In the National Assembly |19 November 2020
VP Afif, Finance Minister Hassan answer members’ questions on President’s address
Members of the National Assembly yesterday morning sought more clarification and answers on various issues related to the country’s current economic situation that President Wavel Ramkalawan raised in his first address to the National Assembly on Tuesday evening.
Vice-President Ahmed Afif and Finance, Economic Planning and Trade Minister Naadir Hassan were in the Assembly from morning until well past midday to answer members’ questions.
Leader of the opposition Sebastien Pillay was the first to question various points raised by President Ramkalawan and these included the decision to scrap the 13th month pay. Noting that it is those workers who are paid less who will suffer the most, he has proposed that government reviews the decision and considers paying workers who are on the lowest salary bands.
VP Afif said on this point that this will create more confusion and raise a lot more questions from the public. He noted that the government has weighed all the different relating possibilities before arriving at the decision.
Several other members questioned the decision to scrap the 13th month pay and Honourable Conrad Gabriel wanted to know why money used to pay board members’ fees could not be put aside to pay the 13th month for lowest paid employees. On this point, Minister Hassan explained that an exercise has already been carried out to review board fees which have been reduced since April and an exercise is underway as part of the 2021 budget to explore other areas where cuts can be effected.
Furthermore, Minister Hassan has called on all MNAs to explain to their constituents why paying a 13th month salary is not possible this year.
For his part, VP Afif reminded Assembly members that any person who is severely affected socially can always seek recourse with the Agency for Social Protection (ASP).
Mr Pillay also questioned the credibility of the donor of the Covid-19 vaccines who wanted to remain anonymous. On this point, Mr Afif said the government has to respect the right of the individual to remain anonymous, but assured him that the person is of good international repute, is honest and the government is satisfied that it is dealing with a responsible and genuine individual who has the interest of the Seychellois people at heart and that all donations will be made public.
Mr Pillay also wanted more details on the programme that Seychelles is discussing with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
VP Afif explained that in this difficult time the government is obliged to seek the assistance of key international partners like the IMF and others which have assisted and supported us in the past.
He further added that since taking office the government is satisfied with the support it is receiving from foreign partners as many of them see our transition process as a model for the world and this is a good sign for our economic revival.
In order to further raise the awareness of the population on the urgency of our economic situation, MNA Gervais Henrie called on Minister Hassan to explain what has happened to the R10.5 billion budget that was appropriated in March 2020. Minister Hassan explained that the budget has been apportioned to the different ministries and agencies but is not enough to sustain expenses already made and those to be made before the end of the year.
He explained that it is for this reason that the finance ministry is working on an additional supplementary budget of R1.4 billion which will support different schemes such as the Financial Assistance for Job Retention (FA4JR) and the Housing Finance Company (HFC) scheme among others.
Meanwhile, with regard to the FA4JR scheme, MNA Churchill Gill wanted to know if applications already submitted will be processed and paid before the review of the scheme announced for next year.
Minister Hassan explained that all applications submitted, if successful when processed, will be paid accordingly.
MNA Regina Esparon wanted to know what the government is planning to do to reduce the high cost and abuse of the welfare system whereby she says the Seychelles Trading Company (STC) subsistence card is being traded for drugs and alcohol.
Minister Hassan said an audit is being conducted on the different schemes managed by the Agency for Social Protection to seek ways to reduce the scope for abuse and once new measures are adopted the concerned minister will make an announcement.
Other questions raised were related to the closure of the three embassies in Cuba, Sri Lanka and Geneva on which VP Afif said a saving of R5 million will be made annually per embassy.
Clarifications were also sought on the temporary importation of vehicles, measures for government to reduce the cost of rents on private accommodation for its foreign employees, measures to reduce expatriate teachers, more efficiency in tax collection, and appointment of district administrators among others.