The looming social crisis

Editorial

It’s coming, soon. An acute social crisis the like of which we have not seen since a long time. This is what most economists have been suggesting lately – not only here in Mauritius but elsewhere as well, even in the developed countries despite the billions of dollars that their governments are injecting into their respective economies. Fortunately for them, but unfortunately for the country, practically all those who are today at the political helm of the country and controlling its destiny are not old enough to have memories of earlier crisis situations – like those that happened in the wake of Cyclones Alix and Carol, or the Second World War, though they might have seen glimpses when later cyclones such as Gervaise or Hollanda hit us. By then, though, the country was more prepared, so we were able to be spared of the miseries that attended the earlier cyclones inflicted on the people.

That is why, in the name of the people who have trusted them and given them the mandate, they are duty bound to protect the citizens by sitting up and taking notice of the damning impact of this pandemic on livelihoods. As is the case elsewhere, it is those at the lower rungs of the social ladder, both the worker class and the middle class, that are and will continue to be most affected. Unless…

For those higher up, who have both savings and are asset-rich, there is no problem – at least they think so. For the remainder, who have few or no savings, loans to pay for the roof on their heads or children pursuing studies (overseas in particular), the survival horizon is closing up on them. Soon, they will be down to their last savings, and making ends meet will be increasingly precarious. Worse hit of all will be those who have lost their jobs as a direct consequence of the pandemic on certain sectors of the economy, and small or medium entrepreneurs and the self-employed with dwindling clientele for their products because money is scarce.

With little or no money to put food on the table, nutritional deficiencies making them prone to illnesses will set in, adding to our already heavy burden of disease which the continuing pandemic Covid-19 will magnify further. And of course, children too will suffer from the paucity and poor quality of whatever food may then be available. Further, a second wave is not to be excluded, a reality which has hit more prepared and better resourced countries. And as we are dependent on the global supply chain for most of our needs, with countries closing borders and even production in them affected we are not going to escape the impact.

If those hiding behind the steering wheels of their limousines or hiding in their ivory towers think they are safe, the public protest in Port Louis last week is a clear indication of the common man’s indignation of the government’s skewed response in its financial assistance to affected sectors of our economy, which is clearly biased towards Big Business.

We can only report what we are hearing from the ground – of people who have already lost their jobs, with wife and children to look after. Of couples who have both been downsized with debts piling up. Of small businesses facing enormous difficulties, even contemplating closing up.

As they helplessly stare at the wild expenses being incurred by the authorities, the chanelling of public – i.e. taxpayer – money towards pockets which are already full to the brim, the wastage of funds on white elephants, the lame official explanations given as a pretext to explain away the inordinate sums being transacted for buying supplies with attendant crying nepotism and cronyism, they cannot help asking themselves questions about the sincerity of the political class that had promised a turnaround in the way of conducting the affairs of state.

Given all these ominous signs of distress that are being sent by society, on the streets, on social media and that are being felt by everybody, the least that decision makers can — and should do – is to jerk themselves out of their complacency, go down to the level of the common man and listen to them, and change course before it is too late.

Unless they do that, sober down and stop pretending that all is hunky-dory, the powder-keg on which they have pushed the country to sit is going to keep swelling.

But the crisis can still be averted by their acknowledging the seriousness of the situation and the imminence of a crisis if we do not act now. Two months from now, that’s what people are saying.


* Published in print edition on 14 July 2020

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