For its first interview of year 2019, News on Sunday speaks to the economist and former governor of the Bank of Mauritius. Dan Maraye shares where he sees the year 2019 heading, at different levels. He discusses how prepared Mauritius is to face the impact of the world recession, the electoral campaign year awaiting and what should be the priorities of the Government for 2019.
2018 has already elapsed. What have you retained?
The findings of the Lam Shang Leen Commission on Drugs has been an important milestone in the fight against drug trafficking, which resulted in the “resignation” of the Deputy Speaker and the Minister of Gender Equality. and the icing on the cake was that on 12th March 2018, we celebrated the golden jubilee of our Independence with a tainted President in office!
Has 2018 been the cornerstone for infrastructural development with the Metro project?
The Metro project is indeed a landmark in the development of infrastructure, as it is expected to provide a new mode of mass public transport and hopefully contribute towards higher levels productivity through the alleviation of traffic congestions.
If you were asked to do a SWOT analysis of the new year 2019, what would be the outcome?
Interestingly, while our main strength is our people, our major weakness is the quality of most of our politicians as evidenced by their performance both in office and during our National Assembly sessions. It is clear that many of them joined politics to enrich themselves rather than to serve our country. Major opportunities exist in the agricultural sector in terms of tropical plants that are in high demand worldwide in the pharmaceutical industry. These could be cultivated in Mauritius on a large scale subject to a study by the Mauritius Sugar Industry Research Institute. The potential of the ocean economy, if driven by knowledgeable and competent people, can provide numerous opportunities. Climate change and shortage of water are among natural threats that have always existed, being given our geographical position. However, man-made threats can astutely be turned into opportunities provided both the public and private sectors join hands and adopt a win-win philosophy.
A world recession is predicted for 2019. Is our economy resilient enough?
Our country badly needs a competent full-time Minister of Finance of high integrity in order to turn around our economy into a resilient one. The fact that one person holds more than one ministerial portfolio causes energy to be dispersed leading to a decline in efficiency. Prime Ministership and Ministry of Finance may not always be compatible and could give rise to potential cases of conflicts of interests in the allocation of resources, hence poor governance. As the saying goes, ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely!’
Is Mauritius prepared to face the impact of the world recession?
More than 50% of our exports go to European countries. Our tourism industry is highly dependent on arrivals from Europe. The Air Mauritius/ Singapore Airline arrangement has been a total flop. Hence during a world recession, our main industries may take a serious blow. In the present circumstances where the public sector debt has reached 64.3% of GDP, while we import twice as much as we export, and domestic saving has plunged below 10% of GDP, we certainly have serious cause to worry.
2019 will be dominated by the electoral campaign. Does the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance have enough manoeuver to come forward with populist measures to seduce the population?
When power is at stake, anything is possible especially when a Prime Minister also cumulates the Finance Ministry portfolio. It will all be a question of responsibility and accountability towards the nation. We should bear in mind the fact that for several years, government/s have been living beyond their means and accumulating debts. The costs of debt serving represents an important item of expenditure in our country’s budget.
Pravind Jugnauth is doing his utmost best to build a strong image as a legitimate Prime Minister. Will this be sufficient to secure another 5-year mandate?
Legitimacy of Prime Ministership is a matter for the people to decide. Only the ballot box can enlighten us through free and fair elections.
Do you think that Navin Ramgoolam is the only challenger of Pravind Jugnauth for the post of PM despite all his scandals and judicial troubles?
Many ‘honourable’ members of the National Assembly including a former President, advisors, chairpersons, CEOs, board directors, are tainted with scandals and judicial troubles, as evidenced by the number of unresolved cases of corruption in several institutions and across the social spectrum. The major political parties are claiming that they will face the next general elections alone. In such a scenario, there will certainly be more than one contender for the post of Prime Minister. However, it remains to be seen as to who will be the most serious challenger.
Paul Berenger still maintains that the MMM will take part in this electoral race alone. Do you trust that he is serious?
As the saying goes: ‘A wolf may lose his teeth but not his nature.’ The leader of the MMM has, in numerous instances, done the exact contrary of what he professes. However, I have no reason to believe that he is not serious. Many lessons must have been learned after almost 50 years of active politics. In any case, time will tell.
Social problems are generally the result of the malfunctioning of institutions and poor management of Law and Order where justice fails to punish the guilty."
Do you trust that the minimal salary and the Negative Income Tax have helped to bridge the gap between the social classes?
There is no doubt that both measures are positive for the less fortunate of our country. Such measures do help to correct the income inequality problem, as revealed by the Gini coefficient.
According to you, what should be the main priorities of the Government in 2019?
A responsible government has the duty to honour promises made during an electoral campaign. An audit of measures enumerated in the electoral manifesto will highlight those that have not yet been implemented. Trust can only be earned when promises are kept. Working seriously in a transparent manner towards the implementation of promises not yet materialised enhances the credibility of any government, especially during the ultimate year in office.
Otherwise, what are the challenges lying ahead in 2019 on the social level?
Social problems are generally the result of the malfunctioning of institutions and poor management of Law and Order where justice fails to punish the guilty. To mention a few, corruption would be first on my list followed by drugs consumption across society and especially among young addicts and even secondary school students. The high rate of unemployment among the youth and young graduates needs urgent attention, bearing in mind that unemployment creates frustration and often leads to more serious social problems, which can be solved when institutions can be trusted.