Address by President Danny Faure on the occasion of Constitution Day 2020 18 June 2020
18 June 2020 | State House
We, the People of Seychelles,
GRATEFUL to Almighty God that we inhabit one of the most beautiful countries in the world;
EVER MINDFUL of the uniqueness and fragility of Seychelles;
CONSCIOUS of our colonial history before becoming an Independent Republic;
AWARE and PROUD that as descendants of different races we have learnt to live together as one Nation under God and can serve as an example for a harmonious multi-racial society;
Yes Seychellois brothers and sisters,
These words are the start of the Preamble of our Constitution.
Today, 18 June, we celebrate the adoption of the supreme Law of the Land. A great majority of Seychellois voted to adopt this Constitution through a referendum. This was a big step in the future of Seychelles.
1993 marked 223 years after the first settlers arrived on our islands. Many things marking the history of our country happened in that period. People from Africa, Europe and Asia came to this land to create the Seychellois people. Slavery which caused a lot of suffering and injustice was abolished in 1835 but its consequences would continue to affect our society for generations. Seychelles was a French colony, a British colony, and then became an independent state.
Soon after, Seychelles had a one party state. In those 15 years, a lot was done to try and erase the injustices that marked our society. A lot of good things were accomplished. Certain mistakes, certain injustices unfortunately also happened during this time.
When Seychellois adopted the Constitution of the Third Republic in 1993, we decided to turn the page of history, to come together as one nation, one people with a shared destiny. We were taking a big step toward reconciliation. We were looking at the future.
Today, 27 years later, where are we?
When I took on the mantle of leadership 3 years ago, I committed myself to putting Seychelles above everything else. I have always believed that Seychelles is bigger than me, bigger than us all. I took the decision to remove partisan considerations in the governance of our country. I reinforced unity, stability and inclusivity to take Seychelles even further. I established and also reinforced the independence of national institutions to ensure that they work without political interference.
Our country is currently engaged in work to establish the truth about a period of our past. And I hope that this work is done well in the real spirit of truth, reconciliation and national unity.
During this time that I have been President, there have been moments where I was expecting cooperation but instead I received resistance and obstruction. I stayed calm, I kept my cool, I never walked away – I chose to reach out. I persevered because I am convinced that the spirit of working together, the path of peace and reconciliation, is the only path for Seychelles today.
Seychellois brothers and sisters, this constitution that we are celebrating today has guided us well and allowed our young democracy to flourish. It has also served us well on a socioeconomic front.
At the start of this year, our country was looking ahead with a lot of confidence. In 2019 we saw a foreign exchange surplus of 45 million Dollars, the highest ever.
In 2020 we were set to get an even higher surplus with the number of visitors set to rise and the economy in general set to do even better.
From January to March, every day, 3 million Dollars on average was entering our country, and from this amount, 2.5 million Dollars was spent in a dynamic economy. This means that we had a surplus of 500, 000 Dollars every day. Just think if our economy continued on this path, how much this surplus would have been at the end of this year.
The Central Bank reserves had reached 580 million Dollars. The private sector and individuals had accumulated 565 million Dollars in their bank accounts in Seychelles. This shows that the economy was working well, very well. It also shows the confidence that the private sector and individuals had in our economy and our financial system, for them to keep their money in Seychelles.
The economy of Seychelles was set to grow by 3.9% this year compared to 2019. We would have had more resources to run our country and continue to improve the wellbeing of our nation. We would have been able to have a salary increase, especially in sectors that were performing well. We would have had enough money to repay our national debt and meet the targets set by our economic reform in 2008.
The inflation rate, a measure of the general price level, fell to the lowest level to reach 1.7% at the end of 2019 and was set to continue decreasing in January and February 2020.
The number of jobs in the formal economy increased to reach 55, 805, including 20, 000 foreign workers because there were not enough local workers to respond to the needs of our economy.
All indicators were showing Seychelles to be on the road toward greater economic success in a year that was going to be exceptional.
But today on 18 June we see that yes, this moment we are in is exceptional. But not for the reasons we expected or hoped.
Yes Seychellois brothers and sisters, misfortune hit us. It hit us silently and without any warning. Who would have thought in January that just 2 or 3 months later our country and the world would turn upside down?
When COVID-19 hit us, my focus was to save lives and safeguard our economy. I am relieved that with the great work of our health professionals, supported by other agencies and volunteers, Seychelles has until now succeeded in controlling this disease. We succeeded in avoiding any deaths caused by this virus.
Today, once again, I would like to sincerely thank all those on the frontlines of this battle and also the people of Seychelles that showed solidarity and understood the gravity of the situation.
Unfortunately, the story is different in many other countries where we see thousands of people continuing to lose their lives as a result of the virus. In the United States alone, the number of people who have died from the coronavirus has surpassed our population here in Seychelles.
Until now we have succeeded on the public health front. But it is important that we do not put our guard down. Let us continue to practise good hygiene and get used to physical distancing in public, and follow the advice given by our health professionals.
Seychellois brothers and sisters, as we are starting to see, the consequences of this COVID-19 pandemic on our economy is extremely grave.
And this is not the case just for Seychelles – for all countries, this is a very difficult situation.
It is impossible to make any predictions, either on the health front or economic front, with any certainty.
In March, many health experts and economists thought that COVID-19 would subside or even disappear within a few months.
As you know, at the time, I announced certain measures to protect the private sector and ensure that for at least 3 months, none of our brothers and sisters would lose their jobs. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 situation is dynamic and changes rapidly, and we need to readjust accordingly. For example, we saw a need to assure the salaries of Seychellois in the private sector until December.
I know that there has been a great deal of confusion and frustration with the delay of processing applications for financial assistance.
Believe me, I would have liked nothing more than for the processing to be quick and wait time for businesses and workers to be minimal.
But we need to appreciate that this task is not one that our system is used to doing. It is a task without precedence. And when I put pressure on those doing this work, and they explain to me why there are delays, I understand their difficulties.
They need correct information from people making applications. They need to verify this information. They cannot just give out public funds. This assistance is not personal money.
Who will be accountable to the Auditor General on how this public money has been spent?
Who will respond questions from the FPAC at the National Assembly?
It will be the officials doing this work together with the Minister of Finance. And they need to do this work with the responsibility and transparency it merits. The money being distributed today is money that we will all repay tomorrow through taxes. The country is taking on debt to be able to pay this assistance and ensure that workers have a salary and can keep the economy afloat.
Despite the challenges, until now, 85% of the approximately 5000 businesses that made an application for April and May have received assistance. More than 314 million Rupees has been disbursed. This 314 million Rupees has helped more than 14, 000 workers in the private sector.
For the 15% of businesses that did not receive assistance for one reason or another, I have decided that from 1 July, we will review the criteria to qualify for financial assistance. I have taken this decision following a series of consultations with the private sector.
Seychellois brothers and sisters,
Our situation is not easy. Even if we see our lives regaining a sense of normality, our situation remains extremely difficult.
There are no tourists like before. Our country is not getting revenue at the level we are used to. Our country relies a lot on tourism. If there is no tourism, we need to expect that there will be great economic repercussions on our quality of life.
All around the world, countries are affected despite their size and economic power. How many people have lost their jobs? How many businesses have closed? How many people have no food? And this is even before we consider the tragic loss of lives caused by COVID-19. We all see the news.
These months and years ahead of us will be very difficult. Instead of a 3.9% growth of our economy compared to 2019, forecasts suggest that we will finish 2020 with negative 10.8%. This means that our economy is set to shrink by 10.8% and each of us will be severely hit.
Already the value of our salaries has decreased by 28% as a result of the currency exchange rates, caused by the lack of foreign exchange brought in by the tourism industry.
This year, we were expecting to get more than the 380, 000 visitors we received last year. Since the end of March we have had zero visitors and received zero dollars of foreign exchange from visitors.
This serious situation will not end anytime soon. Our tourism industry has been severely affected. The small Seychellois-owned establishments that were doing very well and contributing greatly to our economy, are suffering.
In 2008 our international debt was equivalent to 150% of our GDP. We have worked very hard over the last 11 years to reduce it to 57% in 2019. We were on target to reach 50% Debt-to-GDP next year.
With the current situation, we expect that we will reach this target only in 2025, assuming that the economy will start recovering soon.
Seychellois brothers and sisters,
Our economy is facing a serious crisis.
Over the next few months and years, our lives will be extremely difficult. As long as there is no vaccine against COVID-19 and the global economy does not recover, our economy will struggle to recoup, and both of these factors remain extremely uncertain.
Seychellois brothers and sisters, there is one thing that is very clear.
Today more than ever, Seychellois need to come together to navigate the great storm ahead of us. We need to navigate it together.
Over the months and years to come, we will face difficulties that we have never known as a country.
What we went through in 2008 is incomparable with the storm ahead of us today. Today, the global economy is on its knees, and our economy is no different.
When I meet economists and members of the private sector, I can see the worry on their faces.
But I never lose hope. I always keep hope alive. I am convinced that if each one of us – workers, professionals, business owners, politicians, civil society – if we put our differences aside and work in one direction, we will be able to save our country.
Seychellois brothers and sisters,
Faced with this national emergency, as President of Seychelles, I see only one opportunity to save Seychelles.
The election coming this year will take place in unprecedented circumstances, unlike anything we have known before. It will take place in the midst of a great storm.
In this context, I do not see this as an election that one that ends with a winner and a loser. I do not see it as a competition between political rivals, where each one pretends that their party has better solutions for Seychelles. This moment that Seychelles is in, it is not a time for any party to create political divisions and confrontation.
In this election, it is Seychelles that is important – it is our economic survival in question.
I firmly believe that faced with this national emergency, we need to come together. It is for this reason that as a presidential candidate in the upcoming election, I will put in front of the Seychellois people the urgency of the next government being a government of national unity.
This means an inclusive government that will better reflect our political, economic, professional and civic strengths and voices, so that we can successfully navigate this storm together as a nation. A government that puts partisan politics aside, where the only priority is to save Seychelles.
Seychellois brothers and sisters,
When we are in the middle of a storm, we need to put our differences aside and we need to rally together.
Today Seychelles is asking us to unite. The same Seychelles that has nurtured us and sustained us for the last 250 years.
This Seychelles with its Constitution that we are celebrating today that has allowed us to make exponential progress over the last 27 years.
Seychelles is calling us. Just as the Preamble of our Constitution that I cited earlier reminds us, we must be ever mindful of the uniqueness and fragility of our Seychelles.
And this is clear in our situation today. Yes Seychellois brothers and sisters, our Seychelles is too small, too beautiful, too precious, for us to turn our backs on her. Let us save her, together. This is my profound desire that I share with the people of Seychelles today.
Today, all of us, regardless of our political colours, we are in the same boat navigating this great storm that is going to get worse.
After we get through these bad times, let us give Seychelles her best chance to recover.
Seychellois brothers and sisters, 27 years ago the generation of 1993 started a new chapter of our history. Today, faced with a great challenge of our time, I invite the generation of 2020 to once again, start a new chapter.
Tonight, I invite you to join me and come together to save Seychelles.
May God continue to bless our Seychelles and protect our people.
Thank you and good evening.