State of the Nation Address 2022 by the President of the Republic of Seychelles, Mr. Wavel Ramkalawan before the National Assembly of Seychelles on Tuesday, 22 February, 2022
03 March 2022 | State House
Leader of the Opposition
Leader of Government Business
Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly
All Honourable Members
Vice President of the Republic and Stella
Chief Justice and President of the Court of Appeal
All Seychellois – Seychellois who are here, Seychellois who are abroad, all of us who have some connection with Seychelles and
My very dear Linda
16 months in office. 16 months at the most difficult moment in the history of our country. The whole world seemed to have stopped turning. Our economy was on its knees, the future looked impossible and uncertain.
It is easy for us to forget October 2020, but it is important for us to keep October 2020 in mind for us to be able to reflect. In October 2020, the dollar stood at twenty-two rupees. Government was living off advances given by the Central Bank, and our preoccupation as a government was whether we would be able to pay workers their end-of-the-month salaries. Our concern was not if employees would get a thirteenth-month pay, nor if they would get bonuses, it was if they would get their pay at the end of the month to be able to put food on their family’s table, for them to dress their children, for them to be able to give each and every member of their family the necessary encouragement.
A few days or several weeks after this administration had carried the election, our health system started to come up against COVID. The Anse Royale Hospital, Seychelles Hospital, the Family Hospital, Praslin and La Digue, all our health services started to feel the effects of COVID. But today, on the 22nd of the second month of 2022, through serious planning and concrete management, we are already on the road for us to move further ahead. This Government did not delay in taking concrete actions and this is what is holding us today when we look at the state of our nation. In a short time, more than 60 million had been contributed to the COVID account. Our economy was starting to sight a glimmer of light. Seychelles entered into an aggressive vaccination programme as of January 2021 and as the President of Seychelles, I became the first African head of state to take that vaccine. President Faure followed me; the second person to take the vaccine, and together with the government, all of the members of the Cabinet, all the members of the National Assembly, we entered into a new phase and it is this that permitted us to reopen our country on March 25th 2021.
Mr. Speaker, People of Seychelles,
We reopened our country at a moment when many people and many countries had certain fears. They thought that what we were doing was mad, but we, people who calculated, prepared to take decisions, we went ahead. And as we did this, and at the same time that COVID ravaged our community, what did we do? We built a hospital facility in 17 days for us to be able to welcome 40 patients. Later we set up the tent, the tent hospital which Qatar gave us, in 25 days. In this short period of time we brought two other oxygen plants, we brought the freezer for us to be able to stock the Pfizer vaccine and in addition, we did many other things.
So, Mr. Speaker,
First, I wish to say to the Seychellois people that we must not take anything for granted, but on the contrary, we must, all of us, this Seychellois people, we all who are following, must realise that the only way for our country to move forward, the only way for our country to attain really noble objectives is for us to plan well. It is for us to ensure that each cent that our country earns is spent well, and after that there must be unity amongst this people.
Yes, people of Seychelles, it is our unity which has brought us to where we are and so, in collaboration with this Seychellois people which gives me such great pride, we have worked hard and we should be proud as a nation.
But Mr., Speaker,
It is not only the People of Seychelles and we humans who has permitted us to get to where we are. Day and night I never stop thanking Almighty God who has showered his blessings on our country, blessed our nation, who has shown us direction. Under His guidance, we have been protected as a people, and today, we say first to Almighty God, «Thank you very much for the special love which you hold for Seychelles and for all Seychellois».
During the period of time which I have been speaking on it and while I am addressing you today, our reserves stand at US 702 million dollars, and our net reserves, i.e. what belongs entirely to us, is US 509 million dollars. Never has this happened before. And Mr. Speaker, I also want to say to the people of Seychellois that during all the difficulties we have passed through, even if you compare the number of visitors who entered the country in 2019 and 2021 – even if in 2019, we received close to 400,000 visitors and last year we received 180,000 visitors, I want to tell the people of Seychelles that the revenue we collected from the tourism industry in 2021 is much higher than in 2019. This is the work we have done, and where has this brought us?
It is with much pride – and I know that the Minister of Health shares this same pride, this same joy, that I want to tell the Seychellois people that through the good management of the COVID situation, today, all facilities at the Coast Guard are free of patients. We have only 8 patients at the Family Hospital. This is where we have got to and once again, this is what makes us proud. Today, as I address you, our rolling average is 50 and we have 541 active cases. 85% of our population has received the first dose of the vaccine, 80% have taken both and 33% have already taken the booster dose. And amongst our youth too, a large percentage have already been given the vaccine.
Therefore, Mr. Speaker, with the progress which we are making, I will chair a Platinum (Committee) meeting this week and in that meeting – and I know that Seychellois are waiting on this – in that meeting the principal topic on the agenda is to look at the existing restrictions. I can already tell you that we are heading in the direction of relieving more of the restrictions so our people can once again breathe. We all want to be able to have a bit more freedom. We want to be able to visit our parents. We want to be able to go and mix with the community. Therefore, we will take that decision this week.
And today, Mr. Speaker,
I want to make a call to the entire religious community, and all the Seychelles people, to dedicate this coming weekend from Friday onwards as a weekend of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving to thank God for what we have been able to achieve and the Thanksgiving will end with a multi-faith celebration on 28th February up at State House where once again, we will turn towards God, exactly as we did when we were on our knees. But now we will return towards God to thank Him and to praise Him for the way He has taken care of us.
Today, where Seychelles has got to, I want to tell the people of Seychelles that despite the obstacles, the challenges we still face, we are on the right track. This I think, no one can deny. We are on the right track, and so today, I want to say to the people of Seychelles that I believe we are living in a country that is stable, where political change and transition has already been accepted. We have become a people who has embraced Democracy, a people who understands that the only way for it to change its government is through the ballot box.
We are a people whose Defence Forces and all who have something to do with security have shown their loyalty towards the state and towards the flag, and these Defence Forces, represented tonight by Brigadier Rosette, has become the pride of our people. They are acting as professionals and I, as Commander in Chief of the Forces, do not miss any occasion for me to say Yes, this Force today is continually growing and is making the people of Seychelles know a real pride. So, I say to them to continue in this direction and to all the youth who are in the Forces, I know that sometimes you feel some sense of discouragement, and I, together with the Brigadier, am taking it as my responsibility for us to see how our Forces can move further ahead.
And, precisely, Mr. Speaker,
I also want to say to the people of Seychelles that we are living in a country that is a true democracy, where no telephone gets listened on. Those times where spies lived outside your windows to listen to what you were saying are over, and today, everyone can express themselves - even those who have no message can express themselves.
Today, Mr. Speaker, we have ourselves a people who, slowly, slowly, is realising that hard work is not a burden but that working hard is morally good for us and that ethically, this is what we should be doing. At the same time, as taxpayers, this people is asking that their money, that their contribution is well utilised, and their expectation is of a country where there is no corruption or a country which fights against corruption where it exists. A country where there is respect for the rights of each individual and where that country delivers appropriate services. Yes, today, the rights of all our citizens are respected.
Mr. Speaker, our children have shown us that they too have understood the message and they demonstrated to us through their results – the best results that we have achieved in many years, to tell us that they too will contribute in the construction of this new country, this country which makes our hearts beat hard, this national anthem which when we sing it, like you have sung it, with such beauty, and when our flag is rising, to say that they too, form part of this country.
A country where men and women who were on URS (Unemployment Relief Scheme) have entered into full-time employment, where they are making pension contributions, and there are many who are being paid twice the amount they were receiving on URS, and there are even those who have opened their own business and are making four times more that they got under the URS scheme.
It is a country where there is much more confidence amongst investors, where once again FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) is flowing in, where we see major construction being undertaken. So, Mr. Speaker,
My invitation for the people of Seychelles is to say to us all, ‘This is called our country, this is called our country, Seychelles, small Seychelles, but however, on the international scene as well we really bring pride and so I invite all Seychellois to sing from the same hymnal.’ So let us sing the same hymn! And in this way, we will be bringing our country in the same direction. So Mr. Speaker,
I want to say to Seychellois, it is no longer time to speak of change. Today, change has already happened! Today, we speak of the transformation of our society.
Transform and in this transformation, which I have seen is already happening, the key is that we all give all that we have, bringing our performance up to the required standard and even look for a way to go higher, for us to (as we say in English) « Go the extra mile », for us to become more conscientious. For us to realise that when I, as an individual, give the best of what I have inside, it is my family that benefits, it is my society, it is my community which benefits, but above all it is I, because it gives me a new sense of confidence and that newfound sense of confidence, makes me respect myself more and through this self-respect, I keep myself at an acceptable standard.
Mr. Speaker, in this Seychelles which we have created, and where this transformation is happening, I must say that there is no place for mediocrity. There is no place for laziness, no place for a ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude. No! Each one must ask, what am I producing after a day’s work? What have I learnt as a student after I have sat in a classroom for a whole day? What am I doing to improve my place of work? And for you here in this Assembly who are leaders, and also those who are not in this Assembly, ask yourself, ‘What am I doing as a leader? How am I leading my organisation? How am I making my organisation grow and make it shine? Do you feel an increase in self-confidence when you are doing all this, feel the need to learn more and feel that you are giving back to the people of Seychelles through the position you hold in the Seychelles society that you are rendering them a much greater service, and that through this you are helping your child, you are helping my child and you are helping all Seychellois children grow, because let us not forget, Seychelles is for all her children. So let us think of all Seychellois children.
So Mr. Speaker,
This transformation I am speaking of and which today is important, will come through our performance in building a nation, a united nation for us to build our country and here, I want to thank everyone who is working in the public service who is giving their best. There are many who are giving their best. During the weekend, they are thinking of how they will review the files to be able to help a Seychellois brother, sister. But I must also compare those who are giving their all, in in order to express my disappointment with those whose right foot is stuck on the brakes while their left hand is on the hand brake. I am not happy with this because their intention is to make this people frustrated, and we in this administration do not want this frustration. So I will need, unfortunately, to say directly that when they continue to leave they foot on the brakes, continue leave their hand on the handbrake and they are told their performance is not up to scratch and that they will therefore need to stop work, let no one act as if they had no warning. We have had 16 months and we see those who spend their time acting in this way. For us to be able to make this country move, this must also change.
Here, I want to thank everyone in the private sector because today, the private sector is becoming the real motor of our economy and the Minister of Finance has already forecasted that though their performance this coming year, although we have brought down tax rates, but despite this, this year we will collect more tax because there are more businesses which are operating. There are more businesses which are striving. So Seychelles says a big thank you to all businesses and investors for what they are doing.
Mr. Speaker, in this transformation - and it is for this reason that we have changed the name DPA (Department of Public Administration), we wanted that people leave behind that old model which was sometimes used as an excuse and was sometimes too controlling. And soon, there will be a presentation here before the Assembly where Miss Sheila Mohideen, our new Chief Secretary – who is also conducting this training through the Guy Morel Institute, which will become the Civil Service College, will come to explain to you how this civil service will be transformed and how there will more autonomy within the ministries and departments. This will ensure that performance will be better assessed and not only will performance be better assessed, but before we ask for more money, more increments or for more resources, we shall also ask, ‘How will the resource I am asking for help to improve the performance of this task?’
This administration is saying to the Seychellois people that we are serious and therefore, we are saying to all workers ‘Do not eliminate yourself from this process, to the contrary, make sure you are part of the process to bring pride.’
So, in the same spirit that we have experienced, and I see that our country is going in the right direction, we must establish the highest standards possible in all that we do and through this will be recognised like our ancestors who built State House, who built the Domus, who built the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, who build La Salle D’œuvres, who built all the important buildings, built the road all around Mahé. Like our ancestors who gave their all, who worked, who did not need workers from overseas to do that, we too will be able to reclaim that pride as people who work.
And now I wish to tell you, and it is for this reason that my government has taken a really firm stand on the subject of GOPs (Gainful Occupation Permits) and as we placed Seychellois in employment, we have been able to loose more GOPs. I will say that I am really offended when an investor comes looking for a percentage of foreign workers to work in their establishment, however, at the same time I understand them, but it is us who must change this. And if we change this, we will be able to speak louder.
And now, Mr. Speaker,
I want to say to you, to all the people of Seychelles and all the leaders in the Assembly that where I go from Seychelles, as you have seen, I take it as my duty for me to meet Seychellois who live overseas. And each time I meet Seychellois – and last week I met three large groups of Seychellois, in Belgium, Brest and Paris, and before this I met another group in Addis Ababa, what encourages me is I see Seychellois who are working hard, Seychellois who are putting their talents at the disposition of the organisation when they work. And when you go to Europe, when you look at Seychellois who during wintertime are giving their all, when the temperature is -2, - 3, -5 degrees when you wake up, but that Seychellois still gets up to turn up [for work], I say that within us Seychellois, we have a strong spirit. We have something inside us as people who come from islands, who are really strong. And so, if our brothers and sisters who, in the cold, are getting up why is it that we too cannot get up in the morning to go to work and to be productive. And those people have no social security to call on, they need to do this and it is this that permits them to feed their families. And I want the same attitude to reign amongst our people here.
So, Mr. Speaker,
As we all know, there continues to be so many positions which are being occupied by foreigners; why is it that we, we cannot fill these positions? There are so many foreigners that we Seychellois are better qualified than, so I request also that in all workplaces, to identify as well those Seychellois who are able to replace a foreigner and make it that that Seychellois will get this job. And now I say again as I like to say, ‘You, that Seychellois, do just let foreigners come to take your place! You, too, stand up, get up and don’t let your country down, on the contrary, make your country count.’ And I wish to congratulate again all Seychellois who are doing extremely well. I meet them every day. I want to congratulate them and I want to tell them to continue because they are making our country really proud.
Mr. Speaker, when we speak of safeguarding our country for a better tomorrow, it is important for us to also say, particularly to the people of Seychelles, that in that transformation which we are speaking of, we need to remove from our minds the mindset that it is government that will do everything for you. Let us change this, because in this transformation it is not Government who will do everything, Government will be a facilitator but consider that everything begins with you. Student, when you get a good grade it is because you studied, in the same way the employee when he delivers well and gets a promotion, it is because you have worked. Meritocracy, as we say, is what will bring you higher, which will make us climb. And as we perfect ourselves, we can reach higher and it is this which will give us a better tomorrow. A better tomorrow where we know our priorities and where we know, and all of us here, I hope that we know, that better tomorrow we have reached has come through sacrifice, meaning we have had to make sacrifices.
There are times where perhaps we’ve worked without taking a lunch break. There are times where we’ve sat down where we’ve worked until 2 am in the morning because we’ve wanted to resolve that situation. So, Mr Speaker, we must safeguard our country while we give our all.
And now please, people of Seychelles, let us safeguard our country. Crimes against visitors will simply destroy our tourism industry and our economy. Those images which are circulating of Port Launay Beach brings us no pride and appropriate action will have to be taken. When we drag our feet at our place of work, what we are doing is we’re preventing Seychellois from having a better standard of living. When, as a youth, we don’t plan our future, but instead allow ourselves to be lured into all kinds of vices, what this does is destroy our tomorrow.
When all of us, together, adopt another mindset, then we will be protecting our country, we will be standing up for our community, we will be fighting all the harmful things which are destroying it, and at the same time we will be fighting against that biggest scourge which continues to plague all our youth, touch our population and turn them into zombies, and engage into all forms of criminality and this is drugs. All the crimes which have happened lately involved drugs, so please, Seychellois, government is doing its part, I invite you too to do your part. Do not waste those resources which the state has and which they, they have produced, unnecessarily.
So Mr. Speaker, Seychellois Sisters, Brothers,
In this transformation we also need to transform our community; we must be able to prevent that violence becomes a way for our people to act. I am already speaking to the Commissioner of Police about that violence. This violence we will need to stop because it is going too far. And I am confident that the police will do what they need to do. And here, Commissioner Barbe, I want to congratulate you for the leadership you are showing. Today, this transformation is already taking place in the Police Force and surely you have noticed that crime today is being detected, it is before that crime was not detected. Today, when a crime occurs, tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, that person is apprehended and brought to justice.
But at the same time, as we have done this afternoon, this afternoon, my friends, unfortunately, we have had to sign a paper to suspend an Assistant Superintendent. As we speak now, there are police officers in custody who have participated in criminal acts. This cannot continue. Late last year we also had to suspend a Chief Superintendent because his behaviour was inappropriate, so it is also important to look, and here I launch an appeal to the Police Force. When you wear this cap, the top of which bears the Seychelles emblem, you should walk with honour. You should serve your country with honour and you, you should not be involved in any criminal activity. So, Mr. Speaker, we have to do this, there is a huge job here.
Nuisances in the community, lack of respect, abuse of our children, and here I am happy to say that the Court has taken a really strict approach. Chief Justice, I wish to congratulate the Court and I ask that we continue in this direction. An adult who abuses a child under 10 years, who abuses a child, sorry, has a huge problem and our legal system must take action. And here, together with the Attorney General, we are speaking on how those cases of abuse can be processed faster, because often they delay, the children are being influenced into all kinds of direction and money is flowing, all manner of things are changing hands, and justice is not done. And I know that in our communities many people are asking what happens to those people who, who get sent to prison for two, three months, are released and go back to stealing again. This too, I am asking the Assembly to reflect on, to see how to tackle these repeat offenders who terrorise a community. No one should be able to take any person hostage. This is not the country we are looking to build. So, the state must take the necessary action against those who feel they cannot live in this community, in order for us to move forward.
And here, People of Seychelles,
I really want for our nation to adhere itself at all times to the truth. Our society today is being bombarded with too many untruths, and it is regrettable to say that oftentimes these lies are being spread by well-educated men and women; these lies are not good for our society, not good for our children, not good for the development of our country. So I am asking that in this transformation, first, that should those grown men and women want to go on facebook, to do so with their own identity. No need to call yourselves Trou Kler, Deginyen, Gro Ros, Ti Nesta and whatever else besides. Be frank! If you have an opinion to express, express that opinion because you should be able to make your opinion count. Why is it that here in the Assembly when you have freedom of expression, and if you wish to speak, why is it you do it? And everyone knows that whatever is said was said by that Honorable? So I ask that on facebook and wherever else we are spreading those untruths, that we stop.
And I also wish to address the media, because I think that the media has a special role, because they need to seek, but they need to undertake research for the truth, seek for that truth for you to be able to help build this country. And for those who hold those responsibilities, I would be happy if you became Richard Quests, Christiane Amanpour without forgetting our own late Kevin Malbrook, journalists we all hold in respect, because they have been interested in digging for them to know the truth.
And on our side in government, like yesterday Minister Hassan did in respect to the investigation on Seypec, we will continue to provide information. We shall carry on providing you with information, but we expect that when we give you information that you are faithful to it in the manner in which you share this information with the Seychellois people.
And here, I also say to the MNAs that people listen attentively to you, and you too should all know your procedures well. When you say certain things, people listen and take it for the truth. The other day, I heard an MNA say in an interview on a project, « I searched in the Budget but I did not see that amount. » But Honourable, if it is a project for a department that is not budget-dependent, you will look in the budget day and night and still see nothing. Let us look for, obtain the appropriate information, and share it with this people. So, MNAs, I know that from time to time the Speaker stops you when there is something inappropriate, but I ask all of you to participate in this.
And here I ask those people who run talk shows, because today it is freedom that reigns. On SBC, Télésesel, people can speak however they choose to but I say that those who lead these talk shows have a special responsibility, and this is for them to know more than those in their audience. Particularly the facts. Why? For them to be able to correct any false interpretations put forward and in this way our people will walk in the light.
The state of our country is one in which ‘rule of law’ has really been established. Today, everyone knows that if there is an injustice they can obtain a response. Everyone know that procedures are followed at all times, and lately, I am happy that lawyers in court as well as other institutions have come forward to make requests to protect the rights of each individual. Nowadays it seems to have become the norm to request our friends in the Judiciary for sunlight and fresh air. All this forms part of the transformation which we are making in our country for us to be able to change, for us to move forward.
And so, Mr. Speaker,
I wish to say that all members have the responsibility to maintain the rule of law, all of you do your work freely. And People of Seychelles, State House is not a Court, I am not a judge. The Judiciary is headed by Chief Justice Ronny Govinden and the Court of Appeal by President Fernando. And here I want to make it clear that in all these investigations and in those ‘high profile’ cases which are currently being heard, there is no political agenda and I want to say, don’t make it political. And I want to say to those people who are trying to make it political, if you, you make it political, do not accuse other people of making politics.
We are in a country today where no truth commission will be established later. We want to run it according to the law, according to our Constitution, and like you said, the Executive is checked and balanced by the Legislative and that the Judiciary has oversight of the work of the Executive and the Legislative. This is our system of government and this is what we will continue to promote. So I hope that theTruth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission will finish their work this year, after which they will present their report. I also appreciate the work the Ombudsman has done, she has just presented her report and has made certain proposals and these proposals will be studied. The Human Rights Commission has of course taken fresh impetus and for the moment they have issued their report on the state of the cells. I personally welcome these different reports and today I wish to announce that we are in the process of building a proper remand centre. This proper remand centre will be of international standard and we will be consulting with the Human Rights Commission to ensure that international standards are met so that there are no complaints.
And here, Mr. Speaker, I wish to say that when I was in Brussels, our Ambassador Ms. Beryl Samson, who also has an eye on Geneva where Human Rights issues are concerned, has informed me that there have been no complaints from the persons concerned about human rights in Seychelles, but that on the contrary, that Brussels itself as well as the international community are very satisfied with the way Seychelles is acting, and that everyone has the right to express themselves, and their right implemented. So Mr. Speaker, we want to continue with our institutions and we will need to push them, to give them more teeth so they can do work which will give us more pride.
ACCS, definitely, we have seen a bit more of lately through the work they are doing against corruption and we request that they continue their work all the while keeping to the Rule of Law. And today, we are really proud that Seychelles is recognised as a country where there is no abuse and this is at all international summits, and at all international meetings, and also at the level of the African Union, where Seychelles also comes out top. And you have seen that I met Mo Ibrahim when we had the opportunity to speak on the situation in Seychelles and he has expressed his satisfaction on the way Seychelles is performing.
And so Mr. Speaker, we will continue along this line and this forms part of the state of our nation where no one will disappear in our country. No one will be arrested and their family not know where they are. No one will be arrested and who will not have legal representation. No one will go through these situations, but we will hold ourselves as a country where the rights of each individual is recognised. The freedom of expression of each individual is safeguarded and we can all live with all our pride.
One of the subjects that is of concern for all Seychellois today is the cost of living. We would all love it if the cost of living was less expensive, but unfortunately, today we see that the cost of living continues to rise and so there are many questions posed and I am questioned about it.
Mr. Speaker, People of Seychelles,
Let us understand how the cost of living works and let us understand one thing; the price of commodities will continue to rise year after year. What will even out this rise is an increase in your pay and it is this that we have been unable to do these past 16 months. Why have we been unable to do so? Because of our economic situation. The Minister of Finance has announced that if the economy continues to perform well, we are looking into the possibility of giving people an increase and this increase will be to cut inflation.
Let us have a look at what happened in Seychelles, what affected us. All Seychellois who travel tell you that “before, they used to to Dubai and they got this”, “they went to Mauritius and they got that”, same thing for South Africa, and their story is that prices have gone up there. Second, the cost of transportation and commodities have increased considerably. Third, the cost of fuel has increased and fourth, there is also an element of dishonesty amongst certain people, some merchants as well as certain individuals because today, a Seychellois who travels tells you they are going do a little business and when they return, they turn a a profit, we can even say they kill their brother with the price they sell those things.
So, Mr. Speaker,
While I make this analysis on the cost of living today which we are complaining about, consider just for a second where we would be if this administration had not taken concrete decisions to vaccinate our people, to reopen our economy, to restore investor confidence, for us to move that dollar from 22, 23 rupees and to bring it lower than 14, For us to be able to take that Euro from 25 to bring it to 16 rupees. Just think where we would be?
And when Mr. Speaker, we look at just one thing, the cost of transportation, I need to give you the details so that you can understand. Prior to COVID in 2019, to bring a 20-foot container from Dubai cost USD2,200; today, to take this same container from Dubai to bring here costs from USD5,400 to USD6,000. It has more than doubled. A refrigerated container from Europe used to cost Euro 2,800; today it costs between Euro5,400 and Euro6,200. Once more the cost has doubled, even tripled. Before COVID, a 40-foot container from Dubai cost between USD3,800 and USD4,000, today it costs between USD8,000 to USD9,000. Again it has doubled. A refrigerated container prior to COVID cost Euro 4,800, today, it is between Euro 9,000 and 10,000.
The cost of transportation has a direct impact on our merchandise. It has a direct impact and so if you see that the price of certain commodities has increased, it isn’t us who is making it rise, but like I said, let us consider where we would be if this government had not done the work we have done to relaunch the economy, for us to be able to get back on our feet and to ensure that everyone gets a salary.
If the dollar still stood at 22 rupees, that same container I just told you about earlier would have cost SCR 132,000 to reach Seychelles, but because we’ve brought down that dollar, it costs us SCR84,000 for it to arrive, which means we’ve made a saving of SCR48,000. The same 40-foot container from Europe when we make the same calculation, when we use our new exchange rate cost us SCR90,000 less than if we had done nothing, if we had just sat and said we have some reserves.
So, Mr. Speaker,
During these 16 months, when the world started to emerge to start producing, benzine has risen by 49%, diesel has increased by 37% on the world market and that heavy oil which we use to produce electricity, it has risen by 84%. So, do we find it odd that the price of electricity, of services has increased? Do we find it strange that the cost of living has risen?
Mr. Speaker, all those things I am saying are outside of our control, however, it is here that STC with its RRP (Recommended Retail Price) programme comes in and they are working hard to continue to make the price of products reasonable. They are subsidising many commodities and this is helping.
And today, how many of us are taking seriously this situation in Ukraine, Russia and Europe? How many of us are thinking of its impact? And I will tell you that this is something that greatly worries my government. With respect to tourism, what will happen if war is declared? This new market which we have got in Ukraine and Russia itself? Because, if war is declared, Europe will impose sanctions. The United States will impose sanctions and the cards etc will be blocked and so our tourism industry will be blocked. On the other hand, Europe, a market which is growing today, can itself also suffer. So, it will have a direct impact on the people of Seychelles, today, this is this government’s greatest worry.
We are doing well, and in January, we received more than 22, 000 tourists. In February, we will again surpass that figure of twenty thousand, so we are doing well. And like we were doing well at the beginning of 2020 and after COVID everything stopped, we are afraid that if war is declared in Ukraine, Russia and Europe are involved, the impact will be global and it will not just be us in Seychelles who will suffer. And already let me tell you that the price of fuel has begun to rise. It won’t be just us in Seychelles, the whole Indian Ocean will suffer, Africa will suffer as will everywhere. So, Mr. Speaker, I am just mentioning that we are part of this global village and what happens in one corner of the work will also affect us, and unfortunately government will have no control over it.
Today, the state of our nation also gives us many things to celebrate and one of our celebrations is Air Seychelles. The decisions we have taken are decisions which were appropriate, which were good, which were right, even if many people said we did not know what we were doing. Mr. Speaker, when we came into the government, we found ourselves with an airline with a debt of more than USD150 million. Since last year and just as soon as we entered government we have worked on it, we negotiated with Etihad and we also negotiated with the bond holders. Air Seychelles went into administration and in fact, it still is in administration. But today, we must celebrate because though our negotiations, we have succeeded in writing off more than USD100 million of debt for Air Seychelles. Which means, Mr. Speaker, we have been able to write off SCR1.5 billion which Air Seychelles owed and here I want to thank, really thank everyone who worked on it.
And here first I wish to thank two administrators, Mr. Bernard Pool and Mr. Suketu Patel. I want to thank the Board and management of Air Seychelles, Minister Hassan, Minister Derjacques, the Designated Minister who played the leading role. I also wish to thank Mr. Honourable Bernard Georges who has been there to help during those reflections as well as everyone who played a positive role. I do not wish to mention the VP because he is here at my side, but, VP, I will give you this small honour, you too for all the direction that you gave.
I wish therefore, Mr. Speaker, to thank everyone who helped so that today, we find ourselves in a position where when we reach the end of March, all the problems will be resolved and Air Seychelles and its management will enter the company for them to be able to continue managing Air Seychelles without it having had to sack anyone. This is what was coming: Redundancy, by large groups, but we have managed to do this and so, for me, this is really a great pride for our government.
I know that time is flying by but I simply want to say that this year, our Legislative programme is one which will be full. Already last year the National Assembly established a record in the number of Bills which they approved and I am happy to say that not a single one of all the Bills which you approved has been challenged before the Constitutional Court, and so all is well, which means we know what we are doing. And so immediately there are a couple of the Bills which you approved to put into operation: The Physical Planning Act. Civil Status, Inquest Into Death, Domestic Violence. Soon, there are specific ones which on 1 March will come into application where we will be able to protect our people. There is already certain legislation before you, and I think that as soon as the Assembly resumes, you will be working on these.
But amongst new Bills, I will mention one or two. We want to introduce a Fair Trading Commission Bill, and this will permit us to look again at everything which has to do with Fair Trading in our country, competition and the consumer protection. And at the same time, as we have said, there is also that element where we will introduce a Fair Trading Tribunal which we need to work on.
And precisely, within this context as we speak of tribunals, one of the elements vis-à-vis the Judiciary, one of the elements which we are looking at is how we can appoint more Magistrates, and this is a discussion that is ongoing. And the Minister of Finance together with the Chief Justice they will be able to sit together and speak, because we want to put in more Magistrates so we can make speed up our administration of justice.
We will make amendments to our Penal Code for us to address crimes which are motivated, and I have heard you speak of. Crimes motivated by a buyer or the sexual orientation of a person, someone’s disability, their race or their political beliefs. We want to put the finger on this so we can once again live in harmony and it is this which our Constitution of us.
The Sexual Offences Bill, where once again all offences relating to sexual offences, and here as well, especially against children and vulnerable groups. Here too we will look with this Bill at the behaviour in the workplace and lately, there have been reports where people especially women who work in hotels have complained so we want to address this once and for all.
The Citizen Amendment Bill which will provide transparency and accountability when citizenship is being granted.
The Bail Bill which once again make clear all procedures. There will be a Passport Bill and there will also during this year, an 11th amendment to the Constitution which will be come before the National Assembly; this proposition will follow the propositions which LDS put in its Manifesto and this will include a fixed date for elections. It will also look at the Presidency as well as a couple of other subjects. And once more, this we will do after extensive consultation, so that everyone can give their point of view.
We also want to establish a Sovereign Wealth Fund and this Sovereign Wealth Fund will be such that all the unexpected monies that we collect, we save and this fund will be there for the country. And a Sovereign Wealth Fund exists in many countries and I can give you an example.
If when the Coastguard is on patrol and it apprehends a vessel which is fishing illegally and afterwards the Court charges the vessel, that money, instead of entering in the Consolidated Fund, will be able to go into that Sovereign Wealth Fund which will help the country during the hard times it may experience.
The Small Claims Tribunal: Once again the small claim which fills up the court with work will be able to be heard much faster. There are many other Bills, Mr. Speaker, and we will publish the list with the direction we wish to take. Amongst them will be the Private Security Providers Bill, because there is too much abuse today. Everyone has a security company and there are sometimes a lot of questionable things taking place. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, we will be looking closely at our Legislative programme and I want to thank the Members of the Assembly in advance because I know that you will have plenty of work.
There are really many things to say and when we go over the work the Ministers are doing, and here I want to say to the people of Seychelles, thank you for your comments which you have sent me about the Ministers. Without this team around me, we would not be able to deliver like we have.
So Ministers, I want today, before the National Assembly, before all the branches of government and before the people of Seychelles, to once again from the bottom of my heart thank you for the work you have delivered. We have been there next to each other for 16 months, we did not know each other but we have been able to create a solid team. We listen to each other, we support one another, we lend a shoulder to each other when we feel one of our sisters, one of our brothers is a bit tired or there is something in their Ministry that they need support with. I want to say to you thank you very much. In any case, you, you are my pride because without you my presidency would not be what it is until now. Thank you so much.
Seychelles is a champion in many ways, and today when you speak about climate change, when you go to represent Seychelles in those fora, either you are speaking on the ocean or speaking on the cooperation between Africa and the European Union, Seychelles always comes out well. And we intend to keep on in the same way. Where it concerns climate change, we will remain a champion and as you know even I have been called on to participate in the UN Decade of the Ocean. Where we are speaking of vulnerability, little Seychelles is being asked to participate on the United Nations committee to try and find a way of transforming the high income, medium income classification, to be able to take into consideration our vulnerability.
In last week’s conference in Brussels, the European Union put a sum of USD 150 billion at the disposition of African countries through what they call the Global Gateway. And here again, Seychelles will have a role to play. When we spoke to UNESCO, and here we want to do some work vis-à-vis Aldabra; Aldabra today is a world heritage site but we wish for Aldabra to also get a new designation and this designation is of ‘Biosphere status’. Should we succeed we will be the first country to have this double status. And at the same time, we are working all out so that Saya de Malha, which Seychelles and Mauritius co-manage, is not just about managing the seabed and what is below, but also manage its waters, that water column. And UNESCO is giving us all their support and there again, if we are able to do this, and here too I think that we will be going in that direction, it will be the first corridor of the high seas that two countries will have the possibility of managing.
And Mr. Speaker,
Everywhere there is but what is positive. In Agriculture we find fresh impetus, a new impetus coming from the farmers and investors. Production increased last year, and now we are seeing farmers coming forward for more support and we are providing them with this. And we are putting more facilities at their disposition through the banks. There is more land under cultivation and there are all the different projects and here we have seen the youth at SIA who are once again giving a helping hand.
Foreign Affairs has undergone a complete transformation. This morning, when I received the Ambassador of Portugal, he said, ‘Hats off for Foreign Affairs!’, because there is a new way of working. This transformation has already happened! Today, when you write a letter, you get a response after which projects can progress. The EU Ambassador based in Mauritius has also expressed similar things.
So, Mr. Speaker,
When we speak of international recognition, when we speak on how we will work with our diaspora, through Foreign Affairs, this encourages us. And what are hearing from Seychellois who are living as diaspora? Mrs. Payet, Paris, told me “I would like to enter into contact with the Ministry of Education so that when our students leave Seychelles and come to France, I will help them, I will accompany them and help them to settle down.”
What did Allen Servina say? He said that he is now working in Care Homes, and he would like to come to help in training the carers. I met another Seychellois who is in the military, he is a trainer, he wants to share his knowledge. I met a graduate nurse in Paris who tells me she would like to help our nurses so they are able to get the encouragement for them to go further.
I met another young Seychelloise, an attorney qualified in international law who today works for Maldives and she says « Where international law is concerned, I am prepared to give my time. » So there are many Seychellois who want to come give a helping hand and it is for this reason that I always proclaim that we have one Seychelles and one Seychellois people. There is no division within our nation.
Mr. Speaker, when we continue to push, and it is for this reason that through Foreign Affairs we wish to recognise our Seychellois who perform, and here we are proposing that we have a National Order of Merit of the Republic of Seychelles; the project is in advanced stages and if all works we expect that for National Day this year, we will decorate the first Seychellois. There will be an independent committee to receive nominations and through this we will be able to decorate our Seychellois people to valorise our Seychellois people, to make them know that when you contribute for Seychelles, Seychelles recognises you. Look at Queen Elizabeth, who we wish will regain her health. In the midst of her illness, she sent a congratulatory message for the British team participating in the Winter Olympics because they won a gold medal, and who will most likely be decorated. Look at Senegal who won the Cup! All their players have been decorated and we too, also want to go in that direction for us to raise our people.
Let us support the family in all its dimensions. Our family who sometimes drift a bit. Let us give them encouragement, and here I make an appeal to parents to assume their role, to give their children a good start in life and it is this which will become the strength of our society. I am encouraged by the work of the Churches and other religions in society and for what they are doing to instill that morality. Like Bishop Harel says, «Tiny steps, tiny steps » we will achieve our goal. And we wish to give our youth all those things and the target remains a gold medal, silver or bronze in the Olympics. An Olympic medal. So, youth, aim for this, aim for what is best. And as you take your studies seriously, like young Miss Renaud who did extremely well, we also want our youth to, in all ways, help themselves.
And this will make it Mr. Speaker, that when they are helping themselves, people will be able to know there is a clear path when it comes to land and housing. Soon Minister Rangasamy will come before the Assembly to present the new policy and he will have the chance to speak to all the members of the Assembly to give details on how the Government wants for a person, a graduate can get his parcel of land, get a house so he can establish his family. We will no longer go according to a system where you need to have who knows how many children to get land. We wish say this once more to the youth who when we speak to them say, «We want to plan, we are putting our studies first. We want to plan so that afterwards we can build our house.» So, all this are the things which we will be able to do right.
Many things are also happening when it comes to Investment, Entrepreneurship and Industry and here, let me give a couple of examples. Just last year IEA collected SCR 22 million compared to just SCR12 million in 2020. All this is the order which this administration has been tasked to put in place, and we, we won’t give up. We will continue to do our work so we can bring our country forward. So, when we speak of the Ease of Doing Business, 2022 is a year of action and here I hope that we will be able to make rapid progress with Ile Eve, and that people on Praslin will move in to do what they should do. And that goes for all the investment in the country, all the projects which are taking off.
It is full of positivity as so I wish to say to the people of Seychelles, let us become positive, let us accompany our country. When we are speaking of employment, of social services, we are speaking of how each individual can form part of this community. They pull their weight, they don’t hold back, not just to depend on welfare, but to know that you can move. I have just mentioned the IEA, Mr. Speaker, I want to say that once again too large a sum of money on the different cards which ASP is still giving remains unspent, which means there was abuse somewhere and we, once again are trying to make things move forward.
In Local Government, today there are only three elected MNAs who have not got their offices, all the rest have got theirs. There remains Mont Buxton, La Digue and Roche Caïman. Once more all the plans are in place and things are moving. This government which we are speaking of has put more money into the budget, so there are more community projects. Instead of SCR 200,000, we want, in the course of this year, like the Minister of Finance announced, to allocate SCR740 million for the districts: I know that Minister Hoareau and her team is making sure that these projects advance, and when these projects which fall under the Ministry of Local Government move, it will help all the other ministries because we will all give a helping hand.
Mr. Speaker, Unfortunately COVID has meant we could not implement our programmes for Health. Why? It is because we have had to extract staff from the different hospitals, from the different health centres to take care of the COVID situation, either to administer vaccines, or to give care in the hospitals themselves. Now that COVID is leaving us, and we do hope with God’s grace that it is bidding us farewell, and the figures go down, we hope that our health services, and all those staff will be able to return to their place of work and our health services will improve and be able to deliver. This is really our prayer, but as I have said, even in these challenging times we can make things move.
We have completed the roll-out of our Health Information system and as for the new strategy for primary health care, again the Minister of Health will have the opportunity to come before the Assembly to explain it. And now I want to say to the People of Seychelles, as well as the members of the Assembly, that what we hope is that the Ministers will come to explain and lay out some of the things I am speaking about so that people really understand.
Today, construction of our new NIHSS, our school of health, has already started. On La Digue, mobilisation is already ongoing, and this week or next week, work on the La Digue Hospital will begin and we hope that before the end of this year, we will be able to do at least the soft opening of the hospital. And Honourable I want you to bring the message to La Digue that the hospital will be built and it will be done this year.
When we speak of the Police, I have mentioned just a small part. But all the different departments are trying everything to make things move, although we know that not everywhere is running as they should. Not all the officers are showing the same leadership, but leadership is rising and again we will place great emphasis on it.
And under Internal Affairs, we have already started admitting people to the country without them having to fill in the Immigration forms; you have seen how things have gone really swiftly, and this is really good. We have already identified land for a new SFRSA centre for our Fire Brigade where we will leave the premises at the New Port where it is already a big danger and we will house them somewhere where they will be able to move.
Artisanal fishing. Of course we are providing all the modern facilities. Yesterday, there were only nine ice plants, this year there will be four new ones and everywhere you can see them – at Anse Aux Pins, Cascade, Grand Anse Praslin, Baie Ste Anne Praslin. All these are the new facilities which we are putting at the disposition of the fishermen at the same time as we are of course encouraging the long liners through new loans for us to be able to have this opening. And when we were in Brest, we saw that they want to import fish, but we on our part must really engage ourselves, so that in this diversification of our economy, we will be able to move ahead.
On our negotiations with the European Union, once again we are putting the effort for us to get the best, and as you also know, we are working hard on sustainable fisheries and we have already launched our programme.
Amongst the large projects which we have, there is the New Port and the Airport. Once again negotiations have begun, for example, for the airport and for us to start the project at the port soon. With respect to the floating dry dock, it is interesting how we have stimulated great interest amongst investors. There are more than 13 investors who responded when we launched the tender.
And here I want to say something. This government will always do this. All projects which we engage in, especially those projects for which we have no money. For example, the multi-storey car park, the extension to the jetty at the Inter Island Quay, etc. – for a couple of these projects we will invite investors to join us in. And, we will engage in PPPs (public, private partnerships) and Government will gain certain facilities and at the same time the country itself will benefit. So we will go into these and we will move forward.
As I conclude I wish to say to the People of Seychelles that there has never been a more exciting moment to call ourselves a Seychellois than today. Truly, that large black cloud which hung over our country has disappeared. Today, when you say you are a Seychellois, people look at you with pride. Our administration will continue in this direction and our administration continues to appeal for the unity of the Seychellois people. Seychellois, we have no cause to fight one another. There is no reason to spread rumours about each other; no reason exists for us to go each in their own direction. Let us come together, let us hold each other’s hand. Let us help our brother, help our sister and in this way that we will all reach our destination together.
As I have said before, the African proverb tells us, ‘If you wish to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.’ I invite the people of Seychelles to continue on this route of transformation together.
I continue to ask God to bless our country, help us, give us light, give us clarity. To pour His spirit over us, change our hearts and make us have a greater love for each other.
Sisters and Brothers, I won this mandate, this mission to lead this country; I will do it according to the mandate which you have given me. For the People of Seychelles and for Seychelles, Wavel Ramkalawan will never give up.
Thank you very much.