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Sunil Bholah

Discours du ministre des Affaires et des PME sur le Mauritius Research and Innovation Council Bill

Sunil Bholah a participé au débat sur le projet de loi présenté en deuxième lecture par le Ministre des TIC, lors de la séance parlementaire du 3 Mai 2019.

Madame la Présidente,
Permettez-moi de féliciter mon collègue, le Ministre Sawmynaden qui a introduit ce projet de loi. Ce texte de loi vise à abroger la Mauritius Research Council Act de 1992 pour ensuite établir le Mauritius Research and Innovation Council.

C’est un fait : La science, la technologie et l’innovation peuvent jouer un rôle moteur dans l’amélioration de la productivité et la croissance économique. Pour créer les conditions favorables pour stimuler la recherche et l’innovation, il faut qu’il y ait des efforts résolus qui sont consentis par le gouvernement.

Et c’est justement dans ce but que mon collègue Ministre vient aujourd’hui présenter ce texte de loi qui vise à repenser tous les aspects qui sont liés à la recherche et à l’innovation. Car figurez-vous, créé en 1992, le MRC mérite une réorganisation, avec de nouvelles attributions et un mandat bien plus élargi pour répondre aux défis majeurs.

Madame la Présidente,
Le monde est en pleine mutation. Le pays fait face à des changements rapides et profonds avec des enjeux sociaux, environnementaux, et économiques, tout à fait inédits.

Face à ces transformations, il devient nécessaire d’investir massivement dans la formation, la recherche et l’innovation. Et l’intermédiaire qui est utilisé pour promouvoir les piliers susmentionnés, dans ce cas, le MRC, doit se réinventer et son fonctionnement doit être à la hauteur de nos aspirations.

Madame la Présidente,
Les Mauriciens attendent beaucoup, eux aussi, de leurs universités, de leurs écoles et de leurs centres de recherche, pour protéger, développer et transmettre leur capital de connaissances et aussi pour soutenir l’économie. D’ailleurs, notre avenir dépend de nos savoirs.

Le Gouvernement veut donner à la recherche et à l’innovation une place essentielle dans le redressement du pays. Nos ambitions sont multiples. Il s’agit à la fois :
d’élever le niveau général de connaissances ;
de renforcer les synergies ;
de bâtir un écosystème qui favorise la création de nouvelles entreprises où qui permet à celles existantes de se réinventer ;
de gérer nos ressources d’une manière plus efficace ;
de créer une société innovante et inclusive qui s’adapte aux changements ; et
de rehausser la qualité de vie de nos citoyens.

En somme, nous voulons offrir à notre pays de belles opportunités de réussite à travers la recherche et l’innovation. Nous sommes en bonne voie car en sus du National Innovation Framework 2018-2030 lancé par le Ministère de la Technologie, de la Communication et de l’Innovation, il est essentiel d’avoir une instance avant-gardiste comme le Mauritius Research and Innovation Council pour réaliser les mesures préconisées dans ce plan d’action.

Madame la Présidente,
L’actuelle loi, la MRC Act de 1992 ne contient aucun chapitre sur l’entrepreneuriat. De ce fait, je pense que le projet de loi, le MRIC Bill fait désormais la part belle à l’innovation et à l’entrepreneuriat. Ce sont deux piliers qui sont étroitement liés. Je vais d’abord élaborer certains aspects concernant l’innovation avant d’en venir à l’entrepreneuriat.

Madam Speaker,
In November last year, the African Union Commission launched the “African Scientific, Research and Innovation Council” in Nigeria. This council is a platform for promoting dialogue and voice of the scientific community and allows scientists, research and other key stakeholders to be involved in the science, technology and innovation programmes of the continent. The council is in line with the implementation of Africa’s transformative Agenda 2063, out of which a major component is the AU’s Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa 2024. This strategy rests on 4 pillars, namely:
building and upgrading research infrastructures,
enhancing professional and technical competencies,
promoting entrepreneurship and innovation; and
providing an enabling environment for research and innovation.

While going through the MRIC bill, I have realised and it is worth mentioning that Mauritius is fully committed to the transformation of the African Continent.

In a conference in Beijing last year, the World Bank’s Vice President for Africa, Mr Makhtar Diop told an old joke in economics which I would like to share here. An economist was walking down the street with a friend and the latter sees a $20 bill. The economist’s friend turns to him and says, “Look, a $20 bill!” The economist keeps walking, saying, “That’s impossible. If there were a $20 bill on the ground, someone would have picked it up.” In other words, economists tend to believe that if there is a profitable investment opportunity, then someone will take advantage of it. Not driving the economy towards innovation is like a massive lost opportunity as innovation has the potential to spur investment which can drive economic growth.

Therefore, we note that a lot of emphasis is being laid on innovation in the MRIC bill brought before this House. Clause 4 of the bill which concerns the 5 objects of the Council provides clear-cut aims which I believe are of utmost importance to transform the country. “Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity – not a threat” –as rightly pointed out by Steve Jobs, the American business magnate. And for innovations to take place, research should be undertaken.

The Government is of view that Mauritius needs a stronger, more dynamic and sustainable research and innovation industry that is important to its economy and the society. Broadening the functions of the Mauritius Research and Innovation Council will provide an appropriate platform for scientists, academics, researchers, funding agencies, the private sector, civil society, and entrepreneurs, amongst others, to thrive.

Madam Speaker,
I will now touch upon some points pertaining to clause 5(g) where it is mentioned I quote – “adopt a strong business to drive entrepreneurship and growth to facilitate start-ups and assist innovators to launch, build and grow successful businesses with the participation of the private sector”.

Right now, across the developing world, there are not enough jobs for the young people coming out of school, regardless of the quality of the education. According to the World Bank, low and middle-income countries around the world will need 520 million new jobs for youth coming out of school by 2030, and the current estimates are that 460 million will be created. This implies that 60 million young people might be left without formal jobs.

So, new jobs need to be created. Currently, a lot of job is being generated through the creation of start-ups. And one way to create more jobs is through innovation. Innovation is simply introducing a change of some kind that adds new value. When it comes to innovation, it is about ideas, not just commercial outcomes. Entrepreneurship, on the other hand, is more commercially driven. It typically refers to a person who has a drive to build or make something that delivers commercial benefits to them, while also adding value to the broader world. Entrepreneurship leverages innovation to create value.

Madam Speaker,
To create a successful innovation economy, we need both the capability to create new value and the ability to take that value into the business environment and commercialize it. Every day, innovative technologies are introduced that provide significant value to society. However, if they are not backed by entrepreneurial talent or awareness, those innovations will never achieve their commercial potential. This is why focus must be laid on the intersection. This Bill before this House goes specifically in that direction by bringing together both innovators and entrepreneurs.

I must add that the provisions of the MRIC Bill are fully compatible with the actions initiated by my Ministry and SME Mauritius Ltd in the context of the implementation of the 10- Year SME Master Plan. The focus of the Master-Plan is to accelerate SME innovation and growth. In fact one of the six thrusts of the Master Plan is to improve design and value addition by supporting SMEs in research and development, innovation and brand identity to move into niche markets. Hence, we are targeting the transformation of SMEs into sustainable and value creation entities.

Added to the desire for collaboration with innovation labs, the present Bill will clearly establish bases for the development of linkages, so necessary for cross fertilization of ideas and cluster development crucial to the development of SMEs’ in our country.

Madam Speaker,
By dint of our geography and demography, Mauritius as a market has its limitations. Therefore, international visibility and competitivity is key to the development and sustainable growth of our SMEs. Start-Ups, by the very nature of their activity, are more susceptible to global competition as they need to keep pace with the quick technological evolution. This can be a daunting task for any young entrepreneur.

Clause 5 (k), subsection 3 specifies that the Council will “engage in a process of internationalisation to connect with research and innovation hubs; and attract aspiring entrepreneurs globally”. This is a reassurance for our SMEs and Start-Ups so that they can safely thrive in a globalised context.
During recent years, we have witnessed an increase of entrepreneurial activities in the field of agri-business, hyproponics projects and poultry farming, as testified by the amount of loans being allocated to SMEs in the above mentioned categories. I hope with the coming into operation of the council, there will be a disruptive trend so that we can have SMEs in new emerging sectors.

I note with satisfaction that the MRIC also aims to attract aspiring entrepreneurs globally. Allow me to quote one specific observation from the 10-Year SME Master Plan with regard to enticing foreign entrepreneurs to choose Mauritius for their business activities. “These SMEs can act as powerful levers to transform the domestic SME ecosystem and uplift the innovativeness and competitiveness of Mauritian SMEs through emulation and cooperation.”- Unquote.

On this note, I would like to congratulate the Prime Minister who has brought forward the Business Facilitation Act and for having come up with numerous budgetary measures. These steps have allowed Mauritius to consolidate and to accentuate its lead as number one in Africa for the Ease of Doing Business and to progress five places worldwide to take the 20th place among 190 countries according to the World Bank’s Doing Business 2019 Report.

It is heartening therefore to note that the present MRIC bill sets the basis for collaboration and building on collective synergy to promote internationalisation in the interest of the SME sector and the country.

While we expect to welcome new players, new innovators and new entrepreneurs, I also believe that research and innovation should emerge from existing businesses as well. Many business leaders agree that innovation is critical to their company’s long-term success and that through innovative practices they will have comparative advantages. However, they do not have the strategies in place to get the results they want and they feel lost at times. The fear of failure and lack of support often prevent them to tread new paths. Hence, I believe that the MRIC Bill is an appropriate framework which aims at establishing the appropriate conditions to support businesses to implement innovative processes and products.

Madam Speaker,
Let me now turn to Clause 5(a) which specifies that the Council shall develop every 5 years, a national strategy for research and development and innovation. We are in fact operating in a globalised world increasingly in need of knowledge and technologies to overcome societal and economic challenges. The Strategy paper will highlight areas in which the country should focus its investment and at the same time, it will ensure coherence between policies, priorities, and action.

As opposed to the MRC Act 1992 which makes provision for the establishment of a General Fund, the new MRIC Bill has a new element with regard to the creation of a National Research and Innovation Fund as stated in Clause 13. The fact that this Fund will serve the public as well as the private sector research initiatives, grants much scope to our public bodies to step up and integrate a culture of research to drive and accompany efforts of the private sector.

Such a Fund will be a definite risk mitigator for SMEs as well which are often hesitant to take the plunge in research and innovation-based business activities by themselves.

The fund will also serve as pull factor for our Diaspora to inject their know-how into establishing start-ups in Mauritius, thus fostering an innovative business eco-system enabling knowledge and skills transfer and consequentially leading to a multiplication of start-ups, and other collaborative and innovative business and facilitation models.

Another positive step enunciated in the MRIC Bill is at Clause 16, which makes provision for the person or company creating a product, service or process to himself/ herself being entitled to holding the Intellectual Property Rights despite being funded by the resources of the Council. This demonstrates the commitment of the Government to acknowledge, to value and to reward the intellect and researches of our local expertise and capabilities.

Madam Speaker,
Through the presentation of the MRIC Bill, this Government proves once again that it is all set to implement actions which are “Game Changer” for the nation and for the betterment of the population.

We are gathered here, in this august Assembly to set the ball rolling for the adoption of the MRIC Bill which I think is part of our unwavering efforts to create strong and functional science, technology, research and innovation systems for tackling our development challenges and deliver on the rising aspirations of our citizens.

We will recall that in November last year, Mauritius hosted the World Artificial Intelligence (AI) Show and World Blockchain Summit. The AI Show featured humanoid robot, Sophia, developed by Hong Kong-based Company Hanson Robotics, and named the United Nations Development Programme’s first ever non-human Innovation Champion. With the necessary bases being set to create a new generation of technopreneurs, backed by the new MRIC, I sincerely hope that one day Mauritius will be able to develop its own humanoid robot.

Nothing is worse than missing an opportunity which could have changed our lives. This is what the reorganised Council will aim to achieve: creating opportunities which make a difference.

Thank you for your attention.

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