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Exclusive interview with Anti-corruption Commission of Seychelles (ACCS) chief executive May De Silva ‘Corruption is not only present in Seychelles, it’s everywhere’ |11 December 2021

Exclusive interview with Anti-corruption Commission of Seychelles (ACCS) chief executive May De Silva     ‘Corruption is not only present in Seychelles, it’s everywhere’

Ms De Silva

On Thursday December 9, the world celebrated anti-corruption day and on the same day, Seychelles NATION was privileged to have an exclusive interview with Anti-corruption Commission of Seychelles chief executive May De Silva.

Although Ms De Silva would not want to expand on the ongoing missing US $50 million court case, she willingly spoke about issues surrounding it, the extent of corruption in Seychelles in both the public and private sector, and the Anti-corruption Commission of Seychelles’ (ACCS) efforts to educate public sector officials on corruption and bribery.


Seychelles NATION:What are the major differences between the advisory council which was appointed earlier this year and the previous board which had seven members?

May De Silva: We had a board and there were some ambiguities with their roles. So, the role of the chief executive officer (CEO) at the time was very explicit. There were some issues with regard to how involved the board would be in investigations. Because of those ambiguities, I think this caused an issue for the ACCS as a law enforcement agency. It was also quite expensive for us to maintain a board that had a supervisory role when the amendments came in 2019. We had seven board members, and we had a chair who was a judge. I think the costs for the board was very high at the time. So, there was a review to relook at the status of ACCS as a law enforcement agency, just like with the police. The police have no board. But to keep an oversight, we (the ACCS) have an advisory council that would look at administrative policy rather than have a specific role in the operational matters of the organisation.


Seychelles NATION: Would you say there was interference by the board in the work carried out by the ACCS?

May De Silva: There was no interference. And I think this is the point that I'm trying to make. It only came to a point where they were involved more for cases that were closed. So when we had closed cases, we escalated them to the board to sign off. But I think for us now, there is no involvement at all of the board in the operational side of ACCS.


Seychelles NATION: This means the CEO has a lot of power…

May De Silva: There is nothing wrong with the head of a law enforcement agency to have the decision-making powers. We are similar to the police. I am a commissioner just like the commissioner of police. I have the same powers as the commissioner of police because I have policing powers in my act. In fact, we have an additional layer of an advisory council. So, if I do feel that I need some advice, or policy, strategic direction, I have a council from whom I can ask for advice. That's why it's an advisory council. So, it's no different to the police as a law enforcement agency.


Seychelles NATION: Has the council started reviewing the policies of administration as well as the laws of the ACCS that help it to fight corruption?

May De Silva: Yes, they've started, we've had an initial meeting. The Act mentions that they meet four times a year and there are some administrative issues that we need to sort out with regard to the financial element which we have to work with the ministry of finance in terms of their remuneration. So these issues have to be ironed out. We are putting together the policies for them to review.


Seychelles NATION: If we talk about the US $50 million-dollar embezzlement, I believe the ACCS has for some years said it has been working on it, but all of a sudden we have seen arrests. Can we say that the ACCS made the arrests to earn some mileage before it appeared before the National Assembly to defend its budget?

May De Silva: This was always going to be something that we were going to be accused of and some people have even said it was politically motivated. I want to stress that the ACCS is an independent institution. We’ve been working on this case since President Danny Faure instructed some institutions in May 2017 to investigate the issue of the lost US $50 million. We have been collecting a lot of information. Remember, in most interviews, I've said we've had a lot of assistance from the international community. We got grant funding from the European Union (EU). And in 2019, they were assisting us with this particular case which had an international dimension. So all along ACCS has been working on the case. Except we've just not been announcing that we've been working on concluding the case. We got further information, vital information in February 2020. From February 2020, we have been doing quite a substantial amount of financial analysis. And we had plans for this case. But due to the pandemic, there was a delay in a lot of our cases. And in fact, in April, we submitted some cases to the Attorney General’s office. And we were making preparation for this case. We've still got other cases we’re working on which we are hoping to submit to the AG’s office before the end of the year. And again, that depends on timing, availability of staff because we are quite stretched with resources. So, this was always part of our plan, there is nothing sinister about it or any ulterior motives. It's our plan. And in fact, I had taken over the management of this particular case to free up time for the other officers to focus on the other cases. So, there is no ulterior motive with regard to the timing of the arrests.


Seychelles NATION: Is the US $50 million case one of the cases that were sent to the AG’s office?

May De Silva: No. We sent other cases and one is already in court. The Small Business Finance Agency (SBFA) case is in court but another one is yet to go before the court.


Seychelles NATION: Why hasn’t the US $50 million case gone through the AG’s office?

May De Silva: We (ACCS) have prosecutorial powers, and we have to review this case so as not to be accused that there is conflict of interest with regard to the AG’s office. We wanted to ensure that there was as much independence in this case and us managing this case without any conflict. Remember, Seychelles is a very small country. So, for us, given the nature of this case, strategically, it was best and it is the best decision to go for our prosecutorial powers. Because of our small legal unit, we will still be using the AG’s office to take some cases. We will work jointly with the AG’s office for some future cases and this will continue. Once our legal unit is fully fledged, then I think there will be fewer cases but I can still see joint working with the AG’s office.


Seychelles NATION: Is the ACCS benefitting from the help of foreign prosecutors?

May De Silva: For the time being we do not have any prosecutions coming from abroad, but it's something that we know we need to explore. The EU has already funded a prosecutor to come to ACCS but due to delays and the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, the person is not able to travel. So, for the time being, it's remote working, but physically in the country currently, we don't have our foreign consultants.


Seychelles NATION: What about investigators?

May De Silva: We do have some foreign investigators and they are from the EU.


Seychelles NATION: We have seen six arrests for now and 11 warrants prepared. When can we expect to see more arrests?

May De Silva: Well, this is an ongoing investigation and I'm unable to comment further on this particular aspect.


Seychelles NATION: Since the case is already before the court, is the ACCS confident it has enough proof?

May De Silva: We have evidence. This is something that is in court and has been discussed in court. So for anybody who's following this case, we wouldn't have been going for the arrests if we didn't have a prima facie case for those arrests. The chief justice (Rony Govinden) has already determined this. Hence, some people are in custody. So like I say, it is an ongoing case, so I wouldn't want to comment any further on this particular case.


Seychelles NATION: If the ACCS believes it has a strong case, why take so long to press charges against the suspects?

May De Silva: There is a process we have to follow. Certain times you arrest somebody, you've got by law 24 hours to hold somebody. But if you need to assess all the information that you’ve got, the arrests go with search warrants. So if with the search warrants, we've identified more information, we need to question and investigate further with additional information with new information that we’ve received. So by law we can ask for remand in custody for the first 14 days. And again, depending on the volume of information you get, you can also ask the court for further holding for a further 14 days, in total 30 days. So then, after the 30 days, you either release or you charge. So this is the process.


Seychelles NATION:What is for you the extent of the level of corruption in Seychelles?

May De Silva: Seychelles is ranked 27th in the world with regard to the Transparency International Corruptions Perception Index. Corruption is everywhere. We are 27th in the world in the least corrupt countries and top in Africa, meaning the least corrupt in Africa. This gives you an idea with regard to corruption. So, we expect maybe, because we did not have an anti-corruption commission before, so that's not been coming to the fore, and we assume that because cases have never been brought to court, that’s why we've got such a ranking. So it will be interesting to see as cases start coming into court, and with the introduction of the anti-corruption commission now sort of moving into the prosecutorial aspect of cases, this could affect our standing.

They could say now that they are bringing cases in court that’s how they are measuring. So that could get our standing to go down or they could see this as a positive that we are tackling it and it could increase our standing. It could go either way. We are not part of the way they measure and evaluate this.


Seychelles NATION: Do you think that corruption can be wiped out or will there always be corruption?

May De Silva: Of course, Corruption, like I said, is everywhere. It's not just in Seychelles. But what we attempt to do is alongside investigations and detection of corruption, we have a prevention unit. From the cases we've got, complaints we've got, we can assess where there is corruption, where it's more rife. And we are targeting some of those places where we want to ensure that we raise the level of awareness on corruption. Because again, you know, quite a lot of people might know the word corruption, but not really understand what corruption is. So for us, it’s educating the public and educating the public sector workers on what corruption is. We aim to reduce it, to bring it into the mindset of workers that corruption is a crime, bribery is a crime, because they will go hand in hand. The private sector can be the ones with the money bribing the public sector officials. Our aim is to push through with a very solid prevention programme. In the last quarter, we've done almost 17 sessions, but we have to stop this year because of the Covid pandemic. But we've well exceeded our target, we were hoping to have at least 13 sessions, but we've now gone to 17 and counting. And we will continue this, because the more you educate the public, the more you start bringing cases into court, people then become more aware that if you steal in the public sector, you know what the consequences are.


Seychelles NATION:A lot of emphasis is on the public sector, but what about the private sector?

May De Silva: Of course corruption exists in the private sector. Who are the people with the means to bribe the public sector workers? Those wanting to fast track applications, the process. They are people with the funds, the private individuals. The bribers, but the persons who are bribing, they are also liable, they also will be charged for criminal conduct. So, we focus on the public sector because we are providing the majority of the services for the population. Since we are the biggest employer, corruption is more prone in the public sector. As you know the definition of corruption is the abuse of power for private gain by public officials. We don't only focus on educating the public sector, but the public at large.


Seychelles NATION:Do you have cases involving private sector?

May De Silva: Yes, we do.


Seychelles NATION: How would you rate the work the ACCS has done from the year it came into operation?

May De Silva: It's a very good question. And the analogy is people say babies have to crawl before they walk, before they run. We’re starting to jog now. It's like building a house. You build the foundation, and then you build the house. And then you're getting down to the final details. We've started off as a learning organisation, it's been a huge learning curve for all of us. Corruption has never been investigated in Seychelles to the extent that it is now because we have a law, we have an institution to do it. So there's been a lot of preparatory work, a lot of recruiting, and a lot of on-the-job training. We could have gone one way where we would have trained all our staff for the first two to three years. But the best way to train a law enforcement officer is on the job, to actually see and practice. So that's why we need the assistance of our foreign experts who have been in this field of fighting financial and economic crime for 35 years or more.

So, where is the ACCS now? We don't want to be complacent. We've got a long way to go. We’ve got to build more capacity. We need more staffing. We need more resources. We’re not at that level resource wise, but I believe we’re getting there with regard to what it is exactly we need to do when investigating and preparing a case for prosecution.


Seychelles NATION: Thank you CEO.


Interview conducted by Gerard Govinden

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