Local professionals v/s opportunists

With the flux of immigration from South Africa, many non-Mauritians have opened their own practice, claiming an A-Z knowledge of island life.  Others are linked with real estate agencies, selling high-priced but low-quality properties to foreigners – many claiming that this is the only way towards residence permits (FALSE, of course!). I am not being discriminating here, but fact is that most of such operators are from South Africa themselves. These operators, if there’s one thing they understand more than others, is the desperation of their fellow countrymen and their willingness to move to a better place.

I was wondering why someone claiming to be an expert in finance and business administration would settle in Mauritius. The market size is incomparable to South Africa. This probably reflects the failure to sustain business in their homeland. I would think so. More plausible is that relocating to Mauritius and proposing relocation to others is very lucrative as it plays on emotions they know well.

It is getting increasingly frustrating to see so many of these pseudo relocation firms (experts in island life after living here for 5 to 10 years) eating from the (smaller) plates of local professionals. I’ve mentioned it before, a country opens its borders not because it is an asylum but because it proposes an economic model that should drive business, which implies providing locals with more business opportunities.

There is something wrong in allowing non-Mauritians to operate certain activities that deprive locals of opportunities and growth potential. I am not being xenophobic but simply wondering why such professions are not protected, in the same manner than tourism is. For instance, a non-Mauritian can only operate a tourism license business on specific criteria (including minimum investment).

Mauritian accountants, lawyers and business managers are from strict curriculum and very structured training systems. Many are from prestigious schools in Europe, USA or from Asian countries. This is not achievable unless heavy investment in terms of finance, sweat and intelligence are put together by whole families. Their share of the cake is reduced with unqualified people jumping on the island and claiming expertise in Mauritian life. Thousands of graduates are on the market after studies. Many of those studying abroad do not return because of lack of opportunities. And we keep wondering why these youngsters are not coming back to serve their country?

There is no point, also, in eliminating legitimate non-Mauritian expertise. However, a set of conditions should be imposed to sift real professionals from opportunity sharks. I am referring particularly to those advocating expertise in relocation to Mauritius. Firstly, because I have spent more than 27 years in this area. Secondly because I see so many frustrated qualified accountants, lawyers and business specialists losing opportunities.

I can also fairly say that this is happening in different industries: hair and beauty, education and training, home repair works (plumbing and electricity), etc. Small local operators are being crushed.

We can argue, at some point, that there is a lack of structured expertise on the island and the need for foreign ones are felt. However, this cannot be generalized. If not given the right attention, this situation will cause a xenophobic explosion.

It is time now to provide a real structured plan (and strategy) that shall govern the presence of non-Mauritian expertise in areas where Mauritians are known to excel. Conditions should be clearly defined, allowing a healthy competition on the marketplace. Local expertise should be valued. There’s no point creating a Diaspora scheme to attract Mauritian professionals back to their island if their share is not protected.

The Economic Development Board has a major role to play in setting-out the appropriate framework. It is not about restricting foreign direct investment, but that of protecting local businesses which are legitimate beneficiaries of any open-border economic policies. Restrictions can be in the form of minimum performance obligations, minimum investment (beyond that imposed under Investor permits), Mauritian directorship / shareholding and imposed quota on the employment of local professionals.

It is probably high time that local professionals join themselves into an association to showcase their situations and present recommendations to competent authorities.

I am sure that this article will trigger numerous reactions, not only positives. But on the other side, I see a dangerous curve ahead. Should we not tackle this promptly, the situation will escalate to uncontrollable dimensions ; and then, there is no point in asking our people to return to the island after their studies. There is no point to operate a Diaspora scheme. Let the brain drain continue.


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