State-of-the-nation address |23 January 2021
President lays out plans to boost local economy
By Laura Pillay
In line with Article 65 of the Seychelles Constitution, President Wavel Ramkalawan yesterday delivered his first ever State-of-the-Nation address, in which he announced a series of measures to tackle bureaucracy, corruption, drug trafficking, among other illegal activities.
His first address, which comes after only 89 days in office, was as expected focused mainly on the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting economic recession and strategy to boost the local economy into the new year.
Reflecting on the first 89 days of his presidency, President Ramkalawan remarked that there has been a renewed sense of liberty and sense of solidarity among the population, but once again called out for national unity and for citizens to display a sense of patriotism.
Addressing the members of the National Assembly (MNAs), he urged that they refrain from using cheap political tactics to divide the nation, asserting that such attitudes will not be tolerated under his administration.
With regard to the report of the Electoral of Seychelles (ECS) which was presented to him at State House yesterday morning, President Ramkalawan conveyed his congratulations to the commission and his predecessor Danny Faure for the formidable 2020 elections and peaceful transition of power, an indication to the world that Seychelles has grown and respects democracy, he said.
“Today, as we know, Seychelles ranks highly on the democracy index and this makes us proud, and what we are doing, whereby we are directed by the law and principles of respect, how we can recognise and respect the rights of others which is resulting in the growth and Seychelles being recognised. So today, I want to say, let us continue to live together, let us continue to show solidarity, let us lift our country high, and let us show our pride,” President Ramkalawan stated.
Covid-19, national immunisation campaign and Covid-19 Relief Fund
Acknowledging the pandemic and resulting economic recession as the biggest challenge the country is faced with presently, President Ramkalawan congratulated the Ministry of Health and Public Health officials, especially Minister for Health Peggy Vidot, Public Health Commissioner Jude Gedeon, chief executive of the Health Care Agency (HCA) Danny Louange and all medical professionals for working dedicatedly on the frontline, although he directed a strong message to the general population to be more disciplined in observing public health measures in place, and following directives issued by relevant authorities.
“The reality is, as Seychellois we cannot live our lives as we want. These numbers will continue to increase if on the weekends we decide to fill up the beaches and to host large parties and gatherings. Let us not let our guards down. Let us follow all what the Ministry of Health is telling us. It is only through following them that we can move forward, that we will be able to break the chain of transmission that has today hit our communities,” President Ramkalawan iterated strongly.
As for the national immunisation programme, the President beamed with pride as he announced that the country could soon top the list of countries that have administered the most Covid-19 vaccinations. According to global statistics, Seychelles ranked fourth worldwide as of last week, but has since climbed up to secure second position.
“Today, I announce with great pride that after we commenced our vaccination programme, today, as small as we are as a country, we now rank second worldwide on administering vaccines to our population. Today, behind Israel, we are second, and through the programme directed by Mrs Florida Bijoux and her team, Seychelles will soon be ranked first with regard to vaccination.”
He conveyed gratitude to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) who assisted the country with the first consignment of vaccines comprising 50,000 Sinopharm vaccines, as well as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the government of India for selecting Seychelles as the first African country to receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine which arrived in the country yesterday.
In iterating how much progress Seychelles is making as compared to much larger countries, President Ramkalawan said that by July 2021, Seychelles would have vaccinated at least 70 percent of the population and would have attained herd immunity, while some countries will only just be receiving their first consignments of vaccinations.
With regard to the Covid-19 Relief Fund, a sum of R35.3 million had been donated as of yesterday evening, a sum dedicated towards the National Immunisation Programme and possibly the construction of an isolation centre, in line with the government’s plan to establish such a facility by the end of 2021.
The President in starting his address observed a minute of silence in honour of the three Seychellois who have recently lost their lives to the virus.
Governance and public service
President Ramkalawan, who spoke at length about the milestones and values his administration are striving for, stating strongly that his administration inherited a country which had already been brought to its knees through corruption, bureaucracy and other practices that place some citizens at a disadvantage, all of which he vowed to abolish under his administration at the soonest.
“I want to tell our nation today that we will cut out the bureaucracy and when we cut out the bureaucracy, we will have an effective government, a government that is already demonstrating that it is capable of taking decisions, a government that is able to move quicker.”
“Let us not forget corruption. There is still corruption going on and today I say to all civil servants, this government in power today will not tolerate corruption,” President Ramkalawan added.
The President went on to note many practices within the public service that need to stop, including wastage, abuse of resources and victimisation or preferential treatment to citizens based on their political opinion.
As for the Department of Public Administration (DPA), the entity mandated to regulate public service, President Ramkalawan said the entity is to be radically reformed to handle mainly administrative matters, proposing that ministers and their executives assume some responsibilities presently held by the institution.
To tackle corruption within the system, the President is calling for the reinforcement of the Anti Corruption Commission of Seychelles (ACCS). The board which directs the organisation to a sum of R1.8 million is to be dissolved, and the entity restructured through legislative amendments. However, the R1.8 million is to be retained by the entity to finance seven investigators with strict timeframe of one year for the commission to provide some form of satisfactory result.
“We expect results. We will expect that corruption is adequately investigated and results brought forward. The law is above us all and when I say this, I mean all who are engaged in corrupt acts should watch out. I want to during this year see results, and if by the end of 2021 there are no results, during next year’s SONA I will announce that the commission is closing.”
Addressing the opposition, President Ramkalawan launched an appeal that they work with a mind to collaborate and to refrain from divisive politics, but to instead join the government in unifying the nation and working together for the betterment of the country.
Employment and FA4JR
With regard to employment matters, President Ramkalawan urged a mindset change and to together help to build a new Seychelles through hard, honest work.
As such, a new ‘Seychellois first’ policy is to be enforced for Gainful Occupation permits (GOP) with stricter conditions for approval and renewal of GOPs in a bid to place more Seychellois in employment and productive sectors, such as construction.
“There are too many foreigners working in our country, and the number of foreigners is directly related to our economy. Each time a foreigner is paid a salary, the dollar being paid is remitted to another country. Could that dollar not go to a Seychellois?”
President Ramkalawan denounced fraudulent practices in relation to GOPs, asserting strongly that priority be afforded to competent Seychellois candidates, also calling on the labour force to actively engage in employment, as opposed to thinking that they can rely on social assistance, a safety net that is also undergoing reforms in a bid to curb abuse.
“Our government will not just give our citizens a fish to eat. As the Chinese proverb goes, we want to give our people a line and fishing hook, and we will give them the first bait and from there tell them to go fishing and to stand on their own two feet,” he said, alluding to the economic recession.
With regard to the Financial Assistance for Job Retention (FA4JR) scheme in support of the private sector, the President remarked that the previous administration failed to consider the medium and long-term economic implications of the scheme in extending the scheme, which if sustained throughout this year would cost government R1.5 billion.
“In the month of January FA4JR will be paid as it was in December, and we are doing this with much suffering as a country, but we do not want that our people suddenly lose their employment. In February and March the sum will be cut, not by 100 percent but it will be reduced and this will be announced by the Ministry of Finance in due time,” he said.
“But as from April 1, 2021, FA4JR as a scheme will not exist. All those currently on FA4JR today, will receive support to place them in employment. But I will say, there was unfortunately not enough supervision of the scheme,” President Ramkalawan remarked.
Economy and 2021 budget appropriation
“Our economy is not good. I have mentioned numerous times that it is on zero and when we say there is none, there is none. Yesterday after the business day, the money we borrowed from the Central Bank of Seychelles (CBS), the line of credit, we had spent R32 million in excess. One day we went down to R252 million and after that when we collected tax, we went up, and then we went down, and by yesterday it was minus R32 million. To build this economy back up, we all need to be involved,” he stated, launching an appeal to retailers and business organisations to contribute towards the tax system in the interest of the country.
The President proceeded to list numerous areas of government spending that will be significantly cut back in the 2021 budget appropriation, noting significant government expenses, namely, R125 million in housing rent for expatriates, R187 million in office rentals, R195 million in security services for government institutions, three budget headings that amount to R507 million annually, and which the country cannot afford presently with the economic downturn.
In a bid to address the economic situation, the 2021 budget appropriation is much leaner than previous budgets, the President said, going further to state that some parastatal organisations and institutions will as from next month close their doors. A significant proportion of the existing 108 boards that oversee government and parastatal entities to a sum of R36 million annually will also be cut back.
With tourism as the main pillar of the economy, President Ramkalawan spoke of the strategy to as from March, once the country has attained herd immunity from Covid-19, re-open borders to visitors on certain conditions.
Air Seychelles debt Saga
National carrier Air Seychelles was deemed “a great problem for our country” by President Ramkalawan, having amassed in excess of R800 million in debt.
In speaking about the matter, President Ramkalawan questioned whether it would not be more profitable for the national carrier to focus more on domestic and ground handling services as opposed to its international portfolio, which has thus far resulted in substantial debt.
The airline is seeking R109 million upcoming budget to finance staff salaries as it struggles to sustain itself, he added.
Illegal activities and judicial system
President Ramkalawan once again denounced drug trafficking, a practice through which Seychelles’ youths are being left behind.
“I have issued several warnings and today I am issuing the final warning. I want to tell all drug traffickers that they have been given their final warning. Please, stop poisoning our youths, we are coming for you. We are coming after you with no mercy. We are coming after you to liberate our youths, our youths that you have caused to be slaves. We will not look where you are or what your political opinion is, but we are coming after you”.
“We need to have an organisation that combats against drugs and who are not accomplices of drug traffickers. Therefore, if you are employed in the Anti Narcotics Bureau (ANB) and you are an accomplice, I would advise you to on Monday go to the commissioner to present your resignation. That is the best thing you can do,” he asserted.
Addressing the Chief Justice Ronny Govinden, President Ramkalawan strongly stated that the judicial system needs to function in an effective manner expected by the population and that it be free from corruption and corruptive practices.
In concluding the address, President Ramkalawan once again launched an appeal for unity and reconciliation towards a proud nation with high moral, social values and patriotic values.
“Therefore Seychellois, I ask that we continue to live in harmony, with respect and that each day as we rise, we consciously think about how to contribute towards the progress of the country, where we consider how each Seychellois can do better, so our riches can be shared among all of Seychelles’ children,” he stated.
The State-of-the-nation response addresses are scheduled for Monday as from 9am. The deliberations will commence with the leader of the opposition Sebastien Pillay’s response, followed by that of leader of government business Bernard Georges.