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A chat with British High Commissioner Patrick Lynch | 05 December 2020

‘Our friendship with Seychelles is driven by a genuine desire to help protect the democracy, independence and sovereignty of these islands’

 

When addressing the Seychellois nation during his inauguration at State House on October 26, 2020, President Wavel Ramkalawan acknowledged the support of friendly countries.

“We are a nation very open to the world. That is why on this very day (the day of the investiture) I would like on behalf of the Seychellois people to sincerely thank the international community that you represent. We say thank you for your contribution to the development of our country. The international community cannot prosper without the active participation of its members – large and small. International order will only be fair if independent states align themselves in the exercise of their sovereignty and respect for international standards. To all our partners and to the international community, now more than ever, we need your friendship and solidarity. The months and years to come will be difficult, the Seychellois people are counting on you and counting on a win/win partnership. We invite you to stay with us for the next 250 years. The door is always open and the friendship palpable,” President Ramkalawan said in his inaugural address.

Seychelles NATION has contacted three embassies for a conversation around this topic. We already published the interviews with the French and the Chinese ambassadors and today, we speak with the British high commissioner, Patrick Lynch.

 

Seychelles NATION: How did you experience the presidential and legislative elections in Seychelles?

HC Lynch: It was a fascinating experience. The British high commission team was very active on the ground, providing a supportive monitoring presence at all of the polling stations. We started at 6am and I was really enthused that there were already long queues forming, demonstrating how committed the people of Seychelles are to the democratic process.

I was particularly impressed by the pragmatism and positive tone of the transition of government. On one side, we had leaders who passed on power with graciousness in defeat. On the other side, we have a new government that has been magnanimous in its victory.

 

Seychelles NATION: On two occasions, in his speech, President Wavel Ramkalawan alluded to aid granted by friendly countries. What does this mean to you?

HC Lynch: I think Seychelles is friendly to all countries but, of course, the friendship between Seychelles and the United Kingdom is unique, with deep historical, cultural and family ties between our two nations. For our part, our friendship with Seychelles is driven by a genuine desire to help protect the democracy, independence and sovereignty of these islands. I think the people of Seychelles recognise this and are naturally more inclined to working with democratic countries, especially the UK.

 

Seychelles NATION: UK is one of the countries that has always been present in Seychelles and which continues to help us. How will this help continue?

HC Lynch: Our priorities will always be guided by Seychelles. At this moment, the election of the new government, and its clear commitments on issues of equality of opportunity and transparency, provides an opportunity for Seychelles and the UK to work together on these shared values. We are in discussions with the new government on how we can provide support on each by drawing on international experience to work with local expertise.

The first theme, of equality of opportunity, is something that is very important to me personally. When I was growing up, no one in my family had any political connections or links to people in power. However, I knew that if I worked hard enough, I would have the same opportunity as everyone else. I know that the same will be true for my own children. I have been privileged to have ten different jobs with the UK government. I walked into each of those ten interviews knowing that if I could demonstrate that I was the best person for the job, then I would get it.

This was not always the case in the UK. We learned that the public sector delivers far more for the people it is there to serve, including in vital areas such as education and health care, when we have the best people in the right jobs. This only happens when appointments are made on the basis of merit and not on the basis of patronage.

On the second theme of transparency, we can see real public appetite in Seychelles. We welcome commitments made on the need to have a robust and fair system for public officials to declare their assets and on helping the Anti-Corruption Commission to become operational. Again, we are exploring ways that we can support local experts.

 

Seychelles NATION: What are the major projects that UK is currently implementing in Seychelles?

HC Lynch: One of our main priorities in the year ahead will be supporting local experts as they seek to develop the green recovery of tourism. The government of Seychelles has been very frank about the significant financial challenges caused by the Covid-related collapse of tourist numbers and incoming foreign exchange. British tourists are known to be very high spenders in the Seychelles and our team is doing all we can to encourage their safe return. However, we are also mindful that the choices that European consumers make in the tourist industry are starting to change quite dramatically. Most notably, we see increasing concern at the carbon emissions of long haul travel and the wider environmental impact of hotel stays. At worst, this represents a major threat to an economy that is driven by tourism. At best, this is an opportunity for Seychelles to use its world-leading environmental expertise and its entrepreneurial spirit, to promote itself as the green choice for European tourists.

With this in mind, the British high commission launched a project earlier this year in cooperation with environmental NGOs and the Seychelles National Parks Authority. Under our scheme, visitors will have the carbon generated by their flight calculated to a corresponding number of trees. They can then pay a small amount to plant indigenous species while on holiday, or pay a little more and have trees planted on their behalf. We will fund the first two hundred participants in this scheme and will then help to market it to those tourists who otherwise might be hesitant to book a long haul flight. This reflects two priorities for us: the UK’s leading role in responding to the climate crisis as host of the very ambitious COP 26 climate talks in November 2021; and also our realisation that a sharp downturn in long haul travel would bring a severe economic contraction to the Seychelles over the longer term.

We are also encouraged by the wider work that the government and STB are doing on this theme, as they seek to bring together, and expand, the range of very advanced environmental initiatives within the tourism industry. Our carbon-offsetting project is just one small part of a developing movement with which Seychelles is ideally placed to see sustainable tourism as an economic opportunity rather than a threat.

I am also very excited about a project we have in the pipeline to work with the Seychelles Football Federation to give a boost to schools’ football and tap into the massive support that the Premier League has in Seychelles, but I will have to wait a little longer before I can give you more information about it.

 

Seychelles NATION: What are the major projects that you have completed in Seychelles?

HC Lynch: We have worked with local partners in a range of areas connected to good governance and the rule of law, but the largest sustained piece of engagement in recent years has been in maritime security. Seychelles took a leading role in the regional fight against piracy, by agreeing that suspects interdicted in the western Indian Ocean could be put on trial and, if found guilty, imprisoned in Seychelles. This courageous decision both safeguarded the national economy, and provided the international community an avenue through which to tackle the scourge of piracy.

The British government recognised the strain that this placed on Seychelles’ criminal justice system, so while the Royal Navy was patrolling the waters of the region, we also deployed resources throughout the criminal justice sector. This included officers attached to the Seychelles police force and Crown Prosecution Service lawyers seconded to the Attorney General’s Office. We also co-funded the building of the Piracy/Magistrates Court and provided experienced prison officers to support Seychelles Prisons Service.

This top to bottom support not only helped enable the Seychelles’ justice system to process suspected pirates, but also benefitted all Seychellois who had contact with the criminal justice system on other issues. Through the efforts of Seychelles, the UK and our international friends, the threat of piracy has, for now, been contained.

Importantly, we remain committed to ensuring that the factors which allowed piracy to flourish cannot be exploited by other forms of maritime crime, especially narcotics trafficking. In fact, Major Renny Bulmer, a very experienced Royal Navy officer, has recently arrived in Seychelles. He will take up the position of the UK’s Liaison Officer to the Regional Coordination and Operations Centre, where he will be able to share the expertise and experience from British government agencies to support Seychelles’ key role in regional maritime law enforcement.

 

Seychelles NATION: Being a small island state, how do you see the development of Seychelles (democracy, economy and social)

HC Lynch: Seychelles, like the UK and many other countries, is facing some significant economic challenges in the immediate future. The good news is that it has the expertise, energy and entrepreneurial spirit to work its way through these challenges. A green recovery of the tourist industry needs to be at the centre of this. I would also echo the emerging consensus that there needs to be a diversification of the economy here, whether it is in traditional sectors like agriculture, or emerging sectors such as IT.

 

Seychelles NATION: What is your wish for our country at this very historic moment?

HC Lynch: The UK would wish for a Seychelles that is stable and prosperous. In my view, those two objectives are inextricably linked to democracy. They can only be achieved by having a system where governments are elected by the people, to serve the will of the people. That is why the United Kingdom will always help the government of Seychelles in the development of policy, practices and institutions that protect and promote its democracy.

 

Compiled by Vidya Gappy

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