The COVID 19 situation is posing un-paralleled challenges worldwide and Mauritius is not being shielded from major socio-economic impacts originating both from within the country and globally. In such times, the Mauritian diaspora around the world feels concerned about the state of its home country and wants to show its solidarity in numerous ways by contributing to the thinking on how recovery can be efficiently planned. MUIIS ARTU is such a group of individuals scattered in Mauritius and across four continents.
MUIIS ARTU has recently been having regular zoom sessions reflecting on the current situation in Mauritius. We, the members of this group, believe that when faced with tough times and supplies (such time to find solutions to this crisis) are scarce, we must come together and use our collective intelligence to provide practical and implementable solutions! This article is a condensed presentation of our thoughts in light of the current COVID related challenges being faced in Mauritius and offers a framework / roadmap for recovery and improvements based on past lessons learnt.
At the moment, we take cognisance of the fact that there is a proliferation of articles in the press and several excellent analyses, suggestions and recommendations. It is crucial that all these articles with valuable ideas do not merely remain a source of information / entertainment during the confinement with the fate of being forgotten further down the line. We believe that there is an army of government advisers and officers who can develop, refine and transform these ideas into a strategic plan destined for a socio-economic recovery with focus on a stable and resilient future for the country. A word of caution though: we must not during this process repeat the same mistakes of the past or reinvent the wheel!
It is without any doubt that many sectors have been seriously affected and a first major corporate victim of the COVID 19 crisis is Air Mauritius. We believe that the current COVID 19 situation has catalysed its demise stemming from organisational management practices that became entrenched in decades of dysfunctionalities and deviations from sound corporate management norms. It is worth noting that many such corporate sagas (and many half-baked reforms) have been dragging on for many years which create barriers to developments that are sound, innovative and especially resilient to crises such as the present one.
Focusing on the travel and the tourism industry, many experts are predicting that it will be severely impacted over the coming years. Some experts are saying that the tourism industry will not recover before October 2021 and the activities in other industries will remain affected for a long time. However, we need to remind ourselves that we are a nation of go-getters and our history stands witness that we have in the past defied all odds and emerged successful be it in the face of a global economic downturn, an epidemic of SARS or having to reinvent the local economic engine with abolition of preferential trade / tariffs. Whilst recognising that the current COVID 19 pandemic has significant and peculiar challenges that we have not been used to, our recovery should operate through our (proverbial) adaptation skills to defy the catastrophic forecasts of the most pessimistic persons/ “experts”. The word of caution though is that the more we delay, the bigger will be the damage and regression into poverty for ALL OF US. Accordingly, all government assistance should be targeted to boost key sectors of the economy through appropriate incentives.
If we analyse the discussions and the chain of events with hindsight (the confinement has provided us plenty of time to do some reflections), the main root causes of problems can be summarised as follows:
- egotism, greed & unsustainable habits and lifestyles,
- overconsumption, pursuit of materialism, quick money and privileges,
- inefficient government & parastatal bodies with political interferences at all levels,
- uncontrolled expenditures, mismanaged projects & lack of accountability.
COVID 19 has definitely caused us to have a rethink of everything. We all need to honestly confront the present situations to find the solutions.
A “Strategic Recovery Map” must have the following ingredients:
- Collective intelligence, sustainable & ecological lifestyles
- Development of a national resilience strategy based on local production to achieve food self-reliance at the same time create employment in this sector
- Education based on pursuit of excellence in technology, professional integrity and innovation
- Accountable corporate governance based on integrity, ethics, diversity and social justice
- Strong & efficient public institutions re-engineered to secure independence and accountability
- Budget freeze until a “Pay & Performance Research Bureau” is set up
- Gradual disengagement of government from several sectors (real estate, investments, trading) and operate mainly as facilitator to private sector ventures.
While preparing for the above, several immediate measures can be implemented in view of reducing government spending and stimulating our economy and to bring in-depth changes as fast as possible, namely:
- Prioritisation of capital expenditure that will include pausing major construction projects such as:
- All future phases of the Metro Express program to reduce debt and instead use the funds to support the affected sectors.
- All new road decongestion project and instead increasing road maintenance budget.
- All local government projects for the short term and focusing on maintenance of existing infrastructure.
- Air travel will have to restart sooner than later. Safety measures need to be adopted to reassure business travelers and tourists such as mandatory rapid virus testing after check-ins for all passengers prior to embarking on inbound/outbound flights. This could be one of the measures to resolve the social distancing issue in aircraft.
- Work from Home / Flexible Working concepts to be incentivised and implemented for the short term wherever possible. This will have a huge impact on traffic and thus allowing deferment of the major road infrastructure projects. An added bonus will be a significantly reduced carbon footprint, thus a great contribution towards climate change mitigation.
- A 25% pay cut for all the honourable members of the parliament until our full recovery and voluntary acceptance by the private sector ‘haut-cadre’ to temporarily not take their bonuses.
- Limitations on the travelling and other allowances (including overseas) for all senior public officers until full recovery.
- Pay cut comparable to the private sector extended to all public officers who are not on full duty during the confinement.
- Immediate financial support by government to companies in difficulty through equity funding with strong conditions attached (no job loss, no payment of dividends for the next 2 years) and schemes such as furloughing that has been in force in the UK.
- No increase in corporate tax with same conditions as above.
- No reduction in fuel despite drops in world prices – all gains placed in the Covid-19 fund to be used to provide funding to companies facing great difficulties (SME’s and tourism related entities).
- Tax incentive for “productive & employment creating” industries, (e.g. manufacturing, agriculture, SMEs); position Mauritius in the post COVID 19 global supply chain (manufacturing and sourcing shifting away from China) – an EPZ 2.0!
- No increase in personal income tax. This will alleviate the burden on heavily indebted households and incentivise new investors and high net worth individuals.
- Implementation of a process that provides visibility on the status and outcome of development projects. Accountability must be at the heart of this process to mitigate the root causes pertaining to unjustified long outstanding applications.
- Tax incentives for health-conscious individuals (deductions for subscription to gyms etc) resulting in less burden on our hospitals.
As stated at the beginning of this article, we, members of MUIIS ARTU, are truly passionate about our home country and wanted to share our strategic thinking that can potentially address a practical recovery plan with immediate and longer-term focus. We believe that some of the measures listed above, after an in-depth analysis by the Government, could be included in the forthcoming national budget. We need as a nation to be mindful that complacency will revert us to the “Old Normal” which will not be good for the health of the country.
Medical experts and the science to date suggest that a return back to the “new normal” will be dependent on the availability of an effective drug and/or vaccine that will be accessible to everyone. This might still be a while in coming and therefore, we need to build on our collective adaptive skills to surmount this situation by thinking ahead of the curve and out of the box.