Q&A Anil Kumar Bachoo - VPM and Min. of Infrasctructure
With a political career spanning over four decades, Anil Kumar Bachoo has dedicated himself to bringing the benefits of socio-economic development to the doorstep of the Mauritian people. After holding office as the Minister of the Environment from 2005, he has been in his current role since September 2008.
Anil Kumar Bachoo: Infrastructure constitutes the main pillar for the development of the Mauritian economy as is the case in most developing countries. Without good infrastructure, no sustainable economic progress is possible. Although Mauritius has a relatively small economy, its diversity has allowed it to grow and be at par with that of other developed countries in the world.
My Ministry is responsible for all infrastructural works relating to public buildings, roads, and civil works undertaken by the Government, either directly or indirectly and also for the development of the Shipping Sector.
For the sake of illustration, I would refer to the health sector, where Government has committed to spending almost 1 billion rupees (21.5 million Pounds Sterling) in infrastructural works in one of the biggest hospitals in the country. My Ministry is upgrading the existing hospital building components, adding new wards and specialised units, putting up a new modern kitchen and building another operation theatre block with the support of the Chinese Government. In another main hospital, works have started on the construction of an Accident and Emergency division which will cost 72 million rupees (1.6 million Pounds Sterling), and an upgrading of the intensive care unit. Works worth some 126 million rupees (2.7 million Pounds Sterling) are also ongoing in several regional hospitals in the country, including in a hospital in the south of the country which was closed down by the previous Government. In the capital city of the country 1.4 billion rupees (30.2 million Pounds Sterling) are being invested in the main hospital building for a complete overhauling of the infrastructure. This gives an indication of the magnitude of the work being undertaken in the health sector only.
In the education sector, approximately 1 billion rupees (21.5 million Pounds Sterling) are being injected in the construction of six new multipurpose halls every year for the next five years to provide indoor sports and other recreational facilities to the students.
For an optimisation of the use of these infrastructural facilities, schemes are devised to allow the community at large to enjoy these facilities outside school hours. Other amenities like new toilet blocks in all the primary and secondary schools, the putting up of additional classroom blocks in almost all the existing primary schools and the extension or the setting up of new secondary schools. My Ministry is also presently working on two upcoming projects to set up two new universities, which will cost another 1 billion rupees (21.5 million Pounds Sterling).
In the youth and sports sector, the construction of playing fields and other sports facilities in almost all villages and towns is a common feature. Most of the football and volleyball pitches are floodlit. Swimming pools, youth centres and gymnasiums and also being put up on a felt-need basis.
My Ministry, in upholding its development objectives, also focuses on social integration dimensions. As a matter of fact, my Ministry works with the Ministry of social integration on certain specific projects which target that segment of the population which falls in the low income brackets.
The Prime Minister pays special attention to the needs of the senior citizens of the society. Besides providing these persons with the necessary facilities and specialised healthcare, they are also paid a non-contributory pension apart from any other contributory retirement benefit they may be entitled to. The social security regime also caters for disabled persons, widows, orphans and other vulnerable persons. This is quite unique in this part of the world.
Furthermore, with a view to providing leisure and recreation, Government has recently initiated the construction of a residential centre for the elderly in the north of the island. Two such centres are already in operation on the east and west coast and a fourth one will be implemented next year in the south.
My Ministry is also implementing a 1.4 billion rupee project (30.2 million Pounds Sterling) involving the construction of a modern prison, new police stations and the improvement of court infrastructure to enhance law and order in the country .
As part of an overall initiative aimed at enhancing mobility of goods and people in the country, a major dual carriageway is under construction to cut across the island from east to west. One already exists which links the north to the south. This new project is partly financed by the Agence Francaise de Developpement. It is about 60% complete. When aggregated, around 40 billion rupees (862 million Pounds Sterling) are being canalised towards funding of the road networks.
There is a rather reliable public transport system and, based on a National Transport Strategy, my Ministry is now working on a light rail network. Road safety also falls under the responsibility of my ministry. Speed cameras are being installed at critical spots to reduce the number of accidents. My Ministry also conducts regular and structured sensitization campaigns on road safety.
TRC: What is the thinking behind such heavy government infrastructure investment?
AKB: It is to be pointed out that the volume of investment in infrastructure development is indeed huge. In the face of the global financial crisis and the one looming in the Euro Zone, investment in infrastructure is one of the surest means to create economic buoyancy, notwithstanding the fact that this move is employment creative while at the same time contributing towards creating Government assets.
During times of recession, there is generally much hesitation on the part of the private sector to invest in infrastructure. In the circumstance, the government has to come forward. Any Government should aim at maintaining GDP growth to be able to develop a reasonably good pace of socio economic advancement.
TRC: What opportunities are there for foreign investors to partner with your ministry in infrastructural improvements to the country?
AKB: Government advocates a policy of making Tourism a still stronger pillar of the economy. The objective is to reach two million tourists every year. In anticipation of such an occurrence, the road network is being improved and a Decongestion Programme, having an island wide impact, is being implemented.
As can be easily understood, Government cannot embark alone on such a venture. The private sector participation should be enlisted. Thus, within a public private partnership configuration, the private sector is brought into the development landscape. An example would be the second phase of the Ring Road Project where, acting on the recommendation of an international Transaction Adviser, a Request for Proposal exercise is being carried out. The evaluation is underway. For the harbour bridge and a few other major projects, the exercise applies.
TRC: As an island nation, Mauritius is more vulnerable to the effects of climate change. What is your ministry doing to mitigate any potential risks to the population?
AKB: As a responsible Government, we are very much aware of climate change. Luckily the volcanoes in Mauritius are dead and extinct. We do not suffer from earthquakes and we are away from tsunamis, but we do have cyclones sometimes. While we make do with the cyclones because of the rain water, they bring along, we do have problems with flash floods. The Prime Minister is committed to seeing the country developing within a “Maurice Ile Durable” concept. Therefore, various initiatives are being taken to make sure that development projects are implemented in line with eco-friendly considerations. A concrete example would be the one where my Ministry is currently embarked on the preparation of a totally new Building Control Bill, which will bring about major changes in the Construction Industry to favour the ‘Go Green’ concept.
TRC: Your ministry is the controlling authority for the shipping sector. Where do you see potential in the sector?
AKB: In Mauritius, the Shipping Sector is almost totally privatised but my Ministry, through the Shipping Division, acts as a Regulatory Body and creates the necessary business facilitation environment to promote the development of the Shipping Sector. It is to be pointed out that a Government-owned company operates two vessels which service our small islands. Mauritius has all the necessary characteristics to position itself as a reliable and competitive international ship registry, but so far we have not been sufficiently aggressive on that score. We want good quality vessels to be registered under our flag. Mauritius is a party to many important international maritime conventions and we scrupulously respect our obligations under such Treaties, Conventions and Protocols. If vessels conform to the required norms, they will be registered bearing in mind that we care more about quality than quantity to maintain a good image of the country on the international scene.