|The Courier N° 130 Nov - Dec 1991 - Dossier: Oil - Reports: Kenya - The Comoros (EC Courier, 1991, 96 p.)|
|The Comoros - In dire economic straits|
Breathing fresh life into private investment to get rapid growth off the ground again
Said Mohamed Djohar was elected President for a six-year term in March 1990. His leadership coincides with the most difficult period in Comoros history. In this interview with The Courier, he talks about structural adjustment and the constraints on his countrys economic development.
· You have had, in order to right a serious economic situation, to sign a structural adjustment agreement with the World Bank and the IMF. Can the country cope with the severe demands this makes - paring down the civil service, for example?
- The drafting and negotiation of the structural adjustment programme with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are the dire outcome of a difficult financial situation of several years standing.
Over the past five years, our country has had many, ever-expanding economic and financial problems and they have had their effect on both public finance and our relations with most of our partners. The State has not managed to meet commitments to its main partners during this period and mounting arrears on internal and external debts, delays in civil service wage payments, declining investments and slower economic growth have been the result - a situation it would take intensive means to correct. The State cannot really cut back, right public finances, reassure the nations businessmen and regularly meet all commitments to all partners unless it slashes a civil service wage bill currently accounting for more than 60 % of the budget.
The problem is being tackled in various ways. As soon as I was elected, I called for a survey comparing the civil service staff lists with salary statements actually made out by the Treasury and the results of this were such that I asked France to help run our first civil service census.
We now have a proper idea of these staff. The census showed that about a quarter of them are in fact not on file, although salary statements are indeed made out for them. Some do not work at all, others have left and the group also includes staff who, by virtue of being placed too far up the salary scale, receiving allowances which are not due etc. are in receipt of sums to which they are not entitled.
This is deplorable. The wage bill will be cut, primarily, by bringing order to the management of human resources in the civil service, for we believe that substantial savings can be made without massive redundancies.
The information we are now obtaining on civil service pay together with a civil service action plan (to include staff plans) will enable us to make a better job of redeploying and using the present personnel and have the conditions in which to prepare for voluntary departures from the administration.
We aim to limit the undesirable effects of all structural adjustment programmes and relaunch and sustain development of the local private sector. This is the only way of ensuring that the economy grows fast.
The idea of State withdrawal from production and the privatisation of some State firms is to breathe fresh life into private investment and provide the conditions in which rapid growth can be rekindled, jobs created and the social pressure of unemployment relieved, particularly as far as young people are concerned.
· The Comoros economy is almost entirely based on agriculture and agriculture is held back not just by the fact that arable land is in short supply, but by erosion too. What are you doing about erosion?
- Erosion is caused by many things and, in our case, the main one is demographic pressure. It leads to a constant decline in agricultural output and rapid deterioration of the environment, particularly because of deforestation, which also dries up the rivers and ultimately destroys ecosystems. There is nothing new about that.
The departments involved are trying to cope with the situation by running an and-erosion campaign (spreading such methods as planting copses to boost fertility and stop the cattle wandering) and encouraging farmers to diversify their crops.
The farmers also get help with building mini-terraces, planting hedges of vetiver, pineapple and shoots of bloodwort to fix the earth and producing compost, forage and wood between the levels - a useful way of providing shade and ensuring that water infiltrates properly. Food products (manioc, bananas etc) are also planted on the mini-terraces.
· How far is production being intensified, given the shortage of land?
- We are short of land and our population is expanding, so intensification is vital, but it is only carried out by a few peasant farmers on the highlands of Anjouan and Grande Comore and only with food crops. They have a lot of problems because very little input is available and both supervision and capital are required. Intensifying also means reforming the system of land ownership in such a way as to determine peasant status.
· Reports suggest that 80% of your arable land would be better planted with fruit trees. Since The Comoros has to combat erosion and it is increasingly unlikely that it will be self sufficient in food, why doesnt it start doing this already?
- The ecological conditions of the islands are indeed right for fruit trees, but unfortunately we still have not got past the gathering stage in this particular sector. Organisation is called for and it is one of the priorities of the Ministry of Productions action plans, but I cannot hide the fact that we are up against a major problem of financing here.
· How do you exploit your territorial waters?
- There again the problem is financial. We do not really have the means of exploiting or patrolling our waters. We are as short of ships as we are of the training we would need to ensure a minimum of surveillance.
· Is there really any future for tourism here?
- Yes, there is. Of course there is in a country like ours, a relatively new, island country with considerable attractions. Indeed when it comes to stimulating economic activity, it should be the main contributor.
· One of the main aims of The Comoros successive governments has always been to break down the countrys isolation. What are the most recent measures you have taken here?
- We plan to break down isolation with four priority - measures geared to accelerated international promotion, diversification of the airlines flying out of the major European capitals, improved regional cooperation in the Indian Ocean and, of course, political stability. Flight contracts have already been signed, in particular with Belgium, at bath regional and international levels.
· How do you see improved regional cooperation?
- Before answering that one, let me remind you about the context in which the Indian Ocean Commission was set up. The founders who created it back in 1984 wanted to be faithful to the Lagos Plan and the recommendations which the international organisations had taken to encourage sub-regional and the member countries realised they needed to combine forces and work together for the development of their country and the region. Each country has a national economic and social development policy, of course, but the ultimate aim of regional cooperation is to provide a useful complement to what is being done elsewhere and I think that is what the IOC is trying to do. So we have to get a better performance out of regional cooperation by getting the measure of any weaknesses and shortcomings as it proceeds.
I believe that this is the way for our States to improve regional cooperation.
· Does The Comoros still see Mayotte as being part of its territory and how would you describe Franco-Comorian relations?
- There is no Comorian nationalist who could agitate or militate for the disintegration of the national unity and territorial integrity of The Comoros. The Comoros and Mayotte form a unit and you cannot talk about them separately. The Comoros archipelago is made up of four main islands which are geographically, historically and culturally indis-sociable. The precarious environment immediately after independence encouraged one or two separatist elements who, it has to be admitted, had the support of a powerful lobby in metropolitan France. However, in 1975, Giscard dEstaing came out against keeping Mayotte in the French fold, while Jacques Chirac, the then Prime Minister of the present President of France, disapproved of Mayottes frozen situation and Frans Mitterrand has himself always defended the unity of The Comoros.
So, on the face of it, the main French political parties, or their leaders at least, have nothing against my coustrys unity. But by a quirk of fate, things perhaps got off to a bad start when we gained our national sovereignty.
Franco-Comorian relations, let me assure you, are sound.
· How do you see relations between The Comoros and the EEC?
- The Comoros is a member of the ACP Group and has therefore been able to benefit from various EEC schemes. The Community has also helped the member countries of the Indian Ocean Commission run a number of projects.
Many ACP countries are worried that relations with the EEC will deteriorate with completion of the Single Market in 1992 and it is up to the EEC leaders to see how to maintain, or rather boost, trade between us and provide vital support for the development of our countries.
Interview by A.O