President Wavel Ramkalawan’s first presidential press conference 2021 |05 February 2021
‘Independent institutions should act as checks on government without any interference’
“Independent institutions such as the judiciary act as checks on the government and they shall exercise their duties in all fairness, without any interference, while freedom of expression is guaranteed as a basic human right, compared to how it all functioned under the previous regime.”
President Wavel Ramkalawan made the statement yesterday at State House while answering questions during his first ever presidential press conference since taking office on October 26, last year.
On October 25, President Ramkalawan was declared the winner of the presidential election with 54.91% of the votes, or 35,562 popular votes, marking the first peaceful transfer of presidential power between different political parties since the country’s independence in 1976.
In his seventh attempt to become president, he defeated Danny Faure of United Seychelles who garnered 28,178 popular votes, or 43.51% of the total votes cast.
Yesterday’s press conference was the first opportunity for journalists representing various local media outlets to freely question President Ramkalawan on the way the country is being run under the new government, precisely in the first 100 days of his presidency.
Cost of living, the fight against drugs, health and e-government were among some of the subjects raised yesterday.
Challenged on a term kales kase used during his state-of-the-nation address (Sona), President Ramkalawan said it is simply a Creole expression describing a difficult situation.
A term which he said has been manipulated with political intent to try and hide the real meaning and purpose behind it.
He gave several examples, including a debt of R10 million owed to the Seychelles Civil Aviation Authority (SCAA) for the use of the VIP lounge at the Seychelles International Airport, saving the country R129,000 per day on tent rental charges by the department of health and also a cut of R4.4 million per month which was being paid to the Berjaya Beau Vallon Bay Resort as an isolation facility.
He also made reference to the fully equipped Anse Royale hospital which was being kept closed, while unnecessary expenses were being made elsewhere.
Accused of being a dictator for proposing that every household flies a national flag, President Ramkalawan explained that this should be considered as an act of patriotism.
He noted that instead of having his picture displayed in every government institutions and offices as it was previously the case, the national flag should be taken as the pride of our nation.
Another example President Ramkalawan gave regarding dictatorship was unlawful arrests which existed before, a situation which he said will never happen again since he considers himself as “a guardian of democracy”.
On the subject of decision-making, President Ramkalawan explained that he has a cabinet of 13 ministers for the purpose of gathering the expertise of each and every one of them so that proper decisions can be taken in the best interest of the country.
He explained that things have dragged for too long in implementing simple projects in the past, and this he said has halted many developments which would have benefitted the country in many ways.
Regarding expatriate workforce, President Ramkalawan noted that despite the precedence for locals when it comes to available jobs, it will be inevitable to have foreign workers in the event where the former are not willing to work.
He explained that we should change our mindset when it comes to different jobs which are considered inferior, while they have huge potentials in boosting our economy.
As for the graduates, the head of state explained that arrangements will be made for them to be placed into relevant employment, instead of them looking for jobs upon their return.
On the issue of citizenship application, President Ramkalawan explained that under the famous Article 5.(1) of the Citizenship Act allowing the President to grant citizenship to distinguished persons on a meritorious basis, no new passports will be given.
He noted that exception will be made for genuine and solid relationship based on a well-established and stable family, while other instances such as marriage of convenience will not be considered.
He noted that there will be no more sales of the Seychelles’ passports, while Article 5.(1) of the Citizenship Act will be amended to ensure that it functions solely under merits for those who have contributed immensely towards the development of the country.
President Ramkalawan said the Anti-Corruption Commission of Seychelles (ACCS) will need to speed up some of its investigations, including the famous US $50 million.
To ease that, he promised full support of his government with new structures and new ways of work under the rule of law.
He also called on journalists to help the ACCS by investigating for themselves and exposing those who are crooked.
Restructuring will be a gradual process which will take place during the coming six months, while certain decisions taken have not been announced since they are still in the process of finalisation, explained President Ramkalawan.
He noted that a second phase will follow and will be made official by next month.
Regarding the country’s annual budget, President Ramkalawan explained it will be a bit special this year since there will be some cuts in various areas, including capital projects, while the budget should reflect the country’s income.
He also added that depending on how fast the economy recovers, the mid-year review might allow the country to breathe a little better, but in a responsible way.
President Ramkalawan further explained that the main priority is to restore the economy so that the rupee becomes more competitive vis-à-vis the dollar.
Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission (TRNUC)
Regarding the Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission (TRNUC), President Ramkalawan explained that it will continue its mandated task under its law without any interference, while the commission will give regular updates to the President.
The Seychellois culture should not be politically influenced and should remain a permanent feature, explained President Ramkalawan when asked about his government’s programme in relation to culture.
He said there would be a body which will safeguard and promote our culture with funding from profitable organisations and businesses.
President Ramkalawan further added that the body will also have the task of introducing the local culture at kindergarten level to ensure continuity.
The war on drugs
In line with his promise during the electoral campaign regarding the fight against drugs, President Ramkalawan said he remains focus and committed in that endeavour.
He noted that some drug dealers have already given up the trade, while those who are still practicing the dirty business will be taken care of.
He also asked the opposition party to join in the fight, instead of sitting on the side and criticising the effort being done to eradicate drugs.
Sacrifices as President
Being the head of state, President Ramkalawan said the biggest sacrifice he is doing is to give his life and energy to search and bring what is best for the country.
“Despite critics and hard times, managing to maintain a relationship with the people remains the biggest sacrifice I am making,” added President Ramkalawan.
He explained that his life has drastically changed, including family life as he has to reflect on decisions and come up with ideas and solutions on how to properly manage and govern the country, while ensuring that all the decisions are done according to the Constitution.
This, he said, will also ensure that Seychelles will remain for all its children, guaranteeing a better and safer place for the future generation.
He added that we should all develop human values and see life differently, without thinking in terms of rupees and cents.
“Our heart should beat for our country and we should always fly the Seychelles flag high,” added the president.
Deportation of female Kenyan drug trafficker
The president addressed this issue as speculations had run rampant in the days since the woman was deported.
“In my state-of-the-nation address I gave a warning to the drug traffickers in our country.”
He noted that the woman was one of the biggest drug dealers in our country, however actions against her was never taken in the past.
“The police conducted an investigation and arrested the woman and after proper protocols were observed she was deported,” said President Ramkalawan.
The president added that the Kenyan and Seychelles police worked alongside each other and when the woman arrived in Kenya she was detained by the police and processed.
The president also added that the law under which the Kenyan was deported was an immigration decree and he added that the government has the intention to bring forth a proper Immigration Act.
Future of Air Seychelles
Regarding the faith of Air Seychelles, the president noted that he appreciates the National Assembly has followed a proper deliberation and came to an understanding.
He also thanked the media for writing and airing programmes about Air Seychelles and starting a discussion.
The president noted that once discussion is over and they have a clear idea on what will be done with the airline they will inform the public.
He noted that no decision has been made for the time being.
Government’s plan to help the most vulnerable
Answering this question, the president noted that many decisions were made by the previous government that affected the economy.
Decisions such as giving everyone a 25% reduction in their housing loans without proper investigation to see who can pay their loans without the reduction and who can’t, the Financial Assistance for Job Retention (FA4JR) which all businesses have been benefiting from by the bucket full.
“All these decisions have contributed to drying out the economy,” he said.
However the president also recognised that the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic also affected our economy.
Regarding Unemployment Relief Scheme (URS), the president noted that in 2020 the number of people benefiting from the scheme went from 160 to more than 1700.
He added that a large number of Seychellois who were on the URS programme and finding new employment is extraordinary.
He also commended all the young graduates who are taking the initiative to find employment even if it’s not in the field that they have studied.
The head of state also said we should stop describing young people on URS as vulnerable as they are still strong and can find employment. He continued by saying that it is through proper employment that we are able to contribute towards our pension which will be beneficial when we retire.
Availability of methadone
“We have a methadone problem as the person in charge of the Agency for the Prevention of Drug Abuse and Rehabilitation (Apdar) did not do what he/she was supposed to do,” said the president.
He noted that the Ministry of Health has given assurance that the stock of methadone that is currently in the country will be stretched to avoid a crisis.
He noted that the new shipment of methadone will arrive in the country on Saturday on board Qatar Airways.
The president also noted that through negotiations with our sister country, Mauritius, we are being assisted with a stock of methadone.
Redundancy and non-renewal of passports
How many people have been made redundant in the private sectors and how many contracts will not get renewed in the public sector?
Regarding this question, the president said that he will not be able to give out an accurate number of contracts that will not be renewed, however he noted that in the past many unnecessary positions were given to people which overcrowded the civil service and this is why some contracts will not be renewed in certain departments.
He noted that we must remove the political aspects when it comes to employment, but rather look at qualifications.
Cost of living and services contributing to its rise
“The cost of living correlates directly with foreign exchange. When foreign exchange does not enter our economy the local currency depreciates and this causes the price of goods to rise,” the president said.
He continued by adding that even though the costs have risen there is still abuse from people not paying taxes.
Regarding the Seychelles Trading Company (STC), the president noted that the government wants to transform it into a shop where all Seychellois will be able to get all their essential goods at a reasonable price.
“STC also has a new board that includes businessmen who understand how the system works, the board as well as the government have reviewed some areas where STC is losing money, such as hardware as well as the cost of utilities,” explained President Ramkalawan.
When it comes to services that the government offers, the president has said that there will be a review and cuts in some areas.
Government’s transition to the digital era
Concerning this, Mr Ramkalawan noted that information is in abundance and the government is well aware of the daily goings of the country through their system.
He remarked that they know exactly who is living in the country illegally and how many importers are evading taxes.
“Just yesterday we uncovered a business who has evaded approximately R10 million in tax,” said President Ramkalawan.
The president also noted that a portion of the budget has been set aside in order to link each government department and ministry with each other online.
He also added that the government is also working to make sure that all documents at the Registrar’s Office are scanned and digitised.
Concerning this, the head of state said there have been many reforms in our army, however much emphasis is being placed on coast guards.
He also noted that the special forces are being trained at L’Exile but discussions are ongoing to return the property back to its rightful owner and move the base to another location.
The president also discussed the many reforms that are being made when it comes to recruiting and training of young cadets and quoted that “they are turning into a professional force”.
Spying on Seychellois
The president assured the media that the government is not spying on Seychellois, but rather using public information that is already available such as declaration of taxes and so on.
However, the president condemned the sharing of private information of citizens as it infringes on their rights
Assembly members and their salary
The president said a call will be made to the National Assembly members to make sacrifices and he also noted that any member who takes part in a committee while the assembly is ongoing will not get any committee fees.
Regarding the ministers, the president noted that they receive only their salary with no additional allowances.
Transparency with journalists
“I have talked to my ministers and have informed them that when a journalist has questions we must answer them and tell the truth,” said the president.
He added that journalists should not hesitate when it comes to asking questions as the government is here to answer them which will in turn educate the public.
La Digue hospital and other projects
“Even before the elections I was asking for a hospital to be built on La Digue and we sped up the process as when an opportunity is given we must seize it,” explained President Ramkalawan.
He noted that the site where the hospital will be built has been cleared because the island needs a modern hospital.
“We also need an isolation centre as we cannot keep using our hospitals, and as we speak we have already come up with a concept and are now knocking on doors so that by the end of the year we get our isolation centre,” he added.
“Assets belonging to the state that have been stolen and distributed are still on our agenda and there is ongoing work to solve this issue,” said the president.
He added that the Auditor General has presented a report on all properties that have been taken and through the audit they found that there are no proper indicators on how these properties were sold and bought.
Islands Development Company
A conversation is ongoing according to the president between the Islands Development Company (IDC) and the government to decide which model they will be adopting when it comes to what they are currently doing at the moment
Bureaucratic red tape when it comes to redundancy
Redundancy has to go through a legal procedure as it will open the door to liability if it is not done in the right way, said the president.
The decisions to give pardon to prisoners does not solely lie on the president.
“The procedure is that the prisoner writes a letter to the Office of the President and puts forwards the reasons he/she should be given a pardon. This letter is then sent to the pardons board where it is reviewed, afterwards a recommendation is made to the president and based on that recommendation I decide if the prisoner will be released,” said President Ramkalawan.
The president noted that there are some cases that have been brought to his attention and recommendations have been made. He continued by adding that he has signed pardons this week ‒ one for prisoner with health issues, two foreign prisoners who are nearing the end of their sentences and they will be deported and two others who are ready to re-join the society.
He also added that he has also refused pardons as he feels that the seriousness of their crimes does not warrant early release.
The president added that this responsibility is one he takes very seriously.
Roland Duval and Christophe Zialor