Allow me a minute to take up the three words from the President's State of the Nation address of 12th February 2008: ‘Realistic, Resilient and Responsible’
The President gave his appreciation of these words. I suggest mine.
To be realistic is also to have the physical faculty to look life in the eye without any mental or artificial external filters and recognise it for what it truly is.
Resilience comes from spitting at it in the eye.
Responsibility is to remain resilient when life spits back at you and note it down as another reality to live with.
In Seychelles, we are truly a resilient lot.
For the past three generations, we have endured the difficulties of comparably high living costs culminating in the spectacularly dramatic (average) 50% increase of January 2008.
For the past three generations our reality has been the escalating costs which remained an irksome and often painful thorn in our in everyday life, along with the other political, social and economic iniquities brought upon us by the SPPF Socialist Government, which the President today heads.
For the past three generations, we have often anticipated the State of the Nation address by the one elected in the post to chart and give direction to the course of the nation, for relief from the accumulated burdensome reality.
For the past three generations, we have invariably been disillusioned and assumed our responsibility to be remain resilient.
Since the 1980s, the President of the 2nd Republic told us every year, to endure sacrifices while the economic course he was charting bear fruits.
In the 1990s, he told us to ‘Ser Sang’!. The fruits were taking longer to ripen!
Since the dawn of the new millennium we were again invited to be patient, the end of all our sacrifices was at hand. The new President from April 2004 took up the chorus, enjoining us to keep the faith.
In 2008, we are invited to remain resilient and face the new challenges.
At each State of the Nation Address, we are informed that the economy is doing well. That investor confidence is good. That visitor arrivals are good and increasing. That more foreign exchange is entering the system. That local entrepreneurship is increasing. That fish and related exports are increasing, etc.
Invariably, the Head of State always fails to see beyond the stale statistics of his advisors and policy makers, to the reality of our daily suffering.
How do these increases percolate down to the average person and translate into a direct impact on improving living conditions?
What is the worth of increasing investor confidence, visitor arrivals, foreign exchange, etc, if after three generations, in February 2008, in the words of the Head of State himself, there are Seychellois families who, despite working very hard, suffer, find themselves in difficulty to cope with household expenses and struggle just to make ends meet?
It is a testimony to our resilience that we have never crumpled, continuing to believe in ourselves, rather than in the empty promises and the blighted vision of the SPPF Government.
The promises of the Government are empty in so far that they have been chorused over the years with little direct impact on slowing escalating cost of living.
The vision of the Government is blighted in so far as it consistently seeks to place the blame for our local dramatic economic burden on others, and now, on the global markets.
It is true that the global market invariably impacts on each and every nation. The current escalating fuel costs are driving up other costs in countries everywhere.
In Seychelles, however, the scale of the recent increases cannot entirely be explained by the global fuel increases alone.
In the EU, lead - free fuel currently sells at €1.33 to €1.42/L at the pump, representing a 20%-30% rise from February 2007. Over the same period, overall commodity price increases have not been above 10%.
In Seychelles, lead –free fuel increased by over 80% from around Rs.6.50 in 2006 to reach Rs.12.00 at end 2007. In January 2008, living costs in our country shot up by an estimated average of 45% to 60%!
It serves little purpose, other than that of cheap misinformation, to compare our local costs with those of other countries, in particular of EU, where the purchasing power is four times that of the average Seychellois.
If, as the Head of State contends, it is true that there is no “short-term solution, nor a magic wand that can resolve the situation”, it is also true that the general local cost of living cannot be entirely dictated by world economic trends beyond our control.
The Head of State gives an inkling of what could be the real cause of our problem when he admits that, true to socialist doctrines, government had for many years, “adopted an approach of absorbing the increasing cost of commodities through subsidies”. This apparently “in view of limited economic growth, and also to help those who were unemployed, or who were attached to specific employment support schemes”.
That, in my view, is where part of the real problem lies.
Since 1977, the SPPF government embarked on a wholesale state welfare program that some saw as more self-serving than a call for popular solidarity. It sought to be and became popular, and to a large extent it remains and seeks to remain so, with abolition of revenue taxation, free health, free education, heavily subsidised and not-low-cost housing, etc. making it political suicide for revision of these policies which have been and are driving the country into a fiscal, monetary and budget policy grave.
The Head of State recognises that “we can no longer sustain such an approach”. His government was apparently confident that it “could make gradual adjustments to subsidies until the country reached equilibrium”.
The unfortunate reality is that the SPPF made the wrong decision at the wrong time.
The Government apparently did not project the immediate and middle-term impact its decision would have on local socio economic conditions! Or if it did, it must have failed to fully appreciate the impact in the other context of globalisation. It smacks of gross economic incompetence not to have foreseen global market pushing up commodity prices and that our local fuel bill would rise by over 300% to erode “the benefits that were gained through improvements in the rest of the economy” to the tune of US$42M.
But can we truthfully equate the heavy burden of increased living costs to solely increased fuel cost?. If adjustments to subsidisation have been gobbled up by increased fuel costs, how fair is it to suggest that subsidisation of commodity costs for 2007-2008 is only worth US$42M?
This amount represents some 25% of the national budget and converts to roughly the amount of excess expenditures under the 2007 budget.
It all seems to point at a lack of foresight, blighted vision on the part of the government with their eagerness to shift the blame onto somebody else and the now well-rehearsed symptomatic strategy of damage control.
What consideration was given to the extra financial burden on “neediest families” when the Government took the decision to hike utility rates by over 60% in January 08.?
In so far as “needy families” are the ones who spend under 300 units of Electricity (translated for the purpose of argument into Kwh), they would have paid Rs207.00 last year and now have to pay Rs138.00 or 66% more for the same amount of energy used.
These are the very same families whom the Head of State now wants to target for relief in paying their utility bills. However, they will still have to fork out Rs.45.00 more (or 28%) without having changed their energy use from last year. Indeed, a Rs 264 utility bill corresponds to around 230Kwh under the new rate of Rs.1.15/Kwh. In 2007, that same energy consumption would have translated into a Rs.158.00 bill. In my book, that’s pathetic damage control.
After all is said and done, maybe there is at last, in the 2008 State of the Nation address, a ray of hope that the barriers thrown up before us over the last 30 years, that have suffocated growth and directly contributed to our current economic straits, will be dismantled.
They were the barriers of state domination in all aspects of social and economic life from interference with the judiciary, disregard and disrespect of human rights, mandatory security clearance for all public service employment (from the mundane, low level no-security risk handyman to the senior executive, or other highly sensitive and high profile posts, and even movement within the public service,) to corruption, rampant cronyism, despotism, that inculcated a mind frame in the nation: Government is Wise. Opposition is useless. Let Government deal with it.
This is the only real message I took from the 2008 State of the Nation Address. I long for the President's words to take form and substance.
When the barriers will have been truly torn down, when the Chief Justice will be truly independently appointed (however unrealistic this may be under the current CAA) when the Police will be truly a professional body and not perceived as a mere extention of the SPPF hierarchy, when any Seychellois secures a job or professional advancement in public and private service on the sole merit of certified skills and competence, when entrepreneurship will be determined by business acumen rather than by political favours (or victimisation), when the SBC will cease to be a propaganda machine, when respect for human rights, despite being written on the pages of the Constitution, will cease being mere words uttered falsely, then maybe, the country will start breathing again. Then, maybe, we can truly start being realistic and look to the future, our resilience strengthening in the hope, that this time, the promised end of sacrifices will be for real.!!
Would that be part explanation for the absence, at the 2008 State of the Nation Address, of the architect of our current woes ?