses at organisational and structural levels. However, it should not be insinuated that all the Customs Officers are corrupt or incompetent. In fact, the majority is loyal, hardworking officers and true patriots, and I am sure I can rely on their continued support in bringing about the projected reforms. Further, I consider unacceptable the conditions in which Customs Officers have been working for the last 15 years, and this Government will waste no time to implement the Customs House project, in order to provide them with a decent accommodation.
In order to put order in the house and also to have a person of high calibre to guide Government in the reform and modernisation of the Customs and Excise Department, Government has decided to recruit, on contract, a Comptroller of Customs with wide experience in Customs matters and considerable international exposure. Accordingly, action has been initiated to bring the necessary amendments to the scheme of service, and for the appointment of a Comptroller of Customs on a three-year contract.
As the House is aware, Government will be ruthless in its fight against fraud and illegal entry of illicit drugs and firearms into the country. In that connection, it is expected that the new Comptroller of Customs would guide us on the reforms to be carried out and the use of sophisticated technology, including installation of the most appropriate scanning equipment and the replacement of the two launches presently out of order, to ensure a more effective control of the harbour area.
Mr Abdoola: I would like to ask the Deputy Prime Minister whether the Customs owns two boats and if they are serving their purpose.
The Deputy Prime Minister: I have just referred to the fact that there is need to replace the two launches presently out of order, and I could add the following, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir. The first launch is called Le Vigilant'. It broke down in June 1998 and went for repairs at the GRNW boat yard until the year 2000. I am informed that when repairs were completed, it was then found out that the engine was no longer in working order. Therefore, a tender exercise to replace the engine with a new one was issued. Quotations have been solicited and only one firm has quoted, and this quotation is presently being examined by the Mauritius Port Authority engineer. In the second case, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, I quote what I have received in terms of information concerning the launch called Dolphin'.
"Due to the frequent breakdowns of the vessel, it was agreed, following a board of survey on 25.08.98, to have the vessel transferred to the National Coast Guard". But, in a letter addressed to the Customs Department on 30.08.2000, the NCG declined to take possession of the vessel on grounds of unserviceability – under the previous Government!
Dr. Chady: The Deputy Prime Minister said that an adviser would be recruited. Does not this imply that this has forced Mr Gunnoo to resign? Because the Minister, himself, said that he was going to replace him by another Comptroller of Customs.
The Deputy Prime Minister: I know it is difficult for the hon. Member to understand, but I repeat that Mr Gunnoo has applied for permission to retire from the service. He has agreed to remain in post until the appointment of a new Comptroller of Customs, and it is the intention of Government to appoint Mr Gunnoo as adviser to the Ministry once he will have retired.
Dr. Chady: Can we know whether the action of Mr Gunnoo followed the visit of the Deputy Prime Minister and the remark that he made on the Customs just afterwards…
The Deputy Prime Minister: I visited the building occupied by the Customs Department and it is nothing but shocking. It is a dangerous place, not only for the employees but also for the public. I am sure no Minister went up the stairs of that building. You can hardly go up those stairs as they are slippery and they are on a slope. It is absolutely shocking that these officers have been made to work for 15 years in such quarters. Under the previous Government they were promised that the new Customs House department would go ahead and then nothing has happened. We intend to move fast ahead and I am sure that the majority of officers in the Customs Department wish to move forward with this Government.
Dr. Chady: My question was that the action of Mr Gunnoo followed just after his visit…
The Deputy Speaker: Hon. Chady, the Minister has already given a clear answer.
Dr. Chady: I am asking through the Chair… The Minister does not want to answer.
The Deputy Speaker: Next question. Hon. Mrs Perrier!
Dr. David: May I ask a supplementary question….
The Deputy Speaker: No. Next question.
(No. B/230) Mrs D. Perrier (Third Member for Belle Rose & Quatre Bornes) asked the Minister of Public Infrastructure, Land Transport & Shipping whether, in regard to the plot of land, known as Balance, situated at Berthaud, Quatre Bornes and belonging to Médine Sugar Estate, and which, for years, has been used as a regional traffic centre without proper infrastructure, such as shelters, toilets and other amenities, he will state (a) if Government proposes to re-open negotiations with Médine Sugar Estate for its acquisition, and (b) the measures that will be taken for upgrading the premises of the traffic centre.
Mr Bachoo: Sir, I am informed by the Ministry of Housing and Lands that negotiations with the Médine Sugar Estate for the acquisition of the plot of land known as Balance situated at Berthaud, Quatre Bornes, are under way and would be finalised in due course.
With regard to part (b) of the question, consideration will be given for the upgrading of the premises of the existing traffic centre once the acquisition of land is completed.
Mrs Perrier: I thank the Minister for his commitment. Can he give us a time frame for the end of the negotiation and the starting of the work?
Mr Bachoo: Sir, I am told that on 2 April 2001 the matter was taken up with Médine Sugar Estate by the Ministry of Housing and Lands and now they are negotiating. It means that we are coming to a conclusion and we won't delay with the project.
(No. B/231) Mrs D. Perrier (Third Member for Belle Rose & Quatre Bornes) asked the Minister of Health & Quality of Life whether, in view of the fact that there exists a high risk for HIV positive mothers to transmit to their child the HIV virus at delivery or immediately before, he will state what treatment is given to them and to the new born child to prevent such transmission.
Mr A. Jugnauth: Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, the risk of HIV transmission from an HIV positive mother to her child is 15-25% in developed countries and 25-35% in developing ones. It is established that the transmission is highest at the time of delivery or immediately before. However, if the appropriate treatment is given to HIV positive mothers, the risk of HIV transmission from mother to child can be reduced to as low as 5%.
In Mauritius, the treatment given to HIV positive pregnant women and to the newborn child to prevent HIV transmission from mother to child forms part of a prevention package according to the established internationally accepted protocol. It includes the following:
(a) provision of VCT (Voluntary Counselling and Testing) to all pregnant women attending antenatal clinics;
(b) care of the HIV positive pregnant women by a team consisting of the Gynaecologist, the HIV/AIDS referral doctor and officers of the AIDS Unit;
(c) treatment of the HIV positive pregnant women, as from the 25th week of pregnancy, by Azidothymidine (AZT) – an antiretroviral drug;
(d) a programmed caesarean section at 38th week with the consent of the women to deliver the baby. During this operation, the antiretroviral drug AZT is given intravenously to reduce further the transmission of the virus to the baby;
(e) careful handling of the baby after birth to avoid any injury of the skin or mucosa, and the washing off of the maternal blood and secretions from the body of the baby;
(f) treatment of the new born with AZT syrup for six weeks;
(g) regular and timely testing of baby for HIV; and
(h) provision of artificial milk to the child for a period of two years.
Mrs Perrier: M. le président, le ministre n'est peut-être pas au courant mais depuis l'année dernière lors de la conférence mondiale sur le sida qui s'est tenue en Afrique du Sud, l'OMS a fait mention de progrès thérapeutiques importants dans ce domaine et au lieu d'utiliser le AZT lors des derniers mois de la grossesse on administre maintenant un nouveau médicament aux premières heures de travail de la délivrance et cela empêche les cellules de se développer. Le médicament est administré à la mère et à l'enfant dans les trois jours qui suivent la naissance. Ce médicament s'appelle névirapine et il est recommandé depuis l'année dernière par l'OMS et les experts. Est-ce que le ministre a l'intention de s'en enquérir et de rendre cela disponible dans nos hopitaux?
Mr A. Jugnauth: Of course, Sir, the new drug will be coming on the market and if it is affordable my Ministry will look into it and try to get the most proper drugs to look after these mothers and babies.
Dr. Beebeejaun: Will the Minister inform us how many such mothers and babies have had this wonderful, integrated, well planned treatment that has been described?
Mr A. Jugnauth: I do not think I have the answer here. If I am given notice of the question I'll come up with the right answer.
Dr. Beebeejaun: The same question was asked last week by the way. I would like to draw the attention of the Minister as it is a very important problem to the fact that there is the problem of attitude. I am aware that certain mothers who have gone to hospital - known HIV cases - have been so badly treated that they have changed hospital and gone elsewhere for their delivery without anyone knowing. I am just drawing the attention of the Minister.
Mr A. Jugnauth: If the hon. Member knows of any such cases he should just let us know.
(No. B/232) Dr. S. Maudarbocus (Third Member for Port Louis South & Port Louis Central) asked the Minister of Housing and Lands whether, in regard to NHDC housing estate at Bambous, he will say what action he intends to take for the election of syndic thereat.
Mr Choonee: Sir, as I explained to the House in reply to PQ B/184, the NHDC acts as Syndic Provisoire' until such time that a permanent Syndic is elected by the Syndicat des Copropriétaires'.
It is the case with the NHDC complex at Bambous I & II.
At Residence Bambous I where more than 85% of the 170 housing units have now been sold, the General Assembly for the election of the permanent syndic has been fixed for 1st June 2001.
At Residence Bambous II where approximately 90% of the 138 housing units have been sold, the residents have asked for a number of issues to be dealt with by the NHDC or at least action initiated by them as syndic provisoire' before a general assembly is convened to elect the permanent syndic. The issues raised are -
(i) street lighting
(ii) irregular water supply
(iii) lack of transport facilities
(iv) public phone
(v) garbage collection
(vi) encroachment on parties communes' by some co-owners.
The general assembly to elect the permanent syndic has tentatively been scheduled for 8 June 2001. However, this date will be confirmed or otherwise after a meeting fixed for next week between the delegates of the co-owners and the NHDC staff.
(No. B/233) Dr S. Maudarbocus (Third Member for Port Louis South and Port Louis Central) asked the Minister of Housing and Lands whether he will for the benefit of the House, say, if loans taken by beneficiaries of apartments at the NHDC housing estate at Bambous are covered by a life insurance and, if not, why not.
Mr Choonee: Sir, the National Housing Development Company Ltd. has recently taken the decision to provide an insurance cover to all its house buyers. The scheme will cover past and future housing projects. SICOM Ltd. has already worked out an appropriate cover and each buyer will be invited to join the scheme.
In line with the above decision, the house buyers of Bambous complex will benefit from this insurance scheme.