Mauritius is presently a Covid-19 safe country; it has so far successfully managed the sanitary crisis. The pandemic nevertheless continues to affect the country in a number of ways, including disruption to trade, supply chains and investment flows. The imposition of a mandatory quarantine period before entering Mauritius has further impacted its tourism sector and caused a decrease in foreign clientele. The direct contribution of tourism to GDP was estimated at 8.2% in 2019. When one includes the indirect contribution from other industries, such as transport, accommodation and food service, this sector alone accounts for 23.8% of GDP, 22% of employment and 35% of total exports. Air Mauritius Ltd, the national airline, went into voluntary administration on 22 April 2020. International air travel remains significantly affected by the pandemic.
There remains considerable uncertainty as to the future. In this present climate, the legislator, in an attempt at containing the Covid-19 pandemic and mitigating its impact on the economy, has adopted several measures, including the introduction of moratoriums for rent, banking loans and taxes, in order to support the local economy and businesses. Amongst other enactments, the Covid-19 (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act was passed. This has amended a series of enactments to address the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly in relation to employment, corporate, insolvency, banking and regulatory issues. One example is the amendment to the Courts Act 1945 to make provision for the calling or hearing of cases remotely by means of a telephonic, an electronic or any other communication facility as the Chief Justice may approve in writing. Other amendments subsequently brought to the Courts Act 1945 cater for the creation of four new divisions of the Supreme Court of Mauritius for the dispatch of civil and criminal business of the Supreme Court, namely a Financial Crimes Division, a Land Division, a Family Division and a Commercial Division. The creation of these specialist divisions of the Supreme Court aims at increasing the speed with which relevant matters are dealt with.
The Government, through the Bank of Mauritius, has set up the Mauritius Investment Corporation, a Special Purpose Vehicle which has the objective of assisting systemically large and viable corporations or companies incorporated in Mauritius (having a minimum annual turnover of MUR100 million) and which are financially distressed directly as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition to the Mauritius Investment Corporation, there have been several schemes set up to provide aid and support to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Mauritius.
The Government of Mauritius also launched the National Health Sector Strategic Plan (HSSP) 2020-2024 in August 2020, a five-year national health sector strategic plan, to ensure the enhancement of health sector. Part of the strategic goals of the HSSP includes the development of medical travel tourism by providing support to stakeholders including foreign investors, reinforcement of the legal framework to conduct clinical trials and the collaboration of relevant institutions to look into the possibility of issuing e-medical visa to foreign patients.
While Mauritius has been placed on the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on 21 February 2020, Mauritius remains committed to shedding its image as a quasi-tax haven and to addressing the weaknesses identified by the FATF in its assessment. High-level political commitments to work with the FATF and ESAAMLG to strengthen the effectiveness of its Anti-Money Laundering/Combating the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) regime have been made. Over and above the adoption of laws aimed primarily at combating the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic, Mauritius has also taken steps towards improving its AML/CFT regime, including developing a risk-based supervision plan for the global business sector and management companies. The FATF has acknowledged these efforts in its publication entitled Jurisdictions under Increased Monitoring dated 21 February 2020. Locally, there is a marked toughening of the stance taken by regulators, with regulatory disciplinary action being more common.
In the middle of the pandemic, on 25 July 2020, Mauritius for the first time in its history had to face a major oil spill after the Japanese bulk carrier MV Wakashio ran aground on a coral reef. This has led to a major civilian response and efforts by all to clean up the affected beaches. As at today, the beaches have been reopened to the public. As a means to investigating into and reporting on, inter alia, the circumstances leading to the grounding of the MV Wakashio off the coast of Pointe D’Esny and the breach of its hull, the Government has set up a Court of Investigation.
With regard to the current political situation, general elections in Mauritius were held in November 2019. The outgoing government was returned. Two of the opposition parties have petitioned the Supreme Court of Mauritius with a view to challenging the election of successful government candidates in some constituencies. There were 11 such electoral petitions entered, of which nine remain. These are likely to raise interesting points relevant to the development of this discrete area of the law.
In this current economic climate where change and agility are key, the legal profession has stepped up to provide clients with wide-ranging support. The main challenge has involved meeting clients’ needs while ensuring a safe work environment. Legal professionals continued to operate during the period of national confinement and provide services remotely. Now that Mauritius is no longer in confinement, our courts are fully operational, save for sanitary measures in place, which include the wearing of a face mask and the maintenance of social distancing.
This has helped to develop into what is increasingly being described in the profession as the 'the new normal'. From reviewing habits and practices, adopting new workplace hygiene guidelines and being progressively more aware of the issues surrounding cybersecurity, data accessibility and collaboration, the legal profession is changing its face. This change is, however, not merely intrinsic to the profession, as the nature of work being referred is also starting to change; businesses are now increasingly looking at working and providing services remotely.
There has also been an increase in the number of administrations and other insolvency processes, with an undeniable effect on employees generally. Changes to the law have therefore been made to the insolvency regime to try to assist with administrations and rescue processes. On the whole, it remains difficult to predict the effects of the pandemic on the country, but Mauritius continues to adapt and implement changes to meet these new challenges while we wait for some semblance of normality to return around the world and for the skies to open anew.