The Report Company: A sound jurisdiction and the availability of country data are key to building investor confidence. What steps are you taking to make data on Mauritius available to the public?

Ms. Clairette Ah-Hen: The latest thing that we are doing to ensure that data is available to the public is Mauritius’s adherence to the Special Data Dissemination (SDDS) platform, an IMF initiative that collects reliable data and makes it available to the public, according to certain norms. From our angle, it is mainly about making statistics from global companies and financial services available to the public on a continuous basis. This information is reliable according to the norms of the IMF. We give any services or information according to a particular type of internationally accepted norms.

On a more micro level, every year in the last 10 years since the FSC’s creation, we show an annual report, detailing all of our legislative changes and licenses. Another of our key initiatives is a statistical bulletin that publishes information about investments from Mauritius to other countries, costs, and the amount of licences.

TRC: As competition develops in the Indian Ocean financial sector market, how is Mauritius staying ahead of the curve and ensuring its position as the number one attraction for international investors?

CAH: Instead of saying number one, we prefer to say that we are a leader. We have a track record of 20 years, over which time we have realised that our main resource is our human capital. We have built up and developed out professionalism and expertise over time. When we offer services, it is held up against a single benchmark.

The same applies when we offer financial services. In capital markets, you want to attract investors to find investment opportunities in key areas where funds are needed. But in order to adhere to international organisations, such as the regulators association of all the capital market authorities, you also have to be extended. It is not just the operators who have to be extended. The regulators also have to strive hard meet such standards.

In addition to its capital markets, Mauritius is also trying to grow its insurance sector, and pension legislation. As we change and implement laws, we ensure that the stakeholders are also operating at the same level as those who are extended. That continuous dialogue between the operators, regulators, and policymakers is what makes the difference in Mauritius.

TRC: How do you balance the need for this regulation and a well-regulated market, while allowing business growth and balance ensuring investor confidence?

CAH: Investors put their funds in the hands of specialists and fund managers who protect that investment. To carry out an investment, you need trust in the system itself. That is where Mauritius and the FSC play an important role, because we create that framework to ensure trust and confidence in the investors and operators.

Although sometimes when you try to achieve international standards, it might be difficult for people who are not used to financial services. We have to accept that even in Mauritius, there are those who are well-versed and highly skilled in financial services, and those who have no experience in banking. We have to demonstrate that the people of Mauritius can trust their regulators. It is not just about the trust of overseas investors, but local trust in terms of regulators. Everyone knows that these rules are set and accepted internationally. We are objective in our dealings, and that is why people like to work here.

TRC: How are you ensuring financial literacy in the public?

CAH: We recently started thinking about the best ways to communicate more with the public. Last year we launched the Financial Literacy & Young Talent programme for secondary schools and tertiary universities in Mauritius. The winner will be announced in April, but the most important aspect of this competition is participation. Interest has been building and now students want to take part, talking about insurance and investment funds. The young people looking at their future are also looking at the future of the country, which is very important.

TRC: As a leader and role model, how is Mauritius influencing regional practices?

CAH: Mauritius does not have many natural resources, minerals, or a huge land mass like Africa, but we have a lot of talent. The people who have settled in Mauritius have earned a living through their own initiative. We come from different countries and thanks to that mix, we are very good at working with each other. We put that talent and human resource capability at the service of the African continent.

The fact that we have 20 years of experience in regulation framework works in our favour. When a small country makes a lot of investments, it can be more difficult in terms of risk, so we have to work harder to achieve the same level of efficiency as a larger country.

In terms of regional collaboration, within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region the Committee of Insurance, Securities, & Non-Banking Financial Authorities (CISNA) wants to harmonise the rules and regulations for financial services by 2013. As the Vice Chair for Mauritius, it is important that we are on the African map. The rules have to be the same as agreed by the SADC Council of Minister, and we work with other African countries to ensure close collaboration. No matter what we develop in Mauritius, we share it with the other SADC countries. Similarly we participate in various financial organisations, and include everyone in the financial services sector, government, ministries, and the FSC.

TRC: The UK is a key exports market and the primary source of foreign direct investment (FDI) for Mauritius. Could you assess the bilateral relationship, and what are your thoughts on further collaboration?

CAH: There are many legislative links because we previously belonged to the Commonwealth. Ultimately if you disagree with our Supreme Court judges, you can go to the Court of Appeals in the UK. Even our Parliament is modelled after the Westminster system, and many of our professionals, lawyers, and accountants, have studied in the UK. We collaborate with our counterparts in the UK through an established memorandum of understanding (MOU) and sharing of information.

TRC: How does the UK perceives Mauritius as a financial hub?

CAH: I think there would have been more awareness a few years ago, because there were larger conglomerates investing in Mauritius. But after some time, things changed. Just like we wanted our independence, these businesses wanted theirs as well. So in terms of businesses, the UK has had a decreasing influence here. It is not completely absent, but it is not as strong as it used to be. That is due to business regionalisation, and working more with countries on the African continent and India. That shows that Mauritius is quite versatile, and we can work well within any system.

TRC: Is that due to the diversity in your culture?

CAH: It is due to our diversity, but also a matter of looking at what we need to ensure that it works. Many people have found that it was greener elsewhere. People in the financial services sector, myself included, tended to operate on a more international level and not just in Mauritius. But now that we have returned, I think we should talk more to UK investors about Mauritius.

TRC: What are your thoughts on the World Bank’s recent statement that Africa is on the brink of much an economic take-off, much like China 30 years ago? What is your vision of Mauritius leading this process, and the role of the FSC in particular?

CAH: We often talk about Mauritius being versatile, but something that is often overlooked, especially in finance, is that we are also bilingual, and understand the French and Continental European systems.

Many Mauritians have worked across the African continent in francophone and English-speaking countries. Mauritius also belongs to many organisations, such as African Union (AU), SADC, or the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). That is one way we have been able to put our talent to work in Africa. People from Africa have come to settle in Mauritius since the days of slavery, and there has always been lots of African-Mauritian trade. All this combined makes Mauritius the platform of choice regarding Asian or European investment into Africa, or investment from one African country to another.

Many African countries still have foreign exchange controls, whereas Mauritius believes in free enterprise. If you want to encourage investment, you should not have foreign exchange controls. We eliminate the difficulties of exchange so that it becomes easier for investors. It is a business-friendly approach that is still within the rules, but we remove those hurdles. This combination of factors makes Mauritius the platform of choice for investment. At the end of the day, investors want things done easily without too many hurdles. We keep track of what investors require, and take that on board.

TRC: There has been a lot of talk about Mauritius positioning itself as the likes of Singapore, and becoming a base within Africa. What are the challenges to these objectives, and is it feasible in the years to come? One challenge could be the lack of airlines access to various African countries. What is your opinion?

CAH: Air access in Africa takes a lot of planning, in comparison to Europe or the US. Within Africa it is actually quite advanced, but we want it to be more easily accessible. Increased access means easier travel. But then we do have to accept the distances involved. Once we start developing more technology, and IT processes in Mauritius, it will be helpful because you will not have to physically be in the country in order to do business. I remember I used to have to have get visas when travelling around African countries. But now Mauritius is quite easy to enter, especially within SADC. It is getting better, but there is still more to be done in this respect.