Fazila Jeewa-Daureeawoo, Minister of Social Integration, Social Security and National Solidarity of Mauritius, attended the 2021 Global Rural Development Forum in Beijing, on October 19, 2021.
Here is the full text of his speech at the forum:
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a honour for me, as Minister of Social Integration, Social Security and National Solidarity, to participate in this Virtual Global Rural Development Forum. On behalf of the Republic of Mauritius, I would like to commend the People’s Republic of China, the International Poverty Reduction Centre and the China National Rural Revitalization Administration for coming up with this laudable initiative.
Mauritius and China have shared diplomatic relations and cultural ties for almost 50 years now. Cooperation between our two countries has spanned across all spheres from economy, trade, culture, tourism, health, sports, social security and social integration amongst others. Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, China supported us through the donation of Sinopharm vaccines.
I must also highlight that Mauritius is the first African country having signed and ratified a Free Trade Agreement with China. The Agreement came into force on 01 January 2021 – this is a matter of great pride for our Government.
4.Since October 2015, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was also signed between the International Poverty Reduction Centre of China and my Ministry to promote knowledge and experience sharing in the field of poverty alleviation. The MOU was renewed on 17 October 2018 for another period of 3 years.
Allow me now to turn to today’s event which has been organized in the context of the 29th International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.
Poverty has been one of the greatest scourges of all times. Over the past decades, we have realised that poverty is a multidimensional problem and only by working together will we be able to alleviate it. Today’s Forum clearly shows that there is a strong commitment by all stakeholders to work together and learn from each other to achieve our common goal.
Allow me to reiterate the unflinching commitment of the Government of Mauritius to reduce social inequalities and poverty in a sustainable manner. As Minister of Social Integration, I am fully engaged in this fight. My objective has always been and will always be: to help families break free from the shackles of poverty by empowering them.
8.Mauritius is a Welfare State. We offer free education and free healthcare to all our citizens as well as free transport to elderly persons and students. We also have an all-encompassing social protection system. Universal pensions are provided to elderly persons, widows, orphans and persons with disabilities. Social aid is also provided to other vulnerable groups. The underlying philosophy of our welfare state is that “No one should be left behind– economic development should go hand in hand with social development and integration”.
Our Government has a clear vision – the creation of an inclusive society. Social protection and inclusion are at the core of all our policies. We have never hesitated to take bold measures, such as an increase of around 150% in basic pensions since 2014, the introduction of a minimum wage and negative income tax.
Allow me now to elaborate on our response to the Covid-19 pandemic. This pandemic has hit mankind in an unprecedented way. The world has completely changed. We have had to reinvent ourselves.
Our Government has devised a series of emergency measures to support vulnerable families in this difficult time. For example: (i)At the very outset of the pandemic, our Government introduced a Wage Assistance Scheme for the private sector and a Self-Employed Assistance Scheme. (ii)During the 2020 lockdown, food packs were distributed to 7,900 (seven thousand and nine hundred) families living in absolute poverty and 19,779 (nineteen thousand and seven hundred and seventy-nine) elderly persons and persons with disabilities. (iii)We also distributed basic pensions at home for 58,665 (fifty-eight thousand and sixty-hundred and sixty-five) beneficiaries who have to go to post offices around the island to collect their pension. (iv)To date, out of a population of 1.3 million, we have fully vaccinated around 803,149 (eight hundred and three thousand and one hundred and forty-nine) persons including elders and homeless persons.
Let me now focus on some of the social policies put in place by our Government to, specifically, alleviate poverty. In 2016, a Marshall Plan was developed in line with the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, especially Goal 1: “End poverty in all its forms everywhere”.
A Social Register of Mauritius (SRM) was also created in 2016– it is a database of families living in absolute poverty.
In 2016, the absolute poverty threshold for a family of 2 adults and three children was established at 226 US Dollars - which was 40% above the international poverty line. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, in June 2021, our Government increased the poverty threshold to 250 US dollars.
Moreover, our Government has also installed 1,000 solar panels on the houses of SRM families. They can therefore benefit from electricity free of charge on a monthly basis over a period of 20 years.
At the level of my Ministry, we have a series of schemes for SRM families.
We offer a monthly financial assistance to SRM families to meet their basic needs. An amount of around 5.9 Million US Dollars is disbursed on a yearly basis for this Scheme.
18.However, in my humble opinion, access to education, training, employment and social housing are equally important if we are to make long lasting changes.
Education is a key component in our battle against poverty. To encourage our SRM children to pursue their studies, a monthly child allowance is allocated to them. An amount of around 2.4 Million US Dollars is disbursed yearly on child allowance. School materials are also provided to them. SRM children should, in no way, be disadvantaged compared to others.
We also offer a cash prize to SRM students on the successful completion of their secondary and tertiary studies. We also pay the examination fees of those who wish to make a second attempt to improve their educational performance.
Free tablets were also provided to SRM students aged between 15 and 18 years old to enable them to follow online courses dispensed by the Ministry of Education, Tertiary Education, Science and Technology during the lockdowns. We also ensured that their homes are connected to the Internet, free of charge.
Another important aspect of our fight against poverty is training and empowerment. Vocational training is therefore provided to SRM beneficiaries. In a spirit to motivate them, they receive a stipend of 120 US Dollars and a travelling allowance of 24 US Dollars monthly. They also get a toolkit at the end of their training. Other courses such as hairdressing, jewellery making and farming amongst others are also offered to them.
Our Government lays a lot of emphasis on social housing. Our aim is to ensure that our citizens have a decent dwelling as well as access to clean water and sanitation, electricity and other basic facilities.
We have therefore elaborated three Social Housing Schemes: (i)the “Fully Concrete Housing Scheme”, for beneficiaries who own a plot of land but do not have the means to construct; (ii) the “10% NHDC Housing Scheme”, for beneficiaries who are landless; and (iii)the “Upgrading of Houses Scheme”, for beneficiaries whose houses require refurbishment works. Under all these Schemes, the cost of houses is subsidized up to 80% by our Government and the remaining 20% is reimbursed by the beneficiary over a period of 15 to 25 years.
It is good to mention that since the implementation of the Marshall Plan in 2016, nearly 35.3 Million US Dollars have been disbursed on Poverty Alleviation Schemes.
I would be remiss not to mention how many families have been uplifted from poverty since the implementation of the Marshall Plan. In 2016, we started off with around 11,000 families on our Social Register. In 2021, we have uplifted around 4,500 families from absolute poverty. This shows that the actions taken by our Government have been effective.
In June 2021, our Government has created a new database – the National Database for Vulnerable Groups – this database is for families earning between 250 US Dollars and 333 US Dollars monthly. They will be eligible for support on a needs basis.
Poverty alleviation is a battle for everyone – Government cannot do it all. We need the help of non-governmental organisations. For the period July 2020 to June 2021, my Ministry provided financial assistance to the tune of 16 Million US Dollars to around 250 NGOs.
I would like to conclude by reiterating the commitment of the Government of Mauritius and myself to tenaciously combat poverty and stimulate social development in a truly sustainable way. We have and we will continue to come up with innovative and bold actions to reduce social inequalities. Let me end by saying: “Together we can make a real difference to the lives of hundreds of families”.
Thank you for your kind attention.