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Interview with President Wavel Ramkalawan on the first anniversary since taking the highest office   ‘We are on the right track for the next four years’ |26 October 2021

Interview with President Wavel Ramkalawan on the first anniversary since taking the highest office     ‘We are on the right track  for the next four years’

President Wavel Ramkalawan (Photo: Louis Toussaint)

On October 26, 2020 at 5pm, Seychelles got a new President in the person of Wavel Ramkalawan following his historic landslide victory in the October 22-24, 2020 general elections.

Wavel Ramkalawan became the fifth President of the Republic of Seychelles and together with his party Linyon Demokratik Seselwa (LDS) are leading both the executive and the legislative arms of government. During the inauguration ceremony held at State House on October 26, 2020 in the presence of dignitaries and party compatriots, Wavel Ramkalawan took the oath of allegiance and the presidential oath, in which he promised to perform the responsibilities of the office and uphold the Constitution, and that he will abide by the laws of Seychelles.

The inauguration marked the beginning of his five-year presidential term and today, Tuesday October 26, 2021, marks one year since the LDS administration ascended to power.

Seychelles NATION brings you an interview with President Ramkalawan who had been in the opposition for more than 30 years before the people entrusted him with the responsibility to lead the country.


Seychelles NATION: Mr President, has your government been leading the country according to the manifesto it presented to the people before the elections?

President Ramkalawan: Yes. We presented a manifesto for five years and maybe there is confusion in people’s mind thinking that the manifesto was for six months or one year! Manifesto is the plan for the whole mandate.  I can assure the people of Seychelles, with much confidence, that we have touched all levels in the manifesto starting with our winning motto ‘Sesel pour tou son zanfan’ (Seychelles for all its children). We made sure when we assumed the administration to explain to all people who wanted to work for the country to continue to do so. This is how we will have a ‘Seychelles for all its children’. Everyone who requires a service from the government will receive it without discrimination!

I want people to understand also that ‘Sesel pour tou son zanfan’ does not mean ‘government is for all his children’. Each one of us has a part to play, meaning you do not depend only on welfare – go to work and assure your future. In this way we will support each other.

Also this year has been the most difficult year for Seychelles and for someone to take office and change the administration. We did it and we overcame a lot of difficulties – economic, health and development. We are on the right track and will continue for the next four years.


Seychelles NATION:What do you believe is your greatest achievement of the past year?

President Ramkalawan: When we assumed power, there was one thing that pre-occupied all of us – the Covid-19 pandemic. Just to recall, last October we did not yet have any community transmission but the whole world was suffering from the increasing number of cases. Airports were more or less closed and most of the international airlines had stopped their flights to Seychelles and there were mostly chartered flights and businesses were supported by the government. Covid-19 was our main priority! After my first official visits to Mauritius and Abu Dhabi, we received a donation of 50,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccine. Even before the start of community transmission, we had received our first batch of vaccines. Around Christmas we started having community transmission and in January we started our vaccination campaign then we were able to open the country at the end of March. For me this is the biggest achievement in such a context. We were able to vaccinate our people and lead not only Africa but the world and I was the first African leader to be vaccinated. For all these months, we were on top of things and ‘nou ti pe dirize’ (we were leading).”

On December 31, 2020 our financial institution was also in a very bad state with a deficit of R351 million. We had a plan to vaccinate the population in order to open up the country. When we reopened the country on March 25, 2021, the price of a dollar decreased from R22 to R14. Visitor arrivals increased with international airlines coming back. For me our plan to combat the pandemic has worked and even if we had to enter into a programme with the IMF (International Monetary Fund), we are recuperating well. This is our biggest achievement as a government.


Seychelles NATION: In the same spirit, are there anything you wish you could have dealt with better or you had hoped to achieve in your first year but have been unable to?

President Ramkalawan: I would have loved if the public service had listened to my message when I addressed the National Assembly for the first time. I said that we have to run the public service as a business. Although many civil servants merged in with the new way of doing things, there are still many who did not change. I would urge all civil servants to provide the necessary service to all citizens and remove frustration. If in the first year we had been able to change this mentality, the country would have been way ahead and the citizens of Seychelles would have known that whenever they need a service, they would not need to call five times or write five letters.


Seychelles NATION: What is your take on the amendments to the Declaration of Assets Act? Why did the government come up with these amendments and did it consider the implications?

President Ramkalawan: One of my disappointments is not everyone is following the current affairs of our government. There has been some discontentment among the population but at the same time people have not been following the debates in the National Assembly where all the clarifications were presented. They also did not read the bill before it came the National Assembly and yet it was published on either September 11 or 12, 2021. They could have read it, follow the debates on September 22, 2021 until finally the bill was assented to at the end of September. They did not do that exercise during that time and now in October there are reactions to the bill.

I will once again take the time to explain. What the government did is monitor and follow modernisation in the laws monitoring any act of corruption. It was in 2016, the law for Declaration of Assets was passed and it included spouse and children. But since, the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), Beneficial Ownership as well as Access to Information have been reinforced. Nowadays, there are so many laws that oversee any shady transaction. If you are depositing R51,000 in banks you have to show proof where this money comes from. There have been many amendments in the laws and as the Human Rights Commission warned us in relation to the right of an individual, we considered all these facts and decided to make this amendment. This change does not mean that the LDS administration has stopped its fight against corruption. On the contrary, our fight against corruption remains our priority but at the same time we must respect the rights of individuals. To give you a better understanding of things, the FIU just presented its report to me and in 2020 it recorded 263 suspicious transactions!  We hope people understand this!


Seychelles NATION: Mr President, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, restrictions have been imposed on gathering and movement for almost two years for the majority of the people when another group has been able to mingle at different intervals. Has your government undertaken some kind of a study to see how these restrictions have been affecting the people’s mental health?

President Ramkalawan: It is a continuous assessment. This is why as soon as the situation improved, we relaxed the measures. Now we are also allowing sports events to take place and if things stay under control we will also allow spectators to join in. We do realise that there is an impact and the measures we put in place do allow people to go to the beach and even restaurants.

I personally know there has been lots of sadness and anxiety from people who lost their loved ones during this pandemic. For funerals, we allowed people to properly say goodbye to their loved ones and churches are open. We are trying our best to alleviate the pain on our people.


Seychelles NATION: What is your relationship with the Seychelles Inter Faith Council (Sifco)?

President Ramkalawan: My relationship with Sifco is very good and one of the first things I did was to put Sifco under my wings instead of the Vice-President’s office as was the case in the previous administration. We had a first meeting but because of the pandemic we could not meet a second time, but we hope to do so soon. But I do react when they write to me, like recently they raised a concern about a new casino project and I did share that I do not feel Seychelles needs more casinos right now and I did not sanction for the operation of the casino.


Seychelles NATION:One year into your presidency and already there are people calling for you to resign, what is your take on that? 

President Ramkalawan: I am always happy to see my name on placards, posters and T-shirt (smile)… I have never done a protest or demonstration where I put the name of my opponent on a T-shirt. So far no one has been arrested, no one has been beaten up and no family is stressed out. They want to come on Saturdays and say ‘Wavel Out’, I want to tell them on Saturdays Wavel is out of State House and he is back in on Monday! They have chosen the wrong day. I am one of the political leaders who has done most of the demonstrations in this country and each time I was leading the protest. The people who are part of the demonstrations, I do not see their leader. Where is their leader?  I hope people will reflect upon that.


Seychelles NATION:As leader of the opposition you frequently asked for the restructuring of the Islands Development Company (IDC) and Seychelles People’s Defence Forces (SPDF). What efforts have been done in this direction?

President Ramkalawan: For SPDF, already the name will change into Seychelles Defence Forces and we are also looking at changing the badge. In the transition, the military took the situation seriously and we need to remove politics in the military. The military’s purpose is to serve the state of Seychelles and I am happy that this change occurred. The coast guard, special forces and the air force are working well together in the fight against drugs. We have also agreed to change the rank of the person in charge of the SPDF which is currently a colonel, to the title of brigadier. In the future we also want all the people in charge of the SPDF to have the title of brigadier.

Regarding IDC, it has been an interesting year. IDC falls under the Vice-President’s office and we have looked at how IDC can play a direct part in the development of the country. This year, when there were issues with tomatoes on Praslin, Desroches island, under the administration of IDC, was able to produce two tonnes of tomatoes for the country. IDC has various vocations – tourism, environment and agriculture. We are mainly looking at the agriculture vocation and sort it well to benefit the country. Many people for sure are still asking what will happen to Glenny Savy? He is the chief executive of IDC right now and he is doing his job. Like many of us, we will have to retire one day. IDC is on a clear path right now and I presume that next year they will increase their production of chicken and pork for local consumption and also start producing vegetables that we are currently importing. IDC will also supply one-day old chicks and this will definitely help our market. Under our direction, we also expect in the coming years that IDC pays more dividends to the government.


Seychelles NATION: Mr President do you agree with the assessment that your government is neo-liberal, tending to favour businesses? How would you characterise your government's policies?

President Ramkalawan: I personally have always seen myself as a liberal. But what does it mean to be a liberal?A liberal has two fundamental principles ‒ you believe in the human rights of each individual and you believe in an economic system where the private sector is the engine that drives and grow the economy. This is what makes you a liberal. For me it is simple and this is why I have always fought for human rights and if I went before the National Assembly to call for the setting up of a Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission for this country, it is because I believe in human rights.

I am also somebody who has always believed that it is the private sector who should drive the economy and today when we look at the business sector we see the SCCI pushing for the development and growth of businesses because they create jobs and increase productivity compared to the previous system where everything depended on government. When we called on the people to stand firmly on their feet and to stop depending on the Unemployment Relief Scheme (URS), we were not punishing them but rather we wanted them to look for a permanent job so they can have more money and contribute to their retirement pension and the welfare of their children if something was to happen to them.

I believe that these allegations do not make any sense and politicians are just using them to frighten people because our administration is seeking a better life for all Seychellois. A recent example is since the approval by the National Assembly of the motion calling for more affordable and in some cases free sanitary products for women and girls, steps are being taken to make it possible that as from January 1, 2022, all schoolgirls will receive these products free of charge at their schools and this will be a first in the region and in Africa. Additionally we are working on a project to allow for elderly citizens living in the different homes to receive diapers free of charge. These are some of the things that we are doing to take care of and improve the lives of our people in more vulnerable situations.

During this year there have also been two instances where the police have beaten and mistreat people they have arrested. I have in both cases stepped in and asked for a report and at present the law has taken its course accordingly because we believe in the rule of law.

With regard to my request for the Seychelles Trading Company (STC) to step up its efforts to reduce the cost of living, the company came up with the recommended retail price (RRP) initiative. I would wish that the prices of these products would be much less but unfortunately there are certain factors like production, fuel and transportation costs that are high. But we will continue with our efforts to improve the lives of our people but the people should also do their part and not only wait for the government to do everything for them.    


Seychelles NATION: Mr President according to reports the country’s economy has been improving, but we see more people looking for assistance from the Red Cross Society of Seychelles and other organisations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are making donations. Do you feel this is a good sign of recovery?

President Ramkalawan: My heart goes out to those people who are struggling and I admire those who go out and seek ways to help themselves. People should also know their priorities during those hard times and this include taking care of and feeding their families and supporting their children to have the best education. There are many people who do not know their priorities. Those 5,000 on substance abuse for instance do not know their priorities. Somewhere in their lives things went wrong for them, but society is supporting them to regain control of their lives and it is my hope that they will eventually get their priorities right. Until now, to my knowledge, nobody has died of hunger in Seychelles which means that people can work to help themselves and families should step in to help their own. But Seychellois should move away from the habit of depending on government and other people for help, but they should take their responsibility and depend on themselves.


Seychelles NATION: Mr President do you have any words of encouragement for those people including single mothers who are doing several jobs but are still struggling to make ends meet?

President Ramkalawan: I believe that people who are doing more than one job can make ends meet but at the same time, I have seen during my various campaigns, in some families where there are adult children who are not in employment but are depending on the mother who are doing two jobs. If all adult members of a household go out to find a job and contribute their share, life would be better. Once again I am calling on all families to take their responsibility, encourage their members to find a job, contribute their share and know their priorities. Today everybody who wants to work can find a job but people are still being choosy when it comes to the job they want to do and in this regard people have to change their mindset and take jobs that are available. People are not interested to work on a farm for instance and this is why we still have to import foreign labour.


Seychelles NATION: Mr President your government has started a campaign to educate the people on the reforms by the government of Seychelles supported by the IMF. Compared to 2008 when there were meetings in the districts, the public at large has not been engaged in such discussions this time around. Despite the restrictions, other modes of communication could have been used but why has that not been the case?

President Ramkalawan: The difference between the 2008 International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme to the one we are embarking on this time is that in 2008 more than 2,000 people lost their jobs because the IMF insisted on reducing the workforce in government. There was the need to move from the Goods and Services Tax (GST) to Value Added Tax (VAT) among other different measures that were to impact on people’s lives directly, thus the need to hold different meetings to explain the implications to different groups in the community.

But this time around this is not the case with the forthcoming programme. But the minister of finance is often before the public to explain different economic issues. When he presented the mid-year review to the National Assembly the minister gave a lot of important information and in the coming weeks when he will present the national budget he will give more detailed information on the country’s economic situation. I believe today, more than ever, a lot of information is being given out to the public but unfortunately people are not always taking time to listen, absorb and analyse these information. 

The only main requirement of the IMF is that there will not be any new recruitment in government, the country will not be taking new loans to sustain its expenses and economy so there is no need for consultations on a large scale. Furthermore, as we were in negotiations with the IMF we were able to show how disciplined we are as a government and that we are working hard to improve our situation. I am calling on our people not to be afraid of the IMF reforms because already we are following some of the requirements of the reforms for instance in relation to reviewing the welfare system, our tourism industry is picking up and so far we have even broken the record of arrivals even if our traditional markets remain closed.


Seychelles NATION: We have noticed that your government has taken on board initiatives of the past government such as aquaculture, which the previous opposition did not believe in. What changed your tune?

President Ramkalawan: When a new administration takes over power from its predecessor, one has to be aware that there are many initiatives, projects and programmes that the previous government had started and remained to be completed or reviewed. I have already opened two housing estates which were started under the previous government. Similarly the previous administration also left behind a lot of debt which the new administration has to settle and cannot call on the previous government to come and deal with.

Aquaculture is one of the initiatives that started under the previous government but around which a lot of questions still remain to be answered, but it is a project in which millions of rupees have been invested. So what do we do just throw everything out of the window? No, but we have to sit down and analyse all the projects and initiatives to see how we can improve on them to make them better and cut on expenses. As a country we should always seek ways to do things better and to take the projects and initiatives to a higher level. Yes, there will always be continuity and at all times we should never forget that Seychelles should come first. 


Seychelles NATION: Mr President we have seen a sudden change in the way appointments have been made over the last year. Compared to President Danny Faure, you have been making appointments without consulting the leader of the opposition and the Speaker of the National Assembly? Is it because you have the full support of the Assembly?

President Ramkalawan: This is not at all the case because there are appointments that need prior consultations. For instance when I appointed the deputy chief executive of the Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), the law stipulates that I consult with the Speaker of the National Assembly and the chief justice. No appointments require that I consult with the leader of the opposition.

Just to note in passing, the mandate of the chairman of the Public Service Appeal Board (PSAB) expires at the end of October and the law clearly states that the president appoints a candidate and the leader of the opposition appoints a candidate before the two persons choose who will become the chairperson. Nowhere does the law state that I should consult with the leader of the opposition. There are no appointments that I have made that I have had to consult with the leader of the opposition. But it also seems that the leader of the opposition is not too keen about consultations because I appointed him on the Platinum Committee, an opportunity which I did not get when I was the leader of the opposition but he attended only one meeting before pulling out of the committee completely.

In fact there are appointment methods which have changed and these include the appointment of district administrators which were previously carried out by the minister responsible for local government in consultation with the president. This, I have reviewed completely and because Seychelles is for all its children, all its children should have the possibility to do the job. So when there is a vacancy, it is advertised and anyone who feels competent enough to do the job is free to apply and go through an interview process. The interesting thing is that the minister does not form part of the interview panel.

With regard to the appointment of the two liaison officers for La Digue and Praslin, the two positions already existed under the President’s office and I was not the one who created them.

It is therefore important to note that all the appointment that I have made were done as per the law and the authority that I have and I intend to continue to do things this way.


Seychelles NATION:  Mr President would you say you are satisfied with the vaccination programme against Covid-19 and when do we expect to see younger children vaccinated against the virus?

President Ramkalawan: I am satisfied by the fact that more than 72% of our people have taken the vaccine and I believe with the number of adolescents who have also taken their jabs the percentage is expected to rise to around 80% and this is good. As a government we have always shown that we want to go forward with the programme and today we are encouraging people to take a third dose as a booster when many countries are yet to decide if they will administer. Soon we are expecting another 30,000 doses of Pfizer to continue providing booster doses to our people. At the same time, the ministry of health remains focused on the vaccination programme and I can confirm that in six months from now we will receive a consignment of Moderna vaccines.

We also understand that Moderna is working on a vaccine for younger children and the moment these are made available we will try our best to secure the necessary doses for our younger children.

The health of our people is our priority as a government and we know that the Covid-19 virus will remain with us for a long time. 


Seychelles NATION: Mr President the fact that you have already received  two doses of the Pfizer vaccine as a booster can you confirm when and where you took the two doses of the vaccine and how you are feeling now?

President Ramkalawan: I took the two doses in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in September last month and I can confirm that my antibodies have increased remarkably according to related tests carried out. So this is my present status and I can assure the Seychellois people that after one year in office, they have a president who is healthy and well. I’ve had a complete medical test and I am looking forward to start the second year in office with a clear and alert mind and ready to address all the challenges that come my way.


Seychelles NATION: Mr President when  your party LDS was in the opposition you campaigned strongly for the government with the support of private investors to set up a specialised hospital  to cut costs of having to send Seychellois patients abroad for treatments and costly reviews. One year in office what has happened to the project?

President Ramkalawan: I can assure you that before the end of this year we will complete the ground work for the construction early next year at Anse Royale of a modern emergency hospital with different facilities which would be linked to a similar hospital in the United States of America. This would allow for some 30 specialists to be reading your scans or other diagnosis at the same time.

The hospital will have a cardiology and oncology department and if all goes according to plan we hope to complete the project by March next year.

The hospital is to be built where the former hospital currently stands. The project is a gift from a Saudi investor.

Furthermore, by the end of this month, the MIOT Hospital in Chennai is setting up a specialised eye treatment clinic here, at Espace. All Seychellois patients who were previously being sent to Chennai for specialised eye treatment can now receive treatment here.  


Seychelles NATION: Finally, Mr President what are you hoping to achieve during the second year and during the rest of your mandate?

President Ramkalawan: During my second year as president, with regards to tourism, I would like to see the year 2022 equal that of 2019 and I believe we can achieve that. Why? Because we have tapped into new markets which have allowed us to break records, European markets are reopening, therefore if the two markets join forces we can equal 2019 not only in terms of the number of visitors to our shores but this will also allow us to come out of our present economic difficulties. This is my biggest wish for the coming year.

The improvement of our economic situation would also allow us as a government to start focusing on capital projects for instance start new housing projects and start giving loans to help our people now that interest rates are going down in the banks.

More young people could pursue their studies abroad, now that all our graduates have already left to continue their studies. I would like to see more of our people who are unemployed take their responsibility and seek for a formal employment to better take care of themselves and their families, that we continue to step up our fight against drugs in the country to free our young people from the grips of drug abuse so they can take back their lives. This is a war that I definitely want to win.

I will always be there to support and accompany our people so they can grow and be successful in their lives.


Seychelles NATION: Thank you Mr President.


Interview conducted by Mary-Anne Lepathy and Vidya Gappy


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