National Assembly revises boards of directors for SBS, SIB |15 April 2021
- Nisti, Public Officer’s Ethics Commission dissolved
The National Assembly yesterday continued with revisions and amendments to the board of directors of various public entities, notably the Seychelles Bureau of Standards (SBS) and the Seychelles Investment Board (SIB).
The parliament also repealed the National Institute for Science, Technology and Innovation (Nisti) Act, 2014, which means that it will no longer function as an institute but rather as a division under the Ministry of Investment, Entrepreneurship and Industry.
Additionally, the National Assembly debated on and approved the Public Officers’ Ethics (Amendment) Bill, 2021 which transfers the functions of the Public Officers’ Ethics Commission to the Anti Corruption Commission Seychelles (ACCS). This means that the Public Officers’ Ethics Commission is now defunct.
These amendments comes in the wake of President Wavel Ramkalawan’s announcement, in February this year, of the first phase of government restructuring which includes reductions in boards of directors within the government as well as reductions in the number of members sitting on some board of directors.
In that spirit, yesterday morning’s session started with amendments to the SBS Act to change and reduce the number of members sitting on its board of directors from 10 to seven.
The SBS bill also noted that the Minister for Investment, Entrepreneurship and Industry would be tasked with making recommendations to the president on competent persons to sit on the board.
Prior to yesterday’s amendments, Section 5 of the SBS Act made provisions for a 10-person board, consisting of representatives from ministries or government bodies responsible for industry, finance and trade, environment, health, agriculture, planning, customs as well as three members from the academia or civil society.
The roles of the SBS board of directors include providing the strategic vision and plan of action for the bureau, approving standards for the development of national standards, monitoring the performance of the SBS and approving the annual draft budget before it is sent to the Ministry of Finance, among other roles.
“The difference that this amendment brings is that, before, the law dictated from which entity the board members came from – for instance a representative from such and such ministry. But these people were government employees, they were within the public service and when there are consultations they have to meet in sub-committees for meetings during working hours. This should have been the case, where they meet often rather than three to four times a year,” explained Minister Vidot.
“The persons that will now be appointed onto these boards will need to have the necessary competences to undertake the functions set by the organisation. These functions will guide the qualities that person must have to be appointed on the board. We also wanted to have the flexibility to appoint people that have the technical expertise to bring about a new way of doing things. The SBS operates in a very dynamic environment and since we are aiming to boost the priority sectors, the SBS has a key role in this endeavour, so we must be flexible and have members who are experienced to push the SBS in the right direction.”
Following the approval of the amendments to the SBS Act, the National Assembly repealed the entirety of the National Institute of Science, Technology and Innovation (Nisti) Act, 2014, resulting in the end of Nisti as a body which provides leadership and coordination for research in science, technology and innovation.
Instead, these tasks will be taken up by a new division within the Ministry of Investment, Entrepreneurship and Industry.
While explaining the raison d’être behind this decision, Minister Vidot noted that this transformation would bring greater importance to research and development in relations to science, technology and innovation.
In the afternoon, the National Assembly took on a third bill which was proposing to repeal Section 17 to 21 of the Seychelles Investment Act thereby completely removing SIB’s board of directors.
These sections had set out the purpose of the board (to administer the affairs of the SIB), board composition, filling of vacancies and removal of board members and meetings.
With all of these sections gone, the National Assembly also approved Section 22 of the Act which speaks of the power of the minister, since any minister responsible for SIB will no longer have to consult with the board of directors before giving directions to the SIB.
Opposition MNAs however were hesitant towards the bill with leader of the opposition, Sebastien Pillay, inquiring how it would be possible to refer to the public body as the Seychelles Investment Board when it would no longer have a board.
He further asked the minister to clarify the legal space in which SIB would exist once the amendments were made, since its board would be non-existent.
Minister Vidot, echoing Hon. Bernard Georges, noted that the National Assembly should not confuse the board of directors with the Seychelles Investment Board simply because both had the same word.
“The Seychelles Investment Board is a budget dependent agency, it is not a board comprised of directors. But the Seychelles Investment Board has a board of directors as well, and it is that board which we are removing[…] it is a body corporate like ESA and other government agencies,” stated Minister Vidot.
Victor Pool, a draftsperson with the Attorney General’s Office, added on that the amendments to remove the board of directors will not bring any “adverse issue” to the Act and SIB as an entity.
The National Assembly concluded yesterday’s sitting by transferring the functions of the Public Officers’ Ethics Commission to the Anti Corruption Commission Seychelles (ACCS), through approval of the Public Officers’ Ethics (Amendment) Bill, 2021.
Part of the restructuring plan to reduce the government’s budgetary expenses, President Ramkalawan had stated, on February 1, that the Public Officers Commission would dissolve and its duties taken up by the Anti Corruption Commission Seychelles (ACCS).
Designated Minister Jean-François Ferrari, who presented the bill, explained that the Public Officers’ Ethics law makes provisions for the declarations of assets, income and liabilities, on an annual basis, of designated public officers.
It covers public servants such as directors and persons sitting on boards and commissions, but does not include Constitutional appointees such as the President, Vice-President, Designated Ministers, ministers, Speaker and MNAs since this category now have to declare their assets to the Public Persons (Declaration of Assets, Liabilities and Business Interests) Commissioner.
The mandate of the Public Officers Commission was to investigate whether a public officer violated the public service code of conduct and ethics, alongside the declaration of assets of some public officers.
It was composed of the ombudsman, attorney general, chairman of the Constitutional Appointment Authority (CAA) and two other members appointed by the president.
The debate in regards to this amendment raised questions on whether ACCS could function as an ant-corruption body which welcomes persons ready to come forward and speak on corruption happening in the public service, as well as function as a body which expects public servants to safeguard privileged information and uphold public service ethics.
Hon. Pillay noted the clash between the Public Officers’ Ethics Act and the Anti Corruption Act.
He pointed out that Section 32 of the Public Officers’ Ethics Act notes that the Attorney General can incite an investigation within the public service but the ACCS already has the power to conduct such investigations under its own Act.
May De Silva, chief executive of the ACCS, said that the ACCS can work to separate its anti corruption function from its newly acquired one.
“We have all established that there might be some conflicts, some contamination but this is a reflection that we must continue to do and that should not stop us from favourably voting positively on this bill,” added Minister Ferrari.
The amended bill was approved with 21 votes in favour and nine abstentions.
The ACCS is scheduled to reappear before the National Assembly today to tackle amendments to the Anti Corruption Act.