For a better Mauritius: Ideas for 2020

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The author is of the opinion that one of the good ideas for 2020, in Mauritius, is to boldly implement the quick wins, concerning our ageing population, like establishing means test for old age pension.


2020 is a few months away and we need to help political parties for higher sustainable growth and inclusive development. Many bold and innovative ideas have been published in the newspapers related to the national budget. We however, need to realistically realize that a few months from a General Election, complex ideas will have to wait for 2020. Under these circumstances, and in line with the existence of highly efficient institutions overseas which prepare economic agendas for forthcoming governments, without party constraints, particularly NESTA in the UK and Niti Aayogi in India, we are proposing some ideas for 2020.

Environment and Global Warming

The environment and climate change have to be holistically addressed. Both will be determined by external forces but we must as S. Hawkins said ‘Do the best we can in the circumstances we find ourselves’. A non-exhaustive list will include fresh steps on Food recycling, Stray dogs, Coastal erosion management via plantation of mangroves, Coral gardening, Reforestation, Recycling of plastics, Use of recyclable glass bottles, Elimination of single- use plastics, Incentives for home gardens, Reduce pollution from exhaust pipes by banning diesel, Cleaner Mauritius by giving contracts to private companies to clean identified places, long–term plan for Regenerative agriculture, Robot farming and investment in a robust Environment National Fund with greater contribution from public funds and higher environment fee from hotels and industry. We must concede that we have been digging in the wrong places and must change course. The glass will be fuller if we involve everyone and adopt the Canadian model of Extended Products Responsibility, where producers are both financially and operationally responsible for managing how products are collected and disposed of. We must be readier to risk short-term cost to seek long-term gains for everyone.

Skills Development and Education

We need to streamline institutions and merge to cut cost and improve efficiency. Private Tuition cannot be wished away but must be regulated. Teacher training must be revamped via Professional Development Programs. Learning Accounts must be introduced, based on the United Kingdom model. Public funded universities must be merged to focus more decisively on both applied research and academic courses. Better education is the best solution to improve output per worker and we must remember the famous words of P. Krugman ‘A country’s ability to improve its standard of living over time depends entirely on its ability to raise its output per worker’.

Ageing Population

Life expectancy will continue to increase putting fiscal pressures and the dependency ratio will lead to a decline in labour force. These have been flagged many times and most recently by MCB Focus. We now need to boldly implement the quick wins, like means test for old age pension and eligibility for pension.

Industry and SME

A Textile Development Fund will be needed to help on income subsidies, assist very indebted firms and boost diversification and competitiveness. Export schemes for production of Flowers, Avocados and Jackfruit aimed at new entrepreneurs are now needed based on potential of these products in the international market. The definition of an SME should be increased to Rs 200 m annual turnover to create and develop internationally viable and competitive SME. Parastatals and the Government should be directed to source 25% of annual procurements from SMEs. The private sector must be motivated to increase its purchases from SME’S after fresh dialogues. A private sector SME Fund in South Africa initiated by CEOs started with $ 1. 4 bn. We must adapt, adjust and create strong monitoring mechanisms.

Spirituality, Stress and Happiness

The paradox of unhappiness within increasing economic growth is worldwide. Workplace stress is high. 47% of British felt they had no ability to influence national agenda. 48% of Americans have no confidence in politics. 59% of tech workers thought they were working on products that could be harmful for society, according to a representative poll by Hansard Society. Rising stress in so-called anxiety economies are huge challenges.

Employee Engagement Schemes have been very successful in the United Kingdom and Denmark and must be tailor-made to suit us. There are many useful projects but we can still adopt more successful ideas and projects to boost labour productivity. Support from the University of Warwick, with specialists in Employee Engagement policies, may be needed to design a long term strategy. Employee engagement is the new solution and according to the Financial Times (26 August 2018), ‘Employee engagement is a lasting fad as companies spend around $ 720 m yearly’. It is enormously helpful to enhance labour reform and productivity.

Many universities and colleges offer lessons in spirituality and happiness, integrated in markings. The University of Bristol offers 12 week course which counts for 20 of the 120 credit points for first year. Yale University provides one hour lecture weekly on happiness. We can finalize new courses which are interrelated from college to tertiary levels with very regular programs on television with the support of the Council of Religion. We must also have more inter- faith programs, make spirituality more lively and share common principles via innovative social media and various events. The UN week on Spirituality each October is an example when we can all put divinity first.

Telecommunications

Technologies related to 5G cannot be avoided and would need crossoperator efforts. China is investing $ 15 bn on Artificial Intelligence and whilst we will still rely on core technologies from overseas, applications by operators, industry and the Government are local responsibilities. The 40% shares of France Telecom in Mauritius Telecom must be revisited to develop a truly national champion which can better serve our interest. The operators must help in design of more on line payment for services like fines and benchmark digital services with the best and resolve weaknesses so that we become a really digital island.

Rural Tax

The rural tax is unavoidable as we plan to spend more on industry, welfare and poverty reduction schemes. We may early 2020, start with a tax on property exceeding Rs 8 m.

Health

This is very complex but specialists recommend greater awareness on the importance of exercise, reduce cigarettes significantly and a better balance on complementary and conventional therapies.

Shelters

Teen age pregnancy, domestic violence and street children are difficult issues to resolve and there are no silver bullets. However, there is a need to increase the number of both private and public funded shelters to ease the astonishing pain at least temporarily.

Attracting Mauritian Diaspora

We have been successful in attracting Mauritians overseas to invest or return, but to shift gear, we need a study of schemes offered elsewhere and upgrade accordingly. We can still attract more investment and individuals wishing to retire in their home land and fresh strategies must be higher on our agenda.

International Solidarity

The fight over Diego Garcia showed that we have many friends. Unfortunately, too many are suffering. We must grow responsibly and save to help some of them. Official development assistance is still running at less than half the UN target of 0.7% of national income. As 4. 5 bn are living below a poverty line of $ 5.50 per day, we must, within our limits, help more.

Conclusion

Mauritius is variously quoted as a success story among developing countries. We however will face immense challenges related to Global Warming, Technological Developments linked to Artificial Intelligence, growing geo political tensions and increased protectionism. We need bolder ideas to remain internationally competitive and prepare for a more unstable world with Global Warming. There are structural and operational bottlenecks which we cannot ignore. We are broadly doing our best but needs more focus on sector/case specific constraints. The winner in the carbon-neutral digital age and the shift to a more sustainable growth model will be fuelled by a new consensus and social contract. Trends worldwide are bleak and grim particularly due to Global Warming but we can, as R. Watson, Chair of the UN IBPES; said ‘rethink the definition of a rewarding life’. This is tougher than the challenges we faced in 1968 but with a better road map and a highly spiritual population, we will make the difference again.

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