National Assembly |14 December 2023
State Land and River Reserves (Amendment) Bill passed
The National Assembly has brought five amendments to the State Land and River Reserves (Amendment) Bill.
When presenting the amendments, the Minister for Lands and Housing, Billy Rangasamy, said they were being proposed to allow the government to have a better framework for the management of state land, update the existing policies, and bring more transparency into state land transactions.
The first amendment referred to the procedure for lease or transfer of state land to an entity or state enterprise, for a specific objective. Government seeks to update the practice.
“As it stands today, all the transfers such as lease of islands to IDC, STC, or L’Union Estate, all of these are not legal,” said Minister Rangasamy.
The second amendment concerns availability of state land for foreign countries and international organisations, to encourage them to establish a presence in Seychelles.
According to the minister, Seychelles has not honoured some of its international obligations, such as provide the UNDP with an appropriate location to set up its office in the country.
He noted however that in May 2020, the administration at the time had officially offered state land to some countries to allow them to build their embassies but unfortunately this was rejected by the assembly.
“We could see that the situation was not managed in an appropriate manner at the time. Today, we have an opportunity to do it properly. It is well defined under the amendment being proposed, to allow them to lease state land based on concession on rent they would have to pay,” explained the minister.
He added the new Regulation establishes a transparent framework, which allows the president to give his approval on a proposal to lease state land to foreign countries or organisations.
The third amendment covers circumstances and practices through existing policies such as land bank and housing schemes, where government has undertaken housing transactions at subsidised prices with Seychellois citizens. “We presently do not have a legal framework for these transactions. Once again appropriate legislation will legislate it once and for all,” the minister said.
The fourth amendment relates to the scheme for return of undeveloped lands launched on October 2021, which covers lands compulsorily acquired under the Land Acquisition Act 1977.
“The amendment would give power to the head of state to transfer or return those lands to their original owners or applicants who have qualified under the scheme,” he explained.
According to Minister Rangasamy all the work has been done and the government will soon move on to the second phase, where the properties will be returned to their original owners who have qualified under the scheme.
The final amendment makes it mandatory for the head of state to give his approval for any transfer or sale of lease to another individual or entity. The minister explained the government needs to establish some order since many of those transactions are worrying.
“Oftentimes state land especially industrial properties on reclaimed land in Providence, Perseverance or Eve Island have been given at reduced prices and the same lands have been sold for millions,” he explained, adding in most cases you will see the same big businesses owning the properties.
“This is sad when we consider how many Seychellois investors are still waiting for a plot of land to do their project. So we want to ensure there is a proper order.”
The leader of the opposition, Sebastien Pillay, said the bill was hiding the government’s true intention, giving the president power to lease land or island to anyone he sees fit.
He also questioned the timing of the bill, and its urgency stating the government should be focusing on the country’s present predicament instead of rushing to have the law passed by January.
The leader of government business, Bernard Georges, refuted the comments highlighting what he stated as bad practices by the previous administration with regard to state land transactions, and the urgent need for the current government to remedy the situation.
He also clarified the bill does not give the president total power to do as he pleases but states he can give his approval, “as may be prescribed”, which limits his power.
The LDS caucus approved the bill by 21 votes while the opposition abstained.