1st Presidential Press Conference for 2022 |25 March 2022
‘Our people need to get
the right information’
- Call for strengthening of State institutions
President Wavel Ramkalawan has stressed on the importance for our people to receive the right information.
He has also called on journalist to clarify different issues which are not clear so that people do not live in confusion, on rumours and things that are not real.
Mr Ramkalawan said this yesterday during the first live presidential press conference for the year beamed live on Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) and TéléSesel.
Furthermore in relation to the answers he said he was going to give to journalists following their questions, he affirmed that his responsibility is to answer all questions put to him and that he would not give any excuses, but try to give detailed answers in relation to the government’s programmes and projects.
He called on journalists not to hesitate to ask for clarification on issues that they feel they have not received satisfactory answers.
President Ramkalawan has also called for the need to strengthen State institutions as other sources for credible information for our people.
“In instances where people find themselves in certain doubts and in need of more clarity on certain issues, they should be able to turn to these institutions for more clarity,” President Ramkalawan pointed out.
He went on to state that one such institution that is important but which unfortunately is often bypassed and does not get the chance to play its full role is the Office of the Ombudsman.
He has called on journalists to better acquaint themselves with the work of this institution in order to give it its true worth.
“Government is going to give the institution its rightful place in our society,” President Ramkalawan has said, reminding journalists that this week he received the Ombudsman’s report which they can go through and analyse for news purposes.
The committee on pardon which listens to prisoners’ pleas for a state pardon has existed for many years but the President said it had no proper structure and had not been developed into an institution something which is now in the process of being done.
The Constitutional Appointment Authority (CAA) and the Public Service Appeal board (PSAB) are two other institutions which he said are also being developed to a fuller extent, giving them the opportunity to flourish as they should.
“We need to move from having only one person in charge into having a fully-fledged institution, thus allowing more outlets for problem-solving,” said the President.
With all the talk about people’s rights under the Constitution which often they themselves do not really know much about, President Ramkalawan has called on journalists to go through the Constitution especially the Charter of Human Rights as well as the Civil Code and subsequently educate our people and themselves as journalists on their different provisions.
President Ramkalawan went on to answer a long series of different questions put to him by the journalists present.
Some of the most pertinent issues raised are as follows:
Overseas presidential travels
President Ramkalawan has admitted that his predecessors conducted a lot of overseas travel and that himself is also conducting several visits abroad, but that his missions are transparent and he went on to detail his different trips and who paid for them.
He stated that with Covid-19 there were more virtual meetings between world leaders but now world leaders want to meet to discuss issues.
His visit to Austria last year was paid by the Seychelles government, all visits to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been paid by the UAE government, and the Qatar official visit was paid by the Qatari government.
“I have not been to Kenya but somebody placed me there and even showed me visiting a goat farm which is an invention, an imagination of a person. This year I attended the African Union (AU) Summit in Addis Ababa, I went to Brest, France which the government paid for,” he said.
The President said the government also paid for all his trips in Europe.
He said this week he will be leading a delegation to the UAE for a summit and once again the expenses will be taken care of by the UAE authorities.
Benefits of these visits include Covid-19 vaccine doses, seven Seychellois working with the dog squad training in Abu Dhabi to renew our dog fleet, regional cooperation to fight drugs, support to fight climate change. The President said he always reports on the outcome of his overseas missions.
Answering a question about people expected to retire this year receiving letters informing them of a cut in their pension, President Ramkalawan said he is not aware of any of these letters, adding that this has not yet been brought to his attention.
The President also said the consultation process on the future of the Cleaners’ Cooperative is still ongoing and once the process is completed employees and members of the public will be duly informed of the outcome.
Change in Constitution to give army power to do police work
On this issue, President Ramkalawan stated that when there are increases in robberies and thefts, and when during the Covid-19 restrictions the military gave the police a helping hand the population was happy. In the different drug busts at sea it is again the military who board the vessels and the population is happy.
“The relationship between the people and the military is a love hate one. People just want the military to help out in state of emergencies but they do not want them to help the police to do civilian arrests,” said President Ramkalawan.
“The military will only assist the police in certain operations but will not play the role of the police and do their work. This is only a tactic to frighten the people,” the President has said.
With regard to having in place a monitoring mechanism to prevent abuse, President Ramkalawan said consultations will be held and people will give their views on the matter and all propositions from the public will be considered and he has called on the public to bring forward their contributions.
As to the question that he wants to amend the law to change the president’s mandate from five to seven years, the President said there is no truth in this allegation.
Reinforcing the roles of public institutions – Reports of the Human Rights Commission
On the issue of human rights, President Ramkalawan said we need to balance the situation, stating that two members of the commission are men of law, precisely Justice Bernardin Renaud and Magistrate Georges Robert.
He stated that during their days of practice, they ordered remand period at the Central Police Station without visiting, or assessing the conditions of the cells.
This, President Ramkalawan said, can also be considered as human rights abuse since it was the same station, with the same cells, while his administration has not built a single cell since taking office.
He acknowledged that some of cells are not up to human rights standard and that the government is working on building a proper, standard remand centre.
President Ramkalawan also noted that it is a good sign that such institutions are coming forward with various reports, including on the 13th month salary and the Travizory system.
With regard to the report on Travizory, the President said it’s for health reasons.
He said it is true that some people do not have the necessary identifications, adding that processing fees are the norm everywhere in the world nowadays.
“I don’t see why there is this struggle with Travizory as people can even fill in all those forms before travelling.”
He said he would call on Travizory to make a detailed presentation to the Seychellois public on the system and how it works.
Furthermore, the President has stated that there are no members of his Cabinet who have any contract with Travizory.
Previously LDS complaints on GICC and its relation with IDC, but now it has become more active in government projects
On this issue, the President said that today the government knows what is happening within the IDC and it discusses its projects with government.
He said today there is more transparency and the government better understands the role and functions of the Islands Development Company (IDC) and Green Island Construction Company (GICC) so it has decided that it is a government company and uses it to develop its projects and the prices it offers are more affordable than those offered by private companies.
“Yes the government will be using GICC as it is for the government and Glenny Savy, the CEO of IDC, is accountable to the government of Seychelles.”
Is this not a disadvantage for other contractors? The President said it is just about finding the best deals to benefit the people and the country.
Need for revision of PUC Act following numerous power outages
There is a need for the Public Utilities Corporation (PUC) to be more responsible. While there are problems which are beyond control, PUC has to be more reasonable in its responsibility to provide quality service to the people.
Amendment in age for pension and if there has been enough consultation
On this issue the President said it is not a question of the government or Pension Fund wanting to punish the people. He noted that as people live longer, these changes are inevitable.
He said his government had taken steps to close the URS scheme to encourage more young people to take formal employment so they too can make a contribution in the Pension Fund. But President Ramkalawan admits that there has been a lot of abuse of investments by the fund in terms of fraudulent deals which has led into waste and loss of funds. At that time no action was taken to address the situation but the new administration is taking measures to ensure the fund remains sustainable. He said consultations are still continuing.
Capping of social security pension at a certain amount
On this issue of great interest President Ramkalawan has said questions will be put before the Cabinet. A tariff will be set and an agreement should be reached and that he is pushing for a reform of the retirement pension. The President said in the name of social justice and fairness there needs to be a review of the retirement pension.
Fight against drug
President Ramkalawan noted that recently some big traffickers have been arrested and the fight continues. But the President said unfortunately the ANB of the police force has been a disappointment and has been removed from both Praslin and La Digue because it has been a waste of time and resources. The President also said an announcement will be made before the end of this month or the beginning of April as to how to reorganise the entity.
Mass should not be held at State House
President Ramkalawan said that there have been no mass but spiritual reflections at State House.
He noted that there is a difference. A mass is a Eucharistic celebration performed by the Catholic and Anglican churches. “I have never conducted a mass at State House. What we did as a nation is bring together the different faiths to pray when we were in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic to ask for divine protection. When our situation improved, as a nation of believers, we once again came together for a thanksgiving service. If people have a problem thanking God I believe they have a serious problem which unfortunately I cannot solve. Seychelles is a country that believes in God but is a secular State and this is why State House has never hosted any mass but has created a platform to thank God.”
President Ramkalawan affirmed that the same question should be put to representatives of all the different faiths who have found the initiative appropriate and they have all participated.
Government’s plan to repair sports facilities
The President said he is really angry with the situation because any repair works should have been stepped up during the Covid-19 restrictions when there were no sports activities.
Work on Stad Linite will start soon as well as on all other sports venues, the President has said.
Additionally with regard to the fast approaching Indian Ocean Islands Games, President Ramkalawan said that athletes will receive full government support and assistance in their preparations.
Intervention on National Assembly’s COGA
President Ramkalawan said he has reassured the Speaker that there are no ministers who are reluctant to answer questions before COGA (Committee of Government Assurances) in the National Assembly and that the ministers were somewhat surprised to hear that there had been a statement by COGA chairperson Sylvanne Lemiel on their unwillingness to appear before the committee to answer questions.
He said many of the assurances were from previous administrations and many are no longer relevant under the new administration.
He said he has asked VP Ahmed Afif to address the issue.
13 month salary
There are ongoing consultations with the different unions and several propositions have been put forward including replacing it with a performance bonus but consultations with different stakeholders are also continuing.
Businesses buying subsidised goods from STC
President said discussions have started and something must be done to address the issue. He pointed out that businesses such as hotel establishments buying subsidised goods is not fairand something should be done to stop that from happening but how this is going to be worked out is something else.
Seychellois drug prisoners abroad
President Ramkalawan said the government is continuing its effort to ask for better conditions for its citizens but in most cases the accused will have to face the consequences of their actions. But in cases where they are sentenced to death the government will plead for a life sentence instead.
Decision on former Seypec CEO
On this issue President Ramkalawan said that nothing has come to his attention yet and the CEO is still under suspension and the board and PEMC (Public Enterprise Monitoring Commission) are yet to come to a decision on the matter.
Russia-Ukraine war – sanctions on Russian boat in Seychelles water
President Ramkalawan explained that Seychelles is a non-aligned country and it is not in its best interests to get involved in arguments between other countries.
He said Seychelles follow sanctions only set by the United Nations (UN) as a member, and a sovereign country, while the country totally condemns what is happening.
President Ramkalawan also said there were some Russian-owned boats in our water, but they have all left.
Russia-Ukraine war – Direct impact on the country
One of the main impacts of the sanctions on Russia is the Russian tourism market, noted President Ramkalawan, despite still being our number one market.
On the overall local tourism industry, President Ramkalawan explained that to date, Seychelles received over 60,000 tourists which indicates that things are moving in the right direction, still on the set target, compared to last year.
Despite the continuity in Russian tourists, President Ramkalawan however noted on a long-term assessment, the country will be negatively affected, especially by losing Ukrainian tourists who were significant contributors towards the industry.
The Ukraine situation is not being used as an excuse, but it is the actual reality, noted President Ramkalawan who also made reference to the increase in the prices of fuel and wheat which are directly linked to the conflict.
He explained that even if we are still navigating the strong current, due to the stability in exchange rates and the survival of the tourism industry, the future is not certain.
Debt with the Ferox Animal Feed Factory
On the alleged R9 million owed to the Ferox Animal Feed Factory, President Ramkalawan said discussion is in progress to assess whether the claimed sum is realistic.
The cost of living
Transportation cost is still a major issue, affecting the cost of living, President Ramkalawan noted, and added that negotiations and assessments are in progress regarding the possibility using local-owned vessels for the job within the region.
Another issue is the subsidy on basic commodities, which President Ramkalawan said is not life-long guaranteed.
The rise in the price of fuel has forced the Public Utilities Corporation (PUC) to increase the price of electricity, noted President Ramkalawan who added that negotiation is ongoing to see a better way of passing the charge on the consumers.
He said even if the government wants to bring down the cost of living, many things do not entirely depend on the country, but rather external factors.
In terms of taxes, President Ramkalawan said it is a balance, since the taxes collected are used to fund other essentials of the country.
On that note, he also urged the population to be more responsible, in term of spending and needs.
Update on agriculture on outer islands
On the issue of agriculture on the outer islands, President Ramkalawan noted that it is still an ongoing progress, with ongoing discussions and conditions.
He explained that considering the ecological balance of the outer islands, the project seems far-fetched, but however it is being negotiated, while the Islands Development Company (IDC) has already started various agricultural projects on several islands.
President Ramkalawan encouraged those interested in agriculture to make use of the available land on Mahé and contribute towards the country’s goal of cutting on importation.
Return of unlawfully taken properties
Other than cases presently before the Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission (TRNUC), President Ramkalawan said the government return of land scheme announced in October 2021 is in process, while amendments in State Land and River Reserves Act will have to be made to ease the process.
The Scheme is based on the principle that land which was either compulsorily acquired or acquired by the government by private agreement for a public purpose or in the national interest and which is still undeveloped and not earmarked by the government to be utilised in the public interest or for a public purpose will be considered for return to the original owner or his executor or heir (hereinafter the “previous owner”).
Acting in an autocratic way
Based on comments that Seychelles is being ruled in an autocratic way, President Ramkalawan said the present way of governance cannot be compared to the previous regime, where victimisation and oppression were the norms.
He however noted that he is a leader who takes critical decisions in the benefit of the country and the people, while being on site most of the time.
Updates on maintenance work and upgrade on Seychelles Hospital
On the issue of the Seychelles Hospital, President Ramkalawan explained that most of the problems are linked to the mismanagement of the former government which did not prioritise maintenance of the health facility.
He said the budget of the present administration features funding for maintenance of various establishments, including the hospital.
President Ramkalawan also added that everyone should pull together and take their responsibility to improve both the environment and the facilities given at the hospital.
Availability of land and housing
Based on the number of people on the list for land and housing – over 3000 – President Ramkalawan said the government is very concerned regarding the high demand.
He said the issue remains a priority, while taking into account that not everybody will meet the various criteria.
President Ramkalawan said soon, a housing project will begin in Glacis financed by a Qarari fund.
President Ramkalawan explained that the announcement on salary increase was made well before the current situation – Ukraine-Russia conflict – based on projection, especially regarding the growing trend in the tourism market.
He said, the plan is still on the card, but due to the current situation, it is impossible to give a precise date for the increase.
He said the government still maintains the expectation to improve the life of the people of Seychelles.
Covid-19 risk allowance for health frontliners
Regarding the Covid-19 allowance, President Ramkalawan explained that the Ministry of Health is presently carrying out an audit, based on confusion about who should, or should not receive the allowance.
He said once the audit is completed, everything will be explained.
As for the Covid-19 fund, President Ramkalawan explained that the office of the Auditor General is presently auditing the account, and once completed will be presented before the National Assembly, before being put in the public domain.
The position of Air Seychelles vis-à-vis the bond holders and Etihad Airways
President Ramkalawan explained that the process between bond holder and Etihad Airways involving Air Seychelles is on track and that by March 31, everything will be solved.
Legalization of marijuana
On the issue of legalisation of marijuana, President Ramkalawan said he has not received any latest update regarding the topic.
He encouraged the advocates to push harder and bring their cause forward, without relying on the government.
The work of the Anti-Corruption Commission of Seychelles (ACCS)
Regarding the work of the Anti-Corruption Commission of Seychelles (ACCS), President Ramkalawan noted that the result illustrates Result Based Management on the part of its chief executive May De Silva.
He said the commission is doing a great job and that hopefully the missing money will soon be recovered and returned into the government’s safe.
Government’s position vis-à-vis Seychellois arrested in foreign countries
Particularly on the case of Alix Zelime who was recently arrested in Paskistan regarding drug-related activities, President Ramkalawan noted that it is inevitable that he faces a death sentence if found guilty, but Seychelles being against death penalty will try to negotiate for a leaner sentence.
Appointment of boards
President Ramkalawan explained that an ongoing exercise is being carried out in partnership with The Guy Morel Institute to identify a pool of people with various abilities who will be appropriate candidates for appointment of future boards.
This, he said, is important since members of the public should be aware of the mandates of the boards and what are they doing.
Benefits of the Seychelles Pavilion at the Dubai Expo 2020
Set up on specific budget, President Ramkalawan said the Seychelles Pavilion at the Expo attracted a substantial number of people who later decided to visit Seychelles.
He explained that several assessments will be made to evaluate the outcome of the Pavilion.
In terms of governmental benefits, President Ramkalawan explained that the pavilion had set up several important platforms, involving officials, opening several doors for fruitful opportunities, all promoting benefits and growth of the country.
In concluding the press conference President Ramkalawan said “we’ve touched on a lot of issues and I believe it has been a frank discussion where journalists have asked whatever question they had and this is the way forward and I call on the media to continue educating the people and continue to give them real news.”
Marie-Anne Lepathy & Roland Duval