Roches NoiresEconomy before environment

Is the so-called smart city mega-project at Roches Noires unravelling the reputation of our venerated Minister of Finance? It was recently the subject of PNQ’s in the National Assembly and has become an object of concern for citizen organisations. Both reveal a disappointing lack of integrated thinking on the part of Mr Lutchmeenaraidoo. He cannot even elaborate on what form the project will take let alone the toll it will take on the environment.

The root cause of the problem seems to be that our financial wizard, who now confesses he is no magician, has raised expectations for an economic miracle without any substantive plans to achieve one – apart, that is, from turning Mauritius into an enormous building site. This raises the more fundamental question of how we want Mauritius to develop. Fortunately, the preposterous proposal of transforming Mauritius into a Singaporean city state is no longer flavour of the month. However, with 25% of Mauritius already categorised as built-up areas, surely the continued sacrifice of agricultural and forest land to urban development will eventually destroy the spirit of our beloved green island. Who wants that?

None of the eight proposed smart cities is located in a more ecologically sensitive area than the one at Roches Noires. Its vast barachois, protective mangroves and forests are a haven for fauna and flora and remain largely unexplored by both native and tourist. Some idiotic economists advocate for the exploitation of all our natural assets both on land and sea, while the Minister of Finance views smart cities as a legacy he can bequeath to future generations. However, will our grandchildren thank him for setting the precedent of eliminating the last of our relatively wild spaces in pursuit of ephemeral economic growth?

Cooperation or coercion?

Sir Anerood Jugnauth, oversaw the exercise to envision an inspiring future, Vision 2020, and the comprehensive blueprint for urban and rural planning, the National Development Strategy. At this time, Mr Lutchmeenaraidoo must have been deep in slumber during his extended period of hibernation and has now awoken dreaming of big projects instead of seeing the big picture. His sleight of hand to both balance trade and grow the economy – without spending a penny – is to seek the cooperation of his predecessor’s favourite saviours: the Chinese.

The oriental owners of the Roches Noires site purchased it to develop an IRS, presumably to sell villas to their excessively wealthy compatriots. Now that their “ghetto for the rich” has been torpedoed, our financial fox appears to be blackmailing them to support his dream. After all, if they don’t build him a smart city, how will they recuperate any of their investment? This is hardly the sound basis for a successful public-private partnership is it?

Follow the plan

The only rationale for building a smart city at Roches Noires, apart from it being in Mr Lutchmeenaraidoo’s constituency, seems to be that there are foreigners willing to invest in it. Since it may take some time to update the National Development Strategy, why not redirect their finance into its principle projects? A direct land swap, whereby the Public gains the Roches Noires site for the creation of a National Park in exchange for some state land at Highlands, would be a feasible approach. In this way, our nation’s diminishing ecological assets can be preserved, while giving this accessible, pre-approved town a better chance to finally see the light of day.

Meanwhile, we still await a government who will seriously make an effort to regenerate our deteriorating urban centres. It is easy to build a new shopping mall on a sugar cane field, but far more difficult to revitalise our traditional towns. But unless we do, new smart cities will be the exclusive playgrounds of the elite, while current municipalities will become ghettos for the rest of us, exacerbating the divide between the haves and the have nots. There was once an exodus of wealthier residents from Port Louis to the plateau, leaving a capital by day with no soul at night. Will history repeat itself?

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