Few will disagree that the outlook of the world economy is much more uncertain today than it was in 1983. As a small island economy, we have to forge ahead today despite the greater uncertainty and complexity surrounding the global economic condition. It is going to be a tough job.
The comparative advantages we then had to drive up our economic diversification have frittered away. On the external export front, newer and more fierce competitors (such as China, Vietnam, Bangladesh) have appeared since after 1983 whom we cannot successfully vie against.
Our production infrastructure hasn’t tied up effectively with that of other countries to gain its place on the evolving international marketplace. We could do that but we’ve gathered a slack that will take time to overcome.
In the situation, the advantages we had have gone to other places for want of our building up on them. This explains why our textile sector has not gone on expanding. Not far from us in Ethiopia, China is currently setting up one of the biggest textile and garment manufacturing units of Africa. We have no control on the improvements even less advanced economies are bringing in to get their workers employed.
But this is not the only one we cannot beat with the type of productivity we are able to generate at home. The continuously upward direction wages in the public sector have taken from time to time (to match up often artificially created continuous inflation by the domestic trading sector) shows that it will be well-nigh impossible for our private sector manufacturing to match successfully international competition in our traditional export activities.
The situation locally is such that we haven’t even been able to absorb our qualified workforce in their different avocations. We ought to have created new scope in order to gainfully employ our workforce at various levels – and, time permitting, attracted talents from outside to join forces with them in this enterprise. For this, we should have moved on to newer sectors of activity. Instead of that, we have even successfully blunted the potential of our educational and training institutions to work hand-in-hand with industry and to add that scope.
Our tourism sector has recently been doing well enough. Part of our inroads in this sector is supported by new air links established. Part of it is circumstantial: tourists are looking for safer havens than those that have become dangerous. Mauritius is offering them a new opening. It cannot afford, in this light, to spare the least effort to provide maximum security to the visitors. An iron hand is now needed to firmly reinforce our law-and-order situation.
We could consolidate, for the future of the industry, on this additional flow by not only providing the entertainment they are coming for. We could be seen to be constantly upgrading the product, such as by giving them here a flavour also of what they may be missing out from the traditional places they’ve been going to in the past: a sense of history and past grandeur, medical and recreational services no less than what they could obtain in more sophisticated places.
We appeared to be heading at one time in this direction of packaging diverse services of varying amounts of sophistication to widen the customer base, but futile infighting displaced the focus. We should pick up the theme of offering a richer experience to all our visitors and it means more efforts and dedication on the part of service providers to escape the usual ebbs and flows of activity characterising the sector.
One of our constraints in consolidating the economy and expanding its scope continuously has been the political factor. At one time, strong policies favouring the uplift of the economy were continued in one form or other by succeeding governments irrespective of the new colours they assumed.
That was before vindictiveness became the more important norm practised by different political establishments. This time, politicians pursued an agenda to maintain themselves in power at all costs, disowning policies pursued by predecessors, if only to appear different. Naturally, the steam gathered so far in a certain direction was lost.
This is how we failed to drive up our edge in new technology, failed to fit our education system to changing global standards and market demands, even changed our geopolitics in such a manner as to disown those very countries that could have cooperated with us to expand domestic investments, did not go to newer markets for our exports and did not garner enough international cooperation and additional foreign investments to refresh our local platform of production when the opportunity came. In the process, policy making became erratic enough to make friendly countries doubt our sincerity.
As a result, when opportunities to get into a decent job shrivelled for the population, they kept changing governments in succession for this and other reasons, hoping to at last get some real doers at the helm and less impropriety and better governance. It is with this hope that a new government was elected 16 months ago. The government publicly took up the challenge to make things happen this time. Isn’t it time for it to change focus now to do the job it was elected for?
* Published in print edition on 15 April 2016