The Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission (TRNUC) | 17 November 2020
Three witnesses give evidence
The Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission (TRNUC) yesterday heard evidence from three witnesses.
CASE 0147 - Gerry Sopha
In the first public session in the morning, Joseph Loze was the first of two witnesses to appear before the commission with regard to the death of David Sopha (brother of Gerry) who was killed by the police in a house at Pointe Au Sel in 1999, along with another inmate, Rival Dugasse, after they had escaped from Long Island Prison. Vivan Vidot, the other witness in the case, appeared in closed session.
The commission had called in Mr Loze as it had received evidence that he may have assisted the two fugitives upon their escape from prison. It is to be noted that David Sopha was serving a 15-year sentence in 1998 for rape and robbery.
In responding to the evidence, Mr Loze, a pirate taxi driver, said that although he knew both escapees, he had nothing to do with their escape and he did not have any contact with them following their escape from prison. He claimed that he never drove them anywhere.
Mr Loze said that he got to know Sopha and Dugasse through his work as a pirate taxi driver and that was before they were imprisoned. He stated that he only picked up prisoners Lanbert Laurette and Andy Moumou where after he was arrested by the army and detained at the Grand Police prison in 1998. He further stated that he was only doing his job as a driver at that time even though he knew that the two persons were escapees. He said that he stopped driving Laurette and Moumou only after he learned that they were involved in dangerous activities. He asked for forgiveness for knowingly assisting the two prisoners.
Removing a piece of polythene pipe and showing it to the commission, Mr Loze claimed that it was among some of the bits of pipes that were used by the army to beat him and other people up. He said that he was tied to a post and severely beaten for hours at the Grand Police prison by army personnel with these pieces of pipes. He claimed he could never bring those who assaulted him to court as it was a futile thing to do at that time. He noted that after his release from three months’ detention at Grand Police, he was thereafter constantly arrested by the army, for no reason at all, to be detained at the prison. He said that under the recently elected government, he might try to sue those who assaulted him as he will never forgive them.
Mr Loze noted that even though he was at fault for driving the prisoners around, he should have been brought before the court to face the consequences and not be beaten up.
To conclude, the chairperson of the commission, Gabrielle Mclntyre, stated while the filing of official complaints is closed, those who have suffered violations but failed to lodge their complaints in time, will get a chance to have their names put on a pending list while the commission gets to amend the legislation. Mr Loze was advised to get his name on the list if he wanted to proceed with his complaint of ill treatment at Grand Police.
Former minister, Dr Maxime Ferrari, talks about Seychelles-France relations at the time of the coup on June 5, 1977
Former minister, Dr Maxime Ferrari, was back before the commission, in open session, to give evidence of what he knew on the relations between Seychelles and France at the time of the coup d’etat on June 5, 1977.
Before talking about the Seychelles-French relations at the time of the coup, Dr Ferrari took time to shed some light on some issues before the commission, especially on the murder of Marjorie Baker, the radio presenter who was killed on the night of September 5, 1986 at Glacis. He noted that when Baker was killed he was not in Seychelles but in Africa working for the United Nations (UN). He said that contrary to what somebody said last week, before the commission, that it was Douglas Cedras who killed Baker, it was not him (Cedras) who committed the crime.
To clarify his theory, he explained that while on a trip to Europe and the United States of America (after he had stopped working for the UN) in search of support for the return of multi-party democracy in Seychelles, he met with a past American ambassador to Seychelles at the State Department in Washington.
During their conversation, the ambassador asked him (Ferrari) who killed Baker. Replying that he did not know the answer, Dr Ferrari said the ambassador directly told him that it was not Mr Cedras who did it. He said that the ambassador did not elaborate further and that was the end of the conversation between them.
With regard to France’s relations with Seychelles at the time of the coup, Dr Ferrari stated that from his point of view, though they might have known something could happen, no embassies in Seychelles at that time knew when the coup was going to take place, meaning that none to him, including France, was involved in the preparation of the coup.
He said that on the eve of the coup d’etat, he attended a planned reception at a Beau Vallon hotel, where all of the foreign ambassadors attended and while talking to them, none had a hint that a coup was going to happen early morning the following day. He claimed though that, until today, he is still astonished and is unable to understand how come the French ambassador at that time got to call him around 8am on the day of the coup, to congratulate him and to tell him, “France is behind you”.
Dr Ferrari stated that the amount of French aid to the country that followed after the coup, especially in fisheries, could have been seen as proof that maybe France had had a role to play in the coup. He said that, generally, France as a democratic country did not help Seychelles to return to a democratic state as her dealings with the country at that time helped to keep the one party state in power.
He claimed that the relation started well before independence where the French had a consulate situated at Arpent Vert Building in Mont Fleuri. He claimed that the first official meeting between Seychelles and France happened at Quai D’Orsay during the time of the formation of the coalition government in Seychelles, where he and Former President James Mancham were present. He said that France, through its ambassador present, had promised to help Seychelles’ coalition government.
Former Finance PS and CBS Governor Norman Weber talks about budget management during the one-party state
The former principal secretary for Finance and ex-Governor of the Central Bank of Seychelles (CBS), Norman Weber, was the last witness before the commission in open session yesterday afternoon to provide context of evidence on the management of the budget during the one party state.
He was informed by Mrs Mclntyre that the commission had received numerous complaints of alleged corruption against the late former President Albert Rene, its executive, and against the heads of parastatal companies and it wanted his evidence in respect to the veracity of the allegations in light of the position he (Weber) held in the Ministry of Finance around that time.
Responding to the allegation, Mr Weber started by giving the commission an overview of the position he held in the Ministry of Finance during those days where he started off as an accountant general. He said from the period 1980 to 1989 he was under the leadership of the late Guy Morel, who was the principal secretary and President Rene as the Minister for Finance. In January 1990, he became the principal secretary and former President James Michel was the Minister in charge. He further said that in 1995 he took over as the PS for Finance and the Governor of CBS and from 1996 to April 2001 he was the secretary of state for Finance and Governor of CBS at the same time.
With regard to the budget, Mr Weber said during his time as PS for Finance, the budget, based on the consolidated fund, was done more or less like it is being done today and later presented before the National Assembly. He claimed that a new amendment was introduced for the development fund and the national debt also be presented to the National Assembly. He stated that only the national debt was to seek for approval from the National Assembly.
Mr Weber added that although President Rene was no longer the Minister for Finance, he agreed on formulating the budget along with his economic advisor who was also the chairman of the Seychelles Marketing Board (SMB). He stated that under the chairmanship of the president, SMB was exempted from price and permit controls or approval of Cabinet to implement its projects. And so, through higher directive, CBS had to make available certain amount of money (in local and foreign currencies) to SMB on a weekly basis for its activities.
He explained that the possibility for corruption might have existed due to the fact that President Rene was the head of state and had the power to overrule decisions taken by the Ministry of Finance, he was also the chairman of SMB and his economic advisor in his office was the managing director of SMB. He further claimed that without a board, the two ran the organisation entirely by themselves until the introduction of a board later.
Mr Weber said that as PS, he was not responsible for making policies apart from advising government on finance policies. He made clear that policies are made by the Finance Minister through the cabinet. He claimed that during those days of price, permit and foreign exchange controls, it was President Rene and his economic advisor, who was also the managing director of SMB, who were making all of the policies with regard to finance and trade, including the composition of the budget, in the country. He further claimed that all decisions were in favour of SMB and nobody could ask questions about its account.
He said that other parastatals were subsidised with a budget for operation costs and investments. He claimed that most of their demands requested by the Ministry of Finance were not met. He added that the government at that time did not encourage the private sector to grow as it wanted all of the revenue to be under its control so as to dictate who will benefit. He claimed by 2001 when he left, the country had negative reserves and budget deficit. He said that if there is no independent control of parastatals and on the government, and with a trade system being controlled and ran by government, the possibility for corruption is evident. He claimed further that the control system under President Rene’s government was a disaster and that the CBS technicians were always in conflict with the management of SMB.
With regard to the disappearance of the US $50 million, he stated that he had already left when the money disappeared. He noted that in theory the board of CBS through its governor must have given the go ahead for the money to be transferred following a directive from higher up. He said that investigations should start at the Bank of Baroda in England where the money was transferred.
Asked about the Children’s Fund, Mr Weber said they were refused access to the fund by President Rene, who was managing the fund single-handedly. He claimed that albeit a public fund, he was not sure as to how it was being used.