En Moman Avek Prezidan-‘20 years of significant progress and remarkable transformation’


17-June-2013

Our head of State, President James Michel, witnessed those moments and in the interview President James Michel speaking during the interviewwhich follows he talks about the significant progress and remarkable transformation the country has gone through during this period.   

Mr President you have not only witnessed the transition of our country from one party state to multi-party democracy but you have also been a leader in both systems and today you are still the President. So how have you viewed this transition?

President Michel: Like you say we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of our National Day in the Third Republic and this is not a simple celebration but calls for a celebration with pride because through the transition from where we were up to now we have made a lot of progress. In fact we have made some significant progress through this exceptional transformation our country has gone through during these last 20 years. This is a source of pride for us the people of Seychelles. If people who have been abroad since 1993 were to visit our country today, they would hardly recognise Seychelles because the transformation is complete and in all sectors – economic, political, social – and today we are a dynamic, mature people, full of enthusiasm who actively take part in the political, social and economic development of the country and eager to see the country move forward. And the lives of fellow citizens have improved.

On the international front, Seychelles has created a name for itself and left its mark as our remarkable development and progress gain more and more world recognition.

Mr President you have talked about the great transformation and the active participation of the people but there are those who are still saying we adopted multi-party politics but there is no democracy. They say that apart from casting their votes the people’s voices are not really heard because they are afraid to talk. What are your comments?

President Michel: I believe people saying these things do not really know the meaning of democracy. Maybe for them democracy is anarchy where people can do whatever they want. Today Seychelles is commended and recognised worldwide – by the United Nations and all our partners as a country with an advanced democratic mechanism structure in place. Seychelles has been praised for putting in place institutions which allow it to become a country with an active democracy. While other countries have in place a parliamentary democracy only, Seychelles has gone further than that and has a democracy where the government is in touch with the people, seeks its views on different plans and projects which concern them, through consultative meetings at national and district level.

This is what democracy is all about and above all at present there are different newspapers which publish whatever they want as there is no censorship even though there is a media commission which is always reminding them to be responsible towards their readership and the Seychellois people. If people were afraid they would not go to newspapers and it is because of this active democracy that people can express themselves and this is what is recognised and appreciated. If you say there are people saying these things I believe it is only one or two individuals who would like to see anarchy rather than democracy in Seychelles. But I know that for the majority of our people who have expressed themselves in different ways, they are happy with the way our democracy is evolving and the way we are consolidating our institutions to allow people to express themselves in a responsible manner where their views are taken into consideration.

Mr President you have talked about the institutions which are important for democracy to continue to develop and evolve. Would you say these institutions are at present strong and well-integrated?

President Michel: Yes they are very strong and well integrated. For instance we have the three branches of government – the executive, legislative and judiciary  – which are all independent in their operations and this according to our Constitution guarantees the Etat de Droit where all institutions operate according to the Constitution and are respected. We have also different commissions such as the Electoral Commission which ensures  that  elections are carried out in a just and fair manner, the  Media Commission which ensures the media freedom and independence is protected and defended while other commissions have been set up for more transparency such as the Human Rights Commission, the office of the Ombudsman and all of them are functioning in a way to ensure all citizens are given the opportunity to take part in the country’s development. I believe anyone who is honest will see that Seychelles, in comparison with many countries, has made a lot of progress where democracy is concerned. But there again we should never be satisfied. We are always striving to do better and continuing to seek ways to improve. This is progress, when we try to do better with experience gained along the way. But the important thing is that we need to have the desire to achieve the best for Seychelles and not destroy our hard-earned gains.

Mr President, talking about the legislative arm of government, at the start, in 1993, we had a National Assembly which was almost entirely dominated by the then SPPF majority. Over the years this gradually changed to include 11 members of the opposition which many viewed as a way to enrich debate through a wider range of views and 20 years later we are back with an Assembly which is almost entirely dominated by the majority ruling party and only one opposition voice. What do you think this say about our democratic process?

President Michel: In a democracy, different views, opinions and expressions are all very important as they contribute towards an active democratic process. But the basis of democracy is the voice of the people, their aspirations. It is the people who decide through elections what political parties they believe have a better programme which they would like to see as the basis for the country’s further development and growth.  During these past 20 years Seychelles has gone through five elections and all throughout, the people have freely made their choices and choices which I believe should be respected. In 1993, when we embarked on the transition I would say we were young and immature but gradually over the years we became more politically experienced, mature, understanding and tolerant. Today one of our successes is political tolerance where families with different political views cohabit and can share different political views without coming to blows as was the case years before. This is maturity and how a civilised society should function.

To come back on the significant representation of the opposition in the Assembly, it was good to have different views expressed but it was the opposition which decided to boycott the last parliamentary election after they lost in the presidential election and it was their choice not to take part. But the people went ahead and chose their representatives. The election was recognised by international observers and the Electoral Commission and again democracy triumphed. I am happy to see a diversity of opinion at different levels. At least even if not many there is an opposition voice in the Assembly. But the opposition parties which boycotted the election are no longer politically active and I believe many of their supporters have seen the direction in which the country is moving and have decided to follow the path of unity, working together, putting Seychelles first and for all of us to contribute towards developing our country.

A few of their activists are still active through the social network on the internet and a few newspapers and all these are means of expressing different views and opinions and no one is stopping them, but it was through their own decision and  choice that they are no longer taking part in public politics. But there again the country continues with its development process and the people will continue to decide how it wants the country to be governed and which political party to choose.

Mr President when they boycotted the election the opposition parties argued that the political playing field was not level and after that the Electoral Commission started a review of electoral laws. But opposition views now are that there is no political will from the government to carry out the review promptly and in reasonable time. What do you have to say about that?

President Michel: For the last presidential election the playing field was level because the different parties took part and it was for the parliamentary election which followed that according to them the playing field was not level and they boycotted but the election was recognised. Based on the desire to continue modernising as much as possible our institutions and the way they operate and function to ensure more and stronger democracy, the government called on the Electoral Commission to seek ways to amend our political laws. The process is still ongoing and the government is not dragging its feet but on the contrary it wants the process carried out well so as to have good results in the end.

On top of that a Constitution Review Committee was set up to update various aspects of our Constitution and just after that followed a series of events that demanded we review our priorities. These include the economic reforms whereby with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund the country was under a lot of pressure to review many of its laws and regulations in order to ensure the effectiveness of the reform programme. With resource constraints it was impossible to do everything at the same time so we gave priority to our economic reform process. The fight against piracy followed soon after and again this called for a review of our laws to allow us to deal with the scourge. But with the help of our international partners such as the Commonwealth we have been able to finalise propositions made by the Constitutional Review Committee. So work is ongoing and hopefully in the near future the outcome will be known.

Mr President what would you say have been Seychelles’ greatest achievements in the past 20 years?  

President Michel: We have made a lot of progress and our achievements are numerous, the list is long but among the most pertinent and visible are:
• National unity and maturity among the people, a proactive and educated youth who is looking towards the future of the country and where the people is taking ownership of all aspects of their country’s development;

• The economic reform the country went through has been a more than remarkable success. Recently an IMF official made the following comment: “Seychelles is the only modern country in the world to carry out an in-depth, significant and comprehensive reform programme and come out of the crisis as fast and with so much success”.

Today, Seychelles’ success story is being used as an example internationally. A book jointly published by the World Bank, IMF and Seychelles highlights the history of this success story. A success not only for me who initiated the reform but for the people of Seychelles who took ownership of the reform. Seychelles’ economy is now on a sound base which allows it to grow further provided we have the right attitude and remain focused so as to continue to do things right and not be side-tracked by political propaganda which could easily destroy our hard-earned economic gains.

• Reforms in education have been a success in spite of remaining challenges with regard to discipline which do not only depend on the education system to address but on parents as well. Seychelles, though small, now has its own university providing access to further education to more Seychellois. We have dreamt big and I believe we have succeeded and will continue to realise our dreams and this is a great pride for Seychelles.

• Empowering our young people, namely through the Young Leaders Programme, has allowed for them to take up key positions in various different government agencies with new strength and energy to take Seychelles forward. 

• Successes in the health and social sectors are also remarkable even though many more challenges remain.
• Putting Seychelles on the international map has also been a phenomenal achievement and today Seychelles’ leadership role championing the cause of small island states has been commended.

Mr President recently there have been intense expressions of different sentiments and views with regard to foreign investments and you as the head of state has always pushed to attract investment in the country. Do you think the resentment is against foreign investments or from where the investments come?

President Michel: Intense expressions from where? What sentiments? I am in touch with the people and I believe the majority of the people who are intelligent appreciate and welcome foreign investments which are in their interests and that of the country. I think maybe those sentiments are from one or two people who are using these sentiments for their own personal agenda. Seychelles is first in the world for environment preservation with 51 % of its territory under conservation while New Zealand is second with 36%. So how can we say Seychelles is sacrificing its environment for investments?

This is not true as Seychelles is also recognised for its strong policy on sustainable development where investments from the private sector is used to protect key environment sites which otherwise would cost the government a lot to maintain. So I believe we are dishonest if we say Seychelles is sacrificing its environment. No country in the world can continue to grow, develop and prosper without foreign investment. Seychellois businesses invest only in businesses where their capital allows them to but if we want to grow we need foreign investment.

There is too much hypocrisy on the issue of investment from the Arabs. Dollars and Euros are all the same and they are all currencies which we need for our economic growth and development. Today Europe is in crisis and its leaders are coming knocking on the doors of Arab countries begging them to come and invest in their countries. In England, for instance, there are lots of Arab investments – the Olympic village was built with Arab funds and two of the biggest football teams are for the Arabs, Harrods belong to the Arabs as well. France also has its share of Arab investments. If the Europeans and the Americans need Arab investments to develop their economies why can’t small Seychelles accept that a few Arab nationals invest in some projects here? What is wrong with that? This again shows the hypocrisy of a few people.

As from 2015 Seychelles is due to start paying some of its debts and if our economy is not growing there will be no money to sustain our development.
In fact, foreign investments will help local investors to further develop and expand their own businesses but like other countries we need to be able to balance foreign investments with local investments.

Mr President looking back at the various developments which have taken place over the past 20 years on the social side people, especially the youth, feel they have no place to relax and meet friends as all the places they used are being closed down. They also feel like second-class citizens in their own country. What are the authorities doing to address and rectify the situation?

President Michel: I believe our people need to ‘chill out’. This is necessary and meanwhile if there are certain lapses and shortcomings which give our people reasons to have that perception they feel like second-class citizens I have to dispel that. Seychellois should be first in their own country but at the same time we have to respect other people.

We call on people to get up and work and after working hard one need to relax and I admit that there has been some weaknesses in that area but I will address that. I have called on some ministries to come together and organise a site already identified at Roche Caïman near the Ste Anne Resort & Spa jetty for a recreational area. But the place should be used responsibly and should not be used to abuse substances. I also feel that there is a lack of licenced pubs and I have requested the ministry concerned to identify sites in different areas to build a pub. I believe a pub is normal in all civilised societies.

Pubs have their opening and closing hours which are well organised and I believe we should encourage other establishments to remain open to allow people to socialise. With this in mind there are plans to develop the Anse Royale fun park to have the same amusement and recreational concept as that of the Roche Caïman project.

Meanwhile, I believe there are certain regulations in place in certain places which need to be reviewed for the benefit of both Seychellois and foreigners. The inter-island quay is one of those places but this is expected to be addressed as the concerned authorities relook at the facilities in place and a walkway will benefit both Seychellois and foreigners.  Facilities at the airport domestic terminal are also to be reviewed.

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