If this government wants to improve its functioning, its performance and enhance the trust of its citizens in its ways of managing the country, it has to start learning to listen to its critics and improve its communication with the public.
Most of the decisions that have been taken recently, whether on the health measures to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, the Plan de Soutien, the lockdown/confinement and the accompanying actions, had to re-examined and corrective measures taken reluctantly after they have been pressurised by the opposition and well-meaning critics.
It is true that this country presently lacks a firm and decisive leadership to see us through this incredibly difficult time as anxiety escalates and fantasies flourish in the absence of proper communication and information. We can presently do without a leader who takes decisions in bits and pieces and who has all the pains in the world to communicate with anxious citizens and convey the right and precise messages in this current crisis situation. The confusion, the delays and the hesitant response to the crisis do not help in any way to instil confidence in the public worried on how to stop a health emergency becoming a humanitarian crisis.
In this period of “political truce” (How can there be truce if the social trust is lacking?!), it will not be proper to talk about the handling of the Covid-19 outbreak now, as the number of cases continue to rise and the peak number of cases is far from being reached. Our comments are on the “Plan de Soutien”. Many critics have been arguing that Mauritius is doing peanuts, and that the country should be doing more, like in some other countries which have announced a new Covid-19 Response budget to fund vast preparatory measures. These critics had argued that the Rs 9.5 billion was insufficient, if not impossible, to handle the humanitarian fallout brought about by coronavirus. More of government funding and support was needed now. The government had arrogantly replied that they had already provided Rs 8.5 billion to boost demand. We had had the opportunity to counter-argue that these populist measures were specifically meant to earn some quick recent wins and that the “Plan de Soutien” has not provided for the many workers who stand the risk of being laid off.
Now, the government has proved its critics right by agreeing for the implementation of a COVID-19 Wage Support Scheme which will provide financial support to employees who would become technically unemployed on a temporary basis due to the impact of COVID-19. The Scheme would cover the Travel and Tourism Sector, as well as the Export-Oriented Enterprises, the ICT/BPO Sector and SMEs affected by COVID-19. Furthermore, in view of the confinement period of two weeks, the COVID-19 Wage Support Scheme would be extended to cover workers in other formal sectors of the economy for the two weeks’ restriction period. It is better late than never and clinging to the silly argument about the Rs 8.5 billion boosting the demand side would have indeed been another example of its lack of clarity about its economic policies.
Valuing care and welfare while allocating proper budgetary spending will help to minimise the impact of the outbreak in an already overburdened welfare system – and will help to protect the most vulnerable. This is important and is ultimately the way to stop a health emergency becoming a humanitarian crisis. And we should accept help from any quarters and stop bragging about the availability of our vast reserves for such emergencies. Our Minister of Finance is confirming that he is really a tyro on such demanding issues.