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!