Speech to the National Assembly by the President of the Republic, Mr. Wavel Ramkalawan 17th November 2020
17 November 2020 | State House
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Leader of the Opposition
Leader of Government Business
Members of the National Assembly
The Chief Justice
President of the Court of Appeal and members of the Judiciary
The Vice-president and all Ministers
Seychellois brothers and sisters.
It is a great pleasure to be back to the National Assembly to address you. Of course, this place brings back lots of memories and I am always grateful for the opportunity that the people of Seychelles gave me to serve you either as an elected or proportional member. It is of course through the National Assembly that I have had international exposure and this has also permitted me to reinforce Seychelles’ name in the parliamentary world either at CPA, PAP, SADC PF levels or as an election observer on behalf of the Commonwealth. The respect I have for this institution is huge and your role to bring this political debate as you closely follow the work of the government through questions, motions and laws is important for our people and country. I have led an opposition majority in the 6th Assembly. The only experience I have missed is to lead a large majority as it exists today and to sit on this side of the table. Good luck to you all in this noble task.
Today makes exactly 24 days since I was sworn in to take this highest position to serve the Seychellois people. This experience has led to various daily surprises, questions and shock on the one side, but on the other side, it has brought much joy, especially when our new government has been able to identify and solve certain difficulties that our people are facing. I must admit to the people of Seychelles that the greatest joy I am experiencing is when I see the fresh enthusiasm, smile and determination on the face of our people. That is what will permit us to move forward and give all we can for our country, this small and beautiful country of Seychelles.
It is obvious today that Seychellois are not only saying that Seychelles is higher than us all, but we are rather holding each other’s hands and saying that we will work hard to ensure that Seychelles becomes the mother that we all love. So, we will put all our effort to make it rise so that each of its children lives with pride, in a country where justice reigns and its riches are shared with all its children.
Yes, Linda, our family and myself, we are slowly adapting with those new responsibilities. I would like to take the opportunity to thank everyone for the welcome you have offered to Linda, and it resembles that she is becoming more well-known than myself. My family is at your service and where we can all offer our support. We will do it with an open heart. Linda is studying all the demand which is coming to her and you will shortly get more information on the specific roles she will play at the national level.
During these 24 days, there have been many decisions that have been taken and I have to tell the Seychellois people that the team of ministers have already joined their different workplaces and are leading their different ministries. People of Seychelles, there is much work to do. As we say in creole, “Travay I la!”
I continually thank each of them to accept those different responsibilities. They have left all to serve their country. Thank you very much and I wish you courage in your work.
Vice-president Afif and I, we do not have direct responsibility for any ministry in our government. We spend much time working together to analyse and make decisions on how our country will move forward. This also permits any minister to talk to us. Together, we meet the high-level committees either to discuss subjects like the economy, health or public service. The workload is heavy, but we are really satisfied with the manner we are getting good collaboration, and this is what permits us to put all our effort and knowledge at the disposal of the people of Seychelles. Thank you VP for your unconditional support.
I take the opportunity to thank everyone who has assisted us through various committees to better understand certain technicalities for us to be able to make decisions for the benefit of this nation. Organisations like the SPDF, Central Bank, the Police, Ministry of Finance and all the others have been opened to us. On the other side, this in itself has permitted the government to make good analysis, and find the way forward.
Already, at the very beginning, we have held on our principle that no one will lose his or her job, but we rather want a situation where all government employees leave politics at home when they come to work. We insist that there is no politics in the civil service and that the preoccupation of all workers is to offer Seychellois better service in the shortest period possible. We are looking for efficiency in the service received by everyone. As we continue to study all that is going on, I have to say that I am in general satisfied with the new mode of thinking showed by our people, but I have to also add that certain bad attitudes continue to be shown. I simply make a call for this new spirit of respect and honesty to reign in all workplaces. So I continue to encourage all workers to give their best so that through their contribution, our country will move forward and that the success of our people will become our priority.
I take this opportunity to add that our civil service must become a place where each employee considers the work that he or she is doing as his or her business. If you let yourselves led by such a spirit, we will get good results and not a situation whereas the English expression says, we only ‘tick the box’. In the same vein, there must be a spirit of entrepreneurship in all civil service workers. Every day, each worker must feel that he or she is progressing and developing. So I repeat that all work should bring results for the citizens and we should not rather waste the resources and time of our people.
Let us stop looking at the clock, but in this difficult time that we are going through, give all that we can. Once again, I ask that we work hard, have a change of attitude and a greater sense of patriotism as the new philosophy so that when things get better, nobody will be able to stop our small Seychelles. Good luck.
Mr Speaker, we all must become good citizens of our country. Yesterday, we were each cheering for our political party and this was good and was our right. Today, we must all realize that we are all Seychellois. And it is in this spirit which should push us to become good citizens. So, what does a good citizen accomplish for his or her country?
A good and patriotic citizen, shows respect for everyone, works hard, he or she helps raise the level of morality in our country, is positive and seeks what is right, he or she shows concern for all and the country. He or she seeks to build a community and not only his or her self. A good citizen takes care of the country’s environment and does not pollute or destroy this same environment. A good citizen does not import drugs, sell drugs and destroy the youth of Seychelles. A good citizen every day searches on how to hold the neighbour’s hands so that he or she can reach the furthest possible; he or she looks at the more vulnerable and gives a helping hand. Finally, a good citizen does not ask what the country can do for him or her, but rather what he or she will do to make the country progress.
Yes, Mr Speaker, this administration is looking at how it will make Seychelles produce those good citizens, for our way of thinking to change, and our people will live with truth, transparency, love and solidarity. We want to experience real reconciliation, remove all bitterness and hate from battered hearts, stand strong in the name of justice and equality, respect all the rights of others and show that all children in my village are my children. I sincerely believe that we can create this Seychelles and I have this conviction that the time has come for us all to move in the same direction. As a good citizen, I have promised to lead this country by example, and as I listen and make decisions I will work for Seychelles to belong to all its children.
Mr. Speaker, brothers and sisters of Seychelles, before going further it is important that I address you for us to be able to live as good citizens who protect our country during this medical crisis which we are going through today. I do not want to scare you, but I have to speak frankly and honestly to you on the subject of COVID-19, for us to see what we must do.
The global situation regarding COVID-19 is worsening rapidly and the whole world is feeling its effect. Here in Seychelles, the health sector and all other sectors are suffering from its consequences. According to all predictions, it seems that the situation will continue to worsen for many months to come, at least. However, our country has to survive. Our social and economic wellbeing are at risk. It depends on every one of us to help in this fight against COVID. The Ministry of Health says that our current lifestyle is not appropriate and that we are not only the biggest danger for ourselves but also our family, work environment and our community.
As we try to re-launch our economy and welcome more visitors, it is absolutely important that all citizens, without exception, practice prevention measures with more personal and collective commitment. We have to do this for us not to face the nightmare of COVID-19 community transmission. God has blessed our country until now and we say a big thank you to the team at the Ministry of Health led by Dr. Gedeon and Dr. Louange for the extraordinary work they are doing. Until now, I have met them on several occasions and they know they have all the support in the work they are doing. And I insist that please, we listen to their advice.
For us to be able to do this, they have told me that I have to repeat those public health measures that we all have to continue practising for us to break any transmission chain of COVID-19. It is no longer the time of only thinking of enjoyment, but for us to take our life and the life of our country seriously.
Firstly, let us, please, practice hygienic measures as recommended.
Secondly, let us wear our mask everywhere and at all-time, that is recommended to protect our children, our family, our community and our self.
Thirdly, let us keep our distance and let us avoid physical contact with the other person when we say good morning.
Fourthly, let us not make groups and party. This includes in places which have just been reopened. Of course, we would all wish that our country be COVID free or that it had been put under control. But unfortunately, COVID is still a threat for our country, so let us keep in mind that this big danger is above our head and that only us, through our actions, who can be victorious and keep our country safe and sound.
At this point, I would like to directly address the commercial establishments. You all have a civic and moral duty and it is in the interest of your business for you to also contribute actively to break the COVID transmission chain. So I implore you, to respect the law and practice all guidance to protect your customers, your employees and your business. Unfortunately, I have to announce today that establishments which continually refuse to respect laws and regulations will have to face severe actions which can include suspension of their operating license. I would not wish for this to happen, but unfortunately too many are not taking things seriously. My appeal is very simple: Let us listen and put the regulations into practice.
Despite the bad news, I am pleased to announce that this government has done a lot of work during those 24 days. Yesterday evening, I experienced great joy after the announcement that a new vaccine with 95% efficiency against COVID has been discovered by a company called MODERNA. The temperature at which this new vaccine is preserved is far below compared to that other one. An investor who wishes to remain anonymous for the moment has promised to offer Seychelles 100 000 of this vaccine the moment it is commercialized in early 2021. In the name of the Seychellois people, I would like to say a big thank you to him for his support which is for us very encouraging. With a people vaccinated against COVID-19, our economy will be able to recover as soon as possible and our life will readopt a certain sense of normality as good citizens. But in the meantime, we have to follow the advice of the Ministry of Health.
Another piece of good news that I wish to announce goes to the inhabitants of Baie Lazare. The government has recently been guaranteed a grant for the construction of their district’s clinic. I am closely following the stages of this project together with Honourable Adelaide and all is being done for us to start construction as soon as possible and complete this important facility for the inhabitants of this district. This has taken too much time and they now deserve their medical facility.
The other big gift that we have received during those 24 days is a donation for the construction of the new hospital on La Digue. This hospital will be a modern one with the following facilities added to those that exist today: Isolation centre, dialysis and x-ray centres, private rooms, admission wards for males, females, children and maternity that will cater for 6 persons each and an old people’s home like those which exist on Mahé and Praslin. Modern accommodation will also be available on the same plot for doctors and nurses. The construction of this hospital, like you will be able to understand, would not be possible on the actual site of the Logan Hospital. I seize the occasion to thank the government of UAE for this wonderful gift it is offering the people of La Digue.
The Council of experts of the Ministry of Health has also made it clear that the actual site is not ideal for the construction of a new hospital, especially with the problem of coastal erosion. The size of the hospital and the facilities it will offer make that the actual space at La Passe is too small. The general concept was presented in a meeting with the La Digue Business Association and after that in a public meeting, where it was well-received. The new hospital site is found next to l’Union Estate, a government property which covers 3 acres, next to the helipad. Mr. Jeffery Durup, a Diguois, has even offered another plot in case the chosen one is not large enough. Thank you Ton Jeffery. It is important to say that there was no valid reason why this modern and new hospital, of which plan has not been finalized, should not be built on this new site. I would like to take the opportunity to add that I wish to meet the Berlouis family that offered the land where the actual hospital is situated to find out what is their intention regarding the parcel where the hospital is found today after the construction of the new hospital. Because with their permission, Government would like to construct a building to house government services such as immigration, SLA, SRC, civil status and any other government's services, on the other side of the road opposite the hospital. This will free the District Administration office where some of those services are found today.
Mr. Speaker, in this same vein, it is important to say that the new government has already announced that each elected MNA will occupy an office in the District Administration building. All arrangements are being made and some have already visited their office. We will recall that the former government had previously announced that it would build an office for each MNA, but this has never been materialized. I was among those that brought a fierce fight for delinking in the past, and so some may ask questions about if this plan is not bringing this back and that it may have a political influence. I laughed when I heard those arguments because exactly as for the petition concerning the La Digue hospital which was signed even before they had the details, I would wish that people have the patience to understand well what is going on. Let me explain:
Mr. Speaker, This MNA’s office will not be a political office with any political flag and other symbols, but it will be the place where the MNA meets all the inhabitants of the district where he or she has been elected. After all, the MNA is supposed to serve all the inhabitants of his or her district without looking at their political colours. This office will not be a branch office, as they called it in the past. But added to that, the government has already adopted a new method of selecting a DA. We have decided that the position of DA will no longer be a political position as it is today, whereas we have seen a DA then becomes a candidate and maybe MNA. The new way of doing things, as you may already see in the newspaper, is that the post is open to all who is qualified to apply. He or she will go through the interview process and the best candidate will be chosen. This person will be a civil servant and all regulations will apply to him or her, and if that person is involved in politics in the office he or she will be cautioned. I ask that the MNA and DA do a good job for their district for people to stop feeling the necessity to write to State House for them to have simple explanations that should be resolved at the district level. This Mr. Speaker marks a new victory in this fierce struggle that my colleagues and I carried for Seychelles.
Mr. Speaker, before I close this chapter on Local Government, it is my responsibility to announce that after consultations with the Ministry of Finance, Government has decided to cancel the district council election which was to be held in January 2021. The reason for such a decision is of financial. With our economic situation which we are going through, the country is not in a position to spend Rs 20m to organize this election. Also, based on the salary cost for the Regional Councils, the country will spend Rs 3.12m for the council chairpersons and another sum of Rs 15.288, which will make a total of Rs 18.408. And when you add this all together, it gives a total of Rs 38.408m.
Mr. Speaker, Seychelles will continue to work with all countries, especially those which are already our close partners and aspire for a foreign policy which promotes mutual cooperation and gives more value to our common interest. I have already said and I repeat: Our sovereignty is sacred and not at any moment, will we give it away to any country.
Seychelles appreciates much the support it has had from its partners at the centre of this pandemic.
Together, with many other small Island States, we have received much support to help us face the difficulties for us to be able to recover. As Small Island States, it is clear that we need much support for us to overcome the economic challenges which have come as a result of the medical crisis.
In the past, Seychelles has been able to record very high development indicators, but with those sudden and unprecedented crises and the economic shocks, we have found ourselves in a most vulnerable situation, to a level where we have needed the help of the international community. We thus once again say a big thank you for all the support we have received and we call upon our friends to continue to support Seychelles and its development, for us to together overcome the difficulties that this pandemic has imposed on us. Our economy will recover with the grace of God and all support that we get will be most welcome.
Mr. Speaker, in the spirit of better utilizing our resources to become more effective as we make fewer expenses, Government will also close four embassies which will help reduce expenses and reduce demand on foreign currency. Those embassies are Sri Lanka, Cuba, and our representation in Geneva. There will also be more effort to make the embassies work in closer collaboration with our tourist offices.
Seychelles will adopt an approach of working in synergy as a government where external relations are concerned. So all ministries, departments and agencies whose functions have an impact on our international relations will work closely with the Ministry of Foreign affairs and Tourism.
Mr. Speaker, the family is the foundation of our society. It is the first institution which educates, brings up and disciplines our children, who are the future of our country. We have to give a new breath to the families by restructuring this Ministry for it to be able to develop and implement programs which bring more support to families, and bring a higher quality of life for them.
This will reduce social problems which are contaminating our society. Emphasis will be on prevention, education and capacity building. The youth is tomorrow’s workforce, they are the future. So all this effort that we are applying to redress our economy, to put the scourge of drugs under control, and our efforts will be in vain if we do not prepare our youth to support our success. We will need to have more modern programs which are implemented more positively, and which bring a real impact in all aspects of community development. Politics must be removed completely from sports. There must be more family participation in sports. Sports management will be reinforced for there to be a more professional approach for our athletes to be motivated to dream about that first Olympic medal for Seychelles.
Mr. Speaker, our country is going through a period of strong turbulence. Unfortunately for my team and myself, we are taking over the wheel of our country at a moment when Seychelles is facing 2 major crises in its history; a health crisis which is pulling us into an economic crisis with unprecedented impact.
During the last two weeks, as I gathered a lot of important information on the economic situation of our country, all my fears have been confirmed. All that the experts were telling us and all that local and international observers were attracting our attention on, those things have been confirmed. In only a few words, let me tell you that Seychelles’ economy is really in a bad state. Experts are indicating that contrary to the beginning of this epidemic where we expected our economy to contract by 10.8%, we expect a more severe situation whereby this will fall to 13.5% for 2020. Our tourism industry is really in a battered state and we will end the year with 73% fewer tourists compared to 2019. This makes a direct impact on all other sectors of our economy such as the price of goods, transportation costs and services in general.
Because of this really bad situation, different measures must be implemented to ensure that our expenses are done more effectively by prioritizing them and ensuring that our budget is sustainable. Our debt has reached an unsustainable level. If the Government continues to spend at the same rate that it is doing now, the result will be catastrophic for our country. Government has to bring its budget back to a sustainable level. At the moment we are living, revenue will remain low as economic activity is also at a low level. We see a situation where our key European tourism markets have declined and some countries have even re-imposed lockdown. That makes that even some airlines have suspended their operations in Seychelles, such as Ethiopian Airlines and British Airways, as there are not enough passengers. One direct result of such a situation is the devaluation of our rupee. Everyone sees how the value of the dollar has risen above Rs20. That has a direct impact on importation and also on the cost of living. In this same vein, I would like to announce that after consultation with the Ministry of Finance, Government has decided that individuals or companies possessing foreign currency and not needing to buy dollars from the banks, will be able to import their vehicles.
That is a small opening which we believe is logic and which will also permit some tax collection.
In 2021, we will have to revise the FA4JR scheme, as we will not be able to sustain expenses of around Rs1.4 billion. So I must say that already there is a vast restructuring exercise going on to gear the scheme towards more productivity and encourage Seychellois workers to wake up and take up jobs which will make us reduce the number of foreign workers. URS, My First Job and SETS will necessarily need to play a more active role which will permit qualified Seychellois to replace foreigners. This will help ease our expenses for as we all know, foreign workers put more pressure on our foreign exchange reserves. We have to offer jobs to Seychellois, permitting a reduction in the social services’ budget.
With this economic situation where we continue to experience a devaluation of the rupee and dollars which enter the state coffers continue to diminish, Government, which is already paying private sector salary finds itself in a position where it is impossible to pay the 13th-month salary. In the situation that we are, the 13th-month salary would cost the government a sum of about Rs 541 million. Unfortunately, we all have to participate in this sacrifice. So, it is with much regret that I have to announce that all end of year benefits for all constitutional positions starting from President’s Office, VP, ministers, MNAs and all others will not be paid this year. There will be no payment of 13th month in government and the public sector, but this does not prevent businesses in the private sector which wishes to pay a bonus to their workers to do so. All legal amendments will be done by the Office of the Attorney General. However, this will not apply to end of service contract payments.
As part of our effort to address the issue of the cost of living, we will support STC in the reduction of its operational costs as much as possible. We will start by transferring the Hypermarket building which STC is renting from SSI to STC. This will immediately relieve STC of a burden of Rs 1.2 million which will help stabilize the price of commodities that STC sells to Seychellois. The Indian government has already agreed on a grant to install photovoltaic panels on the hypermarket roof. As a result, the electricity cost of more than Rs 1 million per year will reduce. STC will thus make a saving of around Rs 20 million in 2021, and I will insist that this benefit be passed on to customers so that they will feel the price reduction. The Ministry of Finance has been asked to ensure that this is materialized.
To intensify all our effort in preparing to re-launch our economy after COVID, Government is engaging negotiations with the IMF to assist us to address certain issues such as the high public debt, price stability and the balance of payment crisis. An IMF program will help bring back economic stability and encourage economic development. This will provide us with the financial support we need to rebuild our foreign exchange reserve. The immediate aim of this IMF program is to rebalance our budget, thus render our debt sustainable. Added to that, it will help us restructure our debt.
Mr. Speaker, Seychellois Brothers and Sisters, we have to manage our economy in the same way that we treat our home expenses. When the salary of mummy or daddy is reduced, the household income is reduced and the whole family suffers.
At this point, a responsible family has no choice but has to review its budget and reevaluate its expenses’ priorities. But through difficult decisions you take to cut certain costs, you must ensure that no children go to bed on an empty stomach. It is in the same spirit that the government is taking those very important decisions to ensure that our economy continues to survive in this time of crisis.
We understand that this will make Christmas time this year a bit harder than last year. But what is essential is that we continue to keep in mind that we have kept our job. When the festivities of Christmas and New Year are over, even though they will be different, we will be able to return to a secured job. This is the guarantee that the government is offering you.
Government is encouraging everyone to take up any employment opportunity that is presented to you. Take it seriously today. Stop acting as if you have a wide choice maybe like yesterday when you left a job and got another one. This situation has changed. I hope that you have well listened to the Governor of the Central Bank, Miss Caroline Abel when she talks to us about the economic situation. As I have said earlier in my speech, I want to replace foreign workers by Seychellois. So it is clear that our Seychellois workers must deliver, must be more disciplined, must not miss work for a yes or a no, and must show more responsibility. On many instances, I have said that Seychellois workers are hard working. I repeat it once more, and now in this difficult moment let us show that we have the courage and determination to stand strong for our family and country. It is not the moment for us to just try to do what we like to do. We must aim to be productive and play our role to put our economy back on its feet. If we make sacrifices today, the moment will come in the future when we will get the job of our choice, and simply because we are more determined because hard times have not scared us, but have made us stronger.
I also call upon employers to recruit Seychellois workers and offer the necessary training and a satisfactory salary which will motivate them and permit them to feed their family. Remember that it costs much less to recruit a Seychellois. Now is the moment to think about that because each action we undertake will have a direct impact on our economy in this time of crisis. Our country must come first. It is only when each and every one of us contributes his or her part in this mammoth task that we will be able to reap the benefits of a stable economy.
So I call upon all those that have not yet realized that you have to do your part and have not yet shown that you are ready to do so, to change, and change quickly. There is a song which says that we all own a part in the riches of our country. Yes, this is true, but for us to be able to claim that part, we have to start to contribute our part! So, in this new Seychelles which lie before us, we all have to work, we all have to do our part, we all have to contribute to moving Seychelles forward.
My prayer remains the same. I ask that God Almighty blesses our beautiful country of Seychelles and protect it in this difficult moment. That he sheds his power and light on all Seychellois and all persons living in our country.
As of me, I promise the People of Seychelles that I will continue to stand on your side and that I will never abandon you.