There is a pool of talents and brains in Mauritius which can be put to right contribution to straighten up things as soon as the first signs of recovery of the global economy appear
By Nita Chicooree-Mercier
A glimpse of beauty, offered by sunset colours of bright orange infiltrated by greyish clouds that hung above the wide expanse of light blue sky meeting at the horizon of the vast ocean far away from the lagoon, offers fleeting moments of bliss that linger for a while. They chase away mundane worries over the calamities left in the trail of a pandemic that overpowered big and small nations across the globe.
“Are the authorities being overprotective to the point of stifling the sector? The nightmare of contact tracing and quarantine certainly puts off any wish to open hotels to foreign visitors. Still, there can be an agreement with a few countries for visitors to be submitted to tests after three days’ stay in hotels. The on-going recourse to test results after five minutes recently put in place in India may be practical…”
The survival instinct of countries overweighed lofty values of solidarity as frontiers were closed one by one to keep the deadly virus at bay. Every country was left to fend for itself and protect its population, first. The tacit slogan was ‘Our Lives Matter’. Just like in a plane where you are recommended to wear your oxygen mask first, and help your neighbour afterwards. European Union showed signs of disunion; the first overwhelming flow of infected patients that was highly mediatised was in Italy, a country that looked totally isolated in its fight to grapple with the disastrous situation. Medical equipment ordered from China was diverted to Poland. The Americans flew to China with loads of money to pay cash for equipment ordered by France. India halted exportation of hydroxychloroquine in anticipation of its use for her huge population, and re-started exporting it much later at the request of President Trump. ‘We First’ is simply human.
Globalisation in its finest garb came back at the centre of the world stage in the race for Covid vaccines. Researchers from different countries worked hard in laboratories to come up with a solution to stop the propagation of the virus. Specialists of Turkish origin found a vaccine in Germany; Indians contributed to the new vaccine in Australia, and many are actively participating in deep research and innovation in US and UK labs; so are medics from Eastern Europe in other countries. Contrary to crazy conspiracy theories confusing minds on social media whereby scheming multinational companies are working behind the scene to eliminate vulnerable populations and the ‘useless class’ worldwide anticipated by Artificial Intelligence, governments are caring for the elderly first, and taking care to save lives as much as they can.
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The Paradox of Covid-safe
Mauritius is one of the rare countries that enjoys the luxury of being Covid-safe, where the public can move around freely without being subjected to curfews and other restrictions. Congratulations to all the government, medical teams and a public broadly endowed with a sense of discipline, who contributed to make it a reality. The lifestyle of a big chunk of the population, limited socializing, and a rather dull social life in some parts of the island helped to avoid large gatherings, big partying and so on. In other countries individualism, the me-first mindset, rather than a genuine spirit of freedom, drives folks to gather in huge numbers, bypass rules aimed at containing propagation, thus displaying a lack of collective responsibility.
Paradoxically, not much economic benefit in key sectors is being drawn from the privileged Covid-safe status. Public health has topped the rank of priorities. Declining number of orders from hard-hit key markets imposes a low level of production in factories. Signs of global recession due to the trade war between China and the US were aired worldwide by the end of 2018, much before the outbreak of the epidemic in China. The tourism sector in Mauritius hardly kept afloat during the last quarter of 2018.
Are the authorities being overprotective to the point of stifling the sector? The nightmare of contact tracing and quarantine certainly puts off any wish to open hotels to foreign visitors. Still, there can be an agreement with a few countries for visitors to be submitted to tests after three days’ stay in hotels. The on-going recourse to test results after five minutes recently put in place in India may be practical. It is a matter of responsibility and trust between visitors and the authorities that the latter refrain from assuming in case the situation spirals out of control. Hotels can be partly filled with moneyed upper-middle class from Europe, Asia and prosperous Saudis and Emiratis. An overall bleak picture of the situation prevailing in all social classes is far from reflecting reality.
Is it also a wake-up call to reckon that the number of hotels has blown out of proportion for decades? A total loss of coastal lands and investments.
However, the handling of the pandemic by the medical team and their frequent statements on television sounded reassuring to the public at the beginning, but there has been a propensity to instill fear in the population, which is totally unnecessary. A typical patronizing attitude which has long characterized ruler-public relations, what the French call ‘infantilisation’ of adults – which is a widespread attitude amid employees in the public sector. The sooner political authorities get rid of this habit the better for all of us. Adults do not need to be treated like children.
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Several complaints are laid at the door of the government: mismanagement of Air Mauritius, SBM, CEB, boycott of the press, a policy of retaliation, and so on. The onus is on the public to see which is which, and how other democracies actually work, and assess where a small island democracy can draw the line in light of local and geopolitical pressure, and the mood and preferences of the public.
The wrong people appointed in key posts is certainly harmful to good governance. Nomination of people close to party colours is common practice in democracies; President Trump wasted no time in appointing a Republican-leaning Supreme Court judge before November elections. On the very day of the swearing-in ceremony of the Joe Biden, many high-ranking public officials and ambassadors will start packing up and leave office. Deserving high-profile personalities in Mauritius are likely to avoid working with politicians if they care for total integrity and personal freedom in policy-making. So instead of seeing the best of what the education system has produced, the public witnesses a parade of less able appointees in key posts.
2020 jolted the public into an awareness of the country’s economic vulnerability and fragility. Unnecessary consumption is re-assessed, local food products are given due attention. Unlike India which has embraced the idea of atmanirbhar, self-reliance in investing in high technology, Mauritius is aware of the necessity of self-sufficiency in agriculture and food produces to start with. There is a pool of talents and brains in Mauritius which can be put to right contribution to straighten up things as soon as the first signs of recovery of the global economy appear, and with enough ambition to bring brighter colours back.
We look forward for a better year for all our compatriots.
* Published in print edition on 15 January 2021