National Assembly approves SAA, LWMA budgets |20 March 2021
The National Assembly yesterday continued with deliberations on the Appropriations Bill, 2021, considering and approving the allocations to the Seychelles Agricultural Agency and the Landscape and Waste Management Agency, entities under the portfolio of the Ministry of Agriculture, Climate Change and Environment.
The appropriation for the Seychelles Agricultural Agency (SAA) to a sum of R68,238,000, which is just over R3 million in excess of the revised budget for 2020, was considered first.
The agency, created in 2009 through the enactment of the Seychelles Agricultural Act, is mandated to facilitate and support the enhancement of national food security, facilitate the increased contribution of agriculture in the country’s gross domestic product and facilitate the modernisation and development of the agricultural sector.
During the sitting, Agriculture, Climate Change and Environment Minister Flavien Joubert, principal secretary for agriculture Antoine-Marie Moustache, and chief executive of SAA Linetta Estico were present to defend the budget, alongside principal secretary for finance Damien Thésée. It was eventually approved by 24 votes.
Throughout the sitting, members questioned the panel as to plans to the entity’s strategic priorities and direction in the short and medium term, plans to render the entity more efficient to better cater to farmers, and all stakeholders in the agricultural sector, as well as the strategies through which it seeks to meet its objectives, including assisting small farmers to adopt new technologies.
Among the concerns raised was the need to better manage stock of materials at the SAA store so as to guarantee availability, allocation and retraction of agricultural land, subsidies to farmers which is provided for by the budget, addressing challenges faced by farmers such as repeated flooding, and further promoting agricultural development across the country, as well as the changes within the agency, once it is eventually at some point during the year be integrated into a department.
Similarly, Minister Joubert conveyed concerns as to the transactions at the requisite store and receipts into the revolving fund. He further proposed a review of the structure, towards ensuring that the funds are better managed, as it is “important that by the end of the year, the agency has covered its costs of imports”, even though the agency is not primarily seeking to make a profit.
He however notified members that the integration will not affect its functions, mandate or strategies, but is in line with the new line of thinking of the new administration towards a leaner government structure, with emphasis on cost-cutting and sharing of resources.
With regards to the improving existing facilities at the disposal of farmers including laboratories, Minister Joubert stated that work is ongoing to determine complementary laboratory services required by the domestic market and sector.
“One of the things we are doing now is looking into whether we can relaunch certain programmes, so we can get more assistance to develop more facilities around the laboratory. But, we need to ensure that when we construct laboratories, we have the right people to make them function, and we also need to have tests that meet needs in our agricultural sector,” the minister said, highlighting the relevance in introducing facilities that permit tests for pesticides and pesticide residues in food, as well as meat products, so as to elevate standards.
The government presently owns two laboratories at Grand Anse whereby a number of tests covering agricultural needs are available, but improvements to testing will help in elevating the standards, Minister Joubert added.
Throughout the year, the agency will be channelling efforts into connecting farmers with the market, through retailers such as the Seychelles Trading Company (STC), with which it has a contract agreement and a programmer whereby farmers register. It has also through the Buy & Sell facebook platform, negotiated for an online space for farmers to advertise available produce, to a wider market.
Minister Joubert further talked about building capacity in farmers to better manage their businesses through teaching them skills such as bookkeeping and basic accounts.
Among the budgetary provisions are for the establishment of facilities and amenities for farmers such as water access and the construction of markets and roads, including a road at Val d’Andorre to serve a farmer and open up other plots at a cost of R2.1 million. A portion of the road was completed in 2020 at a sum of R1.8 million.
Minister Joubert notified the assembly that the Agricultural Development Fund (ADF) is allocated R3 million each budget year to replenish the account, but no provisions were included in the 2021 budget on account that it presently stands at R26 million due to minimum movement in the account.
Government recently increased the threshold for the loan facility from the ADF scheme to R5 million for eligible farmers and organisations, and will inject more in consideration of the challenges faced by farmers.
As for the Livestock Trust Fund, it presently holds R4.2 million in its suspense account which has accumulated over previous years, and has depleted significantly according to PS Thésée on account of subventions and subsidies to farmers.
“The budget before us hasn’t changed. The changes are yet to be announced, SAA still exists. As I said, the budget has been prepared as if nothing changed, but obviously as things change, we need to conduct a review and adjust to factor in the changes. And of course, if the government owes dues, it will pay off the workers,” Minister Joubert added so as to assure members who had expressed concern over the status and compensation of employees, when the integration materialises.
The assembly also approved by 25 votes the R242,236,000 appropriation to Landscape and Waste Management Agency (LWMA), represented by deputy chief executive Raoul Mangroo.
Of the total budget, 5.57 percent has been allocated to wages and salaries, while the rest allocated to the goods and services headings, the majority of which is allocated to cleaning services.
Again, questions revolved around service contracts for beach cleaning and roadside cleaning issued by the agency and waste management concerns in different districts, with members asserting the need for better value for money, and possibly reviewing and reorganising the service contracts.
The panel received a lot of questions and complaints about services contracted to small contractors for road cleaning and beach cleaning, and it was clarified that a comprehensive review is being conducted to determine how many contracts are needed as well as pricing for such services, which are outsourced to small contractors.
The budget provides for increases in beach cleaning by 5 percent on Mahé and from R4.5 million to R5 million on Praslin, while the road cleaning allocation has increased from R61,299,000 to R71,989,000 on Mahé alone. The same applies to road cleaning on Mahé, as well as the allocation for waste collection, which has under this year’s budget increased from R24.9 million to R28.8 million.
As for waste collection across municipalities, R28.8 million has been allocated for Mahé, R6.1 million for Praslin and R3.2 million on La Digue. A further R1 million for pest control applies for pest control services for the agency’s offices and sites managed by the agency on Mahé, Praslin and La Digue, such as landfills and the head office.
The assembly will on Monday consider the appropriations for the National Biosecurity Agency (NBA), the Seychelles Energy Commission and National Botanical Gardens Foundation, under the same ministry.