Any foreigner who wishes to work, live or stay in Mauritius requires assistance from an expert. Taking my own example, I would never take the risk of moving my family to a foreign land without consulting with experts. True : to find a genuine and competent expert is another issue. In every sector, there are ugly ducklings that tarnish the image of the profession. The Board of Investment (BOI) mentions on its website, in bold and in red, ‘beware of people posing as Consultants’. This statement may be misleading and might discourage foreigners from contracting the services of consultants. It might simply be interpreted that consultants are just crooks, all of them.
BOI (and government bodies) needs to understand that consultants are not people from a different team and they are not competitors. Consultants, the genuine and competent ones, work in the interest of the island. We promote Mauritius as a business or life destination. As opposed to government bodies, we invest our own funds, not public money. It should also be clear to every government servant that one of the main objectives of attracting foreign investors is the creation of wealth; this wealth is not limited to beautifying data tables, percentages and statistics. The population should benefit – new businesses and job creation should grow in proportion to the flux of foreign investors (I don’t know why I don’t like the word Immigrant). Our local professionals should be able to tap-in this market, and this, also means work and fees for our accountants, consultants, lawyers, service providers, property owners, and so on.
For me, the definition of ‘boosting the economy’ is : to improve the quality of life of people. It corresponds to the Government’s affirmed ambition of turning the country into a high income earning econmy. No?
It is true that many posed as consultants in the past. They found themselves this new profession when the Business Facilitation Act was introduced. Easy form filling procedures in return for heavy fees paid in Euros & Dollars. These are not consultants, only opportunists – at worse, crooks.
It is time now that authorities identify and recognize the real professionals. I can understand the position of the BOI, but only to some extent. The biggest fraud, with regards to permits occurred in the womb of the BOI itself. Its own staff members, in the past, have been found guilty of fraudulent maneuvers (fake permits, fake bank documents, etc.). The big scandal required some cleansing operation, internal to the BOI. I’m glad to see that things are very healthy these days, and in every specific service: application procedures, counseling, expertise, attitude, you name it. The officers seem more competent and understand the process, but more importantly, they understand the fact that the risk lies in the hands of the investor.
Coming back to ‘people posing as consultants’, the statement is not very clear to me. I pay regular visits to the BOI, minimum twice a week, every week. I happen to observe, quite frequently, ‘suspicious’ people still roaming around. Some seem to enjoy privileged access to the officers and the facilities. I wonder how people having a full time paid job (in sectors having nothing to do with the BOI) can still bring in ‘clients’ and assist in application procedures. Seasonal consultants?
The ‘posing as consultants’ phenomena does not affect only Mauritians. Many foreigners have found nothing better than to open their ‘consultancy office’ on the island. Not only many of them lack expertise but they are actually posing as unfair competitors to local experts. A real international consultant will not leave a much larger market (Europe, for instance) and start an accounting / book-keeping business in the tiny Mauritius. Foreigners posing as consultants lack the expertise that Mauritian born and bred consultants have: knowledge of island life, culture, common practices, knowledge of law and rules, the list can be long. Taking my own example, my over 23 years of experience comes into play in any relocation advice I give to people moving to Mauritius. I know the do’s and don’ts and this was not written in my books, not taught in school – this was learnt on the ground.
I’m curious to know why there are no restrictive schemes to protect local expertise here, similar to what is operated in the tourism industry, for example. We have thousands of graduates on the circuit every six months adding to thousands of Mauritians qualified in the consultancy related areas (accountants, finance managers, engineers, etc.). They need to fight an unfair competition from foreign pseudo-consultants. Unfair is the word.
These professions should be restricted to Mauritians, unless foreigners have hyper-innovative proposals that can enhance the industry.
I’m planning to raise the question soon in a formal way to the BOI in view of understanding their position on the word ‘consultants’ in general and more particularly foreigners operating in this field. It would be an interesting subject.
So why do we really need a consultant? Officers of the BOI have done tremendous effort to stay in touch with investors, trying to help them invest in the industry sector they choose. Despite this effort, these officers will never be able to replace genuine consultants, because of the expertise and on-the-ground experience the latter has. A government officer sits behind a desk and can be excellent, but only in procedures and paperwork, at best. Generally, taking the example of the BOI, government bodies play an important role in the ‘setting-up’ phase. They do not come into play in the real-life situation of the business.
The consultant’s expertise goes far beyond the ‘setting-up’ phase; his advice is based on the promoter’s constraints, objectives (short, medium or long) and he has a wider perspective on business in general. The consultant is himself an entrepreneur if he is running his own firm. A government officer does not understand the basic principle of risk because his salary is assured and guaranteed. On the other hand, the consultant relies on his reputation & business acumen to succeed, financially or otherwise, in his venture. He invests his own funds and has a higher need of return on investment. Yes, we are referring to different mindsets and you can guess which one matches the investor’s.
Let’s have a look at a concrete example: human resources. No officer can understand the motivation factor of a job-seeker. Extend this further; the officer has no idea of the day-to-day constraints of a particular job and the average rate of pay in a particular sector. There are several things that the officer has no clue of, for instance: cultural clash between Mauritian employees & foreign employers, financial motivation, geographical spread of competencies and the list goes on and on.
My company manages around 400 staff members, we work with them everyday, understand their problems, solve their issues – we interview them for recruitment purposes. We definitely have a better insight on the overall job market. We tackle every of the issues that arise: conflicts, behavior, performance, discipline, technical, legal, fiscal, etc. All this is done through observation of local laws and rules. A government servant sitting most of the time behind his desk will, in no way, gather such intelligence and experience. His advice on employment can only be twisted to either suit the investor’s wishes or discourage him – again he might excel in interpreting statistics and data. Reality cannot be translated when not known. A consultant will, on the other side, expose real-life experience, which is not usually described in percentages or figures.
Human resources is only one aspect of business, you can take any other aspect and apply the same principle of thought.
In a government office, to get precise advice in every aspect of business, you will need to address your worries to different officers. At the end of the day, you will find yourself talking to a crowd and will need to find your way through to the relevant expert for each specific issue you have. Still, the expert dealing with you has probably never done business and hasn’t taken any business risk in his life. The consultant may also display a team of experts but as opposed to a public institution, he is and remains accountable to you as client. He is normally your single point of contact.
Accountability is key. The consultant is accountable to you because he earns fees from you. He has a duty of care and attention which extends to moral & ethical responsibility. A government servant is not accountable to you. In case of wrong advice, he is still earning his salary at the end of the month and he is not answerable to you. He has no concerns whatsoever for his reputation, it is not part of his equation. He should not be blamed for it; this is how the system works.
Without discrediting government servants, I need to mention that they are very much useful and essential at all levels. However, they should understand that consultants complement the overall process of attracting and helping foreign investors’ migration to Mauritius. One cannot perform well without the other. In this regards, not only the BOI but all other public institutions have to understand that private operators are part of the same team.
Private and public sector cooperation is not only required for real estate development project, for instance, but should also take place in the service sector. Foreign investment is essential to the development of Mauritius into a modern island.
If a foreigner wants to work or live in Mauritius, he requires confirmed expertise and mostly an accountable person to take care of his affairs and that of his family. Relocation does not start or ends with papers issued by government service; relocation is a real-life process which requires support from people who are on the ground; people like us, carrying decades of experience; people who were in the profession even before the Board of Investment was created. People who are accountable.
The idea of this article is not to confront civil servants in a challenge of competence or expertise. When an official government site displays, in bold and in red, information that can cause prejudice to private operators, there is a need to clear the misunderstanding. A consultant is also an investor, and in my opinion, there’s no use attracting foreign investors if locals are struggling to find a way. A consultant’s success also implies expansion of his business, job creation, wealth creation, tax payment and upgrade of expertise, among others.
The baseline is simple: both sides are working for the same goal; promote Mauritius as a world-class business and retirement destination.