Assembly rejects amendments to State Land and River Reserves Act |21 May 2020
Eighteen National Assembly members voted to reject proposed amendments that were tabled yesterday by Minister Pamela Charlette to make changes to certain sections of the State Land and River Reserves Act 1903.
The proposed amendments tabled through the State Land and River Reserves (Amendment) Bill, 2020 by the Minister for Housing, Infrastructure and Land Transport (MHILT) concern two sections of the existing State Land and River Reserves Act.
This Bill is seeking to make the amendments give power to the President to grant a concession or lease of State land to a foreign State or an international organisation or a specialised agency of the United Nations by free grant or by payment of nominal price or rent.
The purpose of granting a concession or lease of such land is to facilitate the establishment or presence of more embassies, high commissions, international agencies or residence of heads of mission.
The object of the amendments is to give effect to legal obligations of the Republic of Seychelles under the Privileges and Immunities (Diplomatic, Consular and International Organisations) Act, 1980, and for the Republic of Seychelles to observe the doctrine of reciprocity under international law.
This Bill is linked to Seychelles’ foreign policy on promoting bilateral cooperation and as such, where the doctrine of reciprocity is not feasible or cannot be applied, the president may grant a lease of State land to a foreign state or international organisation that is significantly contributing to the socio-economic development of Seychelles.
Minister Charlette in her presentation of the amendments noted that the history of diplomatic relations can be traced as far back as 1976 after Seychelles became independent.
“As we all know the basis of an international and external relation of a country is the diplomatic and friendly relation and cooperation between countries or regional organisations and international agencies. These are bilateral or multilateral relations and Seychelles as a small country has good and friendly relations with various countries and has many examples to show how its special relations with some countries have been very fruitful,” said Minister Charlette.
She further noted that Seychelles has seen some of those friendly countries come to its support in difficult times even though they too are facing numerous challenges especially during this present difficult situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Through our cooperation they have helped us with equipment, medical supplies and manpower.
Highlighting the fact that Seychelles also has embassies and missions established in different countries, Minister Charlette said that it is therefore just fair that these countries also have the same intention.
Again in relation to the pandemic, she added that our embassies and missions abroad namely in Ethiopia and others played a crucial role in the success of these cooperation.
Minister Charlette went on to point out that even if Article 21 of the Vienna Convention 1961 on diplomatic relations calls for states to facilitate other states to access property or accommodation, there is no obligation for such under the laws of Seychelles. It is therefore in the spirit of the convention that Seychelles has also ratified that we should assist or facilitate another country, organisation or international agency to set up/establish in Seychelles, thus the need for the amendments.
The amendments concern Section 6 of the State Land and River Reserves Act. In
Section 6, the words “foreign associate” is inserted in subsections (1) and (2).
The Bill also seeks to define the concept of ‘foreign associate’ for the purposes of these amendments.
The proposed amendments generated a lot of debate from both sides of the house. United Seychelles (US) member Waven William expressed concern on the issue of reciprocity and wanted to know what our missions abroad are benefitting from, noting that while Seychelles has it in its nature to always do good for others the treatment it gets in return leaves a lot to be desired. At the same time, he recognised that several friendly countries have supported and helped us in times of need.
Linyon Demokratik Seselwa (LDS) member Jean-François Ferrari, who is also the chairperson of the international affairs committee within the National Assembly, has again called for a consensus among all political parties when it comes to our international relations and cooperation so that when there is a change of government our international relations and cooperation with different countries and world bodies and agencies continue unaffected. He expressed regret that this has not been the case.
He also expressed disappointment that the amendments being presented had not been discussed to seek a consensus from concerned and interested parties.
He noted that foreign diplomatic missions have never encountered any difficulties to establish themselves here, so he wanted to know what the difficulties are if there are any.
Mr Ferrari has called for all concerned parties to come together to discuss and agree on the best principles to guide the protection of state land.
For his part, the leader of the opposition Wavel Ramkalawan has expressed disappointment that Minister Charlette did not explain the reason for the urgency of the proposed amendments, noting that this piece of legislation is the most controversial as it is the least adhered to.
He insisted that there is a need for a clear piece of legislation that will address all consular matters.
United Seychelles member and also member of the international affairs committee Jude Valmont stressed on the need for Seychelles to maintain the friendly and healthy diplomatic relations it has with different countries.
He noted that many of these countries have helped the Seychelles government with grants and loans to build houses and support with other projects for our people and therefore the issue of reciprocity is very important.
He added that the amendments are just to put things into perspective.
He wanted to know if the amendments are in preparation for Seychelles to receive more diplomatic missions.
Charles de Commarmond, the leader of government business, affirmed for his part that Seychelles has made remarkable strides in terms of its international relations and many countries and international bodies want to strengthen their relations with Seychelles.
With regard to the amendments being proposed, he said there was a need for further discussions in committee stage where several experts could provide more clarity.
He added that many countries want to establish themselves here so they can further strengthen their relations with Seychelles and better understand our development model, thus the importance of the amendments.
He also pointed out if there is a need for more consultation on the amendments and that debate should be suspended for further consultations.
In her right of reply, Minister Charlette expressed regret that the proposed amendments which are bringing more transparency and accountability in government affairs have not been well received by Assembly members.