The Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and Economic Development, The Hon Pravind Kumar JUGNAUTH presented the National Budget 2018/2019 in an international context which is seeing a resurgence in economic growth.
Both internationally and locally, the IMF points to an upsurge in 2018 and 2019, followed by more modest growth rates. Faced with uncertainties on the global trade and investment landscape post-2020 and with a number of challenges, the Budget 2018/19 provided a unique opportunity for strong and bold economic measures.
Throughout its Budgetary consultations, the MCCI advocated for 'Enabling Economic Development through business expansion' with a three-pronged agenda namely resolute demand-inducing measures, sectoral fiscal stimulus as well as structural reforms for the transformation of the country's economic model. The MCCI is pleased to note that the Budget indeed addresses the above with a particular focus on improving the quality and standard of life of citizens to bring Mauritius towards an inclusive model of economic development - and a 'Growth for All' agenda.
The Budget 2018/2019 has been centered on an inclusive and sustainable growth model, with strong measures to boost Youth and Women employment, SME entrepreneurship, purchasing power of the middle income class as well as the Circular Economy through sustainability and environmental protection measures.
With a rapidly ageing and decreasing population, the Budget also gave a particular focus on some of the Demographic issues to address fertility rates through gender mainstreaming in the workforce, incentives to invest in 'creche', increase in income exemption thresholds for dependents up to four children, deductions for tertiary education and a 'Work from Home' Scheme. The opening up of the economy to foreign talents through the review of procedures on work permits, accelerated occupation permits scheme, and attracting High Net Worth Individuals have been part of the MCCI's position vis-à-vis the authorities and we are thus pleased to note that they have been positively taken into consideration and have been prominent in this year's Budget.
In line with our Budgetary recommendations, there have been a number of measures to support the strategic local industries in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors and addressing the issue of de-industrialisation, with a revamped import substitution strategy which had been abandoned since the 1970s. Indeed, the MCCI advocated for the introduction of special package of measures for highly sensitive strategic industries to enable them to compete on a level playing field. We are pleased to note that the Government announced that appropriate mechanisms will be used to address the issue of dumping through economic diplomacy and implement higher standards of quality and safety for certain imported products.
With the introduction of the OECD BEPS initiative and the Mauritius commitment to the review of the financial services and Freeport sectors, the MCCI advocated for a harmonization of the taxation regimes for domestic and global business companies and positively noted that the Budget 2018/2019 reforms shall enable a consolidation of those sectors and integration with the domestic economy.
Business and Trade Facilitation remained on the agenda of the current Budget, with the implementation of the Single Licensing Agency at the Economic Development Board (EDB) to act as a central entity for the delivery of licenses and permits which will remove administrative burdens and "office hopping". This proposal had been recommended in our Budgetary recommendations since last year. The MCCI would also like to commend the measure to enable the Economic Development Board (EDB) to conduct Regulatory Impact Assessments and streamlining of business licenses. The MCCI believes that RIAs should become part of the process for any new business related legislation in the country and has been advocating for same for a number of years now.
To facilitate trade and investment, the current Budget makes provision for a number of public infrastructural projects to address inland and outward connectivity and market access. The Budget 2018/2019 indeed provides for a capital expenditure of Rs. 17.9 billion with a continued acceleration of the public infrastructure projects such as the Metro Express, the Road Decongestion Programme, and investments in port related infrastructure, including the purchase of a regional vessel. The MCCI commends the extension of the airport capacity to an expected 8 Million passengers annually, which shall enable the positioning of Mauritius as a tourist, business but also transit hub into Africa. We further commend the construction of 3 industrial parks with appropriate utility, logistics systems and high-tech machinery, with particular focus on Pharmaceutical and Life Sciences and High-Tech productions.
On private sector investment in construction activities, we are pleased to find the implementation of a National Regeneration Scheme which builds on the recommendations made by the MCCI for the last four years on Urban Regeneration to further integrate large villages through a national regeneration plan to revitalise the central areas of our cities, town and large villages.
Looking towards the e-Economy, the Budget sets the right tone to enable Mauritius to move towards an innovation-led economic model with mechanisms and processes to support the move towards Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain technologies and FinTech. To operationalize this strategy, a National Regulatory Sandbox License Committee is being implemented providing the right eco-system and the MCCI looks forward to the new Industrial Property legislation which shall pave the way to accelerating innovation in the country through the adherence of Mauritius to the Madrid Protocol, the Patent Cooperation Treaty and the Hague Agreement.
As Mauritius transforms its economic model, it is vital to move from our traditional products and markets. Indeed, to boost investment and export into the African region, the Budget provides companies investing in the new Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to benefit from accompanying fiscal measures . Whilst export-led strategies are supported through continued economic and trade diplomacy and negotiations on the finalization of a number of trade and economic partnership agreements both in the region, in the Asian continent, we should not relent on the implementation of the National Export Strategy (NES), which provides a roadmap for the further diversification of our markets and products.
The current Budgetary exercise also makes provision for a number of measures to enable sustainable economic development, aligned with a clean environment strategy and a circular economy model. Combined with agricultural economic communities through the Sheltered Farming Scheme, the Government is supporting the circular economy through increased financial incentive given to local manufacturers for recycling of PET bottles and support to private sector to encourage them to invest in recycling and refurbishment of telecommunication and electronic devices.
With more than 99 percent of all companies, accounting for 35 percent of GDP, and nearly half of the country's employment, SMEs are considered to be the backbone of the economy. Since a number of years, the Government has given particular emphasis on SMEs and fostering entrepreneurship. The current Budget 2018/2019 goes in line with this strategy with support mechanisms to SMEs for accreditation to international standards and certifications. The MCCI further commends initiatives taken in this Budget to improve access to finance for SMEs through a number of schemes including loans at concessionary rates of 3 percent at the DBM.
On a macro-economic level, the Budget 2018/2019 forecasts positive indicators on growth, investment and the budget deficit, with an aim to notably reach above the 4 percent growth rate in the current fiscal year. The MCCI is of the view that with a complete and swift implementation of the measures announced, there is indeed a potential for higher growth rates, based on inclusiveness, sustainability and innovation, hence enabling a transformation of the Mauritian economy. The implementation strategy and active involvement of all stakeholders will be a key determinant to enabling Mauritius to rise to the challenges of its aspirations at Vision 2030 and pave the way for a smooth transition to a high-income, innovation-led economy by 2023.
A detailed brief of the main Budgetary measures shall soon follow.
Marday VENKATASAMY, C.S.K.