mercredi 19 septembre 2007

Seychelles National Assembly:
Trading Democracy against Preservation of Political Stability?

Doesn’t it make you sometimes wonder whether the Seychelles National Assembly deserves to be considered as a serious national institution? Perception of the importance of its vital role seems to me to be recurringly affected by what appears to be overly petty debates.

Such a feeling arose when I read of the Nation’s reporting of 19th September 2007, of an intervention made by no less than the Vice-President of the country, albeit in his capacity as Minister for Internal Affairs, in response to a question raised by the Honourable Leader of Government Business.

This most honourable member of the House would have the nation believe that it is a matter of national importance for the House and the country to know how much it costs the national Police Force each time it is requested to assist in events of a political nature.

And the VP obliged!!. SCR 40,000.00 to SCR 60,000.00, to mobilise and maintain at operational level, some 250 to 300 officers, he revealed!

Not to assist however, but to watch over the event.

Not only the event itself as it takes place, but much before it even gets going!

And this involves not only the Police, but also the army, which is sometimes called in and placed on standby to assist the police in case the event should run out of control and turn violent, he declared!

And, lest the House and the country fail to remember the usual chorus line, the VP had to throw in the ‘negative effect’ political events may have on the country’s image as a tourist destination!!!

I daresay the Honourable Leader of Government Business is as much interested in the matter she raised before the House as she is with her first set of bloomers! Her query seems more directed at some vague political aim of painting groups who hold political events as irresponsible in both squandering national resources and sullying the national pristine tourism image!

Could it be that the Honourable lady failed to take note that squandering national resources is also evident when an SCR8,000.00 a-month Hon. member of the Assembly takes time to prepare and send her questions; for the Clerk of the Assembly to draft and forward same to the competent Executive Authority; for the august office of the Vice President to mobilise his personnel for research and response and to organise his schedule to include presence in and response to the Assembly? Did anybody bother to research the costs involved? Probably not! Because it would be quite un-called for and serving only the cause of pettiness! Just as the Hon. LoGB’s question.

It is possible that both the Hon. LoGB and the VP were too taken in by their role to use the Assembly as a forum for free public education (sic!) that they seemed to have missed a few vital points, and thereby failing to truly and correctly educate the people!

One is that the Police Force in any country is always mobilised when any event, which is likely to cause a crowd or assembly, is scheduled to occur in a public place. The mobilisation is necessary both to uphold the rights of free assembly and to preserve and protect the public peace! As with everything undertaken by a public authority, there is a price tag, which is borne by the operational budget. This is true for all police forces in the world. Just as true as it would be irresponsible for any national public authority to shirk this duty.

Another point is the democratic right enshrined in the constitution for freedom of assembly. This right is neither for dogs nor for anarchy. In all democracies of the world, free citizens make just use of their right to assemble together and press for redress of whatever they may perceive as grievances. It would be a denial of their right and a mockery of the constitution if, the Police were to fail in their responsibilities, over a matter of resources squandered!

Yet another point too often missed is that if Seychelles is deservedly a truly magnificent and world-renown tourist destination, its patrons, in their vast majority, come from countries with well-established democracies. Countries where, as private citizens, they enjoy the rights and freedoms they would want to see everywhere they go.

Just as they could be disturbed, in their own country, by an assembly turned ugly, so they would be anywhere else. None would however, make the link between democracy, rights and freedoms and the preservation of the tranquillity of their favourite holiday destination.

We must not do so for them!

We must guard from trading our rights and freedom against preservation of what some considers as political stability to entice tourists! Both are beyond value to us!

We should be simply allowed to embrace all our rights and freedoms in a civilised and peaceful manner and never find cause to feel threatened by the state whenever we exercise those rights!

And therein lies the trouble.

The incumbent Government of Seychelles seems to go paranoid whenever the country takes a path that could lead to truly embracing freedom! This threatens their power hold on the land! Thus the police force, most of the regular and the whole of the para-military (how else can one count up to 300?) and the military are called in, sometimes to intimidate, at other times to directly intervene and deny the rights and freedoms given by the constitution! The October 2006 incident around the National Assembly, is an illustration of the latter!

jeudi 13 septembre 2007

Seychelles Government’s August 2007 Public Service Restructuring Exercise:

How much of it is really ‘Answering the people’s call ‘

Excerpts from the 'Nation' daily newspaper of 13th September 2007:

…….President James Michel has said that the government’s ongoing restructuring programme is in effect answering the call of the population for a government that is more efficient and accountable. He also noted that in his consultations with the private sector, the need for a more responsive and less heavy government had consistently been on the agenda.

….(the) restructuring exercise (……) was aimed at a leaner and more efficient government, “a Government that is not intended simply as a means of employment for as large a portion of the population as possible, but rather a Government which is a true facilitator”. Government restructuring “had been a cry on the lips of our population for a while now”, and that the question of Government efficiency was a key debate during consultations that he had had in the districts. “Members of the public have demanded that government be more accountable. And so they should, it is their right as citizens that the civil service be accountable to them,” “Efficiency and performance are the benchmarks. We have long assumed that a Government job is for life. But we have to move forward and ensure the implementation of a true meritocracy

“Some ministries have bloated up over the years without necessarily maintaining their efficiency or becoming more efficient. Similarly, some ministries had two or three departments, sections or units performing more or less the same functions. As a result of this, things got stalled or were duplicated,” President Michel said.

“It is better to have only one unit or section who performs efficiently and makes things move and that those people who are made redundant in this downsizing exercise are redeployed in other workplaces where they can be more productive,”

Describing as “hypocritical” the actions by some people to melodramatise the redundancy issue, President Michel said that only 56 people so far had been made redundant and that the majority of them were being assisted in efforts to have them redeployed in the productive or private sectors. (Nation 13-9-2007)

Ok! Let’s try to get behind the cant and rhetoric.

Government of Seychelles is the single most significant employer in the land.

The public sector answers to the needs of a service – oriented administration. Added to this public sector are the not insignificant personnel from the 35-odd organisations of the parastatal sector and other national authorities, ranging from tourism regulation, training, civil aviation, banking, marketing, trade and commerce to housing and Island development, amongst others.

In so far as the current Government is a successor to itself since the coup d'etat of 1977, it can reasonably be argued that it has, over the years, and despite recurring past restructurations, created the bloated public service that, it seeks yet again today to restructure. If this time round restructuring may indeed be a necessity, how true can it be that it ‘answers the call of the people’?

To restructure means to organise differently. In our local public administration context, this has implied, as can be expected, dismantlement or reorganisation of ministries, with the inevitable and well-announced aim of making them more efficient but with no prior warning of the resulting redundancies.

How did the people make this call?

Was it not answering the people’s call when, over the years, Government initiated public service schemes one after the other to bolster employment? On the lower end of the employment scale, we had the Full Employment Scheme, the Youth Entrepreneurial Scheme, the District Beautification Scheme, to name a few. On the upper end, we had ministries frequently re-organised with new departments and divisions with new Principal Secretaries, Director Generals, Directors and Managers, along with their plethora of lower echelons technocrats and bureaucrats. All these were aimed at answering the call of the people for an efficient public service.

The persons who are today justifying the need to trim down the public service and avoid duplication are, by and large, the very ones who, over the years, directly took part in the decision-making process to approve the various re-structuration proposals that led to today’s ailing, bloated and inefficient service.

If the restructurations that have come and gone over the years were all in response to the needs of the people, how can today we tell whether or not the people truly know what they want in terms of public service administration.? Or is it an indication that high level decision makers consistently fail to truly understand the needs and calls of the people and and mask their own incompetence and ineficiency in the guise of restructructuration?

Very often in the past, we have heard various personalities, some well-informed and others far less so, posing as representatives of the people, denouncing the public service as overly bureaucratic!

The people is admittedly justified when it clamours for less bureaucracy! Bureaucracy however is not about getting rid of people. It is about getting rid of the heavy load of regulations and procedures, in order to secure some public service delivery.

However, it is not a simple matter to merely flush away the set of rules and procedures created and approved with the well-intended aim of rendering the public service more efficient and accountable.

It is a tasking exercise to keep tabs on the merit of each set of rules and procedures in efficiently delivering public service against the sometimes unjustified, if understandable frustrations, of those of the community denied a particular desired or promised service for simply failing to qualify for same. In these instances, the public service officer who is applying the rules and following procedures in a professional manner then becomes the target of vituperations, and, in the context of an island community where everyone knows everyone else, is often passionately accused of pushing a particular political agenda. The unfounded accusation, if often and loudly repeated, will gradually build itself up into an accepted truth, which, in the context of partisan politics in our public service, always leads to a witch-hunt of opposition party sympathisers.
It speaks volumes on the merits, qualifications and talents of the highly–placed public service decision makers when the structures created to efficiently deliver public service are regularly dismantled. The dismantlement however, never takes away any significant part of the public service or the rules and procedures or the officers required to ensure compliance. It merely unloads the odd section that is perceived to have become cumbersome or the public service officer who has become persona non grata!
This therefore, is what I understand the 2007 public service restructuring exercise to be!

Is it truly contributing to a public service sliming exercise when Government decides to re-organise its ministerial departments resulting in 56 redundancies? How far far-reaching will this be in terms of less duplication and improved efficiency?

If a true answer can only be reached from a careful analysis of Government public service organisational structures before and after the current exercise, the justifications given thus far fail to convince!

But could we be barking up the wrong tree? The truth of the matter may very well be elsewhere!

The truth may lie in that we have an employment base made fat and heavy from years of well-intended but unwise and short-term social and employment policies ranging from nationalisation to full-employment and other schemes and restructurations during the time when employment in public service was needed both to pacify those on the lower socio-economic spectrum and reward others who had demonstrated militant zeal and dedication to a particular political cause. Bottom line is that now, when considered purely in economic terms, we can ill-afford this bloated public service that costs more that it benefits the country.

It smacks of a certain clichéd political partisanship for Government to shrug off as ‘hypocritical melodramatisation’ the criticisms of its August 2007 public service restructuration. The exercise has certainly caused discontent in those made redundant and a sympathetic ripple among their immediate circles and at least some concern in others.

Any self-respecting political opposition would pounce on the atmosphere of local discontent and concern to seek political capital at the expense of the ruling party.

Wisdom suggests however, that when Church Leaders are moved to the point of making public statements on the matter, then the issue is not solely one of partisan politics!

No self –respecting public service can make any pretence at efficiency if it cannot ensure job security. No public service officer can perform to best ability in an atmosphere of uncertainty and stress over the secure tenure and career development of the office.

Unfortunately, from the experience the country has had of similar past ‘restructuring’, it can be surmised that it’s the usual sword of Damocles which comes in the wake of national elections and which falls mostly over those heads of the public service which had not showed the expected level of dedication and zeal in their support of the ruling party’s cause, or worse, had been misled into believing that democracy had truly arrived, with its accompanying rights and freedoms to which every man, woman and child can make just claims as free citizens!

The government of the ruling party has never failed to bring all to their senses.

Because in our beautiful islands, there is a democracy and rights and freedoms that are not defined in the same way they are in other democratically accountable countries.

The local national leaders speak pompously on democracy. The president even talked on meritocracy, which latter has probably caused Michael Young to shudder, and Karl Marx to sigh, in their respective graves!

On the one hand, one has only to look at some of the current highly placed faces in the local public service structure to wonder about their talents and merits! On the other, isn’t meritocracy anathema to the practices and philosophies the country has been exposed to these past 30 years?

Let’s face it! Rights and freedoms in our country derive directly from the largesse of the ruling party. Few of us seem to understand this reality. Most of us pay more attention to, and have misplaced hopes in, the public statements and other lip service dutifully given more to appease foreign observers than to seriously allow any policy or national effort to truly render the Seychellois free!

Others may have understood it clearly and wisely camouflaged their feelings and beliefs in the now well-established national tradition of ‘Vey son pye diri ‘.

To date, however, few public service structures have withstood the post-election vengeful brooms! Did not the 2nd republic’s former president call out against the serpents.? Isn’t THAT part of what the people clamoured for. ‘Tir li, I pa ek nou’!

Sadly, this seems to be the call the President of all Seychellois is responding to! Public service efficiency is only a decent dress with which to clothe a base action.