Minister Fonseka takes questions on law enforcement, the war on drugs, and FCIU seizures |22 September 2021
Members of the National Assembly had the opportunity to put forward their oral questions to Minister for Internal Affairs Errol Fonseka during yesterday’s sitting, addressing pertinent issues such as immigration, the war on drugs, and support towards the tourism industry.
-Work to identify individuals working in Seychelles without a valid Gainful Occupation Permits (GOP)
In response to Hon. Desheila Bastienne’s question with regard to the work of the force to detect and resolve cases whereby persons are found to be working in Seychelles illegally, Minister Fonseka noted that the Immigration and Civil status department use electronic means to manage the GOP procedures, and the system allows users to detect when a permit is granted or terminated.
Within the department, the Enforcement section, whose mandate is to ensure that all non-Seychellois are conforming to Immigration law, conducts inspections to verify permits and whether conditions are being honoured. Certain checks are at times conducted along with the department of employment.
“With regard to expired permits, a list is published occasionally, and the concerned section issues reminders monthly to employers to warn them that their employees’ permits are no longer valid, and to do the necessary to renew if they are to keep the employee. As a preventive measure, the section which manages employees’ permits also guarantees that when employers issue demands for new employees, it is in conformity with Immigration laws. Normally, we allow ten days for the employer to do the necessary, and after ten days, if the employer fails to do the necessary, then action is taken. His employees are deemed prohibited immigrant, and the employer has 48 hours to remove the worker from Seychelles,” Minister Fonseka said.
“When a foreigner is declared a prohibited immigrant, his employer has to pay all of their GOP arrears, within a 14-day timeframe. If the employer decides not to pay the arrears, the department ensures that the employer is blacklisted straight away, and they will not be allowed to bring in any other workers,” Minister Fonseka stated.
The minister went on to highlight the increasing prevalence of trafficking in persons cases, and the measures and services in place to deal with such cases.
He also informed the assembly that government in some cases bear the costs for repatriation of prohibited immigrants, based on the circumstances of the matter at hand.
Principal secretary for immigration and civil status, Alain Volcère, and chief of immigration Michel Elizabeth were both present.
-Plans of the ministry to avoid cases of visitors drowning and for lifeguard at Grand Anse La Digue
The minister informed the assembly that it is not feasible to have lifeguards present at all the beaches and spots which visitors flock to, but that the ministry is working towards sensitisation in media and within schools, improved signage and instructions in touristic spots.
Additionally, the possibility of training kiosk owners at such spots to sensitise tourists and react in the event that someone is drowning is being considered, said Minister Fonseka.
In addition, the ministry intends to establish lifeguards posts at most frequented locations, to include essential equipment and lifeguards who are able to discharge the duty effectively.
In the meantime, hotel employees are to also be trained to handle such situations.
Presently, a survey is being conducted by the lifeguard association within the Anse Royale district, to establish a permanent post by next year.
The lifeguards who do serve the area currently store equipment at the police station.
In relation to establishing a post on the Grande Anse La Digue beach, the minister explained that there was not much interest on the part of residents to join the service, and that construction of the lifeguard base was a major hurdle, due to property disagreements.
“We are planning a base with all the necessary equipment, including manpower, to deploy workers on beaches where the coverage is necessary,” Minister Fonseka said, noting that recruitment is ongoing, to be able to deliver an effective service across the islands.
Individuals wishing to work in law enforcement in future will undergo training in basic first response, first aid, rescue and others, before specialising, to equip more citizens with the baggage to possibly save lives.
Work is also ongoing to establish a framework and bring together volunteers who wish to follow training and take such responsibility upon themselves.
-Reforms within the police system, to protect the identities of persons who provide information (especially in relation to drugs)
Commissioner of Police Ted Barbe and deputy commissioners Francis Songoire and Ron Bonnelame joined Minister Fonseka to address questions relating to law enforcement agencies.
According to the minister, the hotline 133 exists for the public to provide information to the police anonymously regarding any case or with tip-offs in relation to drugs and criminal transactions.
While he acknowledged that many are willing to cooperate with the police, just as many are willing to provide misleading or false information.
Minister Fonseka went on to state that to date there have been no complaints of person’s identities being revealed after providing information to law enforcement officers.
He however acknowledged that more needs to be done to strengthen public trust in the force.
In response to Hon. Norbert Loiseau, member for Bel Air, Minister Fonseka said the force is now more focused on intelligence-based actions, which has led to certain big arrests recently, he added.
Commissioner Barbe informed the members that the intelligence divisions within the police and the Anti-Narcotics Bureau (ANB) has to filter through a heap of information received from the public, but that there is a procedure to processing the data before actions can be taken to ensure the success of operations. The police also receive some anonymous written reports, he said.
- Fungus within police stations on Mahé
With regard to fungus at the police stations on Mahé, Minister Fonseka remarked that the fifteen police stations, excluding that of Grand Anse Praslin and Anse Aux Pins which were recently constructed, were built over 45 years ago and have over the years seen fungus infestations due to the construction materials, and the humid tropical climate.
Over the years, some police stations have been renovated, disinfected, with some services temporarily relocated while work is ongoing.
“The plan for the police in the long-term is to reconstruct all of these stations, especially those constructed with lime (laso), which has caused the mold. Anse Etoile and Glacis will have to be new,” Minister Fonseka stated.
-Newly appointed Commissioner of Police, ANB and war on drugs and to discourage criminal activity
Member for English River Andy Labonte sought an explanation as to what is being done to discourage large groupings and the illegal activities at Boston House and Krishna Mart within his district, to which the minister responded that the force is reinforcing patrols within the area. Different strategies for intervention are also under discussion with the newly appointed, but experienced leaders at the top of the force.
“For the time being, we are really focusing on the individual skills which we should have on our police force. We will venture into modernisation as the pledge that we have made, to render our jobs more effective, towards an integrated system which collects large amounts of data and all. But at the same time, we need to upgrade our police to work better, and this is ongoing,” Minister Fonseka said.
-Where is the new police station on La Digue going to be located?
The plans for the La Digue police station had already been finalised according to Minister Fonseka, and the former building was to be restored as a cultural site. However, La Digue residents were not in agreement with the plan to build it elsewhere, despite the budget having been allocated.
Thus, a new site has been identified, and work is underway to convert the building into a convenient police station, once the business in the building vacates the premises.
“It is government’s plan and the police authorities to have a more convenient place for its officers to work in, and as a means of motivation to provide the public on La Digue with better service,” Minister Fonseka added, assuring that everything is going as planned for the project.
-FCIU searches on travelling individuals
Hon. Gervais Henrie, member for Mont Buxton, tabled a question without notice, seeking more information as to the emerging pattern whereby the Financial Crimes Investigation Unit (FCIU) are conducting searches on residents travelling abroad, at the airport.
Minister Fonseka noted that the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Financing of Terrorism Act enacted recently imparts powers, in Section 74 (1), to law enforcement officers to search individuals in the Seychelles jurisdiction or on their property, without a warrant if the person has in their possession large sums of money unjustifiably, has the funds as a proceeds of criminal activity, or has in their possession more than R50,000 but is undeclared either upon entry or exit from the country.
Section 74 (2) imparts to officers powers to seize the said money, and for the funds to be detained for fourteen days. After fourteen days, an application must be filed to the court to justify why the funds need to be detained for longer.
Minister Fonseka also clarified that officials have no authority to prevent anyone from travelling, and that the choice is left up to them.