Interview with principal secretary of the department of risk and disaster management, Paul Labaleine who is retiring after 49 years in the public service |30 July 2021
‘I believe it was innately built in me to be of assistance to other people in the community’
After devoting 49 years of his life working in the public service, occupying different positions which include that of principal secretary of the department of risk and disaster management, Paul Labaleine is retiring this month.
In the interview that follows he shares his perspective about the past, present and future of disaster management in Seychelles and his career journey in this field.
Question: How many years of your professional life did you dedicate to the field of disaster and emergency management?
Paul Labaleine: I have been working for the department of risk and disaster management (DRDM)for the past 14 years. I am in fact the third person to join the department upon its formal inception.However,I can say that I have been engaged in disaster and emergency management for a very long time. In fact, it all started since my days as a district administrator (DA). I will confidently say that overall, I have surpassed 20 good years in this field. In 2014, I obtained my Master of Science degree in Risk, Crisis and Disaster Management from the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, which further built my confidence and knowledge in this field.
Question: What attracted you to this field?
Paul Labaleine: I believe that it was innately built in me to be of assistance to other people in the community. Also having acquired paramilitary experience, got me involved with being in tune to what was happening within the community. When I was a DA, I had todeal with crisisand challenging situations that required prompt action on a daily basis. I have always tried to inspire others to do the same,especially young people and I wish that they will come forward and give back to their communities and their country as well.
Question: What was your occupation before joining the DRDM?
Paul Labaleine:I was the DA for Grand Anse Mahé for nearly 15years and was the regional coordinator for a few years as well. I was in fact one of the first DAs in Seychelles. I have also worked as a paramilitary officer and in the agricultural sector.
Question: What are the future prospects for this fieldespecially for the younger generation?
Paul Labaleine: This work is noble. It is unlike other jobs because it is a long-term career. The first thing is that one has to bear in mind, the need for continuous learning. Secondly, it is never-ending, you cannot pack up at the end of the day and think you are done. Thirdly, it involves dealing with threats, sometimes they are threats that are unseen but still could potentially be devastating.
Disaster and emergency management is a good field in which to build a career because it is highly specialised and scientific. I urge young people to builda good academic foundation and strong work ethic prior to embarking on the challenge of becoming an officer in the DRDM.
Question: What is the legacy that you are leaving behind?
Paul Labaleine: When I was first appointed as director general, many years ago, the department was mainly engaged in response. When I became the head of the DRDM, I led my team to move towards a risk reduction approach, away from the previous one which wasbased just on response. At the same time, we have cultivated an integrated system to risk reduction and emergency management. We started small and have gradually included partners from various ministries, departments and agencies. We have brought the whole of government together for a holistic approach to risk reduction and emergency response. In addition, we have put in place our legal framework that includes our guiding policy and our act.
It is to be noted that on the international scene, we have gained a lot of recognition and respect for our efforts. We are very proud to have been able to play an active role in setting up the Covid-19 Gold Command structure which operates at the Public Health Emergency Operation Centre (PHEOC) to respond to the current pandemic in an integrated approach.
Locally, we have made notable contributionsfor instance for cyclones Felleng (in 2013) and Fantala (in 2016) at which times we provided a response at national level.
Under my leadership, we have attracted young professionals to join the department and we have taken a leadership role in coordination nationally during times of emergencies.
I sincerely hope our approach towards risk management remains.
Question: What are your wishes for the team that you have led as head of the DRDM?
Paul Labaleine: My biggest wish for the team is that they will make working together in unity a top priority. We have all that is necessary to bring the DRDM to another leveland to make the most of the resources we currently have. I hope that they continue to build on the past gains and that they develop further programmes that will address the needs of our country. I also wish for them to modernise the existing policies and legal framework as appropriate.
Question: What is one piece of advice that you would like to give to your successor?
Pau Labaleine: The best piece of advice I can give is for the person to dedicate a lot of time to learn about the work that we do. I would honestly admit that it personally took me a long time to learn everything that I know now. Academic knowledge is excellent to have, but the practical knowledge that comes with doing this effectively and efficiently can only be acquired over time. It also requires that the person keeps abreast of what is happening globally in the field as well, in view thatit is scientificand technical.
Question: What have been some of your biggest challenges?
Paul Labaleine: I have faced various challenges over the years, but the one that has marked me the most is that it has been hard to ensure that the holistic approach towards risk reduction and emergency management that we have adopted is understood by all of our partners as well as the citizens of our country.
Another major challenge is that as a small island state with very limited resources, we have not been able to get everything that is needed over the years. This includes people, equipment and financing. Equipment, such as vehicles, equipment for hazmat, personal protective equipmentare expensive. The government’sannual budget is not able to accommodate all of our needs. As a leader, I appreciate the need for us to make the most of what we have. Nonetheless, the most important thing is to have the willingness, dedication and commitment to deliver.
Question: How do you plan to spend your retirement?
Paul Labaleine: At 65 years old, I have to consider my health. I plan to take some time for much-needed rest and relaxation. I am someone who has always been good with my hands so gardening and landscaping are right up my alley. However, when you have a heart for a profession, you will always have it in you. Even if I will not directly be involved in the field of risk reduction and emergency management, I would like to eventually help train the younger generation, because I feel it is right to give back.
Meanwhile, I would like to insist that there needs to be an initiative and more commitment by government to encourage more engagement by all actors and stakeholders in risk and disaster management in Seychelles and to entice more young people to build a career in this field.
This is crucial in view that Seychelles is a small island state, in both a strategicand vulnerable location on the globe, which means that we need to empower ourselves to quickly and efficiently deal with threats as they occur.