Assembly approves revised budget | 09 April 2020
Discusses increased allocations in committee stage
The National Assembly yesterday approved the revised budget presented on Tuesday when 27 members voted for and none against to approve the merits and principles of the new budget.
Only five Assembly members intervened on the budget before the Assembly moved into committee stage to allow members to seek clarifications and ask questions on the increased allocations to be used at addressing the impacts and challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
No representatives of ministries and departments were called in to explain their increased budget allocations but the Minister for Finance Maurice Loustau-Lalanne and key officials from his ministry, namely SS Patrick Payet and PS Damien Thésée, answered questions from members.
In its afternoon session, the Assembly examined four heads which have received the largest increases in their allocations namely Social Programmes of Central Government – an allocation of R1.263,122billion, Benefits and Approved Programmes of Agency for Social Protection R1.510, 616 billion, Subvention to Public Enterprises R273,971m and Development Grants to Public Enterprises and Contingency R105,000m.
Members then voted to approve allocations for each heads after lengthy debates but agreed to freeze R10m under Benefits and Approved Programmes of Agency for Social Protection which is destined for the Unemployment Relief Scheme (URS). The leader of the opposition affirmed that the ministry of finance and the FPAC need to carry out more detailed discussions on the sum. While the PS Thésée assured Assembly members that the money was not going to be used if there was no need, Mr Ramkalawan was not convinced and after more debate members voted for the freeze.
Earlier in the morning the leader of the opposition Wavel Ramkalawan followed by the leader of government business Charles de Commarmond were the first to give their reaction to the revised budget presented by Minister Loustau-Lalanne on Tuesday.
Mr Ramkalawan started by pointing out that since the pandemic has hit us, we are being constantly made aware that our way of life is being threatened and that it would take a lot of courage, discipline and sacrifices before we see the road to security, wellbeing and prosperity.
“I know that we will see the road, that the world has sufficient resources to fight the pandemic and bring the world economy back in order. Our small country Seychelles, which depends entirely on the global economy, will also gradually move towards reconstruction and a better future but we need to take the right, wise, sometimes difficult decisions but always with the interest of our people at heart. In other words, we too will have to take the bitter medicine to restore our health,” he said.
“I am hopeful that we can and will do it,” he stressed.
He remarked that the Assembly was reconvening after a week of serious reflections.
On the issue of procedure in relation to the revised budget which caused diverse opinions to be raised and the Assembly to adjourn, Mr Ramkalawan said our present situation calls for an urgent discussion and vote to move the country forward on a pressing and urgent situation so discussion on the procedural issue will be postponed for the time being. (Read the full reply of Mr Ramkalawan on pages 11 & 12).
Mr de Commarmond on his part commended the leadership of our country during this difficult time. He noted that President Danny Faure has highlighted the main points of concern in general to be considered but now it is up to the different ministries, departments and agencies to analyse these in detail through the different high-level committees put in place.
He went on to describe the revised budget as a crisis budget as the situation at hand brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic fell on us suddenly without any prior warning and it has hit everyone without exception very quickly and these include individuals, businesses and governments the world over.
“Nobody saw it coming and the pandemic has been described here as a situation which will have worse economic effects than the 2007 to 2009 economic crisis while in the world it has been categorised as having the greatest impact than the 2nd World War,” Mr de Commarmond pointed out.
During this difficult situation Mr de Commarmond has called on each and everyone of us to take our responsibilities seriously in order to better deal with the impacts of the pandemic.
He has once again called on the public to seriously heed all health advice in order to remain safe.
In this difficult situation, Mr de Commarmond said, all of us should start thinking how we can support government by contributing in anyway we can. He has called on the need to have in place the proper structure and mechanism to allow individuals to make their contributions. (Our various attempts yesterday to get a copy of Mr de Commarmond’s reply so that it could be published in full were in vain. Nevertheless we will publish his reply in a future issue if we manage to get a copy).
After listening to the replies by the few Assembly members who intervened on the revised budget presentation, Minister Loustau-Lalanne proceeded to clarify many of the issues raised.
He told Assembly members that for government to better manage the situation there are in place two high-level committees – the cabinet of ministers which meets every week and the high-level economic forum which also meets every week with the aim to effectively analyse and assess all the changes, re-evaluate challenges that surface in order for government to adjust its decisions and better plan for the future.
He further noted that when the budget is approved, there are two technical committees that have been set up – the finance technical committee aimed at assisting businesses and the committee on food security, a very important component to support our health and wellbeing during this time of crisis.
On the need for government to listen to the views of and consult the private sector on different matters concerning them and their employees, the minister pointed out that government remains attentive to the private sector. While he recognised that all points of concern related to the private sector and the future of businesses as the main driver of our economy raised by Assembly members are relevant and will be seriously considered and taken onboard by government, the minister said during a meeting with the SHTA held on April 6, the association of small hospitality industries has submitted a series of recommendations for government to reconsider. Minister Loustau-Lalanne said government remains open to receive such concerns with the aim of continuing to improve on decisions made.
“The Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank consult on a daily basis and we also consult with our multilateral partners namely the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as we are still in a programme with them. It is clear the work we are doing involves a lot of continuous consultations,” Minister Loustau-Lalanne explained.
Another point he confirmed was that security personnel on the frontline of the COVID-19 will also be paid allowances during this period.
The need for Seychelles to be less dependent on tourism, to develop the fisheries sector so it can be another main pillar of our economy, the need to use our outlying islands for more economic activities were also some other points raised that Minister Loustau-Lalanne accepted as valuable propositions.
“We have to use the situation we are currently facing to relook at the way we are doing things and fix our economy as we do not want to in the future find ourselves in the same situation if ever another pandemic was to hit us,” he pointed out.
In relation to the point on the need for government to repatriate foreign workers back to their respective countries, the minister said this will only be possible when countries reopen their borders and air spaces but at present this is not possible. For those workers whose GOPs expire during this period, Minister Loustau-Lalanne said these will be extended without any fees charged but their employers will have to take care of them.
Meanwhile Minister Loustau-Lalanne has confirmed that there are no companies which have been pre-selected to receive financial assistance.
Other questions the minister addressed and clarified were related to banks who were unwilling to carry out payments in foreign exchange, re-establishment of price control to prevent profiteering by merchants. On the latter he stressed that control on prices was removed a long time back and in incidents where prices are being inflated these have to be reported to the Fair Trading and the Ministry of Finance who will dispatch inspectors to investigate and take action.
Meanwhile the Assembly will reconvene this morning to continue seeking clarifications and ask questions on other increased budget allocations.