Thursday, June 4, 2020

Covid-19: Towards A 'New Normal'

With the Covid-19 pandemic severely disrupting life as we knew it, millions of people around the world face uncertain times.  Indeed, whole nations are in the midst of difficult transitions, adjusting to the 'new normal' in public health, economy and polity. An existential imperative for the nations caught up in the cauldron of the 'invisible enemy'; rebuilding shattered lives through re-energizing decimated economies require governments to adopt prudence and wisdom in national policies. Protecting the most vulnerable social groups in these turbulent circumstances, especially the poor and the indigent, is a collective responsibility. Social and economic plans need to be inclusive in character, and not just cater to the elites in the corporate sector! Unfortunately, around the world, many governments have lopsided priorities. In the name of fighting the pandemic / dealing with public health emergency, democracies are witnessing 'power games': usurping excessive powers way beyond what they actually possess, 'authoritarians' are undermining democratic processes of institutional checks and balances. Transparency, accountability and good governance are all stake in these extraordinary times. Moreover, almost all the time, the real beneficiaries of State policies are the big business/ corporate sector, and not the labour class, or the hungry masses. Indeed, the pandemic is testing national elites as to 'reveal' the strength of resilience of their core values and principles: whether they can 'arise and create a new world'- addressing the problems and challenges in an equitable and just way, respecting the rights and interests of the underclass- the fellow humans among them. In his Friday Sermon of 29 May 2020 ~ 06 Shawwal 1441 AH, Imam- Jamaat Ul Sahih Al Islam Hadhrat Khalifatullah Munir A. Azim (aba) of Mauritius speaks about this vital issue of contemporary concern. Articulated against the backdrop of recent national initiatives in Mauritius on responding to Covid-19, Hadhrat Saheb's perspective and guidance on dealing with the 'new world' would be of considerable interest to thoughtful people everywhere. 

Read the Extracts from the Friday Sermon: 


Now I’ll talk a little bit about the news in our country, especially regarding the new “Covid-19 & Quarantine Acts” that were passed recently.

As a Mauritian citizen, I too have the right to say a few words on the “Covid-19 Bill” and the presentation of the 2020-2021 Budget which will take place on Thursday 4th June 2020. All Mauritians know very well the “Covid- 19 Bill” and the “Quarantine Bill” because these subjects were at the heart of the news of the National Assembly.

However, the measures presented by the government do not seem to be unanimous in parliament and in the country. Personally, I see that there was no consultation or dialogue before their presentation. Yet they affect the freedom of our citizens, labour rights, and the reserves of the Central Bank [among many]. And government can use public funds without transparency, governance and accountability [without being accountable to anyone].

The “Covid-19 Bill” also includes the creation of funds never seen before and draconian measures that affect our democracy.

With the “Covid-19 Act” and “Quarantine Act”, there are tougher penalties. Several sections of 56 laws were amended under the “Covid-19 (miscellaneous provisions) Act” and the “Quarantine Act”, passed in the National Assembly on Friday 15th May and promulgated the next day. Thus fines and prison sentences were reinforced in the event of an offense. In short, I mention a few:

    1) Chemical Fertilizers Control Act goes from Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 10,000.

    2) Spitting in a public place will incur a fine not exceeding Rs. 5000 or a prison term not exceeding 30 days.

    3) Environment Protection Act for poultry farming [ex. hens etc.] goes from Rs. 5000 to Rs. 15,000.

    4) Non-compliance with sanitary measures during the period of sanitary curfew, a fine of Rs. 50,000 or a prison sentence of maximum two years.

    5) Bribe, the fine of which was Rs. 10,000 now increases to Rs. 50,000 or a 5-year prison term.

    6) Public Officers Protection Act; Rs. 200,000 or a prison sentence not exceeding 5 years.

    7) Light Rail Act where one can face a fine of up to Rs. 1 million or a prison term of up to 5 years.

    8) Quarantine Act: Its fine can go up to Rs. 500,000 or a prison sentence up to 5 years.

    9) Public Health Act: A person may be fined Rs. 200,000 or 5 years imprisonment.

I cannot cite everything. The list is too long. The situation is getting worse day by day. 

Certain sectors such as Tourism and Transport will be very affected. The Manufacturing Free-Trade Zone was already in great difficulty before the Covid-19 with a drop of 10% in the last quarter of 2019.

This sector is likely to be severely impacted because the behaviour of buyers is likely to change after the epidemic [pandemic]. Personally, according to my analysis, tourism should not expect a return to normalcy until 5 years. Upon resumption of activities [after the lockdown], the hotel business will operate at 30 or 40% of its capacity. Some hotel groups will probably open one or two of their hotels.

The construction sector will not be spared by the Coronavirus as will small businesses and SMEs. There is also the bankruptcy of Air Mauritius.

Unemployment will increase considerably, as will poverty and inequality. Thousands of our compatriots will lose their jobs; Others will be forced to take forced leave without pay, to be furloughed, and many will be cut in wages, benefits and rights significantly. In a panic, the government provided financial support to businesses that did not deserve it.

Mauritius on FAFT 'grey list'

At the beginning of this year Mauritius went from the white list to the grey list and today it is on the black list. It’s a terrible blow to the industry. 

Several cases have tarnished our image. There are many activities, companies and products which represent money laundering risks according to the EU and the Financial Action Task Force. They must be eliminated once and for all in order to permanently leave this black list. 

Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth announced that the 2020-2021 Budget will be presented on the 4th of June. So the Minister of Finance Renganaden Padayachy has lots of work to do given the economic situation.Personalities such as Political Leaders, Economists, Trade Unions [Unionists] and also many citizens say that we must not make the mistakes of further indebting the population with the 2020-2021 Budget which will be presented on the 4th of June. 

For me, we are in a situation of economic and social emergency. So we need a budget that can help get the economy back on track. The 2020-2021 Budget must include a social plan to help those at the bottom of the ladder. This is the priority of priorities. The government’s other priority should be job preservation. I too say that the error to avoid is precisely not to repeat the error in mismanagement and opacity in spending. There should be transparency!

I am afraid that the government will once again succumb to the lobbies of the private sector by presenting a Budget which makes a nod to big capital and which does not provide enough support for the Self-Employed and the vulnerable .

There is a certain fear that has set in. It will be difficult for the government to regain the confidence of the people which have been scuttled. The Mauritians have lost trust in this government.

So, it is important that the government think about the sectors that can be developed to allow the country to recover. I propose the local production of certain basic foodstuffs. Such an initiative would not only promote job creation, but would also generate income. No less than 10,000 hectares [and even more] of abandoned land are spread across the country. The government should come up with a comprehensive plan to encourage the use of this land. Basic foodstuffs can be grown there. We are in a different situation now. Arise and Create a New World.

When I look back now, I see that the things I said before, now people [some people] agree with my words. When I received this revelation and I said what Allah revealed to me, that is, to prepare oneself to get up and create a new world, there are those who turned a deaf ear while others ridiculed me and said that I was crazy and that I should be incarcerated in the mental hospital [Brown Sequard].

It is a revelation that I have in the year 2008 to 2009, and also in the year 2010 on several occasions. Today, people have gone mad with the Covid-19. We are in a different situation. A new world has taken place. Our lives will never be the same again. Citizens around the world are now being called upon to change their way of life.

May Allah help all of His believing servants and all of humanity in this new way of life [this new world]. May Allah relieve the pain of the poor, those in great need, those who have lost their jobs, who have families to feed, those who are in debt - starting with our little Mauritius itself, and all the other countries of the world too. May Allah help us to get back on our feet, and that with goodwill and cooperation we walk towards a better Mauritius and a better world. Insha-Allah, Ameen.