Demystifying the ‘New Normal’

The new normal is a time to determine the causes of our economic problems and find creative ways to adapt and to develop further resilience as we did in 2008

By Sada Reddi

We encountered the term ‘new normal’ in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, for it was then projected that the new rules governing the world economy would be different from what obtained in the post-War world. The term was used even much earlier and is now employed to define the post-pandemic Covid-19 world. It is also being used to explain the rationale behind the 2020-21 budget and has also become a weapon in the armoury of the government.

Everybody has had the experience of the lockout and its partial lifting, but each of us has had different experiences. Many of us have had to put up with stress or mental exhaustion as well as fear. After staying at home for so long, with all the pressures and tension that this entailed, coming out of the lockout has been a relief for some, but equally stressful for others. Resuming work with children being left uncared for at home or unreliable and ad-hoc arrangements to look after younger children, growing irritation to access public transport, long hours of waiting in the morning, and in the afternoon to come back home, new sources of tension as a result of social distancing and prevailing chaotic conditions in certain places and loss of jobs – all these have made it quite difficult to adapt to the new normal.

On the other hand one can find some changes taking place that can indeed be positive on several counts. However I have come across people who are indifferent to the lifting of the lockdown for they and their employers have found the work from home arrangement beneficial for both. Working from home cuts down travelling time and costs and the need to pay for office space so long that communication facilities are taken care of. They find their work more productive and the home food much more balanced. In other words, companies and employees can develop new working conditions though this does not prevent meetings at the workplace when necessary. Obviously not all jobs can be done from home, but many can and the onus is on the employers both in the private and public sectors to creatively devise new schemes of work. In many countries working from home was already an established practice. In Mauritius, too, a lot of employees used to work from home for several days of the week. Working from home will thus become the new normal.


“Some time ago we advocated a change in the timetable for SC and HSC examinations to be aligned with university calendar. Instead of students getting their HSC results in January and February and waiting for seven months to obtain university admission, especially in Europe, they can get their results in july and join university in September-October. As a result of this change which can become permanent, adjustments must inevitably follow in the school calendar year throughout the primary and the secondary levels…”


However, not everything will change. There will be both change and continuity. Some time ago we advocated a change in the timetable for SC and HSC examinations to be aligned with university calendar. Instead of students getting their HSC results in January and February and waiting for seven months to obtain university admission, especially in Europe, they can get their results in july and join university in September-October. As a result of this change which can become permanent, adjustments must inevitably follow in the school calendar year throughout the primary and the secondary levels. This is one permanent change which can become the new normal.

Other changes in the workplace can take place in the new normal. As regards working from home, one would have expected measures in the budget to facilitate this new approach such as increasing Internet capacity and speed as well as lowering its cost. This is just one of the many measures that were expected to be taken on board in the Budget and  which would have helped employees and companies adapt to the new normal but unfortunately the missed opportunities are too many.

If the experts on the Mauritian economy cannot themselves see some clarity in the budget or find those sectors which usually generate employment being given little importance or even ignored, are we then surprised that the population is anxious about the future? This explains why a budget presented under the cover of the new normal has been unacceptable to large swathes of the population. This is understandable because the budget has been presented against a background of mismanagement of public funds that has nothing to do with the Covid-19 and in fact preceded the pandemic.


“One can understand the legitimate grievances of the population when they are confronted with financial problems that are not of their own making. What is the population to do when some people decide for obscure and not so obscure reasons to buy unnecessarily airplanes for Air Mauritius that has necessitated a bailout from government and resulted in the layoff of so many employees? The employees of State Bank of Mauritius and its shareholders have good reasons to be frustrated when loans are being offered to international sharks causing enormous loss to the bank…”


One can understand the legitimate grievances of the population when they are confronted with financial problems that are not of their own making. What is the population to do when some people decide for obscure and not so obscure reasons to buy unnecessarily airplanes for Air Mauritius that has necessitated a bailout from government and resulted in the layoff of so many employees? The employees of State Bank of Mauritius and its shareholders have good reasons to be frustrated when loans are being offered to international sharks causing enormous loss to the bank. This is a major scandal for a bank that has been painstakingly built over the years. What has the population to do with the white elephant at Cote d’or?

All these decisions have had a direct bearing on the budget and it is the population which has had to bear the brunt of all this misgovernance. It is obvious to the population that the rupee is being depreciated and the value of the rupee in our pockets is being reduced to about 80 cents, eroding our purchasing power and lowering our standard of living. Even the promised increases in the pension till 2023 would not buy more goods that we actually do at present because of further depreciations of the rupee.

The term new normal has been blandished in the budget more for mystification than to address the concerns of the public about jobs, livelihoods and resilience. A new normal may be permanent or not. But it is also a time of rethinking, planning and taking all the stakeholders on board and coming up with creative solutions. Even as regards food security, it is barely sufficient to encourage food production without any planning and the collaboration of all those in the sector. Planters know too well they will not rush to plant a particular crop only to find a glut in the market where they lose their investment. The Marketing Board, food-processing factories, food importers, planters, big and small as well as livestock farmers and food processing factories must all collaborate to devise a scheme for food security which is acceptable and implementable.

As regards the pandemic, a return to normality will come after a reliable vaccine has been found. If it is not, we shall have to live with it just like we live with so many diseases where no vaccine has yet been found. When it comes to climate change, extreme anomalies of the weather are the new normal but we can avoid them if measures are taken to tackle the problem. The new normal is a time to determine the causes of our economic problems and find creative ways to adapt and to develop further resilience as we did in 2008. Our young people are at present disappointed, being reduced to despair, and many are reaching the conclusion that there is no future for them here.

The process of mystification has been going on for some time in various sectors of society. Trade unionists have protested in vain against laws undermining workers’ rights. The principles of consultation and accountability have been abandoned. But there is hope when we see so many young people coming forward to carry out not only a necessary demystification of the budget but also to increase our understanding of the economic situation and provide alternative measures and solutions to tackle our problems. This healthy exercise is helping the population gain knowledge, consciousness and confidence that they too can contribute towards finding solutions at their level that will go towards building more resilience, and that alternative solutions do exist.


* Published in print edition on 16 June 2020

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