National Assembly 2020 budget responses |07 November 2019
US members in favour of budget towards equitable results, LDS contests whether it addresses country’s major challenges
Following Tuesday’s sitting in which the two leaders in the National Assembly – leader of the opposition Wavel Ramkalawan and leader of government business Charles de Comarmond – presented their 2020 budget responses, other members of the assembly yesterday had an opportunity to present their own replies in the presence of Minister for Finance, Trade, Investment and Economic Planning Maurice Loustau-Lalanne.
As expected, the majority of the United Seychelles (US) members expressed support for the 2020 budget provisions noting the numerous milestones of the government over recent years while the Linyon Demokratik Seselwa (LDS) members questioned whether the budget addresses major challenges within important economic and public service sectors.
First to pronounce himself was Ahmed Afif, the member for Anse Etoile, who questioned whether the biggest budget to be tabled before the assembly thus far will address issues important to the Seychellois population including the cost of living, education and health among others.
Making reference to numerous budgetary provisions, Mr Afif conveyed his support towards provisions to increase minimum wage, to provide improved services to the public, to provide more houses and infrastructure in 2020 but criticised some aspects of the budget for failing to indicate the government’s plans to address major challenges, emphasising the need for more effective methods of drug prevention and rehabilitation of drug addicts especially among the youth, who are most affected by the epidemic.
“The budget is one which is serving to stop the executive machine from shutting down. For me, the major challenges which we always talk about on this side of the table are not being addressed and certainly, I don’t see that the government has any new ideas as to how to move the country forward,” stated Mr Afif.
Taking on the subject of the 22,000 plus expatriate workers on the local labour market, Mr Afif remarked that the country cannot do without foreign workers and that the economy would suffer greatly without expatriates due to the shortage of local labour suggesting that rather than increase the fees for Gainful Occupation Permits (GOP) for employees who have worked in Seychelles for over six years, more emphasis should be placed on improving the education system, equipping more Seychellois youths academically and professionally, and for relevant authorities to step up the battle against drugs, so the country can be less reliant on foreign labour in future. He also noted that such provisions are discouraging to the private sector.
Referring to the cost of living, Mr Afif touched on telecommunications noting that prices for mobile broadband data in Seychelles “is twice the price of Mauritius, more than three times the price of Kenya and four times more costlier than Tanzania” and proposed more competition be allowed in the sector by allowing more operators to enter the market and that the budget gives no indication of reduced prices over the next year.
Mr Afif also questioned the government’s ability to deliver on capital projects in the next year on account of the R245 million in the 2020 budget, noting that it was recently announced that some projects could not be implemented due to lack of capacity within relevant departments.
He concluded his address by requesting that Minister Loustau-Lalanne provides the assembly with more information as to how the R835 million increase in the 2020 budget (as compared to 2019) will be financed as tax revenues are forecasted to increase by R230 million. As per a table provided by the ministry, it will be partly financed through grants which have increased from R145 million in 2019 to R647 million in 2020, reflecting an increment of R502 million.
Mr Afif was followed by US member Chantal Ghislain who expressed her support for the budget stating that “every Seychellois should see themselves in the budget as the government intends to improve the standard of living for all Seychellois”.
She urged others who “do not have that feel-good feeling” to be patient, noting that the government is committed to all its people, highlighting provisions to increase minimum wage, maternity allowance for pregnant ladies who have to travel from other islands to the Seychelles Hospital and budget increase in both education and health sectors.
Ms Ghislain also applauded the government for budget provisions for the agricultural sector, noting that there are many opportunities for players in the sector to prosper and urged the public to make the most of the opportunities presented by the 2020 budget.
As with Mr Afif, LDS member for Anse Boileau, Phillip Arissol, called into question the government’s ability to deliver on all the promises of the budget echoing Mr Ramkalawan in stating that the budget does not leave Seychellois with any glimmer of hope that things will improve.
Mr Arissol proposed that the agricultural sector should have been allocated a bigger budget in the efforts towards improving food security. He too proposed that the ministry reconsider the increase in GOP fees as such could be detrimental to small contractors and proposed more investment in sports and youths.
The US member for Baie St Anne Praslin, Churchill Gill, praised the budget for demonstrating that “the government has listened to, reached out to and presented them [the people] with the benefits they wanted, and to improve the standard of living for Seychellois”.
Mr Gill acknowledged the Agricultural Comprehensive Plan and budgetary provisions for the sector as good initiatives but proposed that the government look into establishing mechanisms to also protect farmers from intense competition from imported products that have flooded the market. He also proposed that residents of other islands have similar opportunities as persons residing on Mahé, where most services and ministries are based.
LDS member for Plaisance Clive Roucou was next to deliver his address, starting off by stating “the budget presented to us is one which is incomplete. It has no backbone and has not been accompanied by clear actions to address major problems in our country”. He too criticised the lack of “a clear action plan” to improve efficacy and performance in the health, education and public service in general asserting that simply increasing the budget for departments including the Agency for the Prevention of Drug Abuse and Rehabilitation (Apdar) from R47 million to R73 million without any concrete programme, will not amount to anything and will fail to produce the desired result.
Audrey Vidot, US member for Roche Caïman, was next to present her response in which she affirmed her support for the budget which she said will serve its purpose of equitable results and rendering wealth distribution more equitable.
“The budget is also indicating a president who is listening, not only to his supporters, but all Seychellois who have a voice to express themselves. The budget reflects the wishes and aspirations of our people, and their pleas,” she said.
Tax increases for alcohol and tobacco manufacturers was one of the many concerns of Stephen Pillay, LDS member for Au Cap, who seemed doubtful about whether it will have the desired effect to curb alcohol and tobacco abuse.
Mr Pillay also addressed the issue of Air Seychelles, calling for more information to be given to the assembly regarding the airline’s agreement with Etihad and its financial standing. Mr Pillay also proposed a comprehensive salary grid be drawn up for the public sector that is reflective of factors including cost of living, noting a R500 increment in minimum wage is still insufficient for a family.
He also spoke about PMC raising a bond of R200 million and hope, that contrary to the past, the bonds will be made available to individuals as priority to invest as opposed to big banks and companies with capital, referring to the budget as an election budget but that LDS will not tolerate any bureaucracy or abuses of the financial resources.
Egbert Aglae, US member for Port Glaud, reinforced sentiments similar to those of US members who had presented their responses.
LDS member Florry Larue cited Vision 2033 as included in the 2020 budget, dismissing the vision as unreflective of modern day Seychelles and its people.
“I suggest that more investment is injected in regulatory bodies, Seychelles Licensing Authority (SLA), the tax collectors,” she said asserting the need for better tax collections rather than increase certain taxes, the impacts of which are then passed on to the local clientèle and visitors alike and render Seychelles an uncompetitive tourist destination.
Ms Larue concluded her deliberation by stating that the budget needs to in future be more functional and serve its intended purpose.
LDS member for Les Mamelles, Bernard Georges, intervened next stating that the budget represents many missed opportunities for the country and the population. Mr Georges proposed that budgetary provisions are not well-thought out and do not necessarily prioritise important challenges, sectors and issues.
He too made reference to numerous infrastructure projects that have failed to take off over recent years dubbing the budget as “an election budget”.
A fair tax regime was also proposed by Mr Georges who also asserted the need for the government to support the telecommunications sector. He made reference to the Cable & Wireless sale to a consortium of Seychellois urging the government to join the consortium as an investor as a means to generate revenue to reduce tax burdens on citizens and finance capital projects.
The final member to present his deliberation, US member Sebastien Pillay, reminded the assembly of the government’s heavy spending in education and health.
“Is this not an indication that we are reinvesting back in the people and in the right places?” Mr Pillay questioned, urging the assembly to adopt a more positive approach towards the budget and government’s efforts, also noting that the opposition had very little to criticise from the budget.
Mr Pillay also proposed a tax review and reform and urged the government to create more opportunities for entrepreneurship and business development for Seychellois.
Contrary to previous responses, Mr Pillay commended Apdar’s efforts towards rehabilitation of drug addicts and noting the effectiveness of its programmes.
“What remains for us to do, collectively, as a nation, a people, is to work together to bring our country forward. This budget, has enough in it to bring our country forward if we work together and walk shoulder to shoulder, we can do it,” Mr Pillay said to conclude the assembly’s sitting for the day.
The assembly will resume today with members’ budget responses as from 9am.
Minister Loustau-Lalanne is expected to have his right of reply on Monday.