Sweet and Sour

The Mauritian Finance Minister delivered his budget speech on Friday 15 June. It was his second speech since the “social alliance” (comprising multiple political parties including the Labour party, Parti Mauricien Xavier Duval, Mouvement Republicain, Mouvement Socialiste Democrate and Parti Mauricien Social Democrate) is in power.

He depicted a sound economic management under his ministership, which has resulted in an “early harvest” (meaning early economic recovery) thanks to his so-called bold measures taken last year. He even announced duty remissions on certain electronic devices used mainly by women: hair driers, utensil washing machines, microwave ovens and others.

People were still recuperating when five days later, on 20 June, they ended up in the hypers… only to witness soaring prices of some basic commodities, namely milk – all brands. Some brands which had disappeared from the stalls just before the budget day reappeared out of magic. The price of rice soared too. These rises were explained by “external factors” (appreciation of foreign exchange, drought in Australia, etc), an argument the common people swallowed although somewhat bitter.

Intense parliamentary debates followed the speech during two weeks. They were centered on the foreign direct investments which herald to some extent the “early harvest” as propounded by the minister in spite of contradictory arguments brought by the opposition team. Several questions arose, while members of the government, as could obviously be anticipated, took sides of their colleague minister and defended his policies and strategies with vehemence. “The 2007-2008 budget wouldn’t have been possible without the 2006-2007 (last year’s) budget,” chimed the minister. All to sum up a good budget year ahead, much to the satisfaction of the common people.

The debates ended on Friday last, that is on 29 June. Today it was time for the Automatic Pricing Mechanism panel to deliberate on the price of petroleum products. This panel meets on a quarterly basis to readjust the price of petroleum, no more than 20% change based on current world trend. Guess what? It announced an increase in the price of petrol and fuel oil by about 20%; while diesel increased by about 5%. External factors again (Middle East crisis, strike in Nigeria, high price in the world market), was the explanation given by the Chairman of the State Trading Corporation, the body that imports petroleum products.

Whatever the reason, the public has to pay… or perish. The cascade effects are yet to be anticipated. You can never know how sour a pill is until all the sweet coating is sucked up.

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