COVID-19 pandemic - President Faure holds meeting with representatives from key sectors | 23 March 2020
Following his announcement of various measures to address the impact of COVID-19, President Danny Faure met representatives from key sectors at State House on Saturday to discuss the way forward.
President Faure took the opportunity to thank the representatives for sharing their ideas over the last two weeks and stressed on the importance of continuing to work as a team for the benefit of the people and the country.
In order to better deal with the implications of COVID-19 in Seychelles, President Faure also established two new high level committees focusing on the critical aspects of providing financial support to businesses in need and ensuring food security.
The committees will meet on a daily basis under the chairmanship of the secretary of state for finance, trade, investment and economic planning Patrick Payet and the Minister for Fisheries and Agriculture Charles Bastienne respectively.
The first meetings of both committees will take place today, Monday March 23, to be chaired by the president.
Following the meeting, the representatives of the business, tourism, fisheries and agricultural sector expressed their reactions to the measures being implemented by government and talked about the present impact of COVID-19 on their respective industries.
Oliver Bastienne, chairman of the Seychelles Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI), said that the private sector breathed a collective sigh of relief after learning of some of the measures geared towards assisting the sector during the pandemic.
The government committed R1.2 billion for the payments of salaries of persons working in the private sector, provided a four-month grace period for business tax among others and placed a reduction in loan repayments to commercial banks for six months.
“COVID-19 is threatening the livelihoods of all Seychellois and a majority of businesses in the country. The measures that were announced are comprehensive and have targeted elements aimed towards the tourism sector and other related services,” Mr Bastienne stated while speaking to the media.
“The measures also show that the president and the government are looking at all businesses, and this is very important.”
Mr Bastienne also expressed his appreciation that some of the proposals brought forth by the private sector during the high level economic meeting last Monday were duly considered by the government.
He noted that the president’s announcement of various measures to be implemented in light of COVID-19 rightly touches on topical issues such as stabilisation of the economy, job security, food security as well as law and order.
“These measures will bring the necessary confidence and stability that the private sector was asking for but it is important to communicate how these measures will be implemented. I encourage all ministries and agencies to start this communication process, which the SCCI hopes to assist with,” Mr Bastienne added.
SCCI will be setting up a hotline to help business owners better understand the forthcoming measures and to bring the concerns of the private sector to the government.
Although SCCI is a membership-based institution, Mr Bastienne noted that the current situation demands for SCCI to extend its scope beyond its members so as to take in concerns from all businesses.
The tourism industry is one sector that has been hit the most with the fallback of COVID-19, to such an extent that the main pillar of the country’s economy is now on its knees.
Sybille Cardon, chairperson of the Seychelles Hotel and Tourism Association (SHTA), described the industry as ‘dead’ with hotel establishments and guest houses having to close their doors since last week and more are to follow.
Car rentals, boat excursions, tourist guides and other tourism related services have been severely impacted by flight restrictions and lack of visitors in the country.
“It is the first time in Seychelles’ history that the tourism industry encounters such a situation,” Mrs Cardon highlighted.
She explained that, prior to the announcement of measures, many tourism establishments had been preoccupied over how they were going to pay their employees given that their revenues over the next coming months will practically be non-existent.
“We are satisfied with the president’s speech on Friday. The announcement that the government will take over the payment of salaries of employees in the private sector has been well received and will help us a lot,” Mrs Cardon stated.
Mrs Cardon added that, since most businesses in the tourism sector are closing down, staff will have to take their annual leave and find other arrangements but she also noted that tourism establishments will need to prepare themselves for when the industry picks up again.
As for the fisheries sector, the chairman of the Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA), Cyril Bonnelame, noted that the sector has an opportunity to grow and remain sustainable in these difficult times since fish is readily available in our seas.
“We only have to address the challenges that the sector is facing in order to ensure that fishermen keep going out to sea,” Mr Bonnelame said.
At present, some boats coming in have reported that they have not been able to sell their catch since tourism establishments and fish processors are not taking any.
The solution, Mr Bonnelame continued, would be to store some of these fish but noted that the government ought to address the high electricity cost of storage to facilitate this endeavour.
On his part, Barry Nourrice, chairman of the Agricultural Producers of Seychelles, noted that his association is working towards evaluating the 14 plots of land given to the association to boost local production and safeguard food security in the country.
He explained that the focus will be on cultivating priority crops such as sweet potatoes and manioc which caters to our carbohydrate needs as well as encourage existing famers to produce more crops that provide our mineral and vitamin needs such as lettuce and Chinese cabbage.