DICT budget voted down, vote for foreign affairs delayed | 15 November 2019
● Five other entities get the go-ahead
The National Assembly yesterday voted down the sum of R61,323,000 which had been budgeted for the department of information, communication and technology, making it the first entity ever to not have its budget approved.
Linyon Demokratik Seselwa (LDS) members who hold the majority seats in the parliament, voted against the department of information, communication and technology’s (DICT) budget allocation because they felt that the government is not committed enough to help bring down the high cost of internet access in the country.
The opposition firmly expressed that the government should intervene in the telecommunication sector in order to stop operators from ripping off its customers.
“The government knows that Seychellois are being ripped off but it does not have the courage to tell these companies to stop stealing from its clients,” asserted Wavel Ramkalawan, leader of the opposition.
The indignation was not one-sided, as even United Seychelles (US) MNA Simon Gill claimed that the department must find a solution to the high cost of internet in the country.
Mr Gill asked why this is not already happening since the government holds the majority stake in the Seychelles Cable System, the company which provides the country with fibre-optic internet connection.
Local telecom companies Cable & Wireless and Airtel are the two other parties involved in the company.
Vice-President Vincent Meriton, who holds the portfolio for DICT, however replied that this is not as easy as it seems.
On his part the acting principal secretary at DICT, Jeffrey Dogley, explained that it is difficult to entirely control the operations and services of telecom companies because of the free market economy which is based on supply and demand.
“We are in a free market economy, and it’s the market which determines the price customers pay. Hence, I do not understand how an exercise on telecom operators would help in identifying if customers are being provided with the true cost of internet. Even if we were to identify an operator’s basic bandwidth cost, the price will still depend on the operator’s operational costs, marketing, number of staff and its efficiency,” he stated.
Vice-President Meriton eventually committed that the DICT, ministry of finance and the Fair Trading Commission (FTC) will meet up to find ways to alleviate the problem.
Nonetheless, all of the opposition members present voted against the department’s budget and therefore it was not approved.
Given that there has been no precedent, it is unclear what will actually happen in relations with the department and its functions in 2020.
In previous budget votes, the National Assembly members would compromise by ‘freezing’ parts of an entity’s budget they do not agree with, and later these would be reviewed by the Finance and Public Accounts Committee (FPAC) which then provided a referral to the National Assembly.
Also in the hot-seat yesterday, the department of foreign affairs saw the National Assembly postpone its vote on the department’s R115,662,000 budget allocation for 2020.
Speaker Nicholas Prea ruled to delay the vote until the department of foreign affairs meets with the International Affairs Committee (IAC) of the National Assembly today to resolve some issues raised during yesterday morning’s sitting.
The main point of contention yesterday was the setting up of a new Seychelles diplomatic mission based in Mauritius, whereby several members – particularly LDS member for Mont Fleuri Jean-François Ferrari and US member for Grand Anse Mahé Waven William – argued that it would be more worthwhile to provide additional resources to existing embassies rather than to establish a new one.
A total of R1,914,000 is being set aside in the department’s budget for the establishment of the embassy, which has for objective to elevate the bilateral relationship between Seychelles and Mauritius as well as to increase the country’s engagement in inter-regional programmes.
Seychelles presently only has a honorary consul general, Guy Fock Yew Min, based in Mauritius.
If it materialises, the embassy in Mauritius would comprise four honorary consul generals and four honorary consuls who will be working under the responsibility of an ambassador.
The reason behind opening an embassy in Mauritius was explained by Vice-President Meriton who stated that the department of foreign affairs is taking on “a new diplomatic approach to promote excellent relations between regional island states, reinforce our engagements on regional and international levels and establish better liaisons with Mauritius”.
VP Meriton stated that the diplomatic mission in Mauritius would also cover the jurisdictions of Madagascar, Kenya, Tanzania, Maldives, Mozambique, Djibouti, Eritrea, Australia, Somali, Yemen, Reunion and the Comoros.
This is expected to remove pressure, financial or otherwise, from Seychelles’ other embassies in South Africa, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Ethiopia and Sri Lanka so that, in turn, these embassies can better carry out their functions.
He added that there are currently 16 other foreign embassies in Mauritius such as that of the United States, Bangladesh, Australia, South Africa and the European Union (EU) and hence our presence there would be important to reinforce cooperation with them.
Mauritius is also a regional hub for many organisations such as the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) which Seychelles presently chairs, the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), International Organisation for Migration (IOM), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Commonwealth’s Climate Finance Access Hub.
The proposed embassy will further be accredited to the IOC and IORA.
Aside from the new embassy, opposition members raised their concerns over the scheme of service for support staff that are only to be revised in 2021 as well as the seemingly lack of communication between the National Assembly and the department.
To note, the only schemes of service that have been recently revised for the department of foreign affairs are those of the diplomatic overseas cadre and for the protocol chauffeurs which took effect in July 2019.
A total of R1,186,000 has been apportioned to make payments under this new scheme in 2020; of which R921,000 are for mission diplomats and R264,000 for protocol chauffeurs.
Mr Ferrari, chairman of the IAC, expressed that the rationale for the new embassy does not make sense and that, before he can vote on the department’s budget, the IAC must be provided with audits of the performances of the Seychelles’ embassies across the world.
It was agreed that the vote be delayed to allow for a meeting which would hopefully resolve into a consensus.
However, the National Assembly yesterday approved the budgets for the Seychelles Intelligence Service (R13,358,000), the department of defence (R330,990,000), the department of information (R4,575,000), the department of blue economy (R81,208,000) and Enterprise Agency Seychelles (R12,502,000).