Would residential Smart Cities benefit our economy?

April 16, 2016

I read a report by Dr Honita Coowaloosur on the Chinese Presence in Real Estate in South Africa and Mauritius, which is available online at the Chinese Centre for Studies. Chapter four of the report, describing the Chinese investors’ interest in Mauritian real estate is particularly interesting. It unveils the bitter truth of our institutions for the fact that much of business happenings are kept opaque.

I quote from page 28 of the report,

Official figures on foreign purchases of property in Mauritius are not made available since this activity is closely regulated by key authorities. It is feared that the dissemination of information regarding foreign property purchases might cause social unrest and resentment among locals (Business Mega.mu, 2013). Nonetheless, Mauritian inhabitants and observers are very much aware of the growing foreign communities settling on the island.

The report mentions incomplete/abandoned projects like Le Meritt Elipsis and Jin Fei. Relating to these projects, response of senior officials do not come as a surprise and show the resentment that much of taxpayers feel for people occupying public office. “We only facilitate investment, if it fails, it is none of our business”, responded the Mauritian embassy in Beijing. A similar response echoed from the Bank of Mauritius in a 2015 interview.

The report also mentions the lack of official data with respect to real estate in Mauritius; which appears to be a negligence of local authorities. Interest of Chinese investors surround the two Smart City projects at Riche Terre and Pailles, among the total of eight Smart Cities that are planned.

Would residential Smart Cities benefit our economy?

On 27 March 2016, an article by Ms Sheila Bunwaree on lexpress.mu emphasized on the dwindling middle class of Mauritius. She backs up her claim mentioning a World Bank report, but due to lack of citation I could not get hands on the said report.

Meanwhile, I came across a recent report by the World Bank on poverty reduction in Mauritius. One particular line drew my attention,

The report also suggests the need for public-sector reforms to improve accountability at all levels and improve planning, procurement, and management processes across the system.

With my little experience I have had with local authorities, accountability is really frowned upon and it didn’t go unobserved by the World Bank.

A news item published on the World Bank’s website on the 29th February 2016, highlights the water problem in Mauritius as follows:

Mauritius is already classified as a water-stressed country and without reforms, it could fall under the water-scarce category by 2020. Reforms are needed to improve the institutional framework and help stem water loss in distribution networks

While reading through these different reports and articles, I have mixed feelings on the necessity of Smart Cities. The country’s current infrastructure requires a revamp and it is being blatantly ignored in favor of new cities that would NOT improve the lives of inhabitants outside those cities.