Interview of... Dr Yiagadeesen (Teddy) Samy

“The focus for Mauritius should be about finding solutions to improve productivity”

7 avril 2024, 22:06


Partager cet article

Facebook X WhatsApp

“The focus for Mauritius should be about finding solutions to improve productivity”

Dr Yiagadeesen (Teddy) Samy, Director of The Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Canada

You’re making headlines in “l’express” as the first Mauritian to end up on Putin’s blacklist. How did you react to this punishment from the Kremlin?

Personally, I was surprised to see my name on the list, and it is tied to my role as Director of the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs (NPSIA). I should note that a few days before my name was added, NPSIA was designated as an “undesirable organization” by Russia’s Ministry of Justice.

What have been the reactions of your academic colleagues?

There are two other NPSIA colleagues that are on the list, and we are still in the process of figuring out what the full implications are. Our University has been proactive and has advised anyone affiliated to NPSIA to avoid travelling to Russia or Belarus.

Countries have the right to ban non-citizens from their territory and it would appear, in my view, that this is a tit-for-tat response to Canada’s sanctions against Russia, and Canada’s support for Ukraine. I believe that we have been designated as an “undesirable organization” in part because NPSIA is a feeder program for Canada’s federal public sector, including Global Affairs Canada, which is Canada’s diplomatic service.

Returning to your research work, does your fragility index still hold up fifteen years later, especially after Covid?

I would argue that fragile and conflict-affected states are even more relevant today. The global pandemic and the war in Ukraine have had serious economic impacts globally, and we have seen an increase in armed conflict and violence around the world recently(e.g. Haiti, Sudan, Israel/Gaza to name a few). In addition to conflict and violence, consider all the problems that we have seen around the world recently: low economic growth, high debt, high inflation, weaker supply chains, high food and fuel prices, climate shocks to name a few. These problems are more challenging for fragile countries since by definition they don’t have the capacity to respond. If we are lucky, we may see per capita incomes in fragile contexts recover to their 2019 levels this year, so it has been a slow and painful recovery for them as well.

Can democracy be dissociated from the economy? In other words, if an autocracy takes hold, can we still maintain economic stability?

A bit of history: before the ‘modern’ discipline of economics became what it is today, there was a time when it was called political economy, which is essentially about the interaction between economic and political systems. We cannot think of those systems in isolation. For example, economic issues such as growth, production and distribution are shaped by government policy, by the legal system and by well-functioning institutions.

As economists, we have a toolbox that we can use but these tools must consider the political context within which they are being applied. So, you cannot dissociate politics (including democracy) from the economy. As for the second part of your question, there is a significant body of academic work on regime type (democracy, autocracy etc.) and economic development. Here, I will highlight two important findings from this literature: 1) economic growth in democracies tends to be more stable and predictable when compared to autocracies 2) economic crises are less likely to happen in democracies.

So, you are more likely to see variations in economic outcomes in autocracies. Does anyone want to live in an autocracy? I doubt it.

What is your view on Mauritius, which you left about thirty years ago, in terms of democracy, in the wake of V-Dem’s negative reports on our country?

V-Dem’s assessment of democracy in the case of Mauritius is certainly worrying. V-Dem’s approach is also not directly comparable with others because it uses a different methodology.

What we see from V-Dem’s data for Mauritius is a long-term decline in democracy: from a liberal democracy (1985-2013), to an electoral democracy (2014-2022) and now to a “grey zone” electoral autocracy (2023). An electoral autocracy is defined by V-Dem as :“multiparty elections for the executive exist; insufficient levels of fundamental requisites such as freedom of expression and association, and free and fair elections”. V-Dem further describes Mauritius as the top “stand-alone” autocratizer, that is, a country that has autocratized after relative stability (that is, electoral democracy). V-Dem also highlights areas of concern such as “regulations that restrict the work of broadcasting companies and journalists”, and an increase in “government media censorship efforts”. The V-Dem assessment is a reminder that democracy is not static and that it should not be taken for granted.

Considering that Mauritius’ real GDP level in 2023 finally surpassed that of its 2019 level, what factors do you think contributed to the relatively slow pace of recovery despite the substantial fiscal and monetary stimulus provided to the economy?

On the one hand, there are external exogenous factors that have made it more difficult to recover from the pandemic. I mentioned the war in Ukraine earlier. If you add global economic uncertainty (a low growth/high inflation environment, supply chain problems, rise of protectionism, deglobalisation), geopolitical tensions and climate shocks to this, we are, as others have said, in the age of the polycrisis. Domestically, it took a while for the tourism sector, which is an important driver of the Mauritian economy, to pick up. Going forward, the focus must shift to long-awaited structural reforms to improve competitiveness and productivity, diversifying the economy by focusing on new high-value added sectors,improving governance, and dealing properly with climate change.

With Mauritius ranking in the top quartile of stimulus spenders globally, including measures like central bank money printing and government financing, what insights can we draw from the economy’s prolonged journey to pre-pandemic levels despite these efforts?

Most countries had to use stimulus spending during the pandemic, and Mauritius is not an exception in this regard, even if it also relied on unorthodox monetary policy by transferring foreign reserves to the MIC. However, the consequence is that it now faces a much higher public debt, a rupee that is continuously depreciating and higher inflation, making the recovery more difficult. Yes, maybe things could have been managed differently but it is too late to look back, so the issue is what to do now and moving forward. Fiscal consolidation will have to happen to bring debt to a manageable level and as I’ve indicated above, structural reforms are also necessary to generate higher growth. At some level, we must go back to a fundamental lesson from economics, namely that productivity is the key to economic growth, and that the focus should be about finding solutions to improve productivity.

In one of your articles, “Towards a theory of fragile state transitions: evidence from Yemen, Bangladesh and Laos” you say ‘We identify three categories of countries: those in a fragility trap, those that have exited it, and those that fluctuate between fragility and stability.’ Where does Mauritius stand?

We have not updated our data recently but in my view Mauritius would not be classified as a fragile country overall, at least not based on the thresholds that we or other international organizations use. This does not mean that everything is perfect in countries that are not classified as fragile. In fact, the goal of our index is to consider fragility both in the aggregate and as a multidimensional concept, and this approach has also been adopted by other organizations such as the OECD. To put it simply, even if a country is not classified as fragile overall, it may still have certain weaknesses, for example in areas such as governance, or the environment. Ultimately, the goal is that assessments of fragility in its various dimensions will help countries think about how to become more resilient to exogenous shocks.

How do you perceive the intersection between economic policies and geopolitical dynamics, especially in the context of smaller nations like Mauritius?

I am not an expert in geopolitics… I suspect that it is more challenging for small states like Mauritius which, by definition, have limited means to advance their diplomatic and economic objectives. But they can do so, notably by forming regional alliances, alliances with similar and/or likeminded countries (e.g. small island developing states) and working multilaterally.

Also, if we accept the premise that we are now living in a multipolar world, a small state like Mauritius could in theory leverage its strategic location and importance vis a vis larger powers. However, it must remain true to its core values such as democracy, transparency and good governance.

When you look back at your amazing journey – from Beau-Bassin to Putin’s list – how do you feel and what are you looking forward to?

Well, let me say that I really hope being on this list is not what defines me. Now, had it not happened, we would not be having this interview! More seriously, I feel very fortunate to be doing something that I enjoy, namely teaching and research. At its core, my academic research has been about improving the human condition and we still have a lot of work to do.

Bio Data

Samy has taught graduate courses in development economics, international trade, macroeconomics for developing countries, development assistance and quantitative methods. Samy’s research interests intersect the broad areas of international and development economics, and his current research focuses on domestic resource mobilization, fragile states, foreign aid, deindustrialization and income inequality, and trade and women’s economic empowerment. He recently co-edited a Handbook on Fragile States and his latest co-authored book is Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment: Evidence from Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises.

His articles have been published in various journals such as Conflict, Security and Development, the Canadian Journal of Development Studies, Third World Quarterly, International Interactions, the Journal of Conflict Resolution, Conflict Management and Peace Science, Foreign Policy Analysis, the Journal of International Trade and Economic Development and Applied Economics.

He is currently serving as an Expert for the The African Knowledge Network, Office of the Special Advisor on Africa, United Nations Under-Secretary General.