President Wavel Ramkalawan’s second presidential press conference

President Ramkalawan was speaking during his second quarterly presidential press conference yesterday in which he addressed questions from journalists and media practitioners from national media houses.

The press conference, unlike preceding ones, was held virtually through the Zoom platform, on account of public health measures in place against the propagation of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In his opening remarks, President Ramkalawan highlighted the importance of the press conference, so as to shed light on important and prominent matters, to lay to rest rumours and misconceptions as well as to question the work and decisions of the government, in the interest of the country and nation.

Before offering the floor to journalists, President Ramkalawan also urged that citizens keep officials of the armed forces and the air forces in their thoughts and prayers, on account that two coastguard boats ‒ Topaz and Etoile ‒ and the air force were involved in a serious operation at the time of the press conference. More information about the operation is expected to be made public today.


Visitors and Covid-19 measures

In response to a question regarding whether visitors are afforded more privileges than citizens, based on the number of visitors who are sighted without masks, President Ramkalawan urged that citizens make it their duty to, when they see visitors without masks, inform them that wearing of masks is mandatory in public places.

“You will find that it is mostly the Israelis. We too have observed that many visitors hesitate to wear masks, and this is for a primary reason. As you know, Israel is second worldwide in terms of vaccination, behind Seychelles. In their country, after vaccination, they have stopped wearing masks, so when they visit Seychelles, unfortunately they are in the habit of not wearing masks so they do so here too. But our principle is that everyone needs to wear a mask. Police as well as tourism establishments are encouraging them to wear masks. I would ask all Seychellois to when they see a visitor without a mask, to make it their duty to approach the visitor and inform them that it is mandatory to wear a mask”.


Simon Bachmann’s participation in the Olympic Games

Asked why government is seemingly not endorsing swimmer Simon Bachmann’s participation in the Olympic Games, President Ramkalawan clarified that the finalised list for accreditation is yet to be completed, and that the list is to be finalised in July. Elaborating further, the President noted that only one swimmer has qualified for the games, Felicity Passon whose place is guaranteed, in addition to sailor Ronny Govinden who also qualified and secured his seat. Up to this point, it remains to be confirmed whether Seychelles will be granted any extra positions in the games, he added.

In addition to the two who have already qualified, boxer Keddy Agnes is also partaking in a competition and will be the third Seychellois to qualify for the games if successful.

Further along the press conference, in response to a question regarding Bachmann’s citizenship, the President affirmed that he had consulted Bachmann’s file but that the President lacks powers to revoke any citizenships. He also assured that he will not be granting citizenships either under 5.1 or 5.2 of the Constitution.


President and diplomatic corps outer islands expedition

The President seized the opportunity yesterday to inform citizens that he was misquoted in saying that the expedition to the outer islands along with members of the diplomatic community amounted to R3 million.

“I actually do not know how much the expedition cost. State House was not given an invoice for the journey and the reason being that, I would have had to travel anyways to inaugurate the solar farm on Astove and Farquhar, so I thought it was a good idea, as the Islands Development Company (IDC) would be funding the trip, to combine this and at the same time convey our gratitude to all who help us,” President Ramkalawan stated, elaborating to note that the major contributors towards the Covid-19 Relief Fund are the United Arab Emirates (UAE) who provided 75,000 vaccines, India who donated 50,000 CoviShield vaccines and Russia who donated the Sputnik V vaccines.

“I maintain that the journey that we made has helped to reinforce the diplomatic ties, and when I dialogue with diplomats today, it is on another level, and this is in the interest of Seychelles. Seychelles first and Seychelles always,” President Ramkalawan replied.


Minister’s decision to allow prohibited immigrant for Club Med opening

Late in April, there was an outcry over Internal Affairs Minister Errol Fonseka’s decision to allegedly reverse the decision of immigration officers, who had deemed an individual who was to be part of the Club Med hotel opening a prohibited immigrant and the president said the matter “has been blown out of proportion” by the media, citizens and social media.

“Our responsibility is not just to inflate things excessively. The responsible role for the media is to get people to understand, even if sometimes things appear to be wrong, to explain to them how things are. It is a responsibility for us to follow the procedures, if we want a story, let us also educate our people, and this will lead to less controversy, citizens will better understand their rights as citizens and their responsibilities,” he said.


Leadership’s efforts towards national unity

Asked how the leadership is working towards national unity, the president shared his perspective that while there is an air of tension in the country, there is also to some extent more tolerance generally. Reminding the population of his party’s motto ‘Seychelles for all her children’, a principle that guides the work of his leadership and government.

“When I witness abuse at any point, I ask that there is an investigation. I am happy that as of late, there haven’t been any complaints of police brutality, after the last time when a young man was strangled, and I sought an investigation. The investigation showed that both had acted wrongly, and the case is now before the Attorney General to deal with,” said President Ramkalawan.

The president also noted the open approach he has adopted towards the opposition, offering to the leader of the opposition a seat on the Platinum Committee concerned with the management of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I remain engaged to bringing about unity in our country. I am ready to listen to everyone, and I have made it clear that I am not in conflict with anyone. My policy, which I will continue to push, is that we need to keep living in unity, in peace and as much as possible, support each other so we can move forward,” President Ramkalawan assured journalists and citizens alike.


Seychelles’ Covid-19 immunisation efficacy

With regard to whether the national immunisation campaign against Covid-19 is effective, based on the fact that other countries that are less advanced in their own campaigns are lifting certain restrictions and public health measures in place, President Ramkalawan asserted that the campaign is indeed bearing fruits, and that the pattern observed in Seychelles is similar to that of other countries.

“One of the things that Doctor (Jude) Gedeon has demonstrated that as these countries, they are presently at around 20 or 30 percent coverage, we saw the same pattern between Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Seychelles. As they reach a higher percentage, it seems that the number of cases spikes suddenly, and we do not know why, and it is only after that the curve starts to flatten and the number of cases drops. We don’t know but I want to tell our nation to not let their guards down,” President Ramkalawan added, urging that masks are worn, and public health measures adhered to.

The president went on to note that 80 percent of admissions are persons who remain to be vaccinated, calling out for citizens to get their jabs, as well as to religious leaders who are discouraging followers from getting the vaccine to instead encourage followers to do so, in the interest of the population and country.


Worries over prison staff who have contracted Covid-19

The president affirmed that numerous staff at the Seychelles Prison Service (SPS) have tested positive for Covid-19 and that the military is assisting the prison to ensure security. In the police force, there are around 67 officers who have also tested positive, in addition to military officers and this could result in the temporary suspension of passes to officers, to ensure that the virus is contained. The president however assured that inmates are safe and that citizens need not worry about the situation as it is being well handled.

Should any inmates contract Covid-19 and require treatment, they will receive treatment as any other citizen, he further remarked.


STC outlets on Praslin and La Digue and efforts to ensure products remain at low prices

With regard to the discontinuation in Seychelles Trading Company (STC) retail outlets on La Digue and Praslin, the president outlined the rationale behind the closures, noting the significant losses STC was incurring from the retail shops and which negatively impact on the cost of living. The Orion Mall outlet was costing just under R300,000, the La Digue outlet at R100,000 and the Grand Anse Mahé supermarket facility, which was rented by STC for R75,000 monthly and the Praslin Pension Fund facility at R40,000, amounting to R495,000 on a monthly basis.

The president went on to note the efforts to negotiate with suppliers and ensure that basic goods are imported at competitive prices, in addition to labelling products with Recommended Retail Prices (RRP), as is the case with Seychelles Breweries Ltd products.

Naturally, through closer collaboration with retailers, customers can benefit from lower prices, the president assured, also noting that arrangements are being made to absorb the employees who were serving within the discontinued outlets in other STC facilities.


Progress on the war on drugs

President Ramkalawan clarified that he has pardoned an inmate who was serving time for drug-related charges, on the basis that the Presidential power is granted by the Seychelles Constitution. The inmate has been released on certain conditions he said, including to carry out 100 hours of community work within the next 16 months, under the supervision of a probation officer. Should he reoffend during the timeframe, the inmate risks being imprisoned again.

“It is important for us to realise that life always gives us a second chance. And when someone has been imprisoned for a mistake and they have served time in prison and show remorse, and demands that they be pardoned. It must be clear that it is not the president who decides to free an inmate, but it is when the inmate writes a letter whereby he/she evokes Article 60 for the Presidential pardon,” President Ramkalawan explained.

The letters and pardon are considered by the Pardon committee chaired by Linda Melanie, along with four other members who consider the pardon, by conducting interviews with probation services, the family of the inmate and in some circumstances the family of the victim, and the recommendation is then sent to the president.


Attacks on journalists and governmental officials

In response to a question regarding attacks on journalists and attacks on government officials, the president said that such is the norm in a country with freedom of speech and freedom of expression, and that it should not be blown out of proportion.


Restructuring within government

The president categorically denied that there is any victimisation in the restructuring of ministries, departments and agencies, stating that nobody has lost their job as of yet, except individuals who have themselves decided to leave the post.

“We want to make it clear that there is no victimisation, we have no intentions of firing anyone, but instead we want to use the local pool of talents in a more productive way. This is what we call performance-based management,” President Ramkalawan stated.


Covid-19 infections

With regard to the number of positive Covid-19 cases, President Ramkalawan acknowledged that a new system to better disseminate information about infection rates will be adopted as of Monday May 10, 2021, to ensure that clear, detailed and factual information is communicated to the general public.

Meanwhile President Ramkalawan has said that the Covid-19 cases are still increasing even though there are signs that the situation is stabilising. The president said that at present the 34 beds of the Family Hospital at Perseverance are almost full while 17 of the 24 beds at Anse Royale are full and work is underway to boost the facilities at the Coast Guard to admit more patients in the coming days. Meanwhile a second medical oxygen plant will be commissioned in the coming days to ensure there is no shortage in case the need arises.


Measures to address disparity in salaries

In response to a concern raised as to the disparity in salaries and distribution of wealth across Seychelles, the president said that government intends to address such once the economy recovers. He seized the opportunity to once again call out to citizens to observe public health measures so as to control and flatten the curve in Covid-19 cases, and therefore aid towards the recovery of the domestic economy.

“Let us be responsible and move forward,” he said.


Technology and cost of internet

The president was in agreement that internet costs are too expensive, noting that Vice-President Ahmed Afif is working to address this, and improve on internet speed and pricing.


Scholarships for undergraduates

As for undergraduates who have qualified for scholarships but who have been unable to do so due to travel restrictions and public health measures imposed around the globe, the president assured that the necessary institutions, including the Ministry of Education, are working to ensure that the students can pursue higher studies.


Negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF)

“We have a gap of US $200 million that we need in terms of the budget, so we are still negotiating. IMF will not give us US $200 million so we are weighing up all of these options. What we want is to give a haircut to domestic loans that the government has taken, as this will affect businesses directly. For the time being, with regard to IMF, negotiations are ongoing,” he said.

“As for budgetary support, we were given certain promises. For instance Qatar said it would help us, but I just read that the finance minister of Qatar is under detention due to things not being so good. We are still waiting and as soon as we have a response we will do it. With regard to UAE, some things have been delivered, not in terms of the budget, but the vaccines, the La Digue hospital, the laboratory for the hospital and the cooperation,” President Ramkalawan stated.


Military presence on outlying islands

With regard to a military presence on the outlying islands as there are alleged reports that other countries like Qatar have expressed interest for a presence in our waters, President Ramkalawan said he is not aware of such development and as president he has not had any discussion on such a matter with the Qatari government.


Role of civil servants to consider their work as a business

President Ramkalawan has once again reiterated that he wants the civil servants to consider their jobs as their own business so that they act more responsibly to give their fellow Seychellois good services. He said they should ensure, as civil servants, that members of the public get a response in reasonable time so that they are not frustrated.

“All Seychellois should do their work responsibly and as civil servants everyone – be it a receptionist or a principal secretary they should all be result-driven and ensure they do not drag their feet and make people angry and frustrated with public service,” the president said.

He further added that too many people are dragging their feet in the public service and it’s time for them if they feel they are no longer happy in their work places to leave and find work elsewhere.


Government policy on employment of people 63 years and above    

President Ramkalawan said it is possible that the way the principal secretary of employment presented and explained the matter recently was not clear enough, leaving people concerned in confusion but the debate is ongoing. He explained that there needs to be a national dialogue on the matter to engage all concerned actors as a lot of issues come into play, namely issues related to payment of pensions and young people who cannot progress in their career as there are people above retirement age still in employment in their organisations among other related issues.


Opinion on medical cannabis

As head of state, President Ramkalawan said that he is also a private citizen and his opinion on the matter is private. But he said campaigners for drug for medical use can continue their campaign while stressing the country’s fight against hard drugs will continue. He warned that drug dealers are also taking advantage of the campaign to promote hard drugs which they are mixing with cannabis to entice more users. He pointed out that one day our society would take a decision on the issue but he is keeping his opinion private for now.


Diversification of the economy

Will the country still depend entirely on tourism? On this issue President Ramkalawan said that a lot of effort is already underway to explore other sectors for economic development namely boosting up development in the agricultural sector so that the country can reduce imports of agricultural products. In relation to that agricultural development on Coetivy has started. There is also effort, with the appointment of a new chief executive at the Financial Services Authority (FSA) to work to remove Seychelles from an international black list so that we could further open our financial services sector.

‘’Yes economic diversification remains one of our priorities,” President Ramkalawan has said.


The status of negotiation of Air Seychelles’ debts with bond holders

Now that the national airline has returned to being owned 100% by Seychellois, President Ramkalawan has said it still has to negotiate its debt with the bondholders who are keen to get their money back and that negotiations are still underway. He said that Air Seychelles meanwhile has to work hard and should do its best to determine its future.


Citizenship – Power of the President to revoke certain cases

“If I had the power as President, I would revoke many of the citizenships already awarded,” President Ramkalawan has said. He pointed out that unfortunately under the Constitution he does not have the power but he has taken the decision not to award any more citizenship unless it is to a person married to a Seychellois for more than 15 years.


Difficulty for journalists to obtain information from government officials

On this issue the president said the ministers are giving a lot of information to the public and all of them have been asked to talk to journalists so that they can produce balanced news reports.

He said he will go back to the ministers on the issue.


The role of the IDC in the economy

The Islands Development Company (IDC) has an important role to play in the economy and President Ramkalawan has said there are currently development in tourism, agriculture and other business possibilities are being explored, production of eggs on Coetivy for the production of day old chicks to cut on importation, production of pork, charcoal…

“Yes, IDC has an important role to play in the future development of our economy,” President Ramkalawan said.


Acquired state land

President Ramkalawan said that the issue remains a complicated one but negotiations are ongoing with the Minister for Lands and Housing Billy Rangasamy to explore the possibility to return to their rightful owners land acquired by the state but which are still not developed. He stated a case where an aggrieved person has been compensated some R30 million. He said the state will not be able to afford paying more such compensations.

By Laura Pillay/Marie-Anne Lepathy