In the National Assembly | 10 December 2020
Minister Radegonde asserts cost-cutting benefits of restructuring abroad representation
- First state visit just over R200,000, he reveals
Minister for Foreign Affairs and Tourism Sylvestre Radegonde and chief executive of the Seychelles Tourism Board Sherin Francis were first to take to the assembly’s hot seat yesterday to address a Private Notice Question by leader of the opposition Sebastien Pillay and questions from members.
Mr Pillay was particularly interested in the recent three-day state visit by President Wavel Ramkalawan, first Lady Linda Ramkalawan and six other members to Mauritius, the expenses incurred, and the expected benefits resulting from the trip, in consideration of the recently published circular requesting that government departments cut back or prioritise government spending.
“Firstly, the delegation who accompanied President Ramkalawan to Mauritius is the smallest presidential delegation that I have ever known, or been a part of. There were eight persons who accompanied the President and First Lady and each had a specific function. Secondly, as we know, there are no direct flights to Mauritius. The options would be through other transit routes, and asides from a higher risk of contracting the Covid-19 infection, it would have cost too much, and would require that the President be absent from the country too long,” said Minister Radegonde.
“Therefore, we opted for the most cost-effective and practical option to make the journey to Mauritius. Islands Development Company (IDC) did not charge government for the trip. I don’t know how much fuel expenses and pilot charges came to, but IDC has not charged the government. I also want to clarify that all of the delegation’s expenses, hotel and transportation, was covered by the Mauritian government,” Minister Radegonde clarified.
In total, the state visit came to a cost of R211,015.75 cents from the government budget, inclusive of clothing allowance and reduced per diem for the delegates.
Minister Radegonde elaborated further to state that the visit served as an opportunity to extend and open a new chapter in bilateral relations between the neighbouring island states by reinforcing and enlarging partnership in different domains.
Among the discussions were to strengthen commercial ties to facilitate trade by establishing cargo and air shipping routes. Government also requested that national carrier Air Seychelles be permitted to fly to Mauritius again and be added back to the list of permitted countries from which Mauritius permits inbound travel.
Furthermore, government signed with the Mauritian government two memorandums of understanding (MoUs) aimed at establishing and solidifying cooperation in the information technology (IT) domain, for which Mauritius is a recognised leader on the African continent, and a second to allow for cooperation between the police forces. These agreements are essential stated Minister Radegonde, to build local knowledge, capacity and competencies and enable the local workforce to learn from Mauritius’ expertise.
In addition to meeting with government officials, President Ramkalawan also met with ambassadors, and businessmen about the possibilities of investing in Seychelles, in various domains.
With regards to whether government is considering establishing an embassy in Mauritius, Minister Radegonde sternly stated that no embassy will be open in Mauritius as it is not realistic or feasible to do so, for the reason being that both financial and human resources are limited to allow for embassies to be established or maintained.
“The embassy in Cuba and two other embassies are to close by December 31, 2020 for economic and financial reasons. In light of the economic situation, our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Tourism is forced to review our diplomatic representations abroad and to evaluate where it is in the best interest of Seychelles to maintain embassies,” Minister Radegonde added.
Closure of the embassies does not mark the end of the bilateral relations with host countries, said Minister Radegonde, asserting the need to be selective about where embassies are established.
“The Cuba embassy was allocated, this year, R4.2 million. Following the cut in budget earlier this year, its budget was R4 million. It must be noted that expenses are entirely in foreign exchange. For this year, there was a budget of R71.2 million initially allocated for embassies. After the Ministry of Finance requested that it be revised, it came to R68.5 million, in foreign exchange,” added Minister Radegonde.
“For example, our High Commission in London costs us R7.4 million. Our mission at the United Nations (UN) New York costs R10 million. Paris is R5 million, South Africa R4.9 million, India R6 million, Brussels R7 million, China R6.8 million, United Arab Emirates (UAE) R3.4 million, Ethiopia R6 million, Sri Lanka which we are closing R4 million, Cuba R4 million and Geneva which we are also closing R3 million. This gives you an overview of how much money, which we don’t have today, goes towards maintaining these diplomatic missions,” Minister Radegonde added.
Staffing needs at such diplomatic missions are also under review, as well as the possibility of moving tourism offices within embassies and honorary consulate infrastructure as is the case in London, again with in mind to reduce operational costs.
Taking a different stance on Minister Radegonde’s portfolio, Honourable Gervais Henrie, elected member for Mont Buxton, inquired of the number of Seychellois serving prison sentences abroad, and arrangements to repatriate them to Seychelles to continue their sentences.
Presently, there are 14 Seychellois imprisoned in nine countries, some of whom have already been convicted and are serving their sentences, and others who remain in detention, according to records held by the ministry. In Mauritius, there is one individual, two in France, two in Morocco (although it remains unclear whether the second individual is really of Seychellois descent), three in Egypt, one in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), one in Kenya, two in South Africa, one in Malta and one in London. Of them, two are still under detention while the rest have already been convicted and are serving sentences ranging from 22 months to life imprisonment. The majority of offences are related to drug trafficking, although charges also include rape and attempted murder.
Four individuals who had previously been convicted for illegal fishing in Mozambique have been repatriated back to Seychelles, facilitated through the High Commission in South Africa. Two individuals ‒ a man and woman ‒ of Seychellois descent who were arrested in Brazil on drug-related charges have also since been released, and the woman repatriated back to Seychelles, while the male is still in Brazil serving his sentence at large.
A further case involves a male citizen who after giving up citizenship of Nicaragua has returned to Seychelles, after being convicted on drug-related charges.