This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the independence of Mauritius — the taking of our destiny in our own hands. In the past half century, a people with roots in India, Africa, Europe and China, as one nation and living in harmony, have built a strikingly strong democracy. With 37 years of uninterrupted economic growth, Mauritius has taken its people from a single commodity, colonial and low income economy to a well-diversified economy and an upper middle income country.
It is an opportune time to reflect on the way forward in a world buffeted by global warming and the need to be responsible to the environment; in a world where Africa and Asia will be the greater part of the world economy in the not so far future, and in a world so much driven by the digital economy.
Where must Mauritius go? My vision is to build a modern and forward-looking economy with shared prosperity and greater wealth for the people. Our focus is reducing unemployment, creating better opportunities for the young, working towards eradicating poverty, protecting our elders, and further opening our country to foreign talents and investment, while encouraging innovation in all economic spheres.
I am clear that the road to this shared prosperity will be built on strong policies. They include reform of education at primary and secondary levels to build a balance between the academic and technical streams, to adapt education to new needs of the economy and society and to ensure inclusiveness.
Our ground breaking and first ever national policy for sport and physical activity will be one of the platforms through which this government will transform the health and wellbeing of every Mauritian, as the notion of shared prosperity goes far beyond simple considerations of economic growth.
A “Marshall Plan” to combat poverty, including the introduction of the minimum wage and a significant boost to pension benefits, is building on our strong welfare state.
To further modernise the country, some $5bn has been earmarked for infrastructural projects over the next five years. Our ambitious road decongestion programme, for example, aim at stimulating the growth of business activities as we build roads, highways, and bridges.
By September next year, we aim to launch the Metro Express, an urban rail system which will connect our capital, Port Louis, with the main urban areas of the island.
We have invested in the harbour of Port Louis to make it one of the deepest ports in the Indian Ocean, able to receive the largest container ships in the world. Further modernisation with state of the art facilities aims to double its capacity. We are also working on expanding the international airport to double its capacity to 8m passengers.
As I told the United Nations General Assembly this year, I am concerned by the challenges faced by the world’s small island developing states. Buffeted by climatic changes, Mauritius faces rising sea levels and flash floods, to name but two threats. We are channelling some $60m dollars towards environmental infrastructure improvements, while putting clear policy direction on sustainable development, which is also guiding our tourism and agricultural industries.
As a small island economy, we have grown because we have always been outward looking, with export-driven growth strategies and openings to foreign investors. We have made the most of our connections and shared history with Europe.
In addition to our very good relationships with EU countries, we have built on diversity by consolidating economic and other ties with Africa, India and China and countries in the Middle East. We are members of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, the Southern African Development Community and the Indian Ocean Commission. We have signed a free trade agreement with China and are finalising a comprehensive economic partnership agreement with India. With such relationships, Mauritius will leverage its strategic geographical position and build its future. My government is working towards the emergence of a revamped and dynamic industrial base focusing on high end, precision driven and technology-enabled manufacturing, building our links between Africa and Asia with a range of fiscal incentives and the creation of special economic zones in Mauritius and certain African countries. My objective is to position Mauritius as a vibrant, sophisticated and substance-based international financial services centre for investors willing to invest in Africa.
We are working with international experts to create the environment for this, including the appropriate regulatory framework. Our country stands as a jurisdiction of excellence, gaining worldwide recognition for transparency, observance of best practices and compliance with international norms. We have the required standard to attract liquidity providers, international brokers, investment banks and fund managers, and have positioned Mauritius as a reputed centre of international arbitration.
Mauritius, with its dependencies, comprises 2,200 sq km of land, while our exclusive economic zone covers 1.9m sq km of not yet developed ocean territory. We are investing to map and chart out this territory, which will be for us the economy of the future.
I hope that, with the above, our remarkable rainbow nation will join the league of high income economies.
The writer is prime minister of Mauritius
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