vendredi 20 novembre 2009

The 'Nation' Did it Again

In a recent article, the national daily lambasted the local political opposition for playing politics with Air Seychelles’ reported financial difficulties. The article was quite a gem, as far as illustrating the political independence of the venerable national paper.
As if not satisfied in having soundly slammed the opposition into silence, it went into another snide side attack in today’s Business Column:
“Air Seychelles (HM) was turned into a political football recently and kicked around after it applied for a loan from the government at a time when the world is in deep economic recession”

(In passing, today’s article had the usual bit to lull us into believing that when faced with financial difficulties, the Management Board of other airline companies have some form of knee-jerk reaction and go for “redundancies and other cost-cutting measures”, unlike what the CEO and the Management Board of our proud national carrier. Quite forgetting that in our case, amongst other considerations, we have a Government budget to run to.)

The article also mentioned what prompted Air Seychelles’ financial difficulties “during the last two financial years” and the request for the November 2009 SCRs.30M bail-out were the “damage to one of its aircraft in Paris and record fuel prices.”

Be that as it may!

Enough has been said about the 2008-09 yo-yoing fuel prices. As for the damage to the aircraft, I had the chance to follow a detailed TV documentary on the repairs to the Boeing 767-300 (Vallée de Mai). The damage was caused in December 2007,when the aircraft was being ground-handled at Paris – Roissy Charles de Gaulle for its scheduled Paris –Mahe flight!. The aircraft had to undergo a pressure dome replacement, a major and costly undertaking by any standards. It was back in service in March 2008.

In such matters, isn’t there some insurance coverage that butts in, same as our more down- to- earth 3rd party risk vehicle insurance? The real cost arising from that incident could not have been of such horrendous magnitude as to, by itself, cause the airline to be in dire need of fresh capital.

Indeed, in his 2007-2008 report, the CEO himself declared that despite “jet fuel reaching hitherto unseen price levels, …… many airlines worldwide( having) a rough ride, the compounding (.. ).. problem” of the damage to the Boeing 767-300 at Paris CDG, the national carrier “managed to post a profit – it was in fact our tenth consecutive profitable year, albeit with a relatively small profit of €604,000"(*)

Does this not suggest that the Nation, rather than choosing to enter the arena of political discourse, should look into other areas, for the real reasons and justifications underlying the financial dire straits of the National Airline?
It just cannot be about that too oft-whipped fuel donkey! Just as it could not have been only about the pressure dome replacement!

Perhaps the local political opposition has a case in pointing a questioning finger at the wisdom of management policies and investment plans!


mercredi 4 novembre 2009

Why Are We Even Here?

What are we, but remnants of stardust stranded on a ball of rock, itself a left over from some stellar cataclysm, offering us fragile refuge on its thin crust laid atop a seething cauldron?
What is our world, but the delicate and unfathomable balancing of forces between stellar and cosmic energies, that keeps our spinning ball of rock in its place around our nearest star within a spinning galaxy of stars, along other spinning galaxies; that keep us firmly rooted on our spinning world; provides and maintains in place, the thin layer of atmosphere and the surface and underground waters, so vital to our continued existence?
The sheer wonder of our tenuous existence does give us cause to ponder!
We have looked beyond ourselves into the dark and blue of space from which we draw the strength of our everyday existence since time immemorial. As we did and continue to do, we hardly give thought to the mix of solid, liquid and gaseous matter forming the orb on which we stand and that is among the smallest of objects spinning through, and kept in, space by secret forces and energies, the understanding of which, despite the millennia of our historical evolution, remained at the extreme limits of our understanding until a few centuries ago. Contemporary religious communities, along with scientists and philosophers, are still trying to decipher these secrets, perhaps waiting for an evolution in human awareness, intelligence and technologies for a breakthrough.!
Other than the sparkle of stars and other large celestial objects, some of us see nothing beyond the limitless and undefined horizon above our heads than stark emptiness of a void lifeless but for the sighs and echoes of our dreams.
To some are revealed a significance of our destiny.
There are those who delve into arcane sciences and dabble in mysticism to pluck at the strings of the unseen energies and vibrations from within living and dead stars, swirling galaxies, cosmic dust and orbiting planets, seeking an insight into the substance of our earthly present and future existence.
Others, perhaps overwhelmed by the magnitude of our swirling solitude in the void of space, readily surrender to, and take spiritual sustenance from, the beauty, philosophy, power and will of a Design and Intelligence far beyond our comprehension, but that expresses Itself through every worldly living and lifeless manifestation.
How did humanity reach the point where it endowed stars and remnants of stars, along with wavelengths of energy coursing and shaping the universe, with the power and intelligent purpose behind our existence?
Is there in us all, some remnant of a creative energy linking us to the stars that causes this universal culture of seeking the source and design of the power behind existence? Or is this the result of our thirst for the elusive answer to the fundamental questions we have always asked ourselves: Why do we exist and seem to be alone in the vastness of the universe?
How reasonable can it be for intelligent, highly educated and respected persons who hold offices we deem among the most prestigious on our planet, to espouse and propagate a faith in dimensions of an eternal Afterlife beyond our worldly existence, under the control of the duality of positive and negative forces, and to which our non-physical essence are bound?
Some say it is a matter of faith, that insubstantial and most private belief we share amongst ourselves, that demands we seek to be elevated and freed, from the prison of our temporal, matter-dictated existence, to embrace the very essence of life as pure, eternal energy. A belief that this can be achieved through worshiping anything from the power and energy of our nearest sun, through those expressed during storms, to the wind, beasts, lava-spitting mountains, on to an imagined omnipotent, all-seeing all-knowing Ruler of a Kingdom in the sky!
Be that as it may.
Life is real. It is a spark borne, at least on our as yet solitary terrestrial world, from the vibration and fusion of matter and energy which creates the unique auto-engineered fire that burns, grows and develops to be self-generating before being extinguished by a pre-determined, built-in code or by circumstance and accidents of existence.
It exists just as much as the air we breathe, the earth, waters and fires that sustain it. It exists as much in the physical aspects that the limits of our human senses can perceive, through sight, touch, taste, feel and hearing, as it does in our awareness of its lesser decipherable forms, energies and power, at the limits of our perception range.
Our thoughts, dreams, ambitions, desires, fears, faith and will may well be intangibles, but to each of us, their existence is as much real as each of us are ourselves. They remain forever locked in each of us and cannot survive beyond our own existence, other than in the replication of ourselves that others may have formed.
They remain the most profoundly private and personal dimensions of all our existence.
It seems irrational to suggest otherwise.
Just as it seems irrational to suggest an engineering intelligence behind the forms and expression of Life, so it is to dispel the notion that Life cannot exist beyond the reach of our sciences and awareness.
One day perhaps, our Male-Female, Ying-Yang, Positive-Negative dualities may very well lead us to discover and understand that space beyond earth is the abode neither of God nor Devil, but of Life itself, neither Good nor Bad, but what we make of it. Perhaps of Life in an infinite variety, of a range, scope and dimension, well beyond the grasp of our current state of evolved awareness

jeudi 29 octobre 2009

“Is Seychelles turning a blind eye to pirates?” What Rot!!

The Seychelles Nation of 29.10.2009 featured an article by which “the government has denied claims in a British newspaper that Seychelles has become “popular with pirates”…. and has reached a deal with them on their activities. The claims were made in The Independent yesterday in an article linked to the disappearance of a yacht with two British sailors on board after it left Seychelles last Thursday.” The article of The Independent claimed that the Seychelles have “deals with the pirates which would allow them to operate as long as they do not affect the interests of the Seychelles”.

This was troubling news indeed, to hear that the Government of my beloved country would be courting the very criminals who, since 2008, are posing a serious threat to our sovereignty, security and the two principal pillars of our economy- Fishing and Tourism!

Having read both the original article from ‘The Independent” (http://www /news/ world/africa/is-seychelles-turning-a-blind-eye-to-pirates-1810496.html ) of 28.10.2009 and the denial of “The Nation”, ( and having some spare time on my hands, after commenting on the article on “The Independent’s” website, I made a quick research to find out more behind the report of The Independent’s Defence Correspondent, Kim Sengupta.

First and foremost, it would seem to me that Kim Sengupta was essentially commenting on the reports “from security companies” to the effect “that the government of the Seychelles has done deals with the pirates which would allow them to operate as long as they do not affect the interests of the Seychelles”

Sengupta’s article referred to “Iderat Maritime, a leading shipping security company which lists Major-General Julian Thompson, the former commander of the Royal Marines, as one of its directors, (stating) that the government (of Seychelles) has probably reached an "understanding" with the pirates. Information from within Somalia appears to confirm this. ……..Christopher Ledger, vice-chairman of Iderat Maritime, said: "These reports have been quite persistent and need to be looked at. We are not saying that the abduction of [Paul and Rachel Chandler, the British couple who were kidnapped by Somali pirates last week] had anything to do with any such links."

Sengupta’s article does mention the Seychelles’ Government denials of any deals with, and its efforts in taking action against, pirates, as well as presenting statements from Mr. Joel Morgan - Seychelles Minister for Environment, Natural Resources and Transport (also the official head of the Seychelles Committee to coordinate the national response to piracy, after the capture by Somali pirates of 10 Seychellois in two separate 2009 incidents on boats within Seychelles’ territorial waters) to the effect that "the Seychelles Peoples' Defence Force will act as a deterrence force to any approaching pirate vessels, and our forces will complement the Seychelles and international naval forces in the region. We have 1.4 million square miles of ocean and for this reason it is a greater challenge to guarantee the security of our waters alone."

To its credit, the article also added that “the most direct sign of Western involvement is the stationing of the 36ft MQ-9 Reaper drones, the size of jets. The aircraft are fitted with infrared, laser and radar targeting, can fly up to 16 hours and are capable of carrying a dozen guided bombs and missiles”

But the seed of doubt was by then already sown. The damage was then already done.

In my view, Kim Sengupta cannot pretend to be much of a Defence Correspondent to remain satisfied with such outrageous and unverified claims, so deeply wounding to the pride and integrity of a nation caught in a David and Goliath battle to secure its sovereignty and protect the lifeblood of its economy.

History is full of occasions where “La Raison d’Etat” demanded of Rulers and Governments that they enter into secret agreements, sometimes with their known and worst enemies, in order to secure some national short-term goal.

Official denial of an uncovered and indelicate national misdeed, is also not an alien component of contemporary diplomacy.

Sengupta, as a journalist, must know these and must have surely intended the article of ‘The Independent’ to be more than a ripple in that pond of public opinion over the reported capture by Somali pirates of the British couple, Paul and Rachel Chandler, aboard their private yacht, on 23rd October, on their way to Tanzania from Seychelles.

Nothing in the article suggested, however, an invitation to investigate both the claims of underhand deals and the integrity of Iderat Maritime and its motivation to come out with such claims.

Sengupta must also know that the new piracy scourge off the coast of Somalia has moved, since 2008, from the horn of Africa to the western corner of the Indian Ocean, at the northern mouth of the Mozambique Channel, preying on the India-Asia-South Africa and Red Sea, Arabian sea- bound shipping.

World opinion has been formed to the idea that the prevailing chaos in what is said to be lawless Somalia, combined with impoverished fishermen along the Somali coast, who are disgruntled over foreign unauthorised fishing within the Somali territorial waters, rag-tag rebels and other armed bandits, to induce the coastal population to turn to the more lucrative and immediate rewards from piracy on undefended shipping off their coast.

We are expected to understand that some Somali, tired of squatting in the dust and squalor of endemic poverty, suddenly woke up one day to throw off their blood-soaked coats of lawlessness and decided to be smarter and prey on International Shipping! Without some other hand quietly pushing them along and gathering its share of the rich booty from ransoms!??

From 2005 to 2007, there were only some 6 reported attacks.
Since 2008, there have been 116 reported attacks on ships from some 50 different countries, in the area of the West Indian Ocean, attributed to Somali pirates.
At least 100 of these attacks were successful. These have been potentially life-threatening to some 5,700 crew and passengers of the ships targeted.
Indeed, 4 crew members and 19 pirates have died in separate incidents directly resulting from pirates’ attack on shipping since 2008.
The attacks have also been rewarding, from the view of the pirates, having allowed them to reap over US$23M in paid ransom for ship and crew / passengers from at least 17 of the 100 successful attacks. (Discounting the US$3M MV Sirius Star ransom money lost when the 5 pirates drowned with their loot!).

This is, by all standards, big money with an appeal powerful enough to roust the nearest impoverished fisherman–cum-rebel-cum bandit to turn away from internecine squabbles and futures without promise. It is also enough money to allow those operating behind the scenes to source and procure the necessary technology, arms and other tools and have their minions more effectively track and intercept shipping on the open sea.

The situation is rendered more galling when the world soon understood that national and international statutes are largely ineffective to legally deal with the pirates.
Rule-of-law nations have to be resigned before a bunch of bandits who openly flaunt international laws and laugh in the face of their eventual captors and prosecutors, certain in the knowledge that a law-abiding nation is absolutely hog-tied by its own laws against taking any meaningful punitive legal actions against them.
Rules of Engagement of the International Coalition Task Force and the safety of hostages preclude most military actions against pirates who proceed with their captured ships and crews right before the eyes and under the guns of the naval force set to intercept them!

To date, only a sprinkling of the at least 98 pirates captured have been successfully prosecuted, when Kenya sentenced 10 pirates to 7 years’ sentences over the January 2006 attack on the dhow Safina al Bisarat and the intervention of USS Winston Churchill. Most of the others are released after capture, as underlined over the MV Front Ardenne incident of 19th April 2009 when NATO (Canada & US) warships intercepted pirates, boarded their boats, questioned and released them. "The pirates' release underscores the difficulties navies have in fighting rampant piracy off the coast of lawless Somalia. Most of the time foreign navies simply disarm and release the pirates they catch due to legal complications and logistical difficulties in transporting pirates and witnesses to court" (source:Yahoo.Com news AP of 19.04.09)

The demands of International Trade and national economies requiring free and secure passage along a strategic shipping route compelled governments affected by this new threat to form an international force of armed naval patrols and surveillance of the zone off the Horn of Africa.

The Combined Task Force 150 of August 2008 established its Maritime Security Patrol Area in the strategic Gulf of Aden, followed by the UN resolution 1838 of 6.10.2008 authorising the use of military force against the pirates.
Feeling the heat from the international navies, the pirates shifted the predatory range away from the Gulf of Aden to the northern mouth of the Mozambique Channel.

Seychelles is a small country comprising some 115 islands of cumulated 450km², just off the normal Mozambique Channel shipping routes. Its territorial waters cover an expanse of ocean some 2.2million km², stretched roughly over 1400kms from its northernmost Bird and Denis islands to its south-westernmost Aldabra Atoll. Most of the islands are remote from the main island of Mahe. The nearest Amirantes group to the South West is at 250km across open sea.

When the pirates shifted their predation away from the international naval patrols in the Gulf of Aden, Seychelles found itself caught unprepared, with pirates marauding on its very doorstep and sometimes moving right inside its house with absolute impunity.

Clearly, the pirates pose a significant threat to Seychelles
The 25th March and 1st April capture, well into our territorial waters, of the Serenity and the Indian Explorer, with a combined 10 Seychellois crew, was closely followed by the 13th and 26th April 2009-thwarted attacks on the French purse seiner Le Drennec and the Italian cruise ship MsC Melody.

The International Coalition Task Force seemed to have quickly appreciated the new shift of pirates’ activity and new risks to Seychelles. From the mid 2009, in part from Seychelles’- driven efforts to harness international help to safeguard its national integrity, there has been intense co-operation between the International Coalition Task Force and the Seychelles authorities.

It is in this context that a new and closer co-operation came into being between the Seychelles Coast Guard and the International Coalition Task Force, to beef up the country’s coast guard’s response and interception capability as well as establishing aerial and surface surveillance base from the main island of Mahe; that in mid-April 09, France offered a falcon-50 from its navy to help in anti-piracy surveillance of the Seychelles territorial waters; that Seychelles accepted armed French military personnel on French purse seiners operating from Victoria (Mahe) and is receptive to similar arrangements with regard to Spanish purse Seiners, should the Spanish Government grant such approval; that the USA is stationing the 36ft MQ-9 Reaper drones in the Seychelles; and that the EU is investing to bolster the nations’ legal infrastructure to effectively secure conviction, after due, and internationally recognised and accepted process, of pirates arrested within Seychelles’ territorial waters.
Little Seychelles would be hard put indeed, to hoodwink the intelligence services of its powerful partners, in receiving their assistance to secure its sovereignty against piracy while at the same time engaging in secret deals with the very pirates its partners are helping it against!

It may not be entirely unreasonable to question the manner in which the Seychelles arranged the release of 23 persons, allegedly from Somalia, arrested on open seas, by the International Coalition Task Force in mid 2009, on strong suspicion of piracy.
After some weeks’ detention in Seychelles and initiation of prosecution formalities, the office of the Seychelles’ Attorney General, concluded that in the absence of irrefutable evidence to support the charges, they had a weak case to prosecute and secure conviction. There was then, little other choice but to release the 23 accused.
While Seychelles was initiating the prosecution of the 23 accused, the mind of the nation was turned more towards the plight of our 10 compatriots being held hostage in Somalia since April 2009 and the reported negotiations, under the direct involvement of Minister Joel Morgan, underway with the pirates for their release.

All things comparable, to have 10 Seychellois out of a population of 80000 held hostage would be like having 7,639 British citizens (UK population estimate July 2009 61,113,205 - – People) under Somali pirates’ control. For any self-respecting nation, this is an intolerable situation!!
Given that the whole country was behind the government for the negotiated safe return of our compatriots home, it would have been political suicide for the Seychelles authorities to opt for secret deals with the pirates that could potentially jeopardise the release of our compatriots, compromise both our standing before our international partners as well as our capability in handling future situations in this volatile counter-piracy arena!

For those of us not privy to the details of what have been reported as sensitive negotiations, we may raise our eyebrows at what seems to be Minister Morgan’s amateurish, handling of the matter, if however forgivable given that our country has never had to be involved in such delicate and potentially dangerous negotiations.

In hindsight, perhaps it would have been better if the Seychelles’ authorities had allowed the negotiations and subsequent handing – over of both pirates and our compatriots, by internationally recognised professional negotiators and through third party humanitarian organisations. In this way, at least, there would have been little cause for the reported 29th August spat with the Puntland authorities over the release of pirates and hostages, and much less accusations of ill-disguised swap of pirates against hostages, fuelling suspicion of secret ransoms and underhand deals!

These then are the facts of piracy off the Seychelles.
These then are what Kim Sengupta missed to point out! Perhaps from ignorance! Perhaps from a lack of professionalism! Perhaps from an overdose of cheap journalism!

A small island nation which has its economy in a perhaps unhealthy dependence on tourism from mostly Western European countries, suddenly finds its name ingloriously bandied along by the “Western” media, in an unsavoury association with the greatest part of each pirates’ attack on shipping in the Western Indian Ocean, particularly since the start of the current 2009-2010 favourable monsoon season.

“The impression of the Seychelles is of idyllic tropical islands, untouched by the troubles of a turbulent region, and highly popular with upmarket Western tourists.” as Kim Sengupta rightly summarised Seychelles, is now indelibly and quite undeservedly, linked, at least in the subliminal awareness of the global tourism market, to piracy and risk.!

Kim Segupta, perhaps unknowingly, merely chose to drive in the fire – hardened spit of unverified and unproven underhanded deals of the Seychelles Government with the pirates, with the suggestion that our government is therefore carelessly heightening the risk! This in itself is a sin against the people of Seychelles that will require a considerable effort to be forgiven!

lundi 20 juillet 2009

Has The President of Seychelles relinquished the sovereignty of his office to accept being received in his own country by another National leader?

“The President of the UAE, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, announced this (US$30M grant, over 10 years, building and equipping an integrated modern diagnostic centre at Victoria Hospital, studying the economic viability of a new dam,...) when he received President James Michel at his official residence in Seychelles on Friday afternoon” (Seychelles Nation 20.07.09)

The president of UAE owns property in Seychelles and has turned the property into a private official residence.
When he does visit the country and occupies his residence, all rich and powerful and President of his own rich country that he is, and notwithstanding the respect and dignity which diplomacy and protocol demand he be treated with as head of a sovereign country, he remains a visitor to our country. A foreign and private citizen however rich and powerful he may be!.
If he were to invite the president to his residence, then surely protocol must require that as the only sovereign head of the land, the President of the Seychelles, is welcomed as a guest to a private house, as he would be in any other place in his own country
However, in the published ‘photo of the meeting at the Sheikh’s residence, we seem to see the Sheikh seated and framed by two UAE national flags, almost like as if he were receiving the President of the Seychelles in the UAE and not in Seychelles.
Is there an un-diplomatic but subtly clear message that we are expected to derive from this? A Seychelles flag next to the Seychelles President would perhaps have mitigated what seems to be a near undeclared take-over of the country by the UAE!
Do we so much starve for the millions that the UAE seems willing to throw at us that we would loose our very sense of what is proper and dignified, to the point that our president would accept a turn of the diplomatic table and be treated like a visiting head of state in his own country, by someone who is, to all practical purposes, his very own guest?
Is part of our sovereignty what we have to surrender in exchange for the Sheikh’s largesse?
Let us not be are blinded by gratitude when we go to fetch the cheque that we think and see nothing wrong in being treated like a subaltern in our own house by someone who is nothing more nor less, our guest!

lundi 6 juillet 2009

When Will We Ever Learn?

The Seychelles Nation of Saturday 4th July ran this comment:
“Our world partners are telling us we nearly hit the bottom, but we realised in time and changed course accordingly. Now we are heading back upwards, this time towards a higher level where we belong…” Not satisfied with this dubious inspiration, the journalist (sic) continued “Now that the international community and our President are committed and are keen to help push the country further, the question is: are we?”

For a moment, I was dumbfounded! I mean, is this for real? One would expect of the Nation's columnist to at least try and maintain a semblance that he did not just walk straight from kindergarden to be another sycophant!

For years before November 2008, all local stakeholders from politicians and business to the simple man-of-the-street, had cause to express their concerns over the signs of worsening national economy. Several local voices were raised, columns were printed in local media, calling for an end to, at least by public statements and other declarations by leaders of Government, of the ostrich policy, with regard to management of the national economy..
As late as November 2006, the leader of the local political opposition, in his response to the 2007 budget, had this to say: “Minis i dir ki letan dimoun i demann li ki mannyer lekonomi i ete, i dir tou i ok. Eski i war bann lalinny dimoun ki pe esper $400 dolar depi gran maten? Bann lalinny pour dibwa, siman ek blok? Bann mank liv ek lezot materyo dan lekol, latizann dan lopital? Standard ek Poor’ in donn nou en ‘B’ rating, e dapre Minis sa in kapab fer nou etabli en Bond 9.125 % pour bann envestiser etranze. Me akoz ki nou, Seselwa, nou ganny preski zero lentere lo nou seving isi”

The government systematically dismissed the concerns over the national economy, raised by children of the land, as cheap politics from those unsympathetic to the economic and other policies of the, then SPPF government.
Lies, they said!
Our economy is sound, they said!
Any one who says differently seeks only to spread confusion among our people, they said!
Those in control kept their course, deliberately ignoring the menacing reefs until the last quarter of 2008. That was the time when voices from outside, presumably ‘our world partners’ finally got through the message that our local leaders had been ignoring for so long.
“We nearly hit bottom”! they now admit!

Sadly, this is too often the course local leaders and policy-makers follow. We know of our difficulties, from the level of service in tourism establishments to our inability to honour national loans repayment schedules. We always seem to ignore appeals for acknowledgement and redress when these come from the mouths of our children. But the moment a foreigner comes in whispering in our ears, we fall over ourselves trying to do that which we had failed to do! In short, we suffer from needing a foreign-expert- consultant-ambassador to tell us the time from the watch we carry on our wrist!

Another title, perhaps closer to the reality of life in our country could have been: "had we listened and heeded when our people spoke, we would have realised earlier that we were at the bottom and would have changed course!"

vendredi 12 juin 2009

The tragedies of Flights AA 903, AA 587 and AF 447

I have no business taking part in the speculation furore over the probable causes of the crash of AF447. The experts will study the bits and pieces recovered both from the wreck site as well as from the automated messages and hopefully, succeed in providing the answers that victims’ families, passengers and airline operators want.
They may perhaps consider going through the Aircraft's design and specifications, with particular attention to the incidents of flights American Airlines 903 of 12th May 1997, 587 of 12th November 2001 and see if these could match up with that of AF 447 of 31st May 2009. That’s where I could throw in my 2-bits worth!

Both AA flights encountered turbulences that compromised flight and control.

AA flight 903 managed to land safely. Subsequent investigation seemed to indicate that at some point, tail-fin failure could have occurred.
AA flight 587 apparently ran into severe wake turbulence shortly after take-off, had a tail-fin break–up from crew desperately trying to regain control and crashed with loss of all 280+ lives on board plus 5 ground fatalities.

There seems to be consensus that AF 447 ran into heavy turbulence just before it crashed.

Two images seem to point to the horrifying similarities between the AA flight 587 and AF 447:
This is the image of AA flight 587’s tail fin.
This is the image of AF 447’s tail fin.

Could AF447 have suffered a catastrophic tail-fin failure, notwithstanding the precipitating factor of the pitot tube/ sensors icing over? Speculate: Initial loss of flight control as auto-pilot is automatically switched off, crew frantically struggles to regain control, pressure applied on tail-fin rudder pushes it to beyond theoretical design limits, tail-fin failure, bulkhead pressure dome compromised as tail-fin breaks away, cabin explosive decompression and hull disintegration……Hey! I am just a layman who should perhaps do best to keep his nose away from where he has no business sticking it in! And that’s the truth! No need to point any artillery at me!

mardi 9 juin 2009

Another About Turn

Here we go again! Yet another turn-around on the SPUP-SPPF-SPP merry-go-round started since 1977! Abolish this, abolish that, in the quest to forge a new country with revolutionary vision for a prosperous future!
Three decades later, the revolutionary fervour has long dimmed, the prosperous future a promise that remains somewhere out there, always out of reach and the country has just about made a complete about-face in politics, education, health, social welfare, transportation, business, housing, economy, etc. to be where it was before the revolutionaries started messing things up.
The latest turn around due will be Personal Income Tax.
That very beast that was put to death in 1987, as part of the revolutionary zeal to ease the burden on the country’s suffering population!!
Obviously, the 1987 Income Tax abolition was accompanied with the inevitable personal salary down-sizing across the board in both public and private sectors, and merrily joined the ranks of all the other indirect taxes that cummulated to drive the average family finances to and through the ground.
22 years later, in the Seychelles Nation daily of 10th June, we read that a personal income tax will be introduced from 2010 as part of the new 2010-2013 tax reform, itself part of the November 2008 Economic reform.
Introduced? Like in ‘it-wasn’t-there, you-guys-never-knew-or-experienced-it, before?” Those wallahs got it wrong! It was there from the first years of settlement in the islands until 1987!
The proposed Tax Reform is just another of those vital bits of information that somehow failed to find a suitable place in the SPPF's 2006 –2011 presidential election program. This in itself is all rather unfortunate. What makes it worse is that we, as a people, gobble it all up with little protest at being so misled and taken for granted!!

mardi 2 juin 2009

From SPPF to Parti PePe - What’s in a name?

So the SPUP / SPPF has a new name? Seychelles People's Party (Parti Lepep?)

As Shakespeare put it, call the Rose any other name, it would still remain a specific bunch of coloured petals with a scent, beauty and appeal that, in our minds, distinguish it from all others of the floral world!

It took 14 years to move from “People’s United Party” to “People’s Progressive Front” and 31 more years to dump that too-elusive unity and cohesive front and get down to just plain “People”. Clearly, the Reds seem to be in perpetual quest for a defining label, but are condemned to share the lot of the leopard who cannot change its spots!
The new “People’s Party” will be another name which will gradually fit into the local political landscape and vocabulary, if only by the sheer will and clout of its sponsors, the incumbent, Seychelles Government!
But let there be no doubt about it. The 1964-1978 version of the party never achieved anything close to uniting the people. Its 1978-2009 did usher in what was, for the cold-war time, the politically correct, island-bred version of international socialism, but not in the scope of a national cohesive front that it sought. If anything, it only contributed to heightening the depth of the divisive politics that pit Seychellois one against the other.
With this history of the stubborn wolf trying on sheep’s clothing, one can be forgiven to see the People’s Party as only another freshly –cloaked entity travelling down the road of political dedication, muttering its self-taught mantras and hoping for that final, unencumbered, freely given and deserving political respectability!
The new name will not wipe away the party’s archives and memory of its leaders of the victimisation, corruption, cronyism, state-engineered violence, abuse of human rights and liberties, exile and unexplained disappearances and deaths of political opponents!
Had the new party only bothered to have a good bath before doffing its new cloak, then maybe, just maybe, it could have washed itself off the filth accumulated over at least the last three decades, and start walking down the road of national reconciliation. Then, it could truly have called itself a People’s Party. For now, it will only remain “Parti PePe” (Hopefully not "Parti Pipi")

mercredi 27 mai 2009

Seychelles NYS, 1980-1998 : R.I.P

The ‘Seychelles Nation’ recently featured two brief separate items, with photos, on the launching of ‘NYS-generation’ association.
At first, I found it slightly amusing! I mean, it's true that we are in a democracy and people are free to associate as they wish! But to celebrate the memory of the NYS?
Ah well, I might as well wish the new NYS-81 the success they seek, ‘to promote the greater involvement of their members in the economic and civic activities of the country’. Unless of course, this is all just another convenient veil behind which political and financial favours, both foreign and local, can be harvested!

However, it may also be worthwhile to remind us all and in particular, the members of the new association, of the fact that the NYS being celebrated, is to many of the 18 Seychellois generations between 1981-1998, an experience best forgotten, and a blur on the national social and educational landscape!

A national Youth Service is generally one regrouping youths of the country in a program of activities that seeks to promote self-development and some commitment towards the community arising from awareness that the youth develops, of his place and role in the community and the country.
In styles and types of national Youth Services however, each country went their own ways. The Katimavik of Canada has little to compare to the Green Bombers of Zimbabwe, much less with our own little experience at educational reform.

The Seychelles National Youth Service of 1981 was the brainchild of the 1977-1992 single-party SPPF (Seychelles People’s Progressive Front, 1978) dictatorship to create the “New Seychellois” that the new socialist government sought after its 1977 coup d’etat.
It was the enactment of the socialist revolutionary vision of the time to force a break from Seychellois family tradition and education, and went far beyond the traditional mechanics of curriculum development and assessment that prepares a student for the world of work, and what normal families, communities and civil societies all over the world do to form “responsible, hardworking citizens”. It was no more, no less than a machine for political indoctrination into the socialist revolutionary zeal of the time. Full of patriotic fervour! Rich in slogans!

One must however, always be careful about slogans that politicians spout.

In Europe of the 1940s, there were a number of camps where people of certain races from different countries were regrouped to “work”. ‘Arbeit Macht Frei" was the slogan that a certain class of German politicians of the time, had prominently placed at the entrances to several of these camps. We are still trying today, to reconcile our collective responsibilities in allowing, by silent acquiescence, the nightmares of such camps to exist.
While none of the four Seychelles National Youth Service camps during the period 1980-1998 had anything to compare with the likes of Auschwitz and Dachau, they were nonetheless places all run on slogans, by educators bent on political indoctrination, with a mission to ‘free’ the future generations from values of the past that the new masters of the land had deemed retrograde and counter-revolutionary. Seychellois families where legally obliged to surrender their children, in their delicate, formative adolescent years, to these camps!

Lest we forget:

By virtue of the NYS Act 1980, any 16-18-year old Seychellois student who had successfully completed the compulsory 10-year primary and secondary education could “volunteer” for a period of service of two years into the National Youth Service. The successful completion of the 2 years’ of NYS, being an essential condition for admission to post secondary education, (to the exception of other nationals who could show proof of having lived outside the country up to the end of a normal secondary education and who satisfied requirements for acceptance for post-secondary education,) local, home educated students who aimed at higher, post secondary education and training had really no other option but to “volunteer” and spend the two years away from direct family care and influence.

With the NYS, the Seychellois One-Party SPPF State of 1981 declared itself fully, wholly and solely responsible for the social, moral and political education of the country’s youth.
Education being the desired outcome of teaching and learning, the SPPF took upon itself the mandate to undertake its own, special kind of educational reform.

Students were supposedly to undergo a fully comprehensive education that encompasses all the frontiers of human development, while immersed in real-life situations of living in a community, without what were perceived then as discriminatory social, employment and professional rankings and classes. The new education was to be the necessary cursus, which would sweep away what the revolutionaries considered as the tarnished product of the country’s 200-year social, class-ridden history. From the new education, would emerge the New Seychellois, ready, willing and fervently eager to embrace the new socialist ideology and ride off into each recurring sunrise under the wings of the benevolent SPPF and its leaders!

There were those who found no quarrel with our NYS. Indeed, there were enough foreign experts, politicians, ambassadors and world leaders from Chadli Ben Jehdid, Indira Gandhi to François Mitterand, who all trotted by in praise of this brand of home-grown educational reform and offered their technical support and resources, along with those of international organisations such as the UNESCO. In 1993, even the Former and First President, recently returned from exile, likened the institution to a youth holiday camp!

Despite the institution being abolished in 1998 and families retrieving their primal responsibilities in the education of their children, there are still many whose nostalgic reminiscence continues to strengthen their belief that the NYS was a bold and noble program! They proudly point to the generations of former NYS students who are now professionals and leaders in private business and in the public service. This, they claim, is proof of the success of their real-life, full-scale social and educational experimentation!

To make such a claim maybe their priviledge in a free society.

In my view it is also a claim that conveniently disposes of, and seeks accommodation with, the fact that the country, like any other, before and after, with or without, the NYS, never failed to produce cohorts of leaders, professionals and everything in between that keeps a country turning efficiently.

Theirs is a view that comes from looking too much in a mirror!

Maybe it is time that one rubs off the patina that makes the glass a mirror, and look through the glass to see the other sides of the NYS.

The one where, because of the dissenting political views of their families, the promise of a decent and professional future for hundreds of locally educated young Seychellois of the 1981-1997 generations, were blunted when they were deprived of their legitimate claim to post-secondary education.

The one where the future of hundreds others, were chewed up by the, however well-intentioned, haphazard social and living conditions in the NYS camps while they were merely going through the normal adolescent pranks, peer learning and self-discovery.

The one where hundreds of families that arose from the shunted NYS generations, remain forever dulled, unable to offer an opportunity for their own children of the new millennium to shine in echo to the new national label of ‘Our children...our Treasure!

The one where float in our deepest awareness, the skeletons of the millions spent during 17 years of wasted potential, misuse of resources and missed opportunities.

The one where the innocence of youth was violently ripped away under a barrage of fire-arms drills and revolutionary incantations to offer one’s life for the defence of the revolution, the latter when translated, simply turned out to be an invitation to face, AK47 in hand, one’s countrymen who dared to express their dissent towards the socialist ideology and policies of the SPPF!

The one where after the systematic indoctrination in the merit of the socialist ideology, and in the personality cult of the SPPF party hierarchy, endured by generations after generations, the modern Seychellois, incapable of separating the wheat from the chaff in the climate of contemporary democratic pluralism, reverts to bovine subservience and acquiescence that has already been ingrained in his sub-conscious. What, in 1992, the 2nd former President called “political maturity”!

Any adolescent from any culture may find as a great attraction the opportunity to live for some time away from direct parental authority and care. Notwithstanding, a future sociologist may very well have to undertake a closer analysis of the social impact on modern families arising from the NYS generations, to determine whether or not, and to what extent the current drift in morals and norms may be attributable to the national rebellion against societal norms, morals and codes, so fervent during the period 1978-1987, and which culminated in the NYS experience!

There seems then, to be little tribute to be paid to whomever over the NYS! There was and is no glory to be reaped from the sad experience. It was not for nothing that it was abandoned!. Let it RIP!

mardi 28 avril 2009

Bravo Seychelles

A spot of appreciation goes to the SEYCHELLES' COAST GUARD for successfully responding to MSC Melody’s call for assistance, following a 26.04.09 foiled attack by pirates, and the follow-up and coordination by the Seychelles Coast Guard, that resulted in the interception of the pirates by a patrolling Spanish Frigate, their arrest and custody by the Seychelles Coast Guard.
That’s as reported by AP, courtesy as at 28.04.09 pm.

It was getting to be a tad worrisome to hear that these Somali wallahs were foraging at the fringes of our exclusive economic zone. The pirates attacking a cruise ship less that 300kms from our shores was either a declaration that they were fearless and powerful enough to predate anywhere and anytime they want, or a blatant act of qhat-induced recklessness verging on folly.

Now that we have nine pirates in our hands, let us hope that we do not flounder in the delicate diplomacy that will be required to manoeuvre between ensuring, on the one hand, the respect of our laws and international conventions, to which we are signatory, and which touch both matters of piracy within our territorial waters as well as potential threat to our national security, and on the other hand, using the nine Somalis as bargaining chips to secure the release of our compatriots held by other pirates in that chaotic land of Somalia.

We need to do what is right without causing any escalation, while at the same time letting it be known that we will not be caged in while pirates roam freely just beyond our shores, predating on our very livelihood.

jeudi 9 avril 2009

Koste Seselwa ?

“....paradise cannot be divided against itself. God did not give us this most beautiful of all countries for us to behave like cats and dogs conditioned by Red, Blue or Green parties which have lost all relevance under the conditions of today.
Today we must live on our own resources, not on polemics and slogans. Today we must face the truth and the realities and not be manipulators of divisive propaganda.
Through the philosophy of reconciliation we must destroy partisan, political polarisation and bring about a happy and equitable society where Seychellois will think about Seychelles First…….It is therefore important for today’s government to start thinking in this direction if its policy of working together is to be seen as sincere and serious.
Civilisation would be impossible without forgiveness. Life would be nothing but an endless cycle of vengeance, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, until we became a blind and toothless world…..”

This is what the Nation of 9-4-09 printed as a letter from Mr J.R.M Mancham, to share views he expects to elaborate upon before the national ‘Koste Seselwa Committee’

I wholly agree and applaud the Former and First President’s stance, consistent during the past 17 years since his first address on 12th April 1992, after 15 years in exile.
It also echoes similar positions recently taken by Mr. W. Ramkalawan, the Leader of the Opposition :
“... the leaders of this country need to come forward and acknowledge the wrongs that have brought so much hurt, seek ways to heal and from there we shall be able to live as a nation in unity. Too many hearts are still bleeding. There will never be peace as long as we have a nation with too many unsolved issues……. The other side of unity is indeed reconciliation. At a time when Mr. Michel is calling for the people to come together in those difficult times, is it not also the time for him to show initiative and lead by example? Should he not, together with the other leaders of this country for the last 32 years put finality to those issues? Is this not the way forward?.....” (Rebuilding Seychelles, SNP Leader's Message, 27-02-09)

Sadly, as with other similar past initiatives, this new call will likely fall on deaf ears.

For Mr. Mancham’s part, this will be simply because he is known to be from the Blue corner and the Reds in power have never shown the least inclination to seriously seek and work for National Unity other than in speeches that sound nice but that the wind has a nasty habit of ripping and carrying away until the next speech.

Fact is, after 32 years of holding the reins of power herding our 80K souls, the Reds just went and simply erased from memory, their own denunciations of not being given a fair chance at charting the way of the nation when they represented 46% of popular vote after the last pre-1976 winner-takes-all election.

The 1976 version of ‘Koste Seselwa’ was the platform that contributed to facilitating their forceful 1977 power take-over.

‘Chat chaudé craint l’eau froide’.

Despite the shift of forces in the local political arena and the systematic brainwashing by the incumbent Red Government since 1977, we remain deeply and enduringly split, along the lines of partisan politics. The Reds who used to be a big 46% minority are now the small majority (58.8% in 1993, 65.3% in 1998, 54.2% in 2002, 53.04% in 2004 and 56.2% in 2007.) The others, who were the small majority, are now the big minority, and the ones who clamour for the consideration they are deprived of.

Just as cats refrain from dipping in water, so do the Reds disdain power sharing. They are therefore most unlikely to revisit any form of government of National Unity, despite the calls they often regurgitated over the years, whenever it made good politics to be thus seen and heard.
A serious ‘Koste Seselwa’ call suggests that all children of the land is invited and welcome to come together and each take his rightful place in the task of nation-building.
It carries with it the unequivocal condition that when we come together, we do so with the trust that national interest is what we are all working for. We must not be expected to put aside our individual differences of politics or religion but recognise that these, and other differences, must bow before the greater importance and interest of our country.
It accepts that while we go about the business of nation building, we can each permit ourselves to express dissent and objections over the course we follow, as we may find cause to, and as is perfectly admissible in a democratic society. Dissent is healthy. With Objection, it contributes to keep our focus on consensus on what is best for the country. "Nobody has a monopoly on ideas", as the President J.A.Michel, said so himself.

The Reds have shown that they will never grasp this concept. They seem to find dissent and objection as redolent of the ghosts of dissatisfaction, power hunger and subversive overthrow plots, as they were in 1977. Coming together today is synonymous with rallying behind the one position that finds favour in their eyes. Theirs!

The current ‘Koste Seselwa’ drive seems therefore to be another slogan behind which they will, once again seek to manoeuvre, trying to stir patriotism and harness popular support. It is light-years away from a serious quest for National Unity, of the short-lived type the country basked under, from June 1976 to May 1977.

Let me hope I am wrong!

vendredi 3 avril 2009

This is utterly outrageous.

That criminals from the largely lawless Land of Punt would turn to piracy on the High Seas is bad enough. That they would venture to predate on one of their smallest neighbours is absolutely unforgivable.

Since the collapse of effective government in Somalia in the 1990s and the ever-increasing reports of piracy at the Horn of Africa by a bunch of disgruntled ex-militiamen and impoverished but strangely well-armed fishermen, there were glaring signs of the inevitability of little Seychelles eventually falling victim to the marauding Somali pirates. In November 2005 and April 2008, we made world news headlines when first a US cruise ship then, a Victoria-based Spanish purse-seiner managed to berth safely in Port Victoria after successfully escaping from attempted piracy some 150kms and 460kms respectively off the Somali Coast.

Over the last decade, there have been hundreds of attacks by pirates on shipping at the horn of Africa and in a large swath that lumbers down off the coasts of Kenya, Tanzania and the Comorros.
Since 2005, at least 82 separate and well-documented (*) attacks occurred that put in grave danger, the lives of over 3200 ship-crew members, fishermen and cruise ship passengers from nations across all continents, including from small islands states.
17 crew members have lost their lives as a direct result of pirate attacks on their ships. 130 are still in captivity, excluding the 9 Seychellois, assumed to also be in pirates’ hands since end March 09.
For the same period and number of attacks, only 72 pirates have been captured and 16 killed.

It helps not that we may be fully explained why some Somalis have turned to piracy. We know that the strategic position of a country with a quasi non-existent government, on the rich international shipping / trade route that pinches at the Gulf of Aden and the juicy prizes that can be plucked at merest effort, have combined with both the complacency of international shipping and international diplomacy, to lure both local discontents and criminals as well as the global underworld to gather for rich pickings.

Piracy and business interests have shared and fought over the same seas since time immemorial, in particular within the West Indian Ocean area. From that co-existence, modern business seems to have developed into adopting a position that seeks to largely accommodate pirates’ demands.

In only 15 of the 82 documented cases since 2005, an estimated MINIMUM US$23.265M have been paid out to the pirates in order to secure the release of captured crew, ship and cargo.

This is rich pickings indeed that would not pass by without drawing attention of powerful underworld interests who will more and more be drawn like moths to a flame, to our corner of the world. It already is difficult to deal with illegal narcotics, illegal immigration, slavery and other like activities from which piracy is a mere derivation. The situation can escalate and could potentially spiral out of control.
There is enough money to pay for faster and better boats, better technology, more effective weapons, to intercept, capture and hold ships and crew for ever higher ransom!

This cycle has to be broken. The international community seems to have woken up at last and by virtue of a UN Security Council December 2008 resolution, is trying to contain the situation, particularly in the area immediately around the Horn of Africa between latitudes 6° - 14° N and 45°- 55°S, where shipping is at the greatest risk and where the multinational naval task force managed to foil at least 13 separate attacks involving the lives of some 200 crew members, and the capture or death of 52 pirates.

As they seek to contain the situation north, the pirates seem to be mobile enough to have shifted some of their attention south, spreading their predatory nets right across the northern mouth of the Mozambique Channel, between 2°N-4°S and 48°-52°E. For us in Seychelles, that is too close for comfort!

The situation seems rather complex.

The Multi-national Task Force seem to be sometimes too bound by rules of engagement and diplomatic strings that must have the pirates and their command centers laughing.
Perhaps this explained their boldness to launch, in March 06, attacks against USS Cape St. George and USS Gonzalez. Or maybe they were just too ‘qhatted’ out!
A year later, in June 07, the USS Carter Hall failed to stop the capture of the MV Danica White and in October of the same year, the USS Porter also failed to stop the capture of the MV Golden Nori . A total US$2.5M were paid out in ransom.
The situation is also one of extreme danger to innocent crew, as the November 08 incident showed when the INS Tabar inadvertently destroyed the Thai FV Ekawat Nava 5 with the loss of 15 out of the 16 crew!

What is happening in the our western corner of the Indian Ocean is a pestering sore that has endured through the centuries and now needs to be cauterised and expunged. Small countries with limited resources like Seychelles, cannot afford to have the pirates gain a hold in the area where national security and sovereignty can be too easily challenged
Our country comprises small, remote islands too uncomfortably dispersed and over an area too easily accessible to pirates to both use as base to launch their attacks and as targets in themselves.

Now that piracy in the area has proven to offer rich prizes, those of the underworld can easily shift their attention from their other criminal activities to join ranks and cash in from our remote islands.

Each human life, even that of a pirate, is precious. However, when cupidity pushes someone to the point that human lives become mere barter chips that can be carelessly tossed aside, then we must harden our resolve not to be squeamish.

So far, the ‘Somali’ pirates seem not to have been specifically targeting ship crew, in so far as most captured have survived their ordeal. However this may change once our resolves harden. Hopefully, our 9 brothers will, along with the 130 ship crew still in captivity, find their freedom before the situation changes.

(*) Source:

mardi 31 mars 2009

Where is the truth On Public Land Management in Seychelles

There seems to be something that is not right with Public Land Management in Seychelles.

Take these reports by the Nation of 31.03.09 regarding land at Grand Anse Mahe, Beau Vallon and Desroches Island.

At Grand Anse Mahe, a 20Ha state (public) property by the coast with some 700m sea front running more or less parallel with the west coat road from the La Miser Junction, at a varying width from 140 to 400m (for the purists, this area is centered at 4°40’39”S 55°27’00”E) was slotted for private tourism development.

Much of that property is taken up by some streams and their combined marshy estuary. For as long as I can remember, and that covers a span from the 1980s to date, the rest of the property has, over the years, seen some cultivation under the management of the public Agricultural Development Agencies, often more haphazard and experimental than a serious long-term goal in the quest of food security. For the better part of the last 10-odd years, the whole property was left more or less idle.

Somewhere in the labyrinth of the Seychelles’ Pubic Land Management machinery, somebody must have succumbed to the promise of converting yet another swath of apparently useless, and certainly unused, land into ready money and, in the process, hand over to foreigners, another part our national territory and heritage.

In all similar past conversions and transfers, there was never any consultation with the local population and district authorities. Both had little to say, in how state (public) land was managed, other than to rubber stamp the decision handed down from up or to swallow one’s indignation and frustration at being reduced to mere powerless spectators as our heritage is sometimes squandered.

One is therefore somewhat amused to read that the Government of Seychelles, on the merit of “very strong objections from the district’s authorities and some of the inhabitants,” is back-tracking on its decision to turn this property into tourism development.
If there is any truth in that, then one can take comfort that maybe from hereon, our voices can be heard, if we all call out loudly together. Maybe, from hereon, we may just have a chance to slow and eventually stop the process, which could otherwise risks us being turfed out as foreigners in and on our own land!

It takes a hefty dose of courage for one not used to being humble to come forward and, to all practical purposes, admit to clumsy handling of public property. But was this really the case? Let me not be too naïve.

We do not seem to have a Land Use Plan, as required by law, to determine the breath and scope of development in given areas. “Acceptance by the people” is not something that JJ just came up with! It’s been there as a requirement since Independence and always ignored. (Not surprisingly, the Minister responsible for Land Development seems to be completely ignorant of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1975 which does not grant, in the matter of publication / consultation with regard to LUP, the leeway ‘ if necessary the population as well’ )
At best we have only aborted attempts to Land Use Plans (1986,….) and some nice glossy displays that are merely wall decorations for some public land offices.

Did the Seychelles ‘Government not take into consideration that it “should not stop agricultural development when food security is an issue and that the land should be kept for agriculture rather than using it for tourism” before it even gave consideration to the proposal for tourism development project on the property? That would have been the time for “consultation” with the local population and district authorities! (Forget the EIA. Most often than not, it is prepared by the promoters.)
The horse would have been right there in front of the cart!

Considering all this, one is more tempted to believe that we are not being given all the reasons for the back-tracking. I would speculate that local (district) objections could be merely a convenient excuse behind which to hide either, or a combination of, awareness of some over-reaching, final hedging of the promoters or delicately sensitive financing that came to light.

And why do I feel uneasy about that prestigious Beau Vallon site!

That’s a chunk of land (centered approx. 4°36’42” S 55°25’50”E) with roughly 300m sea frontage and an inland depth of some 300m reaching beyond the river and new road, with one or two enclaved plots, off the current public parkings.

It’s been going back and forth since the mid 1990s after its previous ‘Acquisition in the Public Interest’. In the mid 1990s, a German promoter had a mega-tourism development project for the area. The Beau Vallon road was even diverted to accommodate the project.
20 years later, the area is still undeveloped. And we hear that the property has changed hands from one foreigner to another? Could this be one of those more than obvious versions of how to clean up some difficult-to-explain money!

What of Desroches Island ?

For those who may have forgotten, Desroches is a 6km long by widest 1km finger of coral island with a pristine perimeter of fine, white sandy beach lying on a SW/NE angle SW of Mahé. (centered, approx. 5°41’22”S and 53°40’23”E)
It emerged from its lack-lustre days as a guano, copra and agricultural crops island of the pre-independence years to the exclusive retreat of the priviledged few after the 1977 coup and a tourist resort under the management of the IDC from the late 1980s.
According to the nation article, the island now has a population of 13 IDC staff (I presume nationals) and 250-275 foreigners.

Was it really necessary to have 4 Cabinet Ministers and 2 Chief Executives with a haggle of other Public Service officials, travel 230kms to query “availability of employment for Seychellois workers, efforts to conserve the environment, opportunities for school children to visit the island and the impact of the different projects”?
That the IDC wants to embark on a publicity stunt, that’s its business. But to recruit our Public Service as extras takes the biscuit! Our honourable MNAs should do well to maintain a certain dignity and not be used as the next props.
I also hope public funding will not be required to provide school and health infrastructure for the largely foreign population working for an essentially private enterprise.

vendredi 20 mars 2009

How responsible is the Media ?

Modern Public Opinion is often formed on the playgrounds of Radios, TVs and Newspapers. Over the years, we have all developed a certain dependency on our daily feed of what we are told are news, worthy of being shared. Information vital to hold. Views necessary to chart our way through the miasma of grand and local societal politics so that we may keep as clear a vision of, and as secure a hold on, what we take to be our self-set goals in life.

Most of us cannot escape the daily incessant bombardment to the extent that it is about to reach that point where we risk being deprived of our individual capacity to think things out by and for ourselves. Our views, the opinions that we have, the visions and goals we set for our lives, these risk not being ours, but the result of what we have been fed and which we are often too willing to swallow unquestioningly.

We rarely doubt the veracity of what are passed as news and information, by those we have chosen to lay our trust in to inform us. Happy delusion that “If it’s on the radio, television and newspaper, then it must be true”.

We are often uneasy about this but feel it is too much bother to try and swim out from the flow that carries us along with everyone else. Until one day, something happens that tickles that remaining bit of self-awareness that distinguishes each of us from the mass.

For me it happened again while I was following the evening news and what I was hearing as the outrage of the world from the Pope Benedict XVI’s declared position on condom usage as worsening the problem of AIDS.

The news report mentioned that the Papal declaration was made during an in-flight interview on the Alitalia plane bearing the Pope and his delegation on an African Tour. There were some questions submitted in advance from which the Pope had chosen to answer a few, among which one from a journalist from a French state TV.
I have searched for and seemed to have found the original question:

“Holy Father among the many evils that affect Africa there is also the particular problem of the spread of AIDS. The position of the Catholic Church for fighting this evil is frequently considered unrealistic and ineffective.
“Will you address this issue during your trip? Holy Father, could you please respond in French to this question?”

The Pope then gave an in-depth response in Italian, of which an extracted translation was given:

“The problem of HIV/AIDS cannot be overcome with mere money (other translations refer to ‘slogans / publicity’). It’s necessary, but if there isn’t the heart/soul which knows how to apply it, if Africans do not help one another, it doesn’t help, the scourge cannot be resolved by distributing condoms: on the contrary, they increase (risks, aggravates)the problem. The solution can only come through a twofold commitment: firstly, the humanisation of sexuality, in other words a spiritual and human renewal bringing a new way of behaving towards one another; and secondly, true friendship, above all with the suffering, a readiness - even through personal sacrifice - to stand by those who suffer”

This in itself caused a furore and raised the hackles of those who are campaigning against the spread of AIDS, from NGOs to Governments, to the UN.

The report then quickly turned to a commentary that the Papal Position has provoked outrage the world over. Important personalities were presented denouncing what was called an archaic catholic church, a problematic pope, and an unrealistic and detached church vision of the world.

This made me rather uneasy because, even in that brief extract of the Pope’s statement, which did not seem far removed from the oft-repeated stance of the Catholic Church on the matter of condoms, I think I had understood it differently.

I have looked further for the rest of the response and have found it to be pretty much what was reported, (albeit with reports of subsequent duplicitous tampering, by the Vatican Press Office, of the original declaration)

I therefore cannot really understand what the outcry is all about. Wasn’t the Pope rather putting condom usage in the overall sphere of the Catholic Church’s view on sexuality and the familiar message of abstinence and fidelity? Were we not missing the central message about ‘humanisation of sexuality…. a spiritual and human renewal bringing a new way of behaving towards one another’?

I have no business arguing for or against condom usage. Nor do I wish to go into the matter of the Catholic Church’s (or any other churches’) position on matters of sexuality and morality, its sidekick.
Suffice to say that while I follow the general view that condom usage has proven that it can effectively contribute towards a check in the spread of AIDS, among the other variety of STDs, I also feel that it carries with it the other hidden message of continued, unchecked, libertinistic sex. Almost as if, with the latter message, we seek to condone humanity indulging in his primal sexual urges with scant thought to responsibility and responsible living and to forget that we are supposed to be one notch up on the evolution ladder above animals.

This then, must be what the controversy is all about. Reconciling our freedom and right to indulge, as we want with our duty and moral obligation to be human and responsible as we do it.

Somewhere along the line, those who are on the fore-front of public opinion formulation seemed to have lost sight of what I take to be the real issue and succumbed, once again, to hide the truth under sensationalism, the stuff that sells and of which we seem never to tire.

I know that I will be better off without such blatantly biased, partisan and irresponsible media.

mercredi 18 mars 2009

Pa Les Nou Tonbe

To Dialogue or Not to Dialogue?

In the February 2009 State of the Nation Address, The President of the Seychelles, in recognising the local difficult economic situation, noted that …“There will always be politicians who will say that things could have been done in a different way.( …) The time for cheap politics is over. It’s time for action. It’s time for unity of purpose. This is what our people deserve (……) Let us not wait for tomorrow to share ideas. Nobody has the monopoly on ideas. …’
He then went on to propose ‘a high-level forum’ where he would meet officially as President with the Leader of Government Business and the Leader of the Opposition ‘to discuss issues of national importance on a regular basis.’

In his response to the President’s address, the Leader of the Opposition took the position that, ‘there are a lot of issues that can be resolved without such meetings. ‘
He explained his view that, to foster the spirit of unity, concrete action needs to be taken such that people could identify with what was going on, that he did not believe in talk-shop committees, when there is a lot of action that could be immediately taken. He called on the Government to show its spirit of openness by undertaking a series of such actions, viz:
· Appointing the First (and former) President as Ambassador
· Withdraw deportation order with respect to Mrs Gaetan Pierre
· Set up an Electoral Commission
· Have the Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation be truly open and for the political opposition to have access to the national media at par with Government’s
· Amend the Public Order Act as recommended by both Judge Reilly and the National Assembly’s Law and Order Committee
· Take disciplinary action against all police officers who assaulted members of the political opposition on 3rd October 2006
· Return all maliciously appropriated and still undeveloped properties
· Allow the re-employment of all qualified citizens maliciously dismissed from their posts (in the public service)
· Allow all elected Members of the National Assembly the same opportunities in their respective constituencies
· Set up a Commission of Enquiry into all the Human Rights abuses, including disappearances, during the Single Party period
· Remove all hindrances to local entrepreneurs
· Re-instate the 29th June as the National Day
· Stop celebrating the 5th of June with State resources.

In effect, he turned down the offer to meet with the President and the Majority Party’s Chief Whip in the National Assembly, to discuss ‘ issues of national importance’

Each of us will have a different view on the sincerity of the President to discuss with the Opposition and of the wisdom of the latter in turning down the offer.
For my part, I feel that sincere or not, the President has made an offer to discuss. While he did not indicate what could be the agenda for the discussions, there is reasonable cause to believe that this could include, under the wide umbrella of ‘issues of national importance’ those subjects that the Leader of the Opposition would table.

Wisdom suggests that in a state of bi-partisan confrontation, that could potentially be a threat to national peace and unity, direct opportunities for dialogue and search for consensus should not be shunned, if the country is not to remain shut in the two sides shouting at each other across the walls of incomprehension and intolerance.

I would tend to agree that there are actions that the Seychelles Government could take immediately, that would give strength to its pledge to foster national unity and peace.

However, I also recognise that in all fairness, the Government is unlikely to accede to all that the Opposition wants done simply because some of these actions are more politically loaded than others. Others may require impartial definition and appreciation and a consensus on what kind of redress would be best suited. Others yet may merely be extracts from the political opposition’s program that few incumbent, self-respecting governments would want to act upon. The Leader of the Opposition knows that. Government knows that. In between their two positions, must lie a ‘terrain d’entente’, a compromise that can only be the fruit of dialogue.

This said, the Leader of the Opposition may not be entirely wrong in finding the type of dialogue offered as the usual defenceless hostage where the Government merely seeks to gain a certain political advantage. The last such dialogue was concluded with bitter recriminations and suspicions that Government was calling the tune for the political opposition to dance.

Let’s face it. The SPPF Government rules by what it believes in and what it holds to be true and fair. That’s their democratically endorsed mandate, which we need to respect.

It may not be right for the Government, elected by a 53% majority, to rule the country without regard to the views of the remaining 47% minority.

It may similarly not be right for the Constitutional representative of that minority to turn away from the opportunity offered under public limelight, to at least attempt to directly and immediately impact of how government rules and sets priorities.

The opportunity being offered for dialogue can be turned into an occasion for a true start to the national healing process, if both sides can show that they can free themselves from the prison of their respective rhetoric. The healing itself will not be an easy road. There will likely be recurring relapses, and the despair each brings along, to overcome as we try each proposed healing therapy. But as long as we remain focused on and committed to healing the national wounds, we would at least have started moving away from the state of sickness that has so corrupted our nation. Not to embrace dialogue is to allow the national wounds to fester.

This therefore is why I believe that the Leader of the Opposition should reconsider his stance.
Democracy will flourish in Seychelles only when all stakeholders live up to their constitutional responsibilities, and however much of a political and personal quandary they may find they face, the political fulfilment of the expectations, dreams and ambitions for national cohesion and peace, they asked that we entrust them with, must remain their priority above everything else.

dimanche 1 mars 2009

Can James Michel be brave enough to be different from Albert Rene?

Everybody seems to have an angle on what is best for the country. And everybody’s angle is better than the next guy’s. The best angle being the exclusive reserve of those cosseted in the People’s House.
That’s the way it has been these past three decades in Seychelles.
Until the Headman from State House made the unprecedented and quite unexpected admission a few days ago, that “Nobody has the monopoly on ideas”.

This now being officially the case, we can all stop griping and unlock our caged ideas. Let these blossom, roam free and fuse with others’. Perhaps, they may even end up providing inspiration to those whose responsibility it is to reckon us all out of the mess they dug us in, in the first place.

To figure out what is best for the country, we need first to know what the condition the country is in and where it wants to go.

After years of customary denials, the Headman has finally admitted that the national economy is in a mess, though his choice of descriptive may have been somewhat more flowery. Part of the blame can be laid at the doorstep of the global economic recession. But only part. The rest of the blame is to be landed right in our own laps for having disregarded for too long, the essential ingredient for economic prosperity: Wealth Generation!

We want the country to provide us all, with a secure and stable environment with rewarding employment, decent public services, utilities and infrastructures, sustainable economic progress with money in the bank for income generating projects, people development, education, housing, health care and trouble-free retirement.

To provide for these, we need to stop pulling out that tired Foreign-Aid basket. We need to take a step back from allowing only the selective club of the international investors, to drink at the fountain of national wealth creation. We need to turn away from the quick fixes, after fast, easy and immediate money, that the erstwhile Headman of 27 years tenure, forced the country into.
We are now well past an Economic Development Act.
We need no longer bother after finding oil within our EEZ. A quarter century of inconclusive research, the dubious long term good and proven evils of that type of fossilised wealth should be warning enough for us to steer clear.
A reality check has shown that we need to move ahead from our dreams to be a regional commercial hub. The only serious international (off-shore) business we seem to attract are those who have lost the moral trust of other nations.

Let us find inspiration in the words of USA President Barrack Obama: “The system we have now might work for the powerful and well-connected interests that have run (the country) for far too long." Let us start working for the Seychellois people.

At each individual level, we need to be made to feel included in the overall national wealth generation machinery, with clear, unfettered opportunities, devoid of state interference, open for each of us with the will, and means to do our bit to create our own, little riches. The sum of our individual wealth will add to that from serious investors’ and other partners’, to be that of the nation’s.

We have to start thinking out of the box, if we are to allow the whole nation to fully, freely and effectively participate in wealth generation.
It is not enough to invest in the development of small local industries and agriculture. However important and vital these may be, there is just no way a population of 80K will provide adequate market opportunities for wealth generation based on these two sectors. At best these local enterprises would be a mere service to the community, not unlike the merchants across the district shop counters, with the farmers merely contributing towards national food security. Unless we seek to turn our varied tropical fruits, including the humble breadfruit, into real, competitive export potential and not merely snacks for school kids, animal feed and nocturnal bat banquets!

True wealth lies in bringing in hard currency from real-value product exportation as well as exploitation of our natural resources. Real wealth does not lie in circulating what we create among ourselves.

We had the right targets more than three decades ago. We tapped into the blossoming world tourism market. We talked of development of our marine resources. We sought food self-sufficiency.
We had these right!!.
Then we messed up badly in favour of political expediency and quick fixes. We gave up on serious investments against long- term returns in favour of securing immediate political popularity via state-engineered economic development.

We turned our tourism potential into ‘Haut de Gamme’, making it the preserves of investors with well-lined bank accounts. Our outer islands, once a potential for agricultural development, even Coetivy, that for some time turned out world-famous prawns, have been mostly turned into exclusive resorts that now suffer the caprices of the trade. Five-star resorts slowly evolved to become the order of the day, targeting the exclusively rich.
In this we denied ourselves the reality that the bulk of income from tourism is provided not by film stars and other rich, but by the average European (our main tourism source) household who saved over months to have their annual 10-days under the tropical sun. Thailand, Mauritius, island countries of the Caribbean and elsewhere offering the same tropical setting, did not poke themselves in the eyes.
30 years after we launched ourselves in the tourism adventure, our two original flagships, the Reef Hotel and the Mahe Beach Hotel have all but floundered, along with numerous family guesthouses and cottage accommodation. Exclusive five star resorts abound, all seeking to cater for the needs of the 100K visitors we receive annually. The bulk of whom, would prefer the more modest 3-stars and other like hotels or family guesthouses.
There was never a place allowed in this state-sponsored tourism development for the average family, other than from the other end of that service delivery : as docile (and reportedly - and no wonder - often resentful) help.

After three decades of going round in circles, reality must have struck a park somewhere, when in October 2008, the National Assembly unanimously approved a motion tabled by the Honourable MNA from La Digue, for opening up tourism accommodation to families with convenient facilities to offer.
That was a clear step in the right direction.
Allow the common people to tap into the tourism market. As the motion put it, to offer an authentic and rich experience, the very thing a more informed and concerned tourist wants. Not to be parked and pampered by the artificial comforts of the 5-star resorts, but to be more in touch with the real culture and people of the holiday destination. To feel that the holiday has truly been a direct contribution to making the world a better place to live in. Equitable commerce. As good with tourism as it is with cocoa and coffee. As good as eco-tourism.
That is the way to go.
We need not abandon the 5-star resorts. Nor local investing in modest hotels and guest houses. We only need to allow individual families with a decent spare room, to offer it as tourist accommodation.
Let there be no more talk of ‘Haut de Gamme’.
Let there neither be doors opening to ‘back-pack’ tourists. But let these not be shut off either.
Let there be accommodation to cater for every purse.
Let the common folks get a chance at collecting some spare €s, £s, $s, and SARs.
Let the initiative not be suffocated in unnecessary bureaucratic red tape and regulatory controls, other than those vital to making sure no one kills the golden goose before it even settles on the nest!

More than three decades after we took our place at the Table of Nations, and stood on our national feet, we have not one single ship to harness the riches from our bountiful sea.
Not that we were never or are not aware of the wealth that we have allowed and still allow, others to harvest before our very eyes. We have had recent occasions to hear our Headman bemoan the paltry incomes we derived from licences we give to allow foreign companies’ harvesting the billions in US$ worth of fish in our waters.

We were ready to invest in tanker-building. But not on purse-seining, other than in the ill-fated ‘Spirit of Koxe’ by the possibly well-meaning but naïve and arrogant nomenclatura. And now, someone is chewing on the bone of Tuna ranching!
For Pete’s sake! How could we have been and remain so blind!!

Without cancelling the licences we issue for others to ship in our exclusive economic zone, let us now make it a condition for each foreign fishing vessel licenced to fish in our waters, to have a few of our local trained and experienced fishermen on board. Let us now invest in building our own fleet of purse-seiners, in training the crew to handle and others to maintain and repair it. Let us make it a target to be achieved within the next 10 years.
Let us also focus on the potential of demersal fishing for medium – sized snappers, groupers, ‘capitaines’ and reef fish, with a view to cash in, with competitive costs and quality, on the selective and prized European markets.
Let us explore deep-sea lobster and prawn fishing…our continental plateau may have riches we have not even thought about. Let us explore the full potential for pearl culture! For Marine Algae!
Let us imbue economic life back into our outer islands. We shall use them as regional bases for our varied fishing enterprises, from state – facilitated funding to local investors, but not excluding partnership with foreign capital, as long as we remain in control.

Let us do these things, but let us not be greedy to be rich overnight!
Then we can go out start getting into fair competition and serious fish-trading with our European and Asian partners.

We shall then be getting the share of the wealth we want, are capable of getting by our own hands, and is due to us, from our sea. We shall no longer be moaning at all the loot that passes us by. We shall be counting and spreading it out for the national good.

The sea is out bread. Tourism is the butter.
Tourism is fickle. When the pinch settles in, we can do without it for a time.
The world will always, however, be hungry for fish, sea –food and other sea products!

vendredi 27 février 2009

Of the 2009 Seychells State Of the Nation: A raw first reaction

February 26th 2009 was another of those annual moments when each Seychellois took a respite from the everyday, individual short-view concerns, to take a broader look at the Nation, with the hope that it may, for each one of us, provide an insight into the place each of us occupy in the national scheme of things and the scope and breath of what we may individually and collectively be required to do in order to secure our common, long-term prosperity.

The State of The Nation Address is a priviledged moment for the person in whose hand we have, by popular democratic vote, entrusted the responsibility to chart the course of the nation to ensure for each of us, among other things, that national goal of long-term prosperity, to tell us how far we are along this road.

It is a moment for us to be informed since the last address, of the progress we have achieved, the wealth we have garnered, the debts we contracted, the perils we overcame, the scope of any adjustments we have had to make, and the outlook for the immediate and long term futures.
It is a solemn moment for us to receive hard, raw figures, untouched statistics, a report of realities encountered, untainted by political bias and rhetoric, which we may all digest as befits our individual abilities, to find cause for contentment or concern, the better to direct our hands and resolve towards working for the collective good.

Did the 2009 Seychelles’ State of the Nation Address provide us with a clear, untainted picture of how the national economy is doing? Did it provide us with a clear insight in how the various sectors of the national service and economy performed? Did it provide a precise indication of what we achieved from the targets we had set ourselves, and the reasons for eventual failures and how these will be addressed?
Did it provide us with a road map by which we, as a nation, may chart through the perils of the current global economic recession?

Presumably the Seychelles Head of State and his advisers are happy that they did so.
For my humble part, I feel, another of the now-familiar pangs of unquenched thirst for the true state of the nation of which I am part. This is not a matter of seeing the glass half empty. It is a matter of seeing, yet again, the Head of State skirt the issues and lose himself in what I consider as mind-numbing rhetoric. I endured his address not with the trust of a patient before a qualified doctor’s consultation and diagnosis, but as the slightly bemused spectator at a political comedy where the main actor seemed to have forgotten his lines and role. In short, the Seychelles State of the Nation can be reduced into one word : Reform.

This is the Economic Reform Program that the nation entered into in November 2008, without the merest suggestion of it during the February 2008 address, and that the Head of State is now shoving down our throats as the inevitable action he was compelled to take to both avert further risks arising from the global economic crisis as well as to preserve the hope of the prosperity he promised the nation.
This subject remained the central, if not the only, theme of his address, in which he doled out a few of the quick fixes he wants us to believe he is adamantly against.

Listening to the President, one can easily be forgiven for understanding that the November 2008 Economic Reform was not a thoroughly thought-out program. Certainly the nation was never given an opportunity to provide an input prior to the SPPF government unleashing it over our unprepared heads. The 2005 district consultations provided not an iota insight into what Government was envisaging then for November 2008, if ever it was then envisaging anything! This is what he must have meant when he revealed that ‘politicians…..will not say what they would do tomorrow’
Nobody among those who prepared and planned the Reform Program seemed to have understood the difficulties that it would mean to the Seychellois families. Once the program was launched, there was the immediate dash by all, including the Government, to adjust costs and fees. The STC raised costs. The PUC raised rates. The SPTC raised fares. Loan Interests from both private commercial and Government, followed as did animal feed production. The climate was ripe for general hike in all commodity costs.
In anticipation of the repercussions that these would have on the more vulnerable groups, a Social Welfare Agency was created to ensure a just and objective appreciation and provision of social assistance.
Three months later and notwithstanding the few millions US$ that we have accumulated in central reserves, the national mood is one where families are under pressure and needs to be helped with “high cost of living …(a) primary concern”

The STC is now required to bring down costs in 11 basic commodities and General Service Tax (GST) will be removed from day-old chicks and animal feed it produces. As it will be on medicines and some agricultural supplies. Housing loan repayments may be restructured. The Social Welfare Agency must revise its National Assembly-approved case appreciation to “help parents who are working hard but are still struggling to make ends meet.”
The PUC and the SPTC will be subjected to performance and financial audits, to provide, among other things, “affordable services. GST raise in the tourism sector will be delayed, in answer to the anticipated bite in projected 2009 revenue from tourism. (This one, perhaps the only real result of the global crisis!)

No indication was given on the individual and cumulative costs of these measures, and most importantly, in the current national context, on how they will be financed and how they will impact on the final reform outcome.

To me then, they are Quick Fixes, made convenient and seem to answer a more immediate need to pacify and accommodate the national mood of resentment.

In the end, I found very little cause to rejoice in the President’s state of the Nation. Because it did not seem to really have addressed the nation’s state. It only delivered the same words and promises that I always heard and that seemed to come from the mouth of someone who prefers to live in another reality, one defined by the boundaries of political expediency and far removed from that of the Nation he heads.

There is cause indeed, to be Gloomy!

Unless one takes cheer from the revelation that soon we will not require visas for short-stays in the EU.
That one nearly got caught up in the web of state-house engineered achievements. The presidential pride should be tempered from realising that the EU Council resolved this matter since March 2001 (CE) no 539/2001) and Seychelles joined Mauritius, Antigua / Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados and St-Christophe / Nevis on that famous Annex 2 by virtue of CE 1932/2006.

Gloom also when one understands that 32 years ago, the President of Today was among those who found it unforgivable for a president to spend so much time in foreign countries, away from national affairs.
Today, his own presidential time spent away, is “ensuring our presence on the international scene (which) is of particular importance.” His “undertakings on the international stage are aimed at promoting the good image of our country and its reputation”
It has been said that these noble aims were among the grievances that cost the first President his seat up at the end of State House Avenue.

We have a long way to go !

lundi 26 janvier 2009

Plus ça Change

In the wake of the Seychelles’ 2008 Economic Reform Program, a new Welfare Agency, took over from the moribund Means Testing Board, to “help the most vulnerable, cope with the subsequent rise in the cost of living”. Its overall functions, procedures and criteria to determine and grant applications, were defined by the Social Welfare Agency Bill of 14th October 2008.

The new Agency was to be a break from the previous Means Testing, the latter often suspected, rightly or not, of serving the needs of local politicians who pulled strings to secure little financial and other material rewards for their constituents. Often, a vote-buying gig, financed through state coffers!

It was rightly seen as a new approach to ensure a just and objective appreciation of all applications for social assistance. An approach that, in my view, was quite welcome, its predecessor having too often been stigmatised by political interference!

In its issue of 9th December 2008, the Seychelles ‘Nation’ daily published the new “Adult Equivalence Scale” criteria and a detailed presentation and explanation of the formula by which applications would be assessed.

In its issue of 17th January 2009, the ‘Nation’ published a first report from the Welfare Agency. From this, we learnt that the Agency had received and assessed some 676 applications over a two-months’ period, from November to December 08. We also learnt that only 304 applications (45%) qualified for assistance.

In its issue of 26.01, the ‘Nation’ revealed that the president “is not entirely satisfied with the way the agency is working……(and) said there is a need to review the way it operates so cases are dealt with faster and more effectively (….).also there is a need to revise the “weights” that determine how much a needy family should get from the agency. …(…..) to bring them in line with the current rate of inflation…..”.

This, in my view, spells out clearly, the old demons the Agency was to have exorcised.

In short, more than half of those who applied for social assistance in a two months’ period, were deemed not qualified by an objective means-assessment criteria.

That’s 372 cases thrown out!!. 372 families turned down.!! Which translates into an average of 15-odd families per district!!. Each one of them likely to have been on the backs of their local member of parliament, and demanding redress!
This, of course, is mere extrapolation, however much based it can be, on a recall of how things work in our sunny isles! A local MP, rendered irate by refusal of applications he / she had sponsored, will go about the usual desk - fist ramming, and accusations of bureaucracy, preferential treatments, etc by the Welfare Agency. In due course, sufficient background noise is created to corner the officers of the Agency and divert attention from the need for respect of the professionalism by which they are legally bound to work.

Ergo, a bare 2 months into operation, the Welfare Agency risks having to throw out the window, its objective appraisal of social needs, in favour of the usual pandering and political interference. It will not only be about ensuring speedy issue of assistance to “people looking for employment (who) need basic necessities like food during the time they are not working” nor “parents who need educational materials and other necessities for their children to go to school (and) cannot wait for a month to get help, because the children will not be able to go to school during this time”

Like it or not, it will be about ensuring assistance to all cases the local MPs have already deemed as deserving, and referred to the Agency.

Plus ça change…….!!