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LDS sets out its position on the COVID-19 crisis | 23 March 2020

LDS sets out its position on the COVID-19 crisis

Mr Ramkalawan, accompanied by Mr Afif, during the press conference on Saturday (Photo: Thomas Meriton)

A 14-day lockdown, the establishment of an overall coordinating authority and the need to streamline financial assistance to the private sector were among some of the points which the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, Wavel Ramkalawan, set out as measures to better address COVID-19 in Seychelles.

Accompanied by the deputy leader of the LDS caucus Ahmed Afif, Mr Ramkalawan presented the party’s views on the COVID-19 pandemic during a press conference on Saturday.

He noted that LDS agrees with the government’s stance that the current situation is “an emergency of unprecedented proportion” and that it calls for unprecedented measures.

Nonetheless Mr Ramkalawan noted that this should be achieved in a well-calculated and effective manner in order to bring about real solutions.

“First of all, I must say that we should keep politics out of what is happening in our country. COVID-19 calls upon all leaders to act promptly and come together to save the country,” Mr Ramkalawan highlighted.

He explained that LDS is calling for the establishment of an overall coordinating authority which he said can be easily set up through the Public Finances Act.

Mr Ramkalawan added that members of that authority should represent all sectors in the country including the private sector with the aim of managing the financial demands and measures for all sectors.

This authority proposed by LDS will also be the channel for all contributions and financial assistance.

“We also believe that there is a need for a close-down or lock-down, as some people are calling it,” Mr Ramkalawan pronounced on Saturday.

LDS’s stance is that the lockdown will provide the department of health and other authorities the opportunity to properly assess the situation, ensure that measures such as social distancing become more effective, and provide health staff with the ability to undertake their work without additional pressure of people moving around.

Mr Ramkalawan also stated that the lockdown will allow parents to remain with their children, given that schools and day cares have all closed down until further notice.

In regards to financial assistance to private sector, where R1.2 billion has been set aside for the payment of salaries in the private sector, Mr Ramkalawan said this should only been done using a targeted, fair and objective approach.

“We do not believe that – simply because of this situation – the government should pay for the salaries of all workers but that the overall coordinating authority we spoke of should take care of doing this in a systematic way.”

Expounding on this point, Mr Afif noted that focus should be placed on micro, small and medium sized enterprises in the country.

He noted that firms with large cash holdings such as telecom companies, banks, large contractors and banks, should have enough to pay their employees’ salaries for the next three months and they do not need the same level of assistance as smaller firms.

Following their walkout last week, LDS has confirmed that it will be going back to the National Assembly on Tuesday and will be bringing these points to the attention of the executive.

Mr Ramkalawan also expressed his disappointment that President Faure did not feel the need to discuss with the main opposition in the country and majority party in the National Assembly in regards to the COVID-19 national crisis.

He noted that a healthy two-way discussion would have facilitated the National Assembly’s work to approve a new 2020 budget.

Read the full text of Mr Ramkalawan’s statement on government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis:

“I am making this statement as leader of the opposition in the National Assembly and I am supported here by Hon. Ahmed Afif, who is the deputy leader of the LDS (Linyon Demokratik Seselwa) team in the National Assembly.

“We have this morning held a meeting with Mr Roger Mancienne, the LDS party leader, so this statement incorporates the position of the LDS party as well as our views as the Assembly leadership.

“I also wish to make clear that we are not here to argue with or counter the declarations made by either President Danny Faure in his address last night, or the health authorities who have addressed the country on the health implications and measures, or any other authority who has made a statement on this issue.

“We are here simply to present our views on the crisis and its implications and to make our contribution to measures and solutions to the multiple challenges that we are confronted with. In the first place, let me repeat that we are fully appreciative of the immense effort of our health professionals who have been leading in the attempt to contain and deal with our exposure to this disease and to all the people, especially those such as public health workers, immigration officials, hotel staff and others who have been in the real front line of this confrontation with COVID-19. We give them all our support.

“Our purpose here is to present our position. We can only do this by speaking frankly and truthfully, explaining our views as clearly as possible. If we do not do this we would not be serving the people of Seychelles. Some parts of our statement will question or differ from what the President and the health authorities have proposed. But I believe that in such moments of crisis it remains very important to speak freely. Communication is an essential part of dealing with any crisis and it is essential in this moment as well.

“We agree that this is an emergency of unprecedented proportion and that it calls for unprecedented measures. But measures must be well-calculated to be effective and to lead to real solutions, otherwise they will only be a waste of resources that we cannot afford.

“This is a situation of multiple dimensions and the response needs detailed consideration and planning. At this point, given the speed with which this crisis has developed, we can only bring some general proposals which will need to be examined in detail to work out the precise actions for their implementation.

“At this point we are making the following proposals.

 

  1. Necessity for an overall coordinating authority

“There needs to be a high-level body with extensive and inclusive representation to develop the strategies and cordinate the response to this emergency. The most direct way to do this is to set up a COVID-19 FUND under the Public Finances Act which will be managed by a board which includes the various authorities concerned as well as representatives of the private sector. Such a body can be established by an SI (Statutory Instrument) which will be made effective immediately. This body will manage the financial demands and measures for all sectors and the economic repercussions. It will also be a channel for contributions from all sectors. Here we wish to make the point that the responsibility for dealing with this crisis must be shared by all.

“The mandate of this body will also include communication to our people, with a designated spokesperson addressing the multiple aspects of the challenge so that we ensure that there is national cohesion in dealing with it.

 

  1. Need for a close-down
  2. “We believe there needs to be a ‘close-down’ for a period of two weeks for the following reasons:

a)        To make the social distancing proposed by the health authorities effective, we need to restrict movement and contact. The best way is to limit work attendance to essential needs only, on the same basis as public holidays. Essential services will be covered including shops but there will be no non-essential travel, grouping or contact.

b)        This period will give essential space for the health authorities to assess if the isolation and quarantine measures they have put in place are effective without the additional pressure of the population in movement as usual.

c)        With educational institutions closed, parents face the difficulty of what to do with small children. Freeing them from regular work attendance will solve this.

d)        Many organisations or places of business are taking their own steps. It is necessary for everyone to be doing this together, otherwise it only creates panic and frustration.

e)        It will release personnel from other areas to assist as may be useful in dealing with the emergency.

“The close-down will give essential space for planning and putting things in place for a return to activities in an orderly manner, during which time the authorities should make maximum effort to communicate with the population on the neccesities of dealing with the emergency.

“At the same time priority must be given to vital economic sectors such as the tuna industries to keep operating. They should receive additional attention in terms of avoiding risk of infection. In other words, the close-down of non-essential movement will give a little more protection to essential activities.

 

  1. Financial assistance needs to be targeted to be fair and effective

“While we fully support that government needs to step in to assist economic operators to remain viable and that no employee should be left stranded without a salary, the proposal for any bail-out scheme must be carefully examined and effectively targeted.

“Categories of businesses must be defined and assistance that they receive must be differentiated. Businesses with large cash holdings, which are the results of profits from our economy, do not need the same level of assistance as individuals, self-employed persons, small and medium sized businesses.

“The financial assistance must be coordinated with the health goals. It will be pointless for government to pay salaries of any operation if that operation goes on with business as usual without making the sacrifices necessary to overcome the health challenges.

 

  1. The longer term plan must be more clearly defined
  2. If the close-down is effective, we need to come out of it with measures in place to administer any financial assistance plan and also the health management plan going forward.

“Government also needs to make a thorough review of its own and the country’s financial management. We need to re-assess both foreign earnings and national income to determine how we go forward.

“Our monetary system will be threatened particularly with no little currency inflows but a constant demand for outflows for fuel, foodstuff, medecines and essential imports. The CBS must use the country’s reserves to ensure monetary stability and low inflation.

“In respect of government, we need to re-adjust to harder times ahead with stringent control of expenditure to eliminate non-essential spending.

“The same applies to the national economy. If there is to be financial assistance, businesses must scale down their operations to what is necessary to remain afloat. This means a review of on-going projects especially in the construction sector. We expect large companies will reduce their work-force of foreign workers for their own long-term viability. Details of how this is implemented needs to be worked out with the businesses.

“We fully subscribe to the need to remain viable with the ability to bounce back once we and the world are clear of the health threats. But to achieve this we must make sacrifices now. We need to slim down to survive.

“I want to conclude by saying that we wish the National Assembly to remain open in order to respond to any communication, participate in any discussion and to fulfil any requirements to give legal weight to measures necessary.

“I wish to remind all Seychellois that one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of corona is to maintain good hygiene, wash our hands, don’t touch our faces and avoid public places. We must also eat healthily and strengthen our body’s immune system.

“Let us all learn to evolve in our social behaviour so that the above becomes part of our routine and habit.

“We emphasise the need for solidarity and for people in all communities to assist those more vulnerable or with special needs such as the elderly.

“When you are hit by the unexpected, you must do the unexpected and we have no choice today.

“I pray that we all stay safe and pray that this close-down and dark cloud will leave us and our beautiful islands sooner rather than later.”

 

Elsie Pointe

 

 

 

 

 

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