Summary of presentations and discussions
Recording of the Webinar
Mr. Paul Baker, Chief Executive of International Economics Consulting Ltd. (IEC), opened the third webinar organized by the joint IEC-World Bank-United Nations, and supported by Middlesex University, Open University, and the University of Mauritius. He painted a picture of the likely COVID-19 recovery scenarios, mentioning that we would have to probably wait until 2022 to reach 2019 GDP levels, according to latest research. The latest World Bank report on Africa predicts that 40 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty, while school closures will affect 253 million students. The World Bank also notes that companies are operating at 40-50% of their capacity and 1/5 of employees are at risk of losing their jobs due to COVID-19. Several measures are taken across different countries. While many measures are being taken to help economic recovery, it is to be noted that recourse to digital platforms and e-commerce are seen as business opportunities for companies.
Social and Business aspects of Economic Recovery
Mr. Daden Venkatasawmy, Head of Collaborative Economic Development at Business Mauritius, talked about the surveys being run to collect data to understand the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable families. The Comité Solidarité conducted a Rapid Survey in July 2020, the results of which are expected in December 2020. The data collection focused on the poverty pillars that are most impacted, which are employment, food and health. The survey also focused on the use of technology, psychosocial support, and registration on the Social Register of Mauritius (SRM). The results of the survey show that 70% of respondents are not on the SRM. The COVID-19 situation is having a negative impact on households, as main revenue earners are losing their jobs. Although financial help is needed, non-physical (psychosocial) handholding is also required.
On another business survey, 74% of the respondents reported a decline in sales, while 65% noted a fall in exports. Business Mauritius is planning to run other surveys every 6 months to monitor the evolution.
Fiscal Reform for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems
Ms. Joy Kim, Senior Economic Affairs Officer at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) spoke about the relevance of sustainable agriculture, which can be the largest employer and can help reduce poverty and enhance food security. She mentioned that around 30% of all food produced is lost or wasted every year, contributing to food insecurity and resulting in nearly USD1 trillion in economic losses. However, there are several fiscal stimulus measures to incentivize the agri-food sector, such as direct payments to workers in agrarian sectors, support to agriculture businesses, direct support to dairy/meat producers and fishermen, investments to develop a more secure and sustainable forestry sector, among others. Governments have a unique opportunity to scale-up and channel public and private finance and investments towards nature and climate productive activities. A new nature economy could generate up to USD10.1 trillion in annual business value and create 395 million jobs globally by 2030. The UNEP is proposing to implement a rapid assessment diagnostic toolkit for scaling up public and private finance for nature-based solutions and climate-smart agriculture to support more sustainable resilient food systems. The toolkit will analyse the impacts of current fiscal policies and economic incentives and identify priority reforms to the enabling policy environment and potential new green finance instruments.
Financing a Green Recovery in Mauritius – Critical Juncture or Missed Opportunity?
Ms. Karishma Ansaram, a Doctoral Student at IESEG School of Management talked about carbon pricing, carbon markets and climate change and how they can help in a green recovery. She mentioned that COVID-19 has created financial pressure on government spending and tax revenues and as a result of lending pressure, public sector debt is increasing. These situations lead the way to a green recovery. There are two types of financing available, namely public green finance and private green finance. Mauritius is mostly reliant on public financing. While there are a number of private sector initiatives, it is mainly the public sector measures that are geared towards green recovery. The OECD has put in place a green budgeting framework to assess the budget measures which are put in place to either mitigate or adapt to climate change. The tool reports how stimulus packages help meet green objectives through a general green budget statement, a green process statement and a distributional impact analysis. It is estimated that Mauritius will require over USD 1.5 billion for mitigation measures and about USD 4 billion for adaptation measures.
Integrating Artificial Intelligence and Digital Innovations to strengthen Inclusion and Equity in Education in Africa
Ms. Natalia Amelina, Senior National Project Officer in Education at the UNESCO, talked about the integration of AI and digital innovations in Africa. This is a joint initiative of UNESCO and the Chengdu Culture and Tourism Development Group of China. Mauritius and Rwanda are the two target countries for this project. The initiative is in line with the UN’s three guiding principles, namely the human rights-based approach; leave no one behind; and gender equality and women empowerment. ICT integration is used to eliminate gender disparities and ensure equal access to education for girls and women. The integration of AI and digital innovations for the education of persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups allows for an inclusive education environment. The program aims at conducting a needs assessment and develop a national report. It will also establish a resource center that will be equipped with specific hardware and software for vulnerable students. The project will include an online portal which will strengthen networking and capacity building within the countries. The program will also strengthen an Education Management Information System, providing an online platform to assist the countries in maintaining and updating tools for strategic planning.
Learnings from other islands
Mrs. Verena Tandrayen-Ragoobur, Associate Professor at the University of Mauritius talked about the short-term challenges in navigating the medical economy loop. She compared Mauritius with other island states, where Mauritius has been doing well in terms of the number of cases and deaths. She introduced the study being carried out by the University which shows the Oxford Stringency Index (SI), which relates to containment measures implemented by islands since the first case was discovered. The study finds that the SI had risen in March 2020 to fall around the end of September 2020 and remained fairly stable. However, in some cases, the SI index peaks again around November 2020, due to the resurgence of COVID-19 cases.
Dr. Jaime de Melo, Scientific Advisor in Economic Modelling at IEC, Emeritus Professor at the University of Geneva, scientific director at Fondation pour les Etudes et Recherches sur le Développement International (FERDI), and a non-resident scholar at the Brookings Institute, elaborated on the long-term challenges of the COVID-19. He talked about the industrial revolution which will see the emergence of new technologies. The industrial revolution will see the disappearance of some jobs, including rule-based jobs. Many SIDS are low-income countries with a low Environment Protection Index score. The islands, which are much more vulnerable, will have to adapt to the change in the ecosystem.
Community-Centered Vulnerability Assessments and Prioritization of Possible Recovery Interventions
Mrs. Pamela Bapoo-Dundoo, Eco-Counselor and National Coordinator for the GEF Small Grants Programme at the UNDP, talked about the projects undertaken by the UNDP on community vulnerability. The project concentrated on the Ti Rodrigues area of Mauritius. The community has a population of around 17,000 people which has a higher level of vulnerability to natural disasters than other parts of Mauritius. The Mauritius Red Cross Society, a grantee of the project, carried out a Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment (VCA) of the community. The VCA drew up an assessment and recommendation plan to assess the situation in Ti Rodrigues. The assessment identified cyclones, floods, drugs and teenage pregnancies as the main threats to the community. The VCA report will be presented to the community members and shared with the parenting Ministry, members of parliament, the National Social Inclusion Foundation and the donor community to develop viable proposals to seek necessary support from government and donors.
Mr. Erik von Uexkull, Country Representative of the World Bank, moderated the plenary session.
Mr. Thomas Krimmel of GIZ suggested that we have to differentiate between economic recovery and the green aspect of it. He suggested the introduction of a carbon tax for passengers reaching Mauritius. The tax could be used for mangrove reforestation and employment.
Ms. Joy Kim responded by mentioning that governments have provided conditional bailout packages to airline industries which have been severely hit by the COVID-19 situation. This is something that the Government of Mauritius can consider, allowing the local airline operator to recover in a greener way.
Dr. Myriam Blin, of the Charles Telfair Institute, queried on the criteria to be included in the Social Register in Mauritius and about the introduction of a tax on food for its carbon footprint. Mr. Daden Venkatasawmy responded by saying that revenue is a key consideration to be included in the SRM. However, the Comité Solidarité recommends a wider SRM format for additional support to vulnerable groups. He also mentioned that despite the reduced cashflow brought by the crisis, companies are willing to maintain or increase their spending on sustainable development initiatives.
Ms. Joy Kim specified that it is not necessary to tax food, as long as the food price reflects the actual cost. There are other ways to support the consumption side, by investing in better technologies in irrigation for example.
Mr. Erik von Uexkull thanked everybody for the rich discussions and highlighted how we have moved from fire-fighting mode to fruitful discussions on COVID-19 economic recovery. He also invited all participants to register on the Mauritius Research Platform on COVID-19 for regular updates.
Dr. Pierre Fallavier, Senior Development Coordination Advisor to the Resident Coordinator of the United Nations for Mauritius, thanked everybody for the presentations and mentioned that the discussions add to the already rich contents discussed during the previous webinars. The discussion contents will contribute to SDGs. As of 2021, the priorities will focus on a better, greener, and more sustainable and inclusive recovery. He stressed on the need to disseminate the content of this platform more widely, in the region and probably globally.