Three days after today, 2012 will end. This is an occasion to stop and take stock of events past.
Being an outward-oriented economy with a small internal market, Mauritius thrives when the world economy performs at its best. On the positive side, 2012 has brought us closer to the end of the current cycle of global economic downturn and holds out hopes for better days to come. We have been in this downturn phase from 2008. Five years after, we cannot quite clearly see light at the end of the global tunnel yet.
Structural adjustments have however been taking place in the most affected countries to avoid getting deeper down into the depression. It is taking some time for confidence and order to be restored in the principal locomotive economies of the world. 2012 has taken us a step forward in this direction. It only requires the major protagonists (America and Europe) to get their act together, rather than blame each other for not doing enough, to get themselves and the rest of the world out of the trap. The world needs a cohesive leadership to ride us out of the mire. 2013 will show whether geostrategic interests of the leading countries will hold down the priority they should be giving to the world economy for it to embark on a fresh spurt of all-round growth.
Positive Local Rates of Economic Growth
Mauritius was lucky to keep up its positive rate of economic growth. Shopping centres multiplied. While purchasing power of those at the bottom of the ladder was being eroded by continuing inflation, demand for goods and services was maintained nevertheless, if need be, on the back of rising levels of personal indebtedness. There were strident calls by classic currency devaluers to depreciate the currency, as if that would raise the rate of economic growth. This synthetic solution to our structural economic problem was resisted, fortunately. If our rate of growth were to perk up in time to come by improving our presence on external markets, there will still be a ray of hope that the current debt-led growth will not come crashing down.
We did not do much by way of opening up our economic scope in 2012. On the contrary, we kept relying on imported labour to keep up our activities geared to both the internal market and exports. Our production base remained more or less the same with no new significant area of productive activity added to those existing.
Our textile and apparel sector managed to achieve more or less the same amount of export receipts in 2012 as in 2011 compensating for a marginal decline in exports to Europe by shifting exports towards South Africa and the United States. The tourism sector saw a similar shifting pattern of growth with declines in tourist arrivals from Europe more than matched by increases in arrivals from Africa and Reunion. The sector’s total receipts are estimated at Rs 43.5 billion for 2012, higher than those of Rs 42.7 billion for 2011. The sector has not done as badly as it is made out publicly. Value added by the ICT sector with 15,000 employees, which was already at Rs 19 billion in 2011, compared with Rs 17 billion in 2010, would also head for an improvement in 2012 on the current trajectory. Add to this the contribution of the financial services sector and the seafood hub, and we have an idea of the main pillars which have been driving our economy out of the international economic gloom.The pace of overall economic growth has come down from over 4% in 2010 to closer to 3% in 2011 and 2012 and it is expected to remain in the same region in 2013. Private sector investment has contracted in 2012, mirroring the shift of the construction boom into negative territory. We note that the pre-established sectors of economic activity have had a very honourable performance despite tight international economic conditions. Had we introduced more areas of outward-oriented activities (e.g., pharmaceuticals, spare parts, household equipments, etc.,) they would have contributed their own to keep up domestic employment. 2012 and the immediately preceding years show that this is the direction to go into.
2012 – The Year that was
The Political Chapter
The sequel of the Med Point scandal continued in 2012. After the decision of the MSM to break away from government in the wake of this scandal in 2011, 2012 was to see the presidency of the country shaken by it. Unable to hold an objective distance from politics, the President of the Republic decided to stand down ultimately in order to join what became known as the ‘Remake’ of 2000, with the MSM and the MMM deciding to go together again.
It did not take long from the time of his resignation for SAJ to realize that he might have embarked on a quicksand alliance with the MMM. The MMM leader soon resuscitated an ‘electoral reform’ agenda which comprised a decision to amend the Constitution with a view to confer more powers upon a (presumably popularly unelected) President cutting out into those of the existing Prime Minister along with some undefined dose of proportional representation to be introduced into the heretofore predominantly First Past the Post electoral system. Holding the MSM on a tight leash, the MMM was secretly negotiating in parallel an alliance with Labour against the backdrop of the so-called ‘electoral reform’. If it worked out, it would have simply jettisoned the MSM to the carreau cannes. Meantime, the vacancy at the State House remained unfilled with the Vice President being asked to manage it until some new scheme would crystallize.
The thinking must have been that the MMM and Labour could have united their numbers to secure the required majority in the House for carrying out a constitutional amendment to seal a deal and secure their respective comfort zones. Several “experts” in constitutional matters were called up to give this idea of ‘electoral reform’, which was soon made out to assume the nation’s major preoccupation, a concrete shape. However it became apparent shortly after that an unelected President could be easily toppled by a Prime Minister who could manage to command a majority in the House, aided in this by a “good dose” of proportional representation. This reality shifted discussions away, only to be wrecked on the shoals apparently of the Best Loser System, irrespective of the decision handed down by the United Nations Human Rights Commission during the year calling upon Mauritius to state whether it was necessary for candidates to be eligible for general electionsonly after specifying the community they belonged to.
The futility of our political pursuits was amply illustrated by what followed. The vacant post of President, kept in abeyance during the time of discussions between Labour and the MMM, was filled up by the substantive appointment of the Speaker of the House to this position. To the great humiliation of the MSM, the MMM leader decided that it was time for him to declare his great faith in the ability of the ‘Remake’ to topple the Labour-PMSD government after all. The episode showed that the MMM leader was able to toy with the MSM at will, undermining whatever credibility the MSM still commanded among its voters.
It is this futile political game that kept the people’s attention riveted to what the great ones of the land would do or not do. It proved to be a totally unproductive undertaking which had the effect of sapping the trust of the people in the political class as a whole. After this extended political game play, 2013 will in all probability prolong the serious doubt that has settled down in voters’ minds about the predictability of their political leaders.
The Cultural and Social Makeup
We could have given society a refreshing by driving up a commitment to a deeper sense of values, a drive towards personal excellence in cultural and sporting activities, if only to keep spirits up against the not-so-rosy economic conditions and a devaluation of the political sense.
We saw the world awaken to higher feats in the London Olympics and Paralympics, brightening up, even as it were for the duration of the games, the otherwise gloomy atmosphere that had seized the 99% caught up in the whirlpool of the economic downturn. We participated in the games as in past years. We came back however with not a single medal to show. We don’t know whether that was because we could not manage our teams as we should have or whether because the standards of the games had gone way beyond our reach. All we can do now is to carry out repairs and make ourselves fit to climb on at least a couple of podiums in four years’ time.
On the cultural front, there have been one-off efforts by certain individuals to produce new pieces of theatre and music. The Opera was resuscitated and Komiko, a local artistic group, staged a few pieces of comedy. The rest was limited to periodic national competition, as in the past, involving local artists. Our cultural production did not go further. Production of high class literature which could have made us remarked as a source of inspiration or fresh style on the global stage remained subdued or, rather, inexistent. It goes to our credit however that some progress was made nevertheless on the cultural front. We did not make any remarkable breakthroughs however such as employing fully our combined cultural roots to transcend limits and produce works for the global stage or, at the least, for the stage of the Indian Ocean Islands to begin with. Had we overcome our insularity by creating lasting artistic values reflecting our collective inherent genius, we could have used this achievement as a stepping stone towards stepping out into the vast cultural markets of Africa and Asia. Here again, we are in need of world class leaders to take us along.
As in past years, crime remained very much one of our preoccupations. It is irrelevant whether the numbers increased or not. It was evident that those involved would stop before nothing to commit atrocities on their victims. We earned ourselves a bad name internationally in the murder of an Irish tourist in one of our prestigious hotels. The murder case itself remains an unresolved issue to this date, adding to our embarrassment. The home proved to be no longer the safe haven which would protect family members from going at each other’s throats, in some extreme cases, only for securing material gains or for satisfying base instincts. A precious thread which has been holding our social fabric together appears to be giving way. Violence has asserted itself more violently.
In their rush and selfishness, people don’t appear to care for others or for the environment. Drivers are becoming increasingly reckless putting at great risk the lives of others. Pedestrians are not much behind in this regard. The rush after material gains has assumed such proportions that the rules of good conduct are increasingly being thrown to the winds. Note the rising numbers of fatal road accidents and note also how much more even careful drivers are being exposed to serious risk once they choose to take up the driving wheel, anytime, anywhere in the country. So uncaring we have become about the bigger picture that our streets in the main towns and the city are at the mercy of chaos wreaked daily by street hawkers. It cannot be said that social upgrading has got the better of the negative forces at play.Pollution of all sorts has been proceeding apace. This is despite the government having alerted the population towards the necessary objective to achieve a Maurice Ile Durable project encompassing not only our immediate surroundings but also how we should conduct our economic activities in an enduring manner. Failure to catch up with the required standards is, as it commonplace over here, passed on to the government in place. The government alone is held responsible when things go amiss, not the private citizen source of the disruption. Where the citizen has to rise to the occasion, he has preferred to abscond from his basic duties and responsibilities in an act of good governance towards all. Buckpassing has taken over with different stakeholders engaging instead in the blame game. We are therefore failing to address issues straight on as they come about, losing the opportunity to secure a more liveable environment for all.
Final Thoughts on 2012
We lived through the year well enough. We did not however use its potential to the full to launch ourselves onto a higher platform of being and readying ourselves for a better future. Many loose ends appeared in different places. We did not go deep enough to deal with them rationally so as to set out a clear future course. As a consequence, parts were left hanging out loosely with numerous disconnections about how to proceed to a constructive whole. The coordination of action that should have come to give general orientation towards a noble goal was absent most of the time despite honourable efforts made in certain compartments of our set up to break away from the rut. Obviously, we have to pull up our socks if we want more social and economic cohesion in the coming time. For this, now as in the past, we need committed leaders in each and every field who can coordinate among themselves so that we don’t lose our way again in futile pursuits. May 2013 bring a higher enlightenment to one and all for us to tread a path better than what we saw in 2012.
* Published in print edition on 28 December 2012