Mauritius is situated in the south-west of the Indian Ocean, 2000 km from the east coast of Africa. It is of volcanic origin and has been formed millions of years ago following two series of volcanic eruptions, separated by a long period of erosion. Volcanic activity has, however, completely ceased in Mauritius. The island has an area of 1,864 sq. km and is almost entirely surrounded by coral reefs. Mauritius has a maritime climate, tropical during summer and sub-tropical during winter.
The island had for a long time remained unknown and uninhabited. It was probably visited by Arab sailors during the Middle Ages, and on maps of about 1500, it is shown by an Arabic name `Dina Arobi'. In 1598, a Dutch squadron, under the orders of Admiral Wybrand Van Warwyck, landed at Grand Port and named the island Mauritius, in honour of Prince Maurice Van Nassau, "Stathouder" of Holland. The first Dutch settlement lasted only twenty years. Several attempts were subsequently made, but the settlements never developed enough to produce dividends and the Dutch finally left Mauritius in 1710. They are remembered for the introduction of sugar cane, domestic animals and deer. Abandoned by the Dutch, the island became a French possession when, in September 1715, Guillaume Dufresne D'Arsel landed and took possession of this precious port of call on the route to India. He named the island Isle de France, but it was only in 1721 that the French started their occupation. The French stayed on the Island till 1810 until a strong British expedition was sent to capture the island due to raids by the corsairs on British trade ships. A preliminary attack was foiled at Grand Port in August 1810, but the main attack launched in December of the same year from Rodrigues, which had been captured a year earlier, was successful. The British landed in large numbers in the north of the island and rapidly overpowered the French. The British administration, which began with Robert Farquhar as governor, was followed by rapid social and economic changes. One of the most important events was the abolition of slavery in 1835. The planters received a compensation of two million pounds sterling for the loss of their slaves which had been imported from Africa and Madagascar during the French occupation. The abolition of slavery had important repercussions on the socio-economic and demographic fields. The planters turned to India, from where they brought a large number of indentured labourers to work in the sugar cane fields. Cultivation of sugar cane was given a boost and the island flourished, especially with the export of sugar to England. Economic progress necessitated the extension and improvement of means of communication and gradually an adequate infrastructure was created.
Today Mauritius has a population of 1.2 million with a GNP per capita of US$3950 and a GDP in 1999 of US$4.2 billion.
The Presidential address at the opening of the First Session of the National Assembly lays down the agenda of the new government and in his speech of the 3 October 2000 to the Third National Assembly the President stated that the development of information technology and telecommunications has been given top priority. Quoting the President
Government is fully conscious of the importance of the "new economy" of information and communication technology and the opportunities which it affords to countries like ours. Government will develop the Information Technology and Communications industry to increase national wealth, create new opportunities and jobs.
Extensive deployment of information and communications technology will promote and democratise access to information. An intelligent village will be set up as a digital free zone to accelerate the development of the IT industry. The necessary incentive schemes and improved facilities will be provided to attract foreign investment.
The use of IT in education is central to supporting the development of an efficient workforce for sustaining economic growth. Computer-aided learning facilities will be put in place right from the pre-primary level. Partnerships and alliances will be devised with local and international technology leaders to attract high calibre IT professionals to support and drive the net economy.
The existing legal framework will be reviewed and consolidated to provide for the emergence of a knowledge society, and to create the right environment to boost the growth of the IT industry.
In addition, an IT Promotion Agency will be set up in order to market and promote Mauritius as a centre of excellence for information technology and telecommunications.
Government will lead the way by bringing its services closer to businesses and the people by implementing the concept of one-stop non-stop delivery channel. It will further leverage on existing infrastructure by setting up information kiosks in public areas including a modernized postal service to offer customized and value-added e-services.
The way to e-Government was initiated in 1996 with the Government on the Internet project which had as its main objectives to put all Ministries on the web. The websites of these Ministries consist of information on the aims, objectives and services provided by the Ministry to the public. Most of the Ministries provide regular updates concerning new acts, publications and events. Despite the lack of interactivity on these sites, the access rate to these sites has been increasing with time
The Government is paving the way to an e-Government through numerous projects already undertaken. Such projects are Government on the Internet which is a portal to all Ministries/Department websites initiated in 1996 and to date each Ministry has a regularly updated website. The Contributions Network Project implemented under the Ministry of Finance, comprises the setting up of an electronic one-stop shop for all payments and contributions of the private sector to Government. The electronic submission of Income Tax and VAT returns is operational since May 2000. The Tradenet project has been operational since 1994 under the Ministry of Finance. This system deals with the electronic authorization by customs for delivery of goods, the electronic submission of sea manifest by shipping agents, electronic declaration & processing of bills of entry and the transfer of containers. The Government Data Centre (GDC) aims at creating a "Connected Government" through which public sector will communicate and work together more effectively and where services will be delivered to the public and private sector electronically in a timely manner. The GDC will have the responsibility of implementing electronic delivery of government services. In the long term, a full fledged GDC will offer the following services to public sector institutions from a central location wherever possible: Internet Access, E-mail, e-Government Services, Government Call Centre, Helpdesk for technical support, Intranet Services, Server Co-location facilities, Consultancy Services, Web Design and Development Services. Other projects are the Electronic Transfer of Deeds, while e-mail for the civil service, electronic procurement and electronic processing of permits are examples of future projects. A list of major projects which are operational and those which are being implemented are attached in the appendix to this profile. On April 20 2001, Cabinet has taken note of the proposed amendment to the Industrial and Vocational Training (Imposition of Levy) Regulations 1989 to make provision for employees to submit their returns electronically to the Ministry of Social Security, National Solidarity & Senior Citizen Welfare and Reform Institutions.
In addition to this, Government has furthermore laid stress on the e-Government issue by its commitment to lead the way by bringing its services closer to businesses and the people by implementing the concept of one-stop non-stop delivery channel. It will further leverage on existing infrastructure by setting up information kiosks in public areas including a modernized postal service to offer customized and value-added e-services.
On 5th February 2001, a high-powered ministerial committee on ICT, chaired by the Prime Minister, was set up. Three taskforces set up under the aegis of this committee are ‘Cybercities & Business Parks' headed by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, ‘E-Education' headed by the Minister of Education & Scientific Research and ‘e-Government' headed by the Minister of Information Technology & Telecommunications.
In the implementation of e-Government projects the stakeholders are varied and include Ministries, Departments and other external agents depending on the project. The private sector, professional associations or NGOs are involved and examples of this partnership can be seen in the projects such as the Servihoo Portal which has as its objective to be the portal for the Republic of Mauritius, is a Telecom Plus initiative and provides personal email hosting, interactive chat, electronic greeting cards, e-commerce sales, forums, polls and guest book, another initiative is the Virtual Mauritius which is an e-commerce platform to sell services including online shipping, real estate, insurance and entertainment and another initiative is the Virtual Appeal Clip managed by an NGO called SPES and it depicts skills training using ICT to create a new generation creative and productive workforce from the marginalized illiterate kids at risk to themselves and to society.
The implementation of this online activity has also brought about a number of lessons. It is clear that in the implementation of projects the commitment of top level people and that of users, standardization for better interconnectivity and practical security guidelines and policies to ensure a seamless but secure e-Government system together with collaboration among the players for information sharing are critical enablers of e-Government. On the other side of the coin are the issues that needed to be dealt with and for Mauritius these were managing the change especially with the users, ensuring that the commitment from top level people remained constant at all stages of the project, dealing with the legal changes to enable computerization and enhance standards for future integration and upgrades.