While people, despite all difficulties, continue the lockdown, often anxiously and mostly caringly, to help contain the coronavirus threat, we are all holding our breath, knowing that the economic, therefore societal, fallout is going to be pretty terrible. It was not for nothing that Finance Minister Padayachy had to announce a Rs10,000 one-off grant for the 200,000 self-employed that constitute half of the working population, as well as give reassurance that the Wage Assistance Scheme will continue. Already before the second lockdown, a Stratconsult survey showed that 60% of surveyed people's biggest preoccupation is unemployment. Then prices. By contrast with the preoccupations of the parliamentary and most of the extra-parliamentary opposition, only 15% of the people were preoccupied by corruption – despite knowing it exists and is harmful.
The last survey for September 2020 of Statistics Mauritius already made ominous reading. here are three direct quotes from their report:
“(...) the unemployment rate increased from 10.3 percent in July to 10.9 percent in September.”
“(...) During the September round of the survey, about 8 in 10 households reported having difficulty to meet their household expenses with their current monthly income. About 39 percent of households had difficulty in the payment of their electricity bills on time due to financial constraints while 30 percent had problems to pay their water bills. Approximately 1 in 4 households reported facing difficulties to meet their commitments for hire purchase goods.”
(…) “As a result of the COVID 19 pandemic, Mauritian households have been affected by various types of shocks, mainly job loss, reduction in salary or income from a small business. Shocks translate into large changes in household income. Around 34 percent of households surveyed in September reported a reduction in the income they had prior to the pandemic.”
Economic policy bankruptcy?
The truth is that economy was already in crisis well before the coronavirus crisis. And after the first lockdown, instead of outlining a strategic plan to develop a large-scale land and sea-based food production sector capable of creating secure jobs on a massive scale, all the Jugnauth government did was to prop up the unproductive and/or dying luxury real estate, sugar/cane, tourism industry, offshore (now called “global business”) sectors.
The biggest scandal in this context is not only does the government continue to prop up capitalists desperately and blindly trying to keep alive unproductive or dying sectors, but the Opposition, including most extra-parliamentary ones, refuses to address this question so vital for the survival of working people.
LALIT's Extra-Parliamentary Questions
LALIT has over the years, time and time again, persistently warned of the dangers to both employment and food security of consecutive governments’ continuing the same bankrupt economic politics. We have also over the years warned of the dangers of the public health and healthcare system collapsing if not enough staff is recruited, and if the private commercial health sector is encouraged. As the National Assembly prepares to meet for the first time this year, in the middle of the second coronavirus wave, here are four extra-parliamentary questions that we ask to be addressed:
To ask the Honourable Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development -
Given that the failure of sugar and cane, textile, tourism and offshore (now known as global business) sectors, already in crisis before the coronavirus pandemic and now exacerbated by the second wave of coronavirus crisis, and given that this is resulting in rising unemployment, threats to existing employment, wage and income reduction for both employed and self-employed;
What measures have been taken in the last year, or will now be taken by the Finance Minister to ensure that:
(a) Public funds are being invested in developing for national food security and export, a large-scale integrated food sector including land and sea food from fishing, cultivation, animal husbandry, food preservation, food transformation, storage, transportation, distribution, marketing nationally and abroad, and research?
(b) (i) Public funds are not being chanelled to unproductive, unviable sectors and/or to sectors that do not create employment, nor food security?
(ii) That sectors at present investing in luxury real estate, sugar and cane, tourism and textiles are all partially or wholly re-oriented towards food production and other essential production?
(iii) Workers from these sectors are given training for deployment into the food production sector.
To ask the Honourable Minister of Agro-Industry and Food Security -
(a) What measures have been taken in the last year and are to be taken in the immediate future to make private agricultural land owners including sugar estates, provide unutilised or a proportion of cane land for the centralised digital land bank set up to ensure food security and to reduce the dependency of the country on food imports;
(b) When exactly will the Agricultural Marketing Board Act be amended so as to restructure it to broaden its roles and functions in view of increasing food production and food security as announced in the 2020-2021 budget speech?
(c) What measures have been taken in the last year and will now be taken to ensure a job-creating food production sector?
To ask the Honourable Minister of Blue Economy, Marine Resources, Fisheries and Shipping
(a) What measures have been taken in the last year and/or are being planned to halt overfishing by foreign industrial fishing vessels;
(b) What plan is the Minister proposing for developing a national fishing industry in the vast 2.4 million km2 Exclusive Economic Zone of the Republic of Mauritius including the Chagos archipelago?
To ask the Honourable Minister of Health and Wellness -
(a) How many additional staff have been recruited in the last year in:
(i) public healthcare, including nursing and ancillary staff, and records clerks,
(ii) public health, including permanent contact-tracing staff?
(b) Given the lack of staff decried by the quasi totality of unions in the public health sector, how much additional permanent staff does the Minister intend to recruit?