The year that is about to end has been lived under the deadly shadow of an invisible, infiltrative enemy that has all but decimated the world. It is a year that has had one constant: uncertainties on every front that we can think of. Every indication is that these will persist, but there is one thing that is certain as we enter 2021: the road ahead is going to be very rough, and not only for Mauritius, though we may be hit the harder because of a number of vulnerabilities for which we are to a large extent responsible, such as the generous electoral goodies that have been distributed or the white elephant type projects the country has engaged in.
We have to reckon with the difficulties and obstacles associated with the rolling out of the vaccines that are in the pipeline allied to the emergence of a new, more infectious strain of the coronavirus, to which the recent surges and further restrictions that have followed can be added – all these together have affected more severely and widely our traditional export markets. These very same factors also point to a second fact that we have to face: it will take longer rather than shorter for these markets to be open once again for usual let alone more business, thus implying even more difficulty for our eventual economic recovery.
As it is, the debt level of the country has already exceeded the upper limit of what is considered sustainable according to criteria set by recognized international institutions. Government has had to draw from the Special Reserves of the Central Bank to finance the stimulus package to big “distressed” business and the wage assistance scheme. En passant, it must be pointed out that small businesses have not benefited from any such largesse and have had to fight for their survival on their own.
The question that arises based on the preceding is how long will the government be able to continue with the wage assistance scheme, a second package having already been advanced? Commonsense dictates that there will be a limit, and then what will be the solution? Further borrowing from traditional and non-traditional partners? That means more debts, but equally and more importantly it also means that there is no free lunch: every loan or grant comes at a price, one that is not disclosed to the public and that is, ominously, imposing further financial burden on coming generations.
On the political front, there’s the list of questions that have not found answers in Parliament, but government may well be under an illusion if it thinks that they are going to go away. Far from the parliamentary vacation till March next year being one of respite, it looks more set to become the lull before the storm. The opposition will no doubt sharpen itself, turn on the heat and dig in when Parliament reopens.
To complicate matters, a pandora’s box has been opened with the mysterious deaths that have taken place and that appear to be linked, with suspicions of political involvement being investigated by the legal team that has taken the defense of the main case, that of Soopramanien Kistnen a political agent of the MSM. The important issue of motive for a possible foul play is being hinted at by the findings related to his account keeping for electoral expenses in constituency No. 8. As this angle is probed further we may be in for more surprises that will add more heat to the situation.
The landscape of the country that is emerging at the end of 2020 is one where political, economic and social incidents and forces have played out under the threat of a pandemic to create a climate of apprehension that has gripped the population, despite their seeming calm as they go about preparing to have some measure of relaxation during the new year festivities. Soon enough they will discover that these are short-lived as the fears and anxieties return when the celebrations are over.
At the cost of repeating ourselves, it is worth reiterating that it is only our Constitution and our institutions which rigorously and fearlessly uphold it that can salvage the country from losing its way and becoming unlivable. The integrity and patriotism of the persons who are at the helm of our institutions is the sine qua non criterion which will reassure the citizens that they can lay their heads on their pillows in serenity. We have no choice but to look forward with this much of hope for the sake of our country – that if the political class is failing us, we have the guarantee that our institutions will be there to rein in the forces that are inimical to the safety and security of citizens.
* Published in print edition on 29 December 2020