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…….!!

dimanche 4 janvier 2009

I suggest a Reality check

"2008 was full of challenges and opportunities……(that) tested the resilience, spiritedness and determination of the Seychellois people and was also a year when we showed our courage.
We had to take tough decisions. Like all countries in the world, big and small, we were hit hard, indeed very hard, by the effects of the global financial crisis. There are people in the United States, Europe, Japan and other countries who have lost all their savings,” he said…..(and) gave examples of the many who lost their pensions, houses and jobs but said in spite of our challenges such things did not happen here and we are still faring well"(Extract from the Presidential End-of -Year message, published by the Seychelles Nation of 31.12.08)

I could not help but feel that, once again, the state misinformation machine is working away at lulling our minds and senses, seeking to deprive us of the ability to think things out clearly and see the local and world realities as they really are.

There may not have been any bank collapse in Seychelles and no one has yet lost their homes , as a direct result of the global financial crisis and, what many well-informed circles are already calling, creeping economic recession!

Notwithstanding, local pensions, savings and salaries have all been drastically skimmed off, as a direct result of the economic reforms and escalating prices.

Must we also be reminded that the loss of jobs, houses, savings, etc in US Europe and Japan (and other countries) was the direct result of private financiers’ cupidity and longing for fat profits taking them far beyond the frontiers of reasonable risk management.?

Comfortable within their powerful ivory towers, with their well-heeled lobbyists keeping too-inquisitive, regulatory controls at bay, they knowingly, and over several years, pushed their speculative financial institutions to chase after the illusory sub-prime golden egg that turned out to be thoroughly rotten. In other moments, they were also contributors to the outright criminal activity by the ilk of Madoff, or apparent dissimulation of risks by Kerviel and others, that conned banks, corporations, industry, investors and other fat private accounts into being over-exposed and writing their own individual financial oblivion.

In a private-sector-controlled market economy, this had the snow-ball effect that dropped a chill in nearly everybody’s lap, the world over! The global inter-link of these financial institutions over and across national frontiers, turned the speculative fiasco into the world’s worst financial and confidence crisis since the 1929 crash.

Let it be said clearly: The 2008 Reform Program was not hatched from the current global crisis. It was ‘home grown’, slowly incubating during the last 30 years from 1977, and a direct result from state-engineered, ill conceived investments, unsustainable development programs, and outright clumsy financial management, that have too often, blurred the national economic landscape and stunted economic progress.

The cumulative consequence of the quixotic economic mis-management is what brought Seychelles to its knees. Not the high prices of fuel on the world market. Not the Maddof scam and the other international financial scandals. Not the financial collapse and confidence crisis in western countries.

This said, let there be Respect, Peace, Love and Resolve to find Happiness, for all of you out there during 2009!