Assembly completes debate, approves revised 2020 budget | 14 April 2020
Debates in committee stage during which National Assembly members sought clarifications and questioned cuts and increases in the different revised budget allocations for 2020 were completed after a second whole day’s work on Thursday which went until after 8pm.
Members voted to approve the budget after a few procedural amendments.
The majority of ministries, departments, agencies and other budget dependent bodies will see certain sums cut from their 2020 budget following the COVID-19 related revision and these are mainly in their allocations for goods and services, stationery, travel, new recruitments, board fees, allowances, among others.
The committee stage session on Thursday was to analyse and question the minister responsible for finance Maurice Loustau-Lalanne and PS Damien Thésée on the different cuts to see if these will not affect and impact heavily on the operations, functions and quality of services of these entities.
PS Thésée explained that the budget for essential services like the police, department of risk and disaster management (DRDM), health will as much as possible remain untouched or will receive certain increases.
The budget allocation for the department of information communication and technology (DICT) for instance, an allocation of R57.658m as submitted in the original budget but was not approved, has been resubmitted in its entirety. Mr Ramkalawan went on to remind the public that there was some confusion surrounding this allocation and it was not the intention of the Linyon Demokratik Seselwa (LDS) to vote down the budget but instead it was seeking further clarifications on certain issues of which the explanations received were considered not satisfactory. In the revised budget, the DICT’s allocation after it was subjected to cuts in its travel, allowances and others just like other entities, was approved by National Assembly members.
For DRDM, the sum of R9.774 has not been subjected to any cuts according to PS Thésée as it is a key agency. But a sum has been allocated for its needs in the consolidated fund.
The budget for the department of foreign affairs stands at a sum of R108.712 after a cut of R6.9m. LDS member Jean François Ferrari, also the chairperson of the International Affairs Committee, wanted to know whether government has decided to cut the sum of R1.9m earmarked to open an embassy in Mauritius for which the Assembly froze last year and postponed the project for another time post-COVID-19.
He also wanted to know if the budget for overseas diplomatic missions has similarly been reduced and how many ambassadors abroad are still in their posts and helping Seychellois stuck overseas through consular services following the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Minister Loustau-Lalanne noted that as there are restrictions on foreign travels the offices of our diplomatic missions abroad will be reinforced while at the same time their operations and functions will be reviewed after COVID-19.
Meanwhile, PS Thésée pointed out that the sum earmarked for the embassy in Mauritius still remains frozen until the department of foreign affairs comes forward with a new decision. Mr Ramkalawan tabled a motion to ensure the sum remains frozen. Assembly members voted to approve the motion.
United Seychelles (US) member Sebastien Pillay reminded Assembly members that the sum for the embassy in Mauritius was frozen pending an audit and that this has been completed even though Mr Ferrari carefully avoided mentioning that the report would soon be presented to the Assembly before a decision is reached.
LDS member Flory Larue queried whether there was a budget to repatriate Seychellois nationals around the world if the worst comes to the worst. Minister Loustau-Lalanne explained that if this decision is ever taken, money can be taken from the contingency fund. He further added that borders are at present closed and this decision has not been discussed. But Ms Larue insisted that this is not about a commercial flight but a humanitarian one. The minister explained that for the time being all Seychellois nationals stranded abroad for medical purposes either sent by government or went by their own means, their needs are being taken care of by government. Meanwhile, he added that the government has so far not made any official request to any foreign governments to see if they would allow us to send a plane to fetch our nationals.
Meanwhile, the budget for the Health Care Agency – a sum of R1,024,780 billion – has seen an increase of R13.1m to cater for the schemes of service for nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants expected to come into effect in July. R50m went to its capital projects half of which will go towards the establishment of a treatment centre and the remaining sum will go towards the completion of projects started last year, namely the Baie Lazare health centre and La Digue hospital.
Several questions were raised on this head in relation to the cost being charged for the triage tents set up at the different health centres around the country. The need for a strict procurement process was called for by several members to prevent profiteering by tent owners.
Minister Loustau-Lalanne noted that so far no payment has been made for use of these tents and the fees for rent could be reviewed.
The budget for the Public Health Authority, a sum of R59,564m was increased by R484,000 and it has been subjected to only some minor readjustments.
Meanwhile, several questions were raised with regard to cuts in sums related to new recruitments at the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), the Human Rights Commission and Seychelles Maritime Safety Administration (SMSA) among others. Members stated that these entities need these new recruits to boost their functions and operations and members stressed that these cuts are reviewed.
PS Thésée noted that their needs will be closely followed and they will also be reassessed in the mid-year review.
The Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) has received a budget allocation of R267.569m after R4m has been cut from its allocation. Members argued that in the present situation the local broadcaster really needs more money for its operations.
PS Thésée noted that the broadcaster keeps all its revenues but the ministry will also follow it in the mid-year review as well in view of its increasing engagements in this time of crisis.
The Seychelles Agricultural Agency (SAA) has also seen a cut of R984,000 from its goods and services allocation and members argued that at this time of crisis it should not have been subjected to any cuts. But PS Thésée noted that its budget for supplies has not been affected.
Meanwhile, the contingency fund with a budget allocation of R105m has seen an increase of R60m of which among the allocations R1m has been earmarked for DRDM, R2m for the police, R1.2 for the SPDF, R10.5m for assistance for workers on the frontline in the pandemic.
There was a lot of debate, questions and clarification sought on the different allocations under this head more particularly how the risk will be determined for different groups of workers on the frontline will be classified to qualify to be paid from the fund, the criteria to be used among numerous other points raised related to the matter.
Minister Loustau-Lalanne said at the end of the working session that he was not proud to have presented such a budget but he is happy the two days of discussion have shown the solidarity among Assembly members and it is this kind of solidarity that our country and our people need during this time of crisis.
Meanwhile, Speaker Nicholas Prea has announced that the Assembly will remain closed as per health guidelines and will only meet unless there is an urgency.
Marie Anne Lepathy