National Assembly concludes replies on Sona 2021 |28 January 2021
The National Assembly yesterday wrapped up debate on the State-of-the-nation address (Sona) 2021 delivered on January 22 by President Wavel Ramkalawan.
Hon. Wavel Woodcock, LDS’ elected member representing Grand Anse Praslin, kicked off yesterday’s sitting, expressing his appreciation for the realist and truthful address by President Ramkalawan, in this present time when the country is faced with the Covid-19 pandemic, a public health threat, and an economy that is more fragile than ever.
“Hon. (Sebastien) Pillay said that the President was angered in delivering his address, but it’s not just the President who is angry. The nation is angry, angry with the stealing, corruption and wastage that has taken place over the past 43 years,” Hon. Woodcock said.
“For many years, Seychelles has had a top-heavy government. With 108 boards, which we are paying around R36 million annually, a lot of these boards as we know are not meeting their roles as we expect. We need a lean government,” he said, in support of President Ramkalawan’s pronouncement that a significant proportion of the 108 boards are to be dissolved, for cost-cutting reasons.
Similarly, Hon. Kelly Saminadin, elected LDS member for Au Cap, congratulated President Ramkalawan for Friday’s Sona, criticising the opposition for not joining hands with government in its effort and strategy against the propagation of the pandemic, and in rolling out the national immunisation campaign.
She affirmed her support for the President, who on Friday insisted that there is no place for cheap politics in reconstructing the economy and country, calling for all to unify and to work together or risk “breaking the carriage even more”.
With regard to the Air Seychelles crisis which the President left up to the assembly to discuss, Hon. Samynadin proposed that employees of the organisation are willing to put up with salary-cuts, in a bid to sustain the company through the crisis, as well as the introduction of freight on cargo, to generate additional revenue for the company and domestic economy.
It must be noted that President Ramkalawan on Friday gave a head’s up to the assembly, in saying that Air Seychelles is requesting in the 2021 budget appropriation R109 million in running costs and to pay off employee salaries, as well as an additional R800 million, required to pay off troubled debt to foreign bondholders.
Hon. Phillip Monthy, LDS MNA for Cascade, for his part acknowledged abuses and corruption within schemes such as FA4JR (Financial Assistance for Job Retention) and URS (Unemployment Relief Scheme), but however, proposed that a more stringent vetting system be put in place to assist suffering businesses and families, rather than discontinuing the schemes in its totality.
Hon. Waven William, LDS representative for Grand Anse Mahé, also shared similar sentiments, to consider applications for social welfare on case to case basis and based on principles of merit.
“You have said that your government should be more efficient. We are following this closely, and we will support you, but where there is space for improvement, to avoid any injustice, we will need to negotiate for a better deal,” Hon. William stated.
On the other hand, opposition member Hon. Wallace Cosgrow shared his view that President Ramkalawan’s address was superficial, and a missed opportunity to tell the people about the true state of the nation and elaborate on major policies that are upcoming in the 2021 budget appropriation.
“Rather than elaborate on important issues, the President instead made use of the opportunity to simply criticise the previous administration and comment on matters,” he said.
“I listened to an address lacking vision and direction, especially for a person and party who waited so long to take up the bar to direct our country […]. You are in power, move on. Propose new policies and give our nation hope, especially during this difficult time,” Hon. Cosgrow stated.
In relation to the announcement by President Ramkalawan to officially end the URS and state-funded FA4JR, Hon. Cosgrow remarked that over 18,000 Seychellois will be at a double disadvantage with the end of such schemes, deeming such an act as a malicious attack on the social system, and the provisions of the Seychelles Constitution.
“Recently, the minister has approved the reform across the social protection system. Yesterday in the news, we heard that the reform is attached to a promise of USD ($) 30 million in budgetary support from the World Bank. I am one who understands the necessity for budgetary support, especially in this situation that we are faced with today. I hope that the support is not accompanied by radical changes that will negatively impact the most vulnerable persons in our society,” Hon. Cosgrow noted.
Moreover, added Hon. Cosgrow, the President’s final warning to drug traffickers during the address has achieved nothing more than to encourage citizens to speculate and circulate on social media, pictures and private information about alleged or rumoured traffickers.
Hon. Johan Loze, also a member of opposition party United Seychelles (US), resonated the same line of thought as Hon. Cosgrow and the other nine US MNAs, in stating that the President’s address lacked substance, leading him to list certain provisions that should be adopted by the new administration.
He proposed a Covid-19 reconstruction fund through which citizens can contribute a minimum of R50 monthly for the next 15 years. Through the fund, government will be able to borrow from the Central Bank of Seychelles (CBS) for at least the next three years, in order to rebuild the economy and sustain programmes such as FA4JR, URS, social assistance schemes.
According to Hon. Loze, the fund can also aid government by making available R109 million, through which Air Seychelles’ salaries can be sustained for the next three years while it works to become sustainable, he added.
“Sometimes, it appears as though the government’s battle against those who are poor is stronger than their fight against drugs. At least drug dealers get numerous warnings, but those in need are simply told that by such and such date, the assistance will officially end, deal with it. Are you serious?” asked Hon. Loze.
“Your only remedy is to cut this, and cut that, and at the end of the day, it is those most in need that are being cut,” Hon. Loze questioned, further elaborating to say that the President is displaying a lack of capacity to lead the country and to deal with the difficult situation at hand.
In order to reconstruct the country and economy, political leaders need to cooperate and citizens also need to follow suit, said LDS member for Mont Buxton Hon. Gervais Henrie, who stated that the government is trying its utmost best to address the economic crisis and other roubles at hand.
He concluded his response by calling out to all citizens to unite and walk alongside each other, and to care for one another.
Hon Regina Esparon, elected LDS member for Glacis, echoed similar sentiments, noting the achievements and milestones of President Ramkalawan’s administration over the past three months since assuming power.
LDS Chief Whip Sandy Arrissol, elected member for Bel Ombre, concluded yesterday’s sitting remarking that the President could not have possibly addressed all the problems the country is faced with during the short timeframe stipulated for the Sona.
Hon. Arrissol reminded the population not to forget that the URS programme is not a form of employment, but rather a temporary scheme, urging the nation to be responsible and to discharge their functions as responsible citizens, and reduce dependence on the state.
In addition, Hon. Arrissol strongly asserted his message for positive changes to render government ministries, departments and agencies more effective and efficient, with better service delivery to citizens, without fear or favour, as stipulated by the Seychelles Constitution.
In concluding, Hon. Arrissol addressed the issue of Air Seychelles, proposing that the national airline be allowed to fly to outer islands and make such facilities accessible to the average citizen, also proposing a restructuring of the Islands Development Company (IDC), which currently offers such services at a premium price.
The assembly will as of this morning resume with debates on the Public Health Amendment Act.