Villa: The word conjures images of sun-baked roofs, airy verandas and neatly clipped bougainvilleas.
In Mauritius, however, it is increasingly synonymous with our two-speed economy, an economy bent on producing short-term riches for a few rather than long-term wealth for the many. Indeed, the multimillion rupee villas projects aimed at privileged Mauritians and foreigners alike are becoming the physical symbols of a form of economic segregation that places the interests of the rich on one side and those of the poor and dwindling middle classes on the other. So what, you ask, the class system has always been around and always will. Well, thanks to things like liberalization, depreciation, rationalization and privatization, the objective is clear: enriching the haves at the expense of the have-nots, without the benefi t of even creating could – or might-haves in the process. And the fun and games have only just started.
No matter that these policies have been thoroughly debunked, our economic decision-makers, if they can be called that at all, continue to feast on them like zombies on human fl esh. No matter that liberalization almost always results in higher prices, that depreciation causes the erosion of the everyman’s purchasing power, that tax rationalization places most of the fi scal burden on the shoulders of the masses or that privatization is just another word for transferring public assets to rapacious corporations. Simplistic? Perhaps, but there’s an undeniable trend emerging: at a time when the country is screaming out for a more inclusive model of development - or democratization as government used to call it – our economy is in effect working almost exclusively for the rich. And the toils of those struggling to make ends meet are simply oiling this evil machine.
If pressed, one could possibly envisage supporting some of these policies, if only for the sake of job preservation.
But here’s the punch line: not only are they morally wrong, they’re economically unsound too! Mauritius is the perfect case in point. Over the past few years, the economy has been opened up (as it’s euphemistically called) to an unprecedented extent. We were told that the rules of the game had changed and that we had to also.
So like the good little sheep we are, that’s exactly what we did. And what are we left with today? The manna of Foreign Direct Investment dried up quicker than it takes to say IRS, youth unemployment is higher than it’s been in years, growth and quality of life are down, the prices of goods and services are up, poverty is too, we’re more dependent than ever in our history on imported petroleum products and foodstuffs, indebtedness both at household and national levels is out of control…
And still our so-called economic decision-makers persist in the wrong direction. Even taking into account the state of the world economy, it’s obvious that something’s terribly wrong with these policies. Are they doing it on purpose or are they simply incompetent? At least Moody’s is happy though. So by all means let’s keep on building villas for the rich. We can even sell Mauritius as a villa economy. And what should we call those running it? Now that’s an easy one…