National Assembly: Question time |02 June 2021
Ministers Francourt and Derjacques address questions
During yesterday’s National Assembly sitting, Minister Patricia Francourt, responsible for employment and social affairs, appeared before the assembly to clarify questions and concerns with regard to her ministry.
In relation to Hon. Desheila Bastienne’s question pertaining to the employment situation in Seychelles at present, Minister Francourt maintained that the situation pertaining to formal employment is positive, especially now that businesses are recovering due to the pickup in tourism arrivals, although she also noted that it is yet to return to the level it was prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In providing the assembly with statistics, Minister Francourt highlighted that the unemployment rate is positive at 3.3 percent for the final quarter of 2020, as compared to 4.8 percent during the first quarter of the same year.
Detailing the findings of the Formal Employment and Earnings report produced by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and which relates to the fourth quarter of 2020, she noted 51,561 persons were in formal employment, compared to 52,210 employees in the third quarter of 2020, representing a reduction of 1 percent. The number of persons in formal employment also represents a six percent reduction as compared to the same timeframe in 2020.
The majority of employees in the formal sector, for the fourth quarter, were employed in the tourism industry with 8,410 employees, followed by public administration with 8,134 employees, construction with 5,791 and wholesale and retail trade with 4,510 employees, although most of these industries have experienced a reduction in the number of employees in formal employment resulting from the pandemic.
Comparing the beginning to the end of 2020, Minister Francourt noted that formal employment has reduced by 16 percent in agriculture, 15 percent in construction, 11 percent in tourism and by 10 percent in wholesale and retail. On the other hand, two industries in which there have been increases in formal employment are industries related to health, which has increased by 6 percent, while manufacturing has increased by 4 percent.
Elaborating further, the minister went on to state that statistics collected by the ministry indicates that the issue of employment has improved since the beginning of 2021.
“The employment situation in Seychelles is one which has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic since last year. A strategy has been put in place to minimise the adverse effects on our economy, and citizens. We have more jobs than jobseekers presently, and the vacancies are across the board,” the minister reassured, detailing the job vacancies, requests for non-Seychellois employees and applications for redundancies handled by the department since the beginning of the year, as was detailed in the ministry’s first press conference last week.
With regard to employment programmes that are still applicable, the minister clarified that the only scheme applicable for the present moment is the ‘My First Job’ scheme, targeted mainly towards youths, in addition to the re-skilling and retraining programmes.
Furthermore, Minister Francourt pointed out that the department, in conjunction with the Ministry of Education have placed more youths in professional centres, 350 plus additional placements have been offered this year.
Social welfare programmes
During the afternoon session, Minister Francourt was joined by principal secretary for social affairs Linda William-Melanie and chief executive of the Agency for Social Protection (ASP) Brenda Morin to address concerns in relation to the social reform programme and the tightening of social welfare.
Minister Francourt in responding noted a substantial reform within the social assistance structure, most notably retirement pensions, home care, invalidity benefits, disability benefits and social welfare together with the World Bank, towards a more sustainable system.
Through the reforms she said, the programme can be rendered more efficient to cater to those who are really in need, in addition to improving the quality of service offered by the agency. The operation was approved by the World Bank board on March 25, 2021, to a sum of US $30 million, and work commenced as of January, with US $13.5 million to be disbursed this year.
A ministerial committee led by the Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Trade has been established to aid in achieving the objectives of the reform programme, and the technical working group meets every month. Under the group, seven sub-groups have also been established, Minister Francourt explained, towards ensuring the targets and goals of the reform are being met.
Among the changes expected are the application of the barthel index in determining who is eligible for certain social welfare or assistance. Some of the changes are expected to take effect as from 2023. Through the programme, a centralised database linking concerned agencies will also be established for better monitoring and to allow government to measure the financial impacts of social welfare programmes.
“The STC card programme will continue on Mahé, especially for those who depend on substances and therefore cannot manage their assistance. In the case of Praslin, STC informed the agency that its outlet will close on June 15, and the agency has completed the exercise to transfer all of these assistance through bank accounts of the applicants. However, the outlet on La Digue, it has been confirmed will close on September 30. Individuals will keep getting part of their benefits through STC cards, until the outlet is closed,” Minister Francourt added, noting that they too will receive the assistance through their bank accounts with the closing of the outlet.
Minister Francourt added that for the month of May 2021, 58 individuals from Praslin and La Digue are still benefitting from the STC assistance to a sum of R96,548. There are 622 individuals who are receiving welfare assistance whether in part or in whole, through the STC cards, to a sum of R1,185,817 per month.
As for benefits provided for by statutory law, there are 913 beneficiaries who are benefiting from either invalidity, disability or retirement benefits, to a sum of R1,649,343 monthly. In addition, Minister Francourt added, the agency is in talks with STC to return all the STC card balances which are not being claimed or used by applicants, which towards the end of 2020 amounted to R4,430,072.
Chief executive of the Seychelles Ports Authority (SPA) Ronny Brutus, director of projects and infrastructure at SPA, Franky Laporte, and chief executive of Seychelles Land Transport Agency (SLTA) Parinda Herath joined Minister for Transport Antony Derjacques in explaining to the assembly the fees applicable for port services and services offered by the SPA to locals and non-Seychellois vessels.
In starting, the minister informed the assembly and general public a proposed increase in the tariffs applicable for berthing at Seychelles ports, whether for local or international vessels. In listing the tariffs and revised tariffs, Minister Derjacques noted that the tariffs have remained unchanged for years, and that the increase will be beneficial to SPA and the domestic economy.
“Therefore, my ministry has decided that 2021 is the last time that the derogation is renewed, and that as from 2022, the tariff prescribed by the law, Harbour Views Regulations, will have to be applied strictly, as the law prescribes. Through this derogation, the port authorities have incurred losses of over R3 million annually. To put it in other words, the port authorities are subsidising such activities by over R3 million annually, and if we consider the past four years, this amounts to subsidies of R24 million, which the port failed to collect due to the derogation,” Minister Derjacques clarified.
It is important that SPA maximises revenues so as to secure finance to develop other ports including the Bel Ombre port, as well as to modernise the system.
In addition to detailing the proposed tariffs and the ways in which the system needs to be reviewed and changed, Minister Derjacques updated the assembly as to the projects related to different ports, including the modernisation of Port Victoria, as well as the construction of a port on La Digue.
Prior to concluding the session, the minister added that an economic plan for SPA is to be submitted this year.
“We will carry out serious projects and we will try to find solutions, because we know that we need to find solutions to address the issues,” Minister Derjacques said, committing to the task.
The panel also addressed questions relating to traffic congestion and the solutions to either improve existing infrastructure, or to develop new ones so as to cater to the increasing number of vehicles on the roads.
The assembly resumes as of 9am today.