The youth’s perspective on the Budget 2021 |12 March 2021
Throughout the years, the youth of Seychelles have been used as a slogan, touted by politicians during electoral campaigns, yet remain one of the most disenfranchised groups among the general population. Youth are said to be the future of the country, yet on far too many occasions, terms such as “Lazy”, “Drug Addicts'', “Naive” and “Unemployed” are used as to represent us by those same politicians when they sit in the comfortable chairs of the National Assembly. We are misrepresented and decisions that impact our future are taken in our absence and we are expected to inherit the consequences without complaint. Contrary to the popular narrative, we the Youth are having to step up and take matters into our own hands; to take up pertinent issues to the Government – a notable one being the protection of Grand Police Bay, an initiative that we championed.
With that being said, here are the views from some members of the Youth on the Government Budget for 2021. These come from a variety of angles, ages, backgrounds, and ambitions with nothing else but Seychelles at heart, with a clear message that they are equally concerned and they are here and not to be forgotten.
An anonymous passionate person
Mr Ramkalawan finally won his 30-year democratic war and became the President of Seychelles, albeit during a health and economic crisis.
The budget should reflect what Mr Ramkalawan and his administration are to be for us, the population, during these 5 upcoming years. During these horrifying times, what should the population expect? But after 30 years, where does the new administration start?
We need to strike a balance between the two, but I am afraid a key group of the population demographic was left out. Youth. The old administration could NOT stop talking about youth, from “data dan tata”, to first time voter parties to youth music videos.
Could it be that the new administration toiled to stray from this mentality so much so that they forgot us entirely? Or is it since they had had meetings with part of the youth population already and felt youth were reassured? Or maybe it is not expected that youth care about the budget address?
Whichever it may be, we are not satisfied but understand the circumstances and can only hope for better.
An anonymous youth leader in civil society
As an aspiring entrepreneur, the budget speech reassured me that the government understands the challenges faced by my fellow young entrepreneurs. Notably, the budget speech announced the cessation of the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) tax. While this is reassuring in the sense that it means a bit more profits will remain within our businesses, I cannot help think of the struggling members of civil society. With reduced CSR taxes, big companies have a lesser responsibility to truly “give back to the community” as this will hereforth become an option rather than an obligation. I am worried that community projects will be affected, especially national grants awarded to NGOs. For many years now, civil society has been complementing the work of the government, having a closer “reach” to the ordinary citizen and providing social services to the people.
I was pleased to see an increase in the budget allocated to the ministry of health, who will surely use it to combat the surging Covid-19 pandemic. Sadly, this increase has been made possible due to budget cuts and the restructuring of other important ministries, departments, authorities and agencies. Programmes such as URS and welfare assistance have been stopped or reduced significantly. Certainly, there have been years and years of abuse in these programmes. However, the measures adopted appear rushed and unprepared for. This will inevitably lead to a rise in social problems on top of the economic uncertainty we are facing. I cannot help but wonder if these same “problems”, along with their associated costs, will not simply just shift to another ministry.
We are going to feel the same economic downturn our parents felt in 2008, only this time it will be without a steady number of tourists still entering the country. The government is yet to make an attempt at properly diversifying our economy so that we may become less reliant on tourism. Instead, we chose to support STB’s “workcation” marketing campaign despite the costs of internet in Seychelles ranking among the most expensive in Africa while only being considered as adequate in quality. Moreover, we keep building larger and more luxurious hotels to cater for this saturated market. Why aren’t we pouring these funds into strengthening our fisheries and agricultural sectors so that we can rely less on imports and attain food security? Why aren’t we subsidizing youth entrepreneurship in these areas?
All in all, the budget speech is very much in line with the President’s speech and the latter should serve as a reassuring promise that we are headed in the right direction. Harder economic times lie ahead, specifically with the ban on salary increase in the public sector, the cessation of 13th-month salary, the cessation of FA4JR, and similar assistance programmes. Essentially this means that the average Seychellois worker will have less money in their pockets, meanwhile the price of commodities in shops keep rising.
My expectations for 2021 is that the government engages in open public discussions and seeks the views of the people before implementing such long-term decisions. We also need more consultation! Transparent ones where our leaders are held accountable, especially those who have contributed to making this country a “kales kase”, the rising leaders cannot be left to inherit these past mistakes.
Nisha Pillay, BSc Accounting and Finance student
Holistically, the budget for 2021 attempts to include new strategies and ideas in line with enabling a more self-reliant sustainable economy in the long run. Although some ideas such as limiting bureaucracy and diversifying the economy away from tourism have been explicitly explained, other crucial areas such as improvements in technology and education require more targeted and detailed measures if there are to be substantial improvements in these areas. Nevertheless, there are certain aspects of the budget which I believe are useful in boosting productivity levels in the future and coping with the recent economic difficulties. These include limiting bureaucracy within the government which aids in maximising the efficiency of its operations through the reduction of unnecessary expenses. I also appreciate the movement towards encouraging more entrepreneurial activities which will definitely have positive spill over effects.
However, there are two main measures that I am not particularly in favour of and believe it would be beneficial for the economy if these could be reconsidered. Firstly, although the idea of reducing dependency on foreign workers seems ideal in theory, when viewed from a practical point of view, such a measure is in fact counter-productive and will limit the improvements in GDP that the government hopes to achieve. Foreign workers especially in sectors such as hospitality, construction and teaching among others have specialised skills which are difficult to duplicate in the short run at least. I agree that it is in the well-being of Seychelles to employ more of the locals in highly skilled jobs. However, in the short to medium term it would not be possible to do so. In light of this I’d suggest that the government looks at reforming the education sector to upskill the population from a young age and support training programmes for existing workers before looking to restrict employment of foreign workers which is likely to do more harm than good.
Secondly, in a bid to reduce expenses the government has reduced the social assistance provided to certain individuals. I agree that the assistance provided should be more targeted and this is definitely a goal to achieve in the long run. However, the previous government has made several individuals dependent on this form of assistance over the years and therefore a sudden withdrawal is likely to spark other social problems such as theft. I’d therefore suggest a gradual decrease in the provision of social assistance rather than an immediate withdrawal.
All in all, the budget does incorporate important changes and reforms in clean energy, technology and diversification which undoubtedly will re-position Seychelles as a sustainable, growing economy in the long run. However, I hope that these aren’t merely proposals and I expect that the government will be actively working towards and monitoring these goals to ensure that they are achieved.
An anonymous young civil servant
2021 is the first year that I have ever concerned myself with following the announcement and deliberations on the National Budget. It has been a truly enlightening experience, especially contrasting the 2020 budget to that of this year. My thoughts are as follows:
• Budget Deficit. The government's budget deficit in 2021 is completely unsustainable. I am slightly sceptical of the ambitious goal of reducing this deficit almost by 50% in just one year. However, I will be content beyond my ability to express, to be proven wrong.
• Air Seychelles' debt. Minister Hassan, as a Seychellois I would like to express that I have no desire whatsoever to pay or contribute in any way towards paying off Air Seychelles' debt. The current administration should even go further to investigate how to reduce the cost of flying to Seychelles which I believe, largely has to do with the cost of ground handling. Would this not be better managed by an airport’s authority or SCAA? I'd even go as far as suggesting that this is an area where the private sector can participate. Perhaps then we shall also see a coordinated approach to developing all airports and landing strips in Seychelles and a more competitive price offering which – logic would lead me to believe – will result in more tourist arrivals.
• Flexible working hours. This is a good initiative, and if coupled with a results-based compensation system it may even bring about the efficient government we keep hearing about. Young people remain disenfranchised, poorly compensated across the board and barred from enjoying their constitutional rights to education and development by restrictive bondage policies that force involuntary servitude onto beneficiaries of scholarships. There is a fear of qualified individuals in government which also needs to be addressed before we can even dream of retaining local talent. When we work hard, we are patted on the back and told we've done a good job, yet we don't see increments added to our salary, we don't receive bonuses and somehow, we're expected to remain performant. “Thank you” doesn't help me qualify for a housing scheme or a loan. The salary grid needs urgent attention.
• The World Bank. It seems many programmes are being supported or financed by the World Bank. I urge the current administration to re-evaluate our relationships with these UN entities. It is becoming increasingly unclear which agency is responsible for what, which helps contribute to the project duplication we see so frequently. Our sovereignty should not be compromised by any state nor by any regional or international organisation, including the UN.
• Education. Our educational system is one that does not promote understanding of the basic principles of learning which include spaced repetition, active recall and setting up effective study timetables. There are case studies out there. Let us emulate what works and eliminate what doesn't. I would hope to finally see long-lasting improvements in this domain in the next year. This includes training for our teachers. If there is a budget item that should be exhausted every year it should be that of training.
• Corruption. I am not entirely sure what the current legislation says, however I believe we need laws that fiercely protect whistle-blowers. Whistle-blowers should be regarded as National Heroes, complementing the work of the watchdogs of the public sector.
• Waste. Seychelles needs to align itself to the philosophy of the circular economy. I would love to see support for businesses which extract and repurpose metallic components from discarded electronics. That way, we can forget about talks on deep sea mining and show our contribution to re-using what we've already dug out of the ground.
In conclusion, I think the budget is okay – just okay. It demonstrates a clear initiative to close the deficit, to manage debt and in some ways to render government more effective. Only time will tell whether the policies that will come will achieve these goals. In the meantime, our collective responsibility is to pull Seychelles out of the hole it has sunken into. I will do my part for the country I love.
An anonymous university student
The increase in public sector salary expenditure is disappointing because it shows that we have not reduced the influence and size of government, which in my opinion was one of the biggest flaws of the last government. This is especially apparent at a time like this – the middle of an economic recession. government agencies, in my experience, were already inefficiently run with far too many administrative roles which could have been performed by fewer staff. It also raises the question as to whether any essential skills are being developed in these roles. Are taxpayers and the people as a whole getting value for money by employing even more public sector employees? I doubt it. An increase in the capital investments budget is important because we simply haven’t invested enough into improving healthcare and education as a whole over the years, hopefully these will become more efficient and transparent in their use of resources. Additionally, I think the spending in the fishing sector is of benefit as this is a key income generator. It was necessary to bring the end of the FA4JR scheme as this was grossly unsustainable. I think one thing that was missing was a separate budget breakdown for law enforcement as I believe this is one area where wastage of resources is high.
The budget was mostly necessary and given that a new government has come into power at a time of financial crisis, I don’t believe that it is possible to achieve maximum efficiency so quickly. Furthermore, I am sceptical of the idea that more value can be obtained for less money in relation to the procurement of products and services like in the case of construction, where inflation has caused large cost increases.
In terms of my expectations, I’d like to see an increase in agricultural output in Seychelles and hopefully a decrease in inflation to the levels at the start of the Pandemic in March although, this will depend a lot on how much tourism revenue can be generated this year. I also expect to see less dependence on GOP employees as a whole for the long term as once the FA4JR scheme ends, I believe further redundancies will happen, primarily for GOP holders and I expect to see a slight increase in local workers, especially in hospitality and fisheries.
Benjamin Port-Louis expresses his views and concerns as a Business Management graduate and an entrepreneur
My views on the budget are that they have outlined a lot of good points where we can cut costs to reduce what we owe for our county. There have also been many good points on what we can do to help our country grow economically as well as reducing wastage in the public sector, sustainably managing ministries, departments, authorities and agencies and improving those which have been neglected. These points are very well made and if implemented correctly and following a delicate process we can see Seychelles going on the right track financially.
The budget now stands at R11.013 billion, which is less than the R11.586 billion that the government spent in 2020, mainly due to the slump created by Covid-19 situation. Overall, the excuse that we don’t have money to do things should not be mentioned. I believe the cancellation of the FA4JR scheme should not have happened due to the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic is still going on. I believe there have been a lot of businesses who did not require the FA4JR scheme and still received money when they should not have. I think that these big businesses, for example a few big hotel chains, should not have received the money, but received millions when there were many small businesses that could have used the money and were rejected. The cancellation of this scheme should only be for the big businesses who don’t want to take money from their own pockets and should pay the money back immediately so smaller businesses can get the help they rightfully deserve.
What I believe is missing are more schemes for small and medium businesses to help keep them operational in this tough time. I believe that banks are the real issue because they should be lending money with low interest rates now to businesses that can grow their business and who can show they are able to pay it back. I also believe we should export our youth to work in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and in the region. We have good connections with many countries. Why not put it to good use? This is based on the Singapore model, where Singapore sends their people to work overseas to bring money back into their country.
More importance should be put on our fishing and agriculture industry and the amount mentioned is not enough to help those industries to grow. In fishing, we should have no foreign partners because the banks should support Seychellois more. Our tuna industry should be owned by Seychellois because that is the industry that makes the most money and Seychelles loses out on it. There should be more support for local business and on local products made in Seychelles. An example where the government can cut costs is on importation of fertilizer. There is a local company that makes an organic fertilizer which is on an international level and is not supported at all by the local government.
My expectations for this year depend on whether or not we focus on the right industries. We need to have more than one pillar of our economy, as Covid-19 has shown us that relying on tourism alone has hurt us more. I expect to see more Seychellois being pushed to do projects in fishing and agriculture, as well as the government supporting those people. I think that April will be a very hard time financially for the country due to Covid-19. However, with proper policies and support we can start improving our economy through other industries towards the end of 2021.
An aspiring entrepreneur and a business student, Tanmay Tank
In light of the pandemic, this year’s budget holds the greatest significance in the recovery of the economy of Seychelles, while it is also the first budget address for the new government to showcase its future aims and goals. With that being said, the 2021 Budget has addressed certain growing issues adequately and can be concluded to be a pragmatic one with a touch of wishful thinking. Minister Hassan – in line with President Ramkalawan’s speech – emphasised the vision of practicing lean management within the government. I should note that this is one of the key factors in aiding the government function with increased efficiency and effectiveness. However, despite my being in favour of the need to cut costs and unnecessary spending, it is extremely vital to direct available capital towards key areas such as Education, Health, Agriculture and Fisheries, where small investments can lead to great returns. The restructuring is welcome at a vital time as it will aid the President relay his ambitions for the country while having competent individuals at the helm, who aim to work with greater transparency and intellectual know-how and who would be held accountable if otherwise.
The major talking points of the budget have been surrounding the cancellation or reduction of social assistance schemes – FA4JR, URS to name a few. It is evident that over the years there has been abuse of such schemes. However, to suddenly stop them would bring about major social constraints such as an increased burden on the average family’s household budget. In light of rising inflation rates – which is predicted to be at 3.78% - this means the average family will struggle to make ends meet and to afford basic commodities. Despite this, I am in favour of halting FA4JR as it has become unsustainable. On the other hand, these cessation policies can be seen as “Push Factors”, driving individuals towards finding employment.
This leads me to my next point, that of the employment of expatriates in Seychelles. As was argued by the President, employing an expat contributes to economic leakage, it is important to understand that for a country with such a small population and an economy which was growing exponentially, it would be difficult to rely exclusively on the local labour force. Albeit, there should not be a preference of foreign workers over locals. Despite there being many arguments made against the latter, they are our people and it is our right to train them and to change their mindset. In turn, finding a balance between locals and foreign workers will be crucial to imbue the necessary skills within local manpower. We need to put a greater emphasis on building succession plans for the executive positions in public and private sectors.
The budget proposes an increase in the government’s Capital Investment Programme, mainly in the health and education sectors, which I believe is needed especially during these times which have exposed the weak foundation and capacities of these institutions. These investments are vital in order to empower the future generations to take Seychelles and to launch it to new heights. In the past, on many occasions and in various institutions, we’ve had individuals doing just enough to get by. I cannot fail to stress that just enough is not enough anymore.
Air Seychelles is once again on the debate agenda of the National Assembly. Once seen as the Hindenburg soaring the skies, it now seems to be coming close to its disaster descent. Similar to the government, Air Seychelles is in desperate need of restructuring as I do believe it can be saved if taken seriously and managed as a profit-making business rather than a political item. Countless examples of airlines that have managed to turn around through a revamp exist and I cannot see why it is not possible for Air Seychelles.
I breathed a great sigh of relief when Minister Hassan announced the Tax Reforms as we have relied for far too long on an old system which hasn't been able to cater for modern needs. These reforms will further aid businesses to bring their current systems into the modern day, allowing both parties to benefit from better efficiency and productivity while also ensuring accountability from parties not contributing. The major news comes with the abolishment of CSR tax effective April 1, with the aim being to retain more capital within businesses. I am uncertain as to how significant this extra cash will be to the business community. In addition, it is equally the businesses’ responsibility to help bring the community forward and CSR tax, in a way, ensured that all parties did just that. Rather than abolishing it altogether, I would suggest implementing a stringently managed system which allocates the CSR tax revenue equitably, so as to focus on areas most in need. Although I hope it will be revised as a whole when the tax restructuring takes place.
Tourism being one of the most important pillars of the Seychelles economy has suffered a major hit due to the pandemic with recovery said to be slow over the coming years. It is quite unfortunate to see the same old traditional means being deployed to sustain this industry. Although I can understand the logic of having a cash cow in order to be able to fund other ventures.
The introduction of flexible working hours is a positive move in order to have better work life balance for civil servants. Although there had not been a well-planned move towards such an idea due to the pandemic, I am hoping that this year allows all stakeholders to incorporate such a system through updated enterprising systems. There have been a few youth led start-ups in such domains which need more mentions and appreciation. Entrepreneurial activities would need to be heavily encouraged by the government as there is ample amount of talent on display yet little to no recognition is given. More often a “well done” is seen to be sufficient.
Allow me to express my disappointment with the lack of mention of a Circular Economy initiative. For a country which boasts nature conservation and ocean protection, we are still using the traditional Linear Economy model. A more circular economy can be attained through better trade deals with neighbouring manufacturing hubs, allowing products coming from Seychelles to be re-shipped, resold, recycled and/or repaired. This can be incentivised via tax concessions on businesses that aim to incorporate such a business model. To take a local example, used tyres can be rethreaded in Seychelles, extending its validity and resold both locally and internationally, rather than just being discarded or incinerated where both options are detrimental to the environment. Such an economy will not only promote a sustainable country model but offer the traditional benefits of jobs, reduce the cost of living, increase tax revenue etc. Furthermore, allowing either locals or foreign investors to set-up factories in Seychelles for such methods of manufacturing would further bring another revenue stream for the country. Although adopting such a model is not easy and cannot be done overnight, work needs to be done right now in order to lay the right foundations for it to be possible for tomorrow.
I expect and hope that 2021 is the year where we see normalcy return to our lives as well as a recovery in the economy. As a concerned member of the youth, I only wish for the betterment and progress of the country we love so dearly.
Edited & compiled by Tanmay Tank
The views expressed in this article are those of the contributors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Seychelles NATION newspaper.