Friday, April 22, 2022

3 Sputnik Products Government Should Buy Right Away

Numero Uno. The brand new Sputnik Nasal Vaccine. Both as a booster and as a 2-dose regimen. We know for a fact that different vaccines not only don’t have the same effectiveness in keeping us away from hospitals and the morgue but they are also not terribly good at preventing infection and transmission. As Israel found out even after a fourth dose of Pfizer. That’s because we have no soldiers to prevent Covid-19 from living rent-free in our noses and spreading around. But as the diagram shows – pulled from Sputnik’s Twitter handle along with the pic of how it is administered – a nasal vaccine changes all that by building a wall of immunity at the top of our airways. It would also make our vaccination campaigns a lot more efficient and provide most Mauritians with a better immune response through heterologous boosting. Plus as it’s a spray no needles are involved.

The Sputnik nasal spray offers a higher level of protection against Covid-19 by building a wall of immunity at the entry point of the virus.

Administration of the Sputnik nasal vaccine 
is straightforward. No needles are used.

Dezyem. The Sputnik Light vaccine. As a booster or a standalone jab. As 36,956 Mauritians have already had at least the first dose of Sputnik V (which in fact is the Sputnik Light shot) it makes a lot of sense to offer them the option of continuing with the same excellent vaccine. According to Gamaleya, its maker, the Sputnik booster is supposed to last 12 months. This compares favourably with the 3 to 6 months the Pfizer booster will offer protection. Surely the authorities are not planning to jab the population with a 6th dose of a vaccine designed for the Wuhan strain that’s not exactly dominant now by this December?

Third. Sputnik-M jab for adolescents (12-17). It’s a 2-dose vaccine just like Sputnik V except that its concentration is 5X lower. Buying the Sputnik-M vaccine would be consistent with the recent decision of government to add a non-mRNA vaccine like Novavax to its list of approved vaccines. 

There are issues with mRNA 
vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna. 

Government Should Update Its Vaccine 
Strategy With Official Data It Has Published
It appears that government hasn’t been buying vaccines for quite some time relying totally on shipments that are mufta instead. This has caused a 100% dependence on mRNA vaccines. A very risky decision while it kept collecting Rs2 on each litre of petroleum products and as the Covid-19 death toll approaches 2,500. It is way better off checking our local experience with vaccines so far and adjusting the vaccine strategy accordingly. Especially two facts. One is that unlike the other jabs (see chart) nobody who had done the Sputnik vaccine had died from Covid as of November 7, 2021 – these numbers need to be updated via a parliamentary question ASAP. Two, as we learned last week from our National Assembly, Sputnik had the lowest rate of side effects of four vaccines used in Mauritius. 

If government doesn’t want to buy these Sputnik products – the best vaccine against death and side effects according to its own data and confirmed elsewhere – because it has spent too many billions of our national reserves uselessly or hasn’t heard of long Covid yet then maybe it should give citizens who have already been vaccinated with or view the Russian jabs as among the best in the world the option of paying for it. And make it widely available. 

Finally, given that Pfizer has now made several billions of dollars of profit there’s no need for a consent form as if its vaccine is faulty it should be held accountable. Incidentally that’s the reason why Moderna and Pfizer were not approved by Indian authorities. 

Nobody had died from Covid-19 after being jabbed by the Sputnik vaccine as of beginning of last November. This is consistent with what several other countries have found: Sputnik offers the best protection against death from Covid-19. 

Sputnik had the lowest rate of side effects 
in Mauritius confirming what has been 
observed in a number of countries.

This is a lot higher than the official figure that government doesn’t publish in Mauritius 
but sends to the WHO.

The Sputnik nasal spray should help us keep long Covid and hospitalisation to a minimum accelerating a return to normality. 

Thursday, April 07, 2022

Meet the WUT

That’s how people will call the Sir Harold Walter Urban Terminal if the VUT is renamed to honour the memory of one of our land’s finest but completely forgotten sons – SHW built our first and some say still our best motorway which also makes him associated with our transportation network. It’s true he was a pillar of the Labour Party (pictured above with a famous colleague) and we don’t have a Labour PM right now. But we know what happened when we last had one. He actively tried to rewrite the history of the LP and of Mauritius, placing a sycophant at the head of the MBC with a contract that had even a “clause de conscience”. And two of the three Presidents he nominated were not personalities from the oldest political party of Mauritius.

Pravind Jugnauth has everything to gain in making this move. He would rise in stature as a head of government and reap quite a bit of sympathy from hundreds of floating and not-so-floating voters. These are always handy in any election. Besides if I’m not mistaken SHW was the lawyer of SAJ at one time. 

We definitely don’t want to have Victoria in the name of that terminal. That too for several reasons. We’ve been an independent country since 1968 and a Republic for 30 years. Plus Queen Victoria was the monarch on who’s watch at least two famines occurred in India. One such famine is the Great Famine of 1876-1878 during which between 5.6 million and 9.6 million Indians lost their lives – shipping a record amount of wheat to England during that famine didn’t exactly help (Wikipedia). That’s a lot of people. Without blue eyes.

Most of that range exceeds the 6 million of Jews who are assumed to have died in the hands of Nazis of Germany in WWII. Add the one million who died during the Indian Famine of 1896-97 and we’re definitely talking of someone who was the head of state of a colonial power with more blood on her hands than the little guy with a famous moustache. By this yardstick calling it HUT would be a big improvement. 

Furthermore just imagine how embarrassed we’ll look when movies on these famines à la Kashmir Files come out as they inevitably will in a few years. Speaking of embarrassment isn’t it wonderful that we now have a national bird which is alive? Which means we can now think of redesigning our totally irrelevant Coat of Arms.

Finally, we don’t want a statue for the victims of Covid-19 in Souillac. We want it in one of our busiest spots. We’ll be spoilt for choice once we pull down those associated with slavery.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Vaccination Status Can’t Ignore Jab Longevity and Performance

While it was good strategy to have several vaccines in Mauritius last year there’s quite a bit of local data available now to narrow down our choices until better and in some cases more classic ones become available or Covid morphs into an endemic. More information is also coming from the jab manufacturers themselves. 

For example, Gamaleya, which makes the mix-and-match 2-dose Sputnik V vaccine has recommended its booster jab (Sputnik Light) 6 months after the first vaccine regimen and an annual dose thereafter. This compares very favourably with the 3-month cycle that seems to be the destination with mRNA shots like Pfizer. 

With the Sputnik solution we’d be doing at most two more doses over the 18 months following the time we’d stopped being fully vaccinated. Stick with Pfizer and we could be looking at six or more extra doses before parliament is dissolved. We certainly don’t want that many additional boosters. And this for at least two reasons. We’ve all read the warning of the European drug regulator on how a fourth dose could overload our immune system. Do we even want to wonder about the very serious public health problems that could be waiting for us with an eighth dose from a technology that’s relatively new? Plus imagine the current mess at vaccination centres being multiplied by six over the next year-and-a-half.

There has also been the logical recommendation that the level of antibodies irrespective of how they ended up in the body – through infection or vaccination – is a much better yardstick to determine freedom of movement than settling for a uniform but unfortunately discriminatory vaccine-only-based metric. This has become all the more easier for a middle-income country like us to do after the WHO signed a non-exclusive licence agreement with the Spanish National Research Council for a Covid-19 serological tool last November. 

So yes, our jab portfolio should be trimmed but in mindful ways. That definitely does not include putting all of our vaccine strategy in the mRNA basket which would also be a pity given that Modern Portfolio Theory turns 70 in a few weeks. The more so that no cases of Mauritians who took these Russian shots and died because of Covid have been reported so far – which is consistent with the mammoth Hungarian study that concluded that Sputnik V was the best of 5 vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Sinopharm were the other four) when it came to preventing deaths and the second best to avoid infections. The political risks of screwing up this too are not non-negligible for Pravind Jugnauth either and pretty untimely as he completes his fifth year as PM on January 22.

P.S. There’s also a brand new study done at the Spallanzani Institute (Italy) which was published on Thursday that shows that Sputnik does a much better job in dealing with Omicron than Pfizer. Here’s a screenshot from Gamaleya’s Twitter handle. 

Friday, July 23, 2021

Guy Who Left Behind At Least Three Pairs of Oversized Shoes is 90

Kher Jagatsingh who was born nine decades ago today left a massive legacy. We look rather briefly at some of his accomplishments and offer clues as to how he managed to do so much so fast. 

He left a job in the colonial civil service to co-found The Mauritius Times at 23 (see timeline). That’s a pretty daring move if done today. Just imagine in those days. But the voracious and curious reader that he was obviously had other plans and a big part of these was to serve his country to the best of his abilities.

These initially took the form of a series of battles in his weekly to retaliate against all forms of injustice and to steer national debates in a direction that was good for Mauritius. One such battle was the “Down With PR” campaign so that Mauritius ended up with a far superior electoral system, the FPTP system. 

KJ was quickly noticed by that team-builder extraordinaire, one SSR, and he was soon standing as an LP candidate in the general elections of 1959 to taste his first electoral victory. SSR must have been quite impressed by his protégé to have the 28-year old as Secretary-General in such defining times two years later.

After an electoral setback in 1963 he returned to parliament after the oh-so important 1967 independence elections and was sworn in as Minister of Health. That was a crucial time to be in charge of that Ministry. The demographic bomb – a topic he wrote extensively on – was being defused. And going through his speeches in that period – a good example is when the SSRNH was inaugurated in August 1969 – leaves us with the unmistaken impression of someone who thought very deeply about public health.

His next stop was a five-year stint at the Ministry of Economic Planning & Development ending in 1976. KJ again used his beginner’s mind to look at economic development and pioneered a new approach, launched the much talked about RDP and in the process, we learnt from Manou Bheenick’s excellent 1999 Memorial Lecture, transformed the ministry into a superministry.

World Bank President Robert McNamara 
and KJ shared the view that bean-counting
 has little to do with development.

The Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs was KJ’s final cabinet position. Everybody knows who implemented LP’s 1976 electoral pledge for Free Secondary Education. What may be lesser known is who put it in the manifesto.

The then 45-year old considered it his biggest challenge yet. Many schools were built, the MIE produced schoolbooks that were more suitable for the 10-year old nation and several components of the education sector were integrated into a coherent whole to help push Mauritius to greater heights.

Widely considered as the best Education Minister Mauritius has had, his hard work in that capacity has been acknowledged by many players in the sector and his interesting ideas are still being looked at.

His excellent work has been recognised by many.

Kher Jagatsingh has lived a very meaningful life. He took on the mighty, educated the masses and strengthened the Labour Party with his off the charts organisational skills, charm and intelligence before delivering solid performances in three different ministries at junctions that were crucial in the history of a young nation. A non-negligible part of this impressive track record can be traced back to the fact that he and his biggest fan, the great leader of the LP, happened to be on the same wavelength on most national issues. These included progressive and sustainable taxation, the FPTP system, the importance of a good welfare state and the necessity of building great teams so as to be in the best possible position to handle difficult problems.

But a lot of his success came from working on himself, travelling extensively, meeting the great men and women of his time (Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Chou-En Lai and l’Abbé Pierre during a 17-month 1950s trip), not letting too much schooling get in the way of a first-rate education (a precious perspective in these times of disrupted schooling), putting in long hours and staying very humble and empty. 

Keeping the fan base happy.

SKJ with his comrade-in-arms and fellow pillar of the Labour Party, Sir Harold Walter (on the right), in the VIP Lounge at Plaisance Airport.

Petals of Dust which gives us a good idea of how much KJ loved his fellow compatriots was published in 1981.

Sunday, July 04, 2021

Dis Plas Kot Bizin Komisyon Danket

Byin bizin komisyon danket dan sa ban plas swivan la parski sa fin kut nu estra ser kom pei ek ena ladan fin mem fer nu koste ek fayit. Bizin komisyon danket pu nu sosyete konpran kin arive ek ki nu met ban zafer an plas pu ki zame sa pa arive ankor. Dayer Ptr ti propoz en Economic Offenders Act dan so manifest electoral pu eleksyon zeneral 2019.

1. Linpak flat tax 15% Sithanen lor sitiasyon mari katastrofik dan ki Moris retruv li. Dapre se ki ti pe dir dan kanpayn elektoral 2005 ek apre (li pu zener en krwasans 8%) GDP Moris pu 2020 ti bizin 914 milyar rupi. Tiena COVID-19 an 2020 non? Pena problem anu pran prozeksyon GDP pu 2019, 837 milyar rupi, pu kav tir COVID dan diskisyon. GDP aktyel pu 2019 ti 498 milyar rupi. Donk zis pu 2019 mank 339 milyar prodiksyon domestik (pu gayn en lide, pandemi fin kut nu 100 milyar rupi GDP an 2020). Ant 2006 ek 2019 ti mank 1,780 milyar rupi GDP u 312 fwa sa 5.7 milyar ki fek pey Betamax la. U preske 18 fwa seki pandemi fin kut nu an 2020. Ava bon osi kone kisana in profit plis sa striktir taksasyon insutenab la ek ban lezot desizyon insanse.

2. Kifer sevings fin ekrule dan Moris kumsa ek an plis zame li fin refer? Zame fin ariv sa dernye swasant an malgre ki plizir gro siklon in deza kraz nu lekonomi ek nun travers dan de sok petrolye. Sevings se meyer indikasyon rezilians en lekonomi ek en ingredian esansyel kreasyon larises. Ala en perspektiv istorik

3. Linpak ban kontra IPP lor Moris (kalite ler, lanvironman, konpetitivite, stratezi, etc). Navin Ramgoolam ti truv zot abizif ek an Novam 2007 li ti dir ban morisyin ki sa pa kav kontinye ek ki li ti pu sanz so non si li ti pu les sa ban kontra la kontinye abiz lepep. Mem lepok Paul Berenger usi ti truv ban randman ki ban IPP ti pe fer ek sa ban kontra la tro elve ek ti propoz en randman 10%. Kav sa si ti tro elve. Resaman Ramgoolam fin kalifye kontra Betamax de ‘an bon e di form’. Li a kav vin fer nu konpran kuma tu sa ban kontra IPP la diferan ek parey. Berenger usi kav vin eksplike.

4. Pert ejing Air Mauritius. Zame nun kone kin vreman pase. Purtan MK in perdi buku kas. Par milyar. Par kont ti tan buku deklarasyon sirprenan. Komisyon danket ava ekler nu. Li kav usi dir nu kifer nu konpayni aviasyon otan dan difikilte zordi ek egzamin ban dezisyon kuma Air Corridor ek asa avion.

5. Pert ejing STC. Byin drol sa parski STC ti ena en Automatic Pricing Mechanism a lepok e donk li pa ti ena pu fer ejing. Bizin kon tu ban detay lor la i konpri ki kalite kontra finansye ti servi. 4.7 milyar rupi ti perdi ladan.

6. Leta nu system sante piblik. Avan Covid-19 pasyan dializ ti pe pas buku mizer. Apre plizir fin desede resaman. Ena en komisyon danket lor la me ena plizir lot problem ki revin a la sirfas konstaman. Li pu bon konpran byin parski nun truv rol mari inportan ki nu system sante piblik fin zwe pu gard nu vivan dan pandemi ek pu konpran kifer otan pasyan ankor bizin al swiv tretman deor. Ti bizin osi kone ki ban politisyin u zot fami ki ena kik lintere dan ban system sante prive pu evalye ban konfli dintere reel u potansyel.

7. Leta nu lanvironman (i konpri kalite ler nu respire). Bizin konpran ki fin ariv nu lanvironman depi lindepandans. Pe kup montayn, tuy sovsuri par milye, kup en ta estra zoli pye, prodir tro buku dese ek nu fin vin mari vilnerab sak fwa gayn de gut lapli.

8. Tentativ privatizasyon CWA ek CHC. Bizin rant an detay ladan. Bizin ran piblik rapor labank mondyal lor sekter dilo pu lepep konpran kifer ti pe rod don kontra afermaz en konpayni prive. Bizin kone komye kas konpayni la ti pu gayne sak fwa lapli tonbe. Ek kone kifer in les sa zafer la dren nu ban lenerzi nasyonal pandan otan letan. Mem zafer pu CHCL.

9. Lev pake reste. Bizin kone ki egzateman ti arive an fevriye 2007 ler minis finans ti pe rod fer santaz ar promye minis akoz nominasyon guverner labank Moris. Eski nu pei ti rul san minis finans pandan plizir zur ki en zafer ki pa sipoze arive?

10. Inplikasyon proze politik lalyans Ptr/MMM an 2014. Ek sirtu ki bizin fer pu elimin/redwir sa kalite risk la.

Friday, June 04, 2021

World Bank Not Shutting Down Yet, Publishes Another Sloppy Report Instead

The Country Economic Memorandum (CEM) for Mauritius that came out recently is typical of the dumb reports that the World Bank (WB) dishes out non-stop. Skimming through it immediately brings back to mind Lee Kuan Yew’s famous observation:

What Harry Said 
About the WB
“The World Bank report’s conclusion are part of the culture of America and, by extension, of international institutions. It had to present its findings in a bland and universalizable way, which I find unsatisfying because it doesn’t grapple with the real problems. It makes the hopeful assumption that all men are equal, that people all over the world are the same. They are not.”

The WB is a controversial institution that should be closed for the good of humanity as it has messed up several countries. Or at least converted into a food court where falafel can become a reality with a good enough circular migration programme. Take Indonesia for instance. Sebastian Mallaby reports on page 190 of his excellent The World’s Banker – trade unionists and other progressive voices in Mauritius should definitely grab a copy – that the first thing that James Wolfensohn, the WB President at the time of a 1998 trip to Indonesia, told Dennis de Tray, its country director, was “You’ve really [expletive deleted] this country up”. 

What the World Bank 
is Particularly Good At
Definitely creating famine. Like in Malawi. Google up one 2007 New York Times article (Ending Famine, Simply by Ignoring the Experts) and you’ll find out about another big poop nicely summed up by Jeffrey Sachs as “the donors took away the role of government and the disasters mounted”. The CEM wants to do that too. It has “priority actions that could be launched immediately under the FY21/22 budget to kickstart the process”. That’s interfering with our sovereignty if you ask me and it’s serious enough to get the local WB office closed down. It’s a lot worse than the episode with the WHO representative at the beginning of the year. The other thing is that we’ve been told that the CEM has been crafted by 20 experts. Experts in what? Massive Economic Poop? Thanks, but no thanks. Been there, done that with Bretton-Woods Ali (Mansoor) who told Mauritius back in 2006 after getting the job of Financial Secretary from his university buddy and toxic bean-counter that he would be adapting the practices of the WB that have worked elsewhere to our country. 

Driving Public Finances 
Over a Cliff is Another Core WB Skill
This essentially took the form of an extreme version of trickle-down economics that was supposed to generate GDP growth rates that would oscillate around 8% by slashing already-low corporate and top income tax rates to 15% flat. As expected we never got 8% growth in any of the last 14 years ending in 2019 which is before COVID-19 started creating trouble. In fact and as the chart shows we didn’t even get 7% or 6% in that period (the average being barely above 4%). No wonder then that 67-year-old Sithanen has been out of parliament for 11 of these 14 years (79%) and that too because we didn’t have recall elections back in 2006 (we unfortunately still don’t and PJ would make his first serious bit of history by adding them to our constitution). 

Good At Killing Savings Too
We know what happened to our savings after bank interest was taxed, double-digit inflation was created and our rupee was rapidly depreciated in the first few years of Paglanomics. According to recent and conservative calculations the savings missing between 2006 and 2019 exceed 1 trillion rupees.* That’s a million million rupees. Speaking about a trillion rupees did you know that according to Sithanen/Mansoor trickle-down policy our GDP was supposed to cross that threshold by the end of this year? Without COVID-19 national output would have been around Rs557 billion. In other words there would have been a GDP shortfall of nearly half-a-trillion rupees for one year. And it would have got worse every year as long as we stood on the wrong side of compounding. All of this obviously makes the job of our Finance Minister really simple. 

Padayachy’s Easy Decisions
Bring back corporate taxes to at least 30% which is roughly where they were before bean-counters started messing up Mauritius really badly with their economic snake-oil (aka WB best practices). So that we defuse the debt bomb and government doesn’t sit on its hands (while keeping busy with unnecessary distractions like the annoyance law and the ICTA proposal) and ruin the country along with its world-famous environment. Introduce a wealth tax. Very large dividends of several hundreds of millions of rupees should be taxed at 95%. End the wealth-destroying depreciation of our national currency and the corresponding bean-counting with the SRF. Solve real problems. There are quite a few of them. Don’t confuse wastage with GDP/revenue shortfall. By the way, there’s wastage in the private sector too. Or screw-ups with reforms. And...

Solidarity Never a 
Substitute For Sustainability
When tax rates were 70% public finances were sustainable and we built a decent welfare state. Still there was plenty of social work that was going on because we were a left-for-dead country and the economic seas of the 1970s were quite choppy. These were done in an era with no social media. Plenty is still being done away from spotlights. But the current tax structure is simply not sustainable. No amount of solidarity can make up for that. Unless an expensive villa, a bundle of hard currencies, an optional dialysis machine, cleaner air, upward social mobility, a respect for nature plus a million of other things is delivered along with each food pack. There was already Rs1.8 trillion of GDP missing between 2006 and 2019. It’s way better for the 10% richest households (and for everybody else) to get 27.8% of a larger cake like in 1991/2 than 31.2% of the smallest of cakes that’s incompatible with nature like in 2012. Which is why in 2011 wealthy French saw their dreams come true: pay more taxes. Wealthy Germans had asked for the same thing two years earlier. 

Jagatsingh, S., Budget 2021/22, Republic of Mauritius, Analyst Report, forthcoming. 

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Padayachy is Two Budgets Late

He should have presented one early in January to put back corporate and personal tax rates on a sustainable and progressive path – raise maximum personal rates to 40% or more and the corresponding numbers for corporates not below 30% – because fourteen years of trickle-down economics were about to send our economy crashing into a wall. As chart 1 shows GDP for 2020 was expected to reach Rs530 billion before Covid-19 appeared on the scene instead of the Rs918 billion needed to keep the regressive tax code. That’s a shortfall of Rs388 billion. 2021 was supposed to be the year our GDP crosses the Rs1 trillion mark. That was not going to happen and our economic output would have still fell short of that milestone by a lot even in 2024. In fact the gaps between the two variables would have kept on increasing with GDP in 2024 less than half where the Sithanen flat tax had promised to bring it.

Rs78bn of Government Revenue 
Missing in 2020, Rs89bn in 2021
These shortfalls can be translated into missing government revenue once we pick a reasonable number for the latter expressed as a percentage of GDP. Let’s be conservative and pick 20% - the actual budget estimate for 2020 is 23%. As chart 2 shows there was going to be Rs78bn of revenue missing in the government coffers this year if tax rates were not brought back to sustainable levels (the figure for 2019 is Rs67bn). This amount which is roughly 15% of our pre-Covid-19 2020 GDP could have been used to take our public health system to a whole new level. After it was seriously patched up. Weren’t we recently reminded by the President of the Renal Disease Patients Association that there are on average three dialysis machines in each dialysis centre that’s not operational?

A Second Budget in March
Then this month he would have presented a massive supplementary one to deal with the Covid-19 problem. A bit like what Singapore did. Instead Padayachy wasted precious time by putting the dumb and controversial Doing Business rankings (DB) on a higher pedestal. For sure he cannot talk about average growth rates of the past five years – the sole purpose of bringing tax rates to 15% was to get 8% growth rates but which we never did in any of these years – as they have been the lowest of the past thirty-five years. The snag is that as chart 3 shows changes in our DB are uncorrelated with our economic growth. And do we need to even bother calculating its correlation with the conditions in which several of our public medical staff are working to keep us safe from the pandemic?