If you took a screenshot of Mauritius today, you would see a lot of smiles. We are a country that arguably beats the Brits when it comes to keeping a stiff upper lip, even when things are falling apart. Behind the smiles, however, there is a lot of silent pain for a large part of the population.
Some are silently watching their companies crumble down before their very eyes or are looking at the rubble left behind. Some have had to readjust their lifestyle due to huge salary cuts. Some have lost their jobs without any compensation, courtesy of Covid laws. Others are still looking for the words to explain to their children that they have to leave their friends and teachers in private schools as their parents can no longer afford to pay the fees. Many families are digging in their last savings and have no idea how to put food on the table. And many employees have to put up with humiliation in workplaces that are becoming more and more devoid of humanity and human dignity.
This pain is compounded by a deep anxiety due primarily to the fact that those at the helm have no idea what to do. Admittedly, ministers and decision makers are not affected by this dark cloud that seems to be hanging over only part of the population. They are doing rather well with full salaries and allowances. Some are more interested in changing cars and renovating offices than in the fate of those who can no longer feed their families. So the country is on auto-pilot.
Our financial services sector is suffering due to some insane decisions taken, compounded by the blacklisting of Mauritius by the European Union and the greylisting by the Financial Action Task Force. Our manufacturing sector is out of steam. Sugar, don’t even mention it and even our fishing industry is now going through very rough times due to a laissez-faire which we should have known would catch up with us. The government’s reaction? None that we can see.
Now the tourism sector. Our national airline is still grounded and some luminaries are still looking for solutions they do not have. Many staff members are on a quarter of their salaries if they are lucky and those who, for years, have flown our colours very high have been dumped as if they had never been part of the company. And the re-opening of our borders is being done piecemeal with no possibility for those in the sector to plan for anything. We are entering ‘phase 3’ of our border opening but no one has any idea what that involves, which flights will be deployed or who will be allowed to come and under what conditions. I suppose that the luminaries think that tourists are waiting with their suitcases packed and the moment they hear that we have reopened our borders, they will queue up to come and visit us. Compare that to what is happening in the Seychelles, for example, and you will take full stock of what is in store for us. And please don’t mention Covid again. The Seychelles have had zero deaths and are coping rather well.
In the meantime, our foreign reserves are being depleted. According to many economists, we probably have enough reserves to buy food and other essential items until September next year. I have no idea where the money will come from after that but have you heard our luminaries put a temporary ban on imports of luxury cars and superfluous items to keep our meagre reserves for basic items? Have you heard of a plan for safe tourism during this peak season? Or how to counteract the boycott of our tuna by supermarkets in the UK? Perish the thought! Our prime minister is too busy antagonising the UK and the US, which though we have a dispute against them, have until now been civilised enough to help when we needed them. They also happen to be some of our biggest markets! So keep a stiff upper lip and keep smiling. What else can you do?