Natural Resource Values Should Benefit Everyone
Mauritius Offering Private Sea and Beach Leases
It sounds as though Mauritius has the right strategy -- focus on collecting natural resource rents rather than burdensome taxes. But are they implementing this strategy well or foolishly?
Here are excerpts from an article being circulated by the Inter Press Service.
by Nasseem Ackbarally‘‘We are selling everything in this country: from our bodies to our land and now our sea and lagoons. Is there anything left for us?’’ asked Jack Bizlall, spokesperson for a nongovernmental network of organisations called Kalipso.
''I do not know how to tell my kids that they are selling the sea and the lagoon to private investors and that I am doing nothing to oppose them,’’ insisted environmentalist Vassen Kauppaymuthoo.
Together with local fishermen and others who earn their living from the sea and the lagoon, they are struggling to stop the government from implementing the Aquatic Business Activities Bill, presently being circulated.
The government’s idea is to provide a legal framework to regulate the exercise of business activities in and around the sea. Portions of sea and lagoon areas will be leased and therefore shall cease to be part of the public domain while a lease is in operation. Every lease will be effective for a maximum of 30 years.
Leases to private businesses for the exclusive occupation of portions of the sea, the lagoon and also land near coastal waters will be granted for the setting up of marinas, aquaculture and the extraction of sea water.
Any person entering such an area shall be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to a fine not exceeding 100,000 rupees (3,125 dollars).
The government is seeking private businesses with expertise, enough capital to pay the lease and licences and with up to 80 percent foreign ownership.
‘‘If this bill is passed, the sea, the lagoon and the ocean around the island that belong to the public will be snatched away and given to investors for exclusive use,’’ says Kauppaymuthoo, insisting that the government cannot sell or lease the sea as the country’s constitution determines that it does not belong to the government.
According to him, aquaculture has negative consequences on the environment as the fish are fed with animal flour, toxic chemical products and other substances which will pollute the sea and the lagoon and cause diseases among people. Aquaculture pollutes the environment and also attracts sharks.
‘‘The tourism industry that is earning lots of foreign exchange for the island will also suffer,’’ he emphasised. Mauritius is fast developing its tourism industry, targeting about two million tourists annually in the short term.
Defending the bill, Agro-Industry and Fisheries Minister Arvin Boolell said the development of the seafood industry and aquaculture forms part of the government’s strategy to spearhead economic growth.
The idea is to double the annual per capita income of the island from its present 5,400 dollars in the next seven years. ‘‘How do we do this if not by creating wealth and jobs for people?’’ asks Industry and Commerce Minister Rajesh Jeetah.
Cader Sayed Hossen, chairperson of the government-appointed Commission on the Democratisation of the Economy, adds that refined sugar is being sold at 500 euros a ton in Europe while one ton of Red Drum fish is sold at 3,500 euros. ‘‘This is big revenue for the island,’’ he said.
Boolell also stressed the rise of per capita fish consumption, reaching 21 kg in Mauritius, and the depletion of fish stock in the lagoon. Fishermen Investment Trust director Jacques Desbleds, who is supporting the bill, asked: ‘‘How do we feed the population and the tourists that visit us without fish?’’
Twenty potentials sites for aquaculture have been identified and ten investors, both local and foreign, have expressed interests in industrial fish farming in Mauritius, IPS learnt from the Board of Investment (BOI).
Boolell indicates that investment worth about 25 million dollars that would create about 5,000 jobs and bring revenue worth 25 to 30 million euros or more to the island are waiting in the pipeline.
Fish farming, according to a study by a French firm, has the potential of annual production of 29,000 tons.
‘‘If all the projects are implemented, they will take up less than one percent of the lagoon area of 280 sq km,’’ according to Boolell.
But Kauppaymuthoo replies: ‘‘When a door has been opened, it is open. Today, it is one percent, tomorrow it can become 2 percent, then more. Where do we stop?’’
Small political and social organisations are the only ones to comment and oppose the bill. Some argue that fishermen and people would be deprived access to beaches and lagoons. According to one such group, Lalit, ‘‘private guards already police beaches in front of hotels. More and more hotels are being built, taking up more of the coastline.’’
Ashok Subron from the political party called Rezistans ek Alternative fears that the bill would encourage hotels and other sea resorts to ask for exclusive lease on the beaches and the sea in front of the villas.
‘‘They may bar people from the beaches,’’ he said, adding that several hotel owners are already doing so, saying that people coming to the beaches disrupt their business.
Boolell denied that people would be deprived access to the beaches and the sea and that pleasure crafts would not be able to operate.
‘‘Those who oppose this project have to go and look at the only fish farm that exists presently on the island, the Ferme Marine de Mahebourg (FMM). Are they barring people from the beaches?’’ he asked.
The FMM, the only aquaculture farm operating in the south-east of the island since 2002, is presently producing about 1,000 tons of fish annually over two hectares of sea, an output that is similar to that of the whole artisanal fishery industry carried out by 2,000 fishermen over surface area of 243 sq km.
Its director, Chris Lee Sin Cheong, claims there is no problem at all with this business, either with the environment or with sharks and chemical products. ‘‘There is no question of barring people from accessing the sea. Our farm is open to anybody to come and see for themselves, but nobody has come yet,’’ he told IPS.
But Sin Cheong admitted that the new bill will regulate access. ‘‘Without it, anybody can come and do anything in the sea and the lagoon.’’ He also insisted that ‘‘we would be the last person to pollute the environment and affect tourism which is a fast-growing industry’’.
In the nineties, Kauppaymuthoo recalled, the authorities denied there was any problem of sea-water pollution by a textile dyeing plant at Poudre d’Or in northern Mauritius.
‘‘It is only a study by the University of Mauritius with seawater specimens sent abroad for examination that proved that mullet fish were contaminated with highly toxic heavy metals,’’ he added.
Both social organisations Lalit and Rezistans ek Alternativ emphasized that if the development of aquaculture is found to be useful, it should be done by artisanal fishermen in the interest of the public and in a sustainable way.
‘‘Private marinas are not in the public interest. They exclude fishermen, often barring them from their pirogues, damaging the environment and creating hostile relations with the public,’’ Lalit underlined in a statement.
Bizlall warned that civil society will oppose every project being proposed in terms of the new law. Kalipso was formed to organise civil society in opposition to the bill.
But Boolell insisted that because of globalisation Mauritius should identify new sectors of economic activity. ‘‘Aquaculture and aquatic business form part of these new sectors. Either we adapt ourselves to the global world or we perish,’’ he said.
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