In the National Assembly | 09 October 2019
Contention brews over exchange of land with high-ranking officials
Two pieces of land located in La Misère, Grand Anse Mahé were the subjects of a heated argument in the National Assembly yesterday.
In September 2018, the government agreed to the exchange of parcel B4329, which belonged to Aude and Paul Labaleine and worth R7 million, with parcel B7828 which is valued at R2.5 million.
Parcel B4329, located in a place called Souvenir at La Misère, is 1853m² in size and had already been developed with two houses and access to various amenities such as electricity and water, thereby hiking up its value.
Back in 1999, the couple had purchased parcel B4329 from the Seychelles Housing Development Corporation (SHDC) and B2609, which stood at 345m², from a private proprietor. Parcels B4329 and B2609 were amalgamated to become one parcel.
Meanwhile, parcel B7828 was undeveloped at the time of the exchange and is also located in La Misère, Helvetia in an area considered as a forest reserve.
It is to be noted that B7828 is almost double the size of B4329 at a surface area of 3,154m².
The transfer agreement allows Mr and Mrs Labaleine to continue residing in their previous house found on now government-owned parcel B4329 – up until September 18, 2020 even though they are no longer the proprietors.
Aude Labaleine is presently the secretary of state for presidential affairs which is a position she assumed in October 2016 whilst her husband, Paul Labaleine, is the principal secretary for the department of disaster and risk management.
Hon. Wavel Ramkalawan, leader of the opposition, put forth a private notice question concerning this exchange in order to seek more clarifications surrounding the case.
The private notice question was answered by Minister Wallace Cosgrow on behalf of the Minister for Habitat, Land, Infrastructure and Land Transport Pamela Charlette, who is on overseas mission.
Minister Wallace Cosgrow explained that the exchange came after the Labaleine couple made a request to exchange their parcel of land for a residential plot, preferably in La Misère where they were already residing.
Later in his response to Hon. Simon Gill, Minister Cosgrow admitted that Mr and Mrs Labaleine did not provide any reason to substantiate their demand for the exchange in their written request.
Hon. Ramkalawan asked why such an exchange occurred in the first place and further queried on how this exchange will benefit the government and the public.
He also pointed out that the exchange went down during a period where the point-based system, a system which does not allow someone to acquire government land if the person already has or had property, was fully in force.
Minister Cosgrow responded: “Mr and Mrs Labaleine, like many other private citizens, wrote a letter to the government to exchange their land on March 18, 2016. After which the government considered the case and found it appropriate to favour their demand, and entered into negotiations with the proprietors. The government found that the houses on the property, one more recent than the other, would be fit to be placed in its stock of houses. The house can be used to accommodate high-ranking officials […] because the house is fit for such use. The government will therefore not have to rent a house to accommodate these officials.”
Minister Cosgrow remarked that the houses are currently being managed by the Property Management Company (PMC).
He also noted that the exchange of land with the government is not a novel concept and highlighted that the government has dealt with 162 similar cases.
Members of the National Assembly (MNAs) representing Linyon Demokratik Seselwa (LDS) argued that the land which the government exchanged with the couple was big enough to have been divided and sold to land applicants under the point system.
Hon. Sandy Arissol and Hon. Flory Larue for instance noted that it was unfair on Seychellois, who are only seeking a small plot of land, to be overlooked by the couple who had already had the opportunity to own property and develop their home.
Others, such as Hon. Gervais Henrie, speculated on whether the exchange was a privileged transaction, afforded to Mrs Labaleine because of her working proximity with President Danny Faure.
Minister Cosgrow stated that he did “not see the transaction that way.”