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Friday, 16 November 2012 12:55

Kick-off of debates on the Appropriation (2013) Bill

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It was the shadow finance minister of the MMM, Li Kwong Wing, second member for Beau Bassin Petite Rivière, who kicked off the debates on the Appropriation (2013) Bill
after the presentation of the Budget by the Finance Minister, Xavier-Luc Duval, during the last session of the National Assembly on 9 November.

At the resumption of debates on Wednesday 14 November 2012, it was the Private Notice Question of the Leader of the Opposition that took the lead. Paul Bérenger hit hard on what he termed as ‘alleged property scam’ and wanted to know whether there is any tentative move for a cover up of the affair. The Private Notice Question of the Leader of the Opposition put to the Prime Minister read as follows: ‘Whether, in regard to the alleged property scam by Comaprim/ Zoobair & Osman Properties Ltd, involving the sale off-plan of luxury villas on Pas Géométriques and of the Centrepoint Complex, he will, in each case, state if –

(a) inquiries have been carried out by the Police, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, the Bank of Mauritius and the

Mauritius Revenue Authority respectively, indicating if any Minister, notary, lawyer, officers of the Board of Investment and of the Municipal Council of Quatre Bornes were involved; and
(b) authority for the transfer of the Pas Géométriques leases was obtained?

In his reply, Dr Navin Ramgoolam referred to the answer given to Li Kwong Wing on 23 October 2012 where mention was made of an inquiry carried out by the Board of Investment in October 2008, jointly with the Financial Services Commission on the possible mechanisms allegedly used by non-citizens to circumvent the provisions of the Non-Citizens (Property Restriction) Act using parallel schemes. He indicated that five companies were suspected of having recourse to such subterfuges and that subsequently the Non-Citizens (Property Restriction) Act and the Registration Duty Act were amended through the Finance (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act which came into force in July 2009.

He then explained how appropriate legislation was made to allow non-citizens to invest in Mauritius: “As a strategic move to develop the economy, Government instituted a scheme to allow a non-citizen who is registered as an investor with the Board of Investment to purchase an immovable property, a right to immovable property or part of a building for business purposes.

The Business Facilitation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act of 2006 was passed and amended the Non-citizens (Property Restriction) Act, thereby enabling non-citizens to purchase for business purposes freehold land or to lease freehold/State Land, including Pas Géométriques for a period exceeding 20 years.

Applications for purchase of a property or lease of lands for business purposes are submitted to the BOI, which is responsible to process and to issue such authorisation.  Since 2006 up to 29 October 2012, 246 authorisations were approved out of 300 applications received.”

Parallel Schemes

Dr Ramgoolam revealed to the House how non-scrupulous businessmen used loopholes to circumvent the newly promulgated legislation: “In October 2008, the BOI has received numerous representations that parallel schemes are being used to circumvent the Business Facilitation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006 and the Non-citizens (Property Restriction) Act to enable non-citizens to acquire or hold residential property outside the Integrated Resorts Scheme, the Real Estate Scheme and Investor Scheme.”

Comaprim

“Comaprim Co Ltée was incorporated on 07 April 2006 with the following shareholders -  Mr. Roupesh Hematlal with 25 % shares;Mr. Sanjeev Kumar Hematlal with 25 % shares, and Zoobair and Osman Properties Ltd with 50 % shares. On 01 September 2009, Comaprim Co Ltée acquired three portions of land of a total extent of 4A 82p (20,345 m2) from HV Properties Ltd (the shareholders of which are Messrs Roupesh Hematlal and Sanjeev Kumar Hematlal) as per title deed registered and transcribed on VOL 7472, No. 54, for the sum of Rs80 m.

On 07 August 2012, Al Qatami Investments (Mauritius) Ltd, a non-citizen, applied for an authorisation to acquire 4A 82p of land with building improvements from Comaprim Co Ltée with the objective to continue the development of the shopping complex with other related commercial amenities and facilities for a consideration of USD 17 million under the Non-Citizens (Property Restriction) Act.

Approval was conveyed by the BOI on 14 September 2012 for Al Qatami Investments (Mauritius) Ltd to acquire land and in building improvements situated at Trianon on condition that the company should respect the reservation agreements with prospective tenants where deposits have been accepted.  

In regard to part (a) of the question, the inquiries have been proceeding, and the position to date is as follows -Police started enquiry into a case of “conspiracy to defraud” against Mr Mohammad Zoobair Dawood Timol and Mr Ousman Dawood Timol on 29 October 2010.  Police enquiry is ongoing.Various stakeholders and organisations have been approached to assist the investigation, especially the Ministry of Housing and Lands, the Registrar of Companies, and public notaries.
As regards ICAC, it started investigation on 14 October 2011.  The investigation did not disclose possible offences of corruption or money laundering.  

In regard to part (b) of the question, the Ministry of Housing and Lands that there are two plots involved, one at the Vale and another one at Grand Baie.

As far as the Bank of Mauritius is concerned, as soon as it became aware of an article appearing on the website - http://mauritiuspropertyscam, it conducted special examination under section 43 of the Banking Act of 2004 in respect of the parties therein.

In his supplementary questions the Leader of the Opposition expressed his concern that in ‘spite of repeated illegal transactions such as the emission of blank cheques by Zoobair Timol amounting to Rs 29 million, the latter is released on bail.’

He also commented on the decision of the Prime Minister to set up a Commission of Enquiry on the matter as “a delaying tactic.”

Li Kwong Wing set the tone

The second member for Beau Bassin and Petite Rivière set the tone for the much awaited fiery exchange of words on the Appropriation (2013) Bill. The main words which forced attention in the House were: ‘Triple shock’ referring to lack of Growth, Unemployment and the decreasing Purchasing Power of the people. Other words were: ‘ from a jobloss growth to a jobless growth’, ‘a handful of peanuts to the poor’ and reducing the price of TV sets so as to help viewers ‘to watch ministers’ every night.

‘Last year it was about more growth, for the greater good. There was a list of deliverables to be completed within a time schedule. Examples are so many, but it is eloquent that in spite of 91% proclaimed completion, no mention has been made of some of the key measures for growth:
Divesting from a series of commercial and industrial assets, such as casinos, Domaine Les Pailles Properties, Port Louis Waterfront, Belle Mare Tourist Village, etc; identification of strategic partner for Cargo Handling Corporation & Albion Fisheries Research Centre; transformation of DBM into a MSME Bank; development of an official rating system of hotels; start of construction of 40 out of 175 units of industrial space for SME; mechanism to determine the accepted range of inflation; construction of 1,000 units by NHDC on 160 arpents  identified, etc. These were promises made to be broken, for their “effets d’annonce”, not for the greater good.

This budget has brought the worse combination of misery: economic slowdown,  rising unemployment and continued loss of purchasing power – i.e. more misery, less employment, less real incomes. There has also been increasing inequality, widening gap between poor and rich. The number of new cars increased by 35%, whilst the number of containers of imports is his benchmark.

That’s why he has reduced duty on bath, - enjoy more duty free bath when there is no water… ‘Pani naiba’… But he wants to introduce a new type of bodywash, dry cleaning, lavage a sec, duty free. He will be getting an award for this new invention. There is also the saga of the open war between the Finance Minister and the Governor of the Bank of Mauritius.

No clarity, no consistency, no certainty! Dr Arvin Boolell, Dr Vasant Bunwaree, Francoise Labelle and Cader Sayed Hossen also commented on Budget 2013 on Wednesday. The debates continued on Thursday.

Indradev Curpen

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