Privatisation is not new to Mauritius. Eleven years ago, the government sold 40% of the assets of Mauritius Telecom (MT), a very successful state-owned enterprise, to France Telecom, in spite of protests from the trade unions and the workers.
At that time, it was made out that there was no choice for the government other than to undertake the transaction because of a lack of the "much-needed foreign exchange" to manage the island's balance of payments.
Three years later, it transformed the Postal Services into Mauritius Post Ltd, through another form of privatisation called "corporatisation" whereby the new company is managed by the private sector with the aim of earning profits.
But some of the earlier privatisations have not gone down well with the unions. At Mauritius Telecom, the Telecommunications Workers Union (TWU) describes the deal as a "total failure and political fraud", suggesting that France Telecom has not lived up to the promises made to the population.
"These 11 years have been very dark for Mauritius Telecom," says TWU negotiator, Vishnu Jugdhurry. The union wants total control of the telecom operator by the government. Jugdhurry says there has been no technological development that MT could not have put in place without the help of its French strategic partner. The trade unionist believes that France Telecom has emerged as the big winner in the deal as 500 employees have left the company since 2000 and the quality of the services "has never been so bad". Trade unions believe that France Telecom is using reserve funds from Mauritius Telecom to invest in two foreign countries.
At Mauritius Post Ltd, the quality has improved considerably with a whole range of new services offered to the population; they now go to the post offices not only to post letters but also to pay utility bills and transport licences, and collect social benefits. "It was a big challenge to convince the employees to join the new private entity because of the fear of job losses and also to reinvent, innovate and diversify the products and services offered to satisfy the public, says Giandev Moteea, CEO of Mauritius Post Ltd.
More deals in the pipeline
More recently, Finance Minister Xavier-Luc Duval said, "The world keeps changing and we must adapt," when he announced the disinvestment of the state from several commercial enterprises that include casinos, tourist villages and retail outlets, amongst others.