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Vikram Jeetah: “Successive governments neglected the Global Health Security Index”

Vikram Jeetah: “Successive governments neglected the Global Health Security Index”

Committed to highest ethical standards, Vikram Jeetah is a Chartered Quantity Surveyor with a double Masters in Project Management and an MBA from Wits Business School. He was the Chairman of the Mauritian Institute of Management in 2008- 2009 and a Board Member of DWC in 2001 where he implemented good governance practices. He is currently the Managing Director of Jeetah Consulting Ltd, a consultancy firm offering construction and management services. Ki News has a candid conversation with him on a number of subjects.


Mr Vikram Jeetah, how are you living this lockdown?

The outbreak of the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) is the most significant public health emergency of the 21st century so far. I first heard about the Wuhan Coronavirus in Jan 2020 and knew it was a cause for concern given that people can move easily across borders in a globalised world.

On 12th March 2020, I enrolled for a short 3-week online course on “Covid-19: Tackling the Novel Coronavirus” at the London School of Hygiene &Tropical Disease given that pursuit of knowledge is ingrained in my DNA. Then the Prime Minister announced to the nation that Mauritius would be in total confinement as from Friday 20 March 2020 for an initial period of two weeks.

On 23rd March after the announcement of the ‘Couvre-feu’ and in total confinement, I had to find new ways how to spend my time. I enrolled for a second course on “Science Matters: Let’s Talk about COVID-19”, at the Abdul Latif Jameel Institute for Disease and Emergency Analytics (J-IDEA) at Imperial College London. As the epidemic started to spread, I wanted to understand the science behind the most pressing questions: How dangerous was the virus? When would a vaccine be available? How could the epidemic be contained, and the damages mitigated? What was the economic impact?

So when Dr Vasantrao Gujadhur delivered his daily talk on Covid-19 it was easier for me to understand him and appreciate his concern about the pandemic.

Incidentally, I had the foresight to build my office, 39 walking steps away from my home in 2006. So the confinement did not affect me too much as I could go to my office daily and catch up with some of my assignments. Furthermore, I am also a Supervisor of MBA students at Wits Business School for their Research Report and this kept me busy with one of my students during the lockdown.

I also have a small backyard garden and plenty of fruit trees such as breadfruit, jackfruit, lemons, coconut, paw-paw etc which me realise their importance during this lockdown.

Finally, it was a great opportunity to spend quality time with the family. My two sons are studying overseas and I started an online course on Life Skills via Zoom after taking cognizance that both their Universities were closed down.


How do you see the Post-Covid 2019 Mauritian economy?

As it is a globally interdependent economy, the impact of Covid 2019 on the country will be unparalleled. The first estimates point to a GDP Contraction of up to 6% in 2020. The crisis is expected to spread well into 2021. Our GBP is around Rs 500 billion and the tourism industry which accounts for 25 % is expected to bear the full brunt as well as our textiles, manufacturing industry and our construction sector. If these industries face a slowdown for at least 12 months, with a possibility that it could increase to 24 months, then the impact will be huge.


Do you think the construction will be severely affected?

In recent years the construction industry was driven by the implementation of main public projects (Metro Express, Côte d’Or Multi Sports Complex and Road Decongestion Programme) and private projects (Property Development Scheme, Smart City projects and shopping malls).

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the aggregate money value of all goods and services produced within a country out of economic activity during a specified period usually a year, before provision for the consumption of fixed capital. The IMF has forecasted a contraction of the economy by 6.6% which means less money available for investments in infrastructure for the Government.

The impact for the private sector will also be determined by the relaxation of the lockdown rules  or coronavirus protocols to be followed such as the social distancing rule to be observed by workers on site which can be problematic as this is one industry in which you cannot work from home. You have to travel to and fro to construction sites on a daily basis. Furthermore, the industry is heavily dependent on procurement of materials from overseas and the global supply chain has been affected due to the coronavirus outbreak.


Is the country fully prepared to face the new challenges ahead?

Let me start by sharing an anecdote. A few years ago, a school friend came to seek some advice as he had a contractual issue. At the same time, he spoke of his latest acquisition, an expensive vehicle with all gadgets. However, he was stressed and smoked heavily. Later I came know he was also drinking heavily and had an unhealthy diet. Last year, he died of atherosclerosis, a build-up of fatty plaques in his arteries which he did not see coming. Heart disease occurs when plaque develops in the arteries and blood vessels that lead to the heart. I have not studied cardiology but have listened to the excellent Dr Sunil Guness on MBC TV who often spoke on cardiovascular disease and gave warnings.

Similarly,  successive governments  take pride that Mauritius is in the top league in the ease of doing business but neglected  to look  into the Global Health Security (GHS) Index which is the first comprehensive effort to assess and benchmark health security and related capabilities by nation, and it tracks six key factors to come up with an overall score for each of the 195 countries in the ranking:

Prevention: Prevention of the emergence or release of pathogens

Detection and Reporting: Early detection and reporting for epidemics of potential international concern

Rapid Response: Capability of rapidly responding to and mitigating the spread of an epidemic

Health System: Sufficient and robust and health system to treat the sick and protect health workers

Compliance with Global Norms: Compliance with international norms by improving national capacity, financing plans to address gaps

Risk Environment: Risk environment and country vulnerability to biological threats.

How is Mauritius doing in this ranking? A score of 34.9 and is ranked 114 out 195 countries compared to Singapore which has a score of 58.9 and is ranked 24 out of 195.

Next, just like my friend whose performance metrics were wrong, similarly our successive governments have built plaques in the finance of the economy. We just have to read the last Audit Report to know that as at 30 June 2019, the Public-Sector Debt has reached Rs 320.6 billion representing 65.3 % of our GDP. Does the Government have the fiscal space to cope with the current pandemic crisis when Revenues are expected to decrease and Expenses to increase due to various bailouts schemes such as Wage Assistance Scheme?


“Our successive governments have built plaques in the finance of the economy”


Last question. You are a frequent global traveller. How do you see the future of Air Mauritius?

Globalization has been a boon for the airline industry which has flourished as nations opened up to one another over the past 40 years. With new players and comfortable A380s I never thought it would have been possible to visit so many visa-free countries with a Mauritian passport at such low fares if you do advanced bookings. My last visit was to my Client in Austria. However, the industry is facing its biggest challenge in modern aviation history. There has been a sudden plunge in global demand with so many planes grounded due to travel bans and quarantine. Who would like to be confined at 30,000 feet for so many hours seated next to a possible virus carrier?

The virus has already claimed its first casualties in the industry. Flybe, Britain’s biggest domestic carrier, which was under financial stress before the infections began spreading finally collapsed on March 5 as demand dwindled. Closer home SAA suffered the same fate. Virgin Australia and Air Mauritius went into voluntary administration.

The future of Air Mauritius will depend on various factors and the thickness of plaques in its balance sheets but more importantly the willingness of the shareholders to take bold decisions. Two important metrics for airlines are Revenue per Available Seat Kilometres (ASK) and Cost per Available Seat Kilometres. In 2015, the Revenue per ASK = € 6.22, Cost per ASK = € 5.71  whereas inn 2018, Revenue = € 5.70 and Cost = € 6.31. No need to be a Mckinsey Consultant to tell you what happens when your cost becomes greater than your Revenue. MK has around 3,000 employees and if we compare Fiji Airways & MK with about the same fleet size and composition (A350 on lease etc), number of passengers and revenue. Fiji Airways appears to be operating frugally with only 1,300 staffs and making a profit.


“The future of Air Mauritius will depend on various factors and the thickness of plaques in its balance sheets”

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