Following comments and feedback received on various media (mostly social media) and also from personal experience, I thought about coming up with this article. The contents may not be to the liking of many, mostly some officers on high chairs in some cozy offices in Port Louis. Certain things have to be said, written or expressed, in the interest of a wider population; in this case in the interest of a whole country. I have been frustrated a couple of times because of this situation, almost looking like an incompetent without any clue of the rules in areas within which I’ve been practicing for the past 25 years.
The problem is the tip of the iceberg. It hides a whole system that may crumble because it is rotten at the root. I am referring to the numerous occasions where people have been misled through wrong advice / information given to them by civil service officers. This is now happening too frequently to be pushed under the carpet.
Those who are most affected are foreigners who are relocating to Mauritius.
As in every civilized and developed country, the word of an officer is sacred, even more when you are new to the country and not very familiar with the laws. One would tend to trust an officer and keep him in high regards, going as far as challenging people (like me) who provide information which are contradictory to those of the officer.
Unfortunately, there’s a common phenomenon these days. Not all officers master their respective areas and this has different reasons, which I would not want to dwell into this article. I prefer giving concrete examples to demonstrate the situation and the chaos that it has started to create.
Tourist visa / Business visa
Dependents of any work or occupation permit holders can enter Mauritius through a Tourist visa and from there apply for their residence permits. A couple of people in such situations have revealed that Immigration Officers on arrival point at the airport insisted that the Law requires Business visa and imposed same on the spouse & children. The major constraint here is that a Business visa is for a maximum of 90 days (120 days in total if spread over 2 visits). A Tourist visa allows, on the other side, for 180 days in a year – giving the family quite a time margin to complete their procedures.
The following categories of persons can come on Tourist visa to complete their procedures: Main applicants & dependents under Non-Citizens Retired Residence Permit AND dependents of any other holder of work / residence permits.
Tourism License: Trade v/s trade premises, a concrete example
The Tourism Authority, I’m now fully convinced, is one the most pretentious and backward authorities on the island. It runs on a complete opacity, very often depends on the mood of the day of the officers. They can impose conditions on your business or legal structure, threatening to reject permit applications if they are not obeyed. And this, despite complete lack of sense and legal evidence. Any request to them to support their claim through legal reference gets ignored bluntly. They are not losing anything, they sit quietly and eat tax payers money. They wait for you to bend under the pressure because you can’t operate without license and they won’t give any until you blindly obey to their conditions.
A concrete example: a non-Mauritian acquires a commercial building classified under RES (a restaurant) through approval (and certificate) from the Economic Development Board (EDB). A separate legal structure is created to operate a restaurant under these premises. Separating the property structure from the business structure is quite a normal and wise practice.
The Tourism Authority approves the initial license and the restaurant starts operations. After one year, on renewal, the Tourism Authority imposes a chance in shareholding in the property company requesting that one of the spouses be removed as shareholder from it!
The Tourism Authority has no jurisdiction on the property and its ownership. This has already been approved by the competent authority, EDB. The authority had no reply when asked whether they have jurisdiction to ask the powerful owners of shopping malls to disclose and change their shareholdings (they also host restaurants). No answer.
The Tourism Authority further requested that a double license be paid, one for the business structure and the other for the property structure. There cannot be a double license for one and same business! This would mean that two restaurants can operate under one premises.
When asked for legal reference with regards to their claims, there’s a complete and dark silence… for months. Up to today, no reply. The buyers have purchased the property and the business for MUR28 million and are now sitting and waiting the Tourism Authority. With such invested, these persons are not able to operate their business and will sooner or later accede to the conditions of the Tourism Authority.
This is a blatant example of unfair use of authority and power – a COMPLETELY ILLEGAL stance.
This case is not the single one. Many operators within the tourism industry have experienced similar situations.
One of my clients literally accused me of not knowing my stuff because I didn’t disclose shareholding of a self-employed structure to the EDB. He was requested to provide this information by an Assistant Manager of the authority. When an officer, at such level and from such an authority, insist on a requirement you cannot but trust he is right. He isn’t. A self-employed structure, by definition, is not separate from its owner who is a single person. My nerves were seriously put to test. I had to: first, convince the officer that his request was nonsense and second, to convince my client that an officer of that rank was wrong and… I was right.
There are many instances which forced me to write this article. The idea is not to hurt some of the officers but to inform people that sitting behind a desk does not necessarily mean being 100% perfect. No, being an officer does not mean being God and your words are not that of the Gospel.
Training is, in my opinion, the issue. Some posts require training, both on the ground and in the background (laws, rules, regulations, …. common sense) prior to operation.
This is essential before someone can pretend ability to dispense advice. It took me at least 5 years of training before my first boss could put me forward to assist clients in basic procedures. Today it takes 1 week to get someone hired and the next day he’s giving life-impacting advice to people relocating to Mauritius.