In the National Assembly | 25 November 2020
New Cabinet, new plans?
Three ministers appointed under the new administration yesterday appeared before the National Assembly to attend to members’ concerns and lay out the plans and objectives of their respective ministries and affiliated departments and agencies for the next five years.
Covid-19 and health and safety measures
Leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Sebastien Pillay was first to voice his Private Notice Question, in which he sought clarifications from Minister for Health Peggy Vidot and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Tourism Sylvestre Radegonde on the strategy to keep citizens safe and avoid community transmission of the Covid-19 virus.
Honourable Pillay pointed out that three cases were confirmed on Praslin over the weekend, and that social activities are held in tourism establishments fairly regularly despite protocols in place, questioning the ministers, Public Health Commissioner Jude Gedeon and principal secretary for tourism Anne Lafortune, as to what actions the ministry intends to take towards establishments that fail to comply with regulations of the health ministry, and measures towards ensuring that the situation does not worsen in consideration of the upcoming festive season.
In response, Minister Vidot noted that there was a total of 168 cases up until yesterday, six of which are active. Of the six positive cases, five were confirmed over the weekend, three of which are from the same group of travellers and all residing at the same tourism establishment. The two other cases are two gainful occupation permit (GOP) holders who were in quarantine.
Minister Vidot also revealed to the assembly exactly how much government is forking out on Berjaya Beau Vallon Bay hotel, which has since July served as one of the three quarantine facilities for inbound residents and some categories of visitors.
“The cost per room is R835 per day. In addition, we pay for utilities, we pay for Wi-Fi which means per month, just for utilities it totals up to R854,957. With regards to rooms rented, between July and November, 177 rooms at a total cost of R4,433,850 per month,” she stated, adding that the contract with the hotel comes to an end at the end of the month.
With regard to enforcement of health and safety protocols, both Minister Vidot and Minister Radegonde concurred that enforcement efforts need to be magnified, although Minister Radegonde drew members’ attention to human resource limitations.
Presently, he said, there are over 450 establishments certified to accommodate visitors and only a dozen employees within the department of tourism who are involved with monitoring whether such establishments are compliant.
Furthermore, the legal framework requires that only establishments with 50 or more employees employ a health and safety officer, further complicating the task of monitoring for compliance failures.
In order to draw up a strategy moving forward, Minister Radegonde will be holding a series of meetings with hoteliers from tourism establishments located on Mahé, Praslin and La Digue and with the Seychelles Hotel and Tourism Association (SHTA).
During yesterday’s sitting, Minister Vidot also pronounced that business organisations will face suspensions in their operations should they fail to comply.
With regard to retail outlets whose operating hours have been slashed to 8pm since the restriction on movement order was imposed in April, the panel informed the assembly that discussions are ongoing with the Seychelles Licensing Authority (SLA) and the decision is being reviewed.
District administrators v MNAs?
Honourable Sylvanne Lemiel, United Seychelles (US) elected member for Anse Royale, set the ball rolling for debates with her question directed at Minister for Local Government and Community Affairs Rose-Marie Hoareau, who was accompanied by principal secretary for the department Marie-Celine Vidot Jeannevole.
In line with President Wavel Ramkalawan’s announcement that elected members of the National Assembly (MNAs) have an office within their respective district administration building so as to be closer to constituents, Honourable Lemiel queried whether offices have been identified to be allocated to the 26 elected members.
According to figures provided by Minister Hoareau, of the 26 districts, offices have been identified in 18, with the agreement of MNAs and district administrators (DA). Of the 18 offices, 14 are located in infrastructure other than the DA’s office, for instance, offices formerly assigned to regional councils, due to space constraints.
From early on, debates were ensued about the restructuring of roles and responsibilities of DAs and MNAs, with re-elected members voicing out obstacles they faced under the last administration, when both operated separately and somewhat independently from each other.
Concerning their functions, Minister Hoareau proposed that both will work together on any matters that can be dealt with at district-level, including land and house allocation, social assistance and emergency help, among others.
“Right now, the crucial thing is that everyone will need to recognise that we have a new way of doing things. Therefore, let us expect that as the transition moves further, people will readapt in recognition that things have changed, so no one is left behind, whether elected or not elected,” said Minister Hoareau.
“Politics takes place here in the National Assembly so the moment you reach the community or district, let’s try and work together for the benefit of our citizens. I have also appealed to the people in the district to also play their roles to propel development in our districts,” she said strongly.
Minister Hoareau urged for open and frank communication between concerned parties to provide constituents with the expected standard of customer service delivery, and that services and assistance be provided based on meritocratic principles.
Three vacancies for the post of DA are to be advertised, she added.
Plans in the interest of youth, sports and families
With her vast portfolio, Minister for Youth, Sports and Family Affairs Marie-Celine Zialor addressed many topics relating to youth engagement, sports, sports sponsorships, mental health, collaboration with the Ministry of Employment and Social Affairs and protecting the family structure.
She noted priority areas for the upcoming couple of months, including restructuring towards a leaner management, to cut government expenditure and to place emphasis on efficiency and effectiveness.
Internal transformations are also imperative she remarked, to bring about a change in the general work culture, governance structure and functions and roles of institutions towards a management performance based system for more accountability and openness.
Among the strong points she voiced are for empowerment and youth empowerment, and the restoration of moral and family values, towards a more socially-stable society.
National Assembly sittings resume as of 9am this morning.