mercredi 17 novembre 2010

I Am Not Buying It !!

It’s been awhile since it was revealed that the United Arab Emirates was again ready to dump its much-coveted Aid Grants to the Seychelles’ Government in the form of patrol boats, helicopter, a new $multi-million Coast Guard Base, coastal radar installation, etc to boost our military defence capabilities.
That the Seychelles’ coastal defence has always been boosted by foreign countries’ assistance is well established. After the helicopters from India, aged patrol boats from Russia and France of the 1980s, we now have the largesse of the UAE, who just happens to have Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s secondary “palatial” residence sitting astride the La Misère hills.

This surge of UAE assistance is relatively new, rising over our horizon about the time the ruler of the UAE took interest in our islands as a secondary home base! The Sheikh’s generosity spilled over into various sectors from IT, public infrastructure to health services, (including medical evacuation of teenage Praslinois bus accident victims). In 2009 alone, US$35.788M poured in (*) which translates into US$426 to each and every Seychellois!!!
What is it that has prompted the UAE to be so generous to us. It cannot only be about a boost to our national development!
We are an island nation of 80K souls, at 57th place on the HDI, with a per capita of over US$8900, and yet we stand 3rd place next to Tanzania (151st HDI, per capita US$550, population 43.7M) and Egypt (101st HDI, per capita US$2758, population 78.7M) in petro-dollar largesse? (*)
There must be something particular in our case that makes us stand out, with a larger begging bowl, far beyond the reaches of poorer countries, more deserving of the UAE’s generosity! Somalia (HDI N/A, per capita US$600, population 9.9M) and Kenya, (147th HDI, per capita US$738, population 39M) our two neighbours confronted with more serious development issues as well as the same plague of piracy, only qualified for US$9.147M and US$1.868M grant aid respectively
Let us not be duped! On the matter of our coastal defence, Al Nayan is probably more interested in, and arranging for, his personal security for when he will spending time in Seychelles, than he is in the host country’s petty matters of crumbling public infrastructures and defence against pirate activities.
I will not be at all surprised to see UAE military / naval personnel in charge of running the new coastal defence installations, with Seychellois dummies up front!


jeudi 14 octobre 2010

Bravo Chile

Who could have stayed unfazed before the live news broadcast and video streaming as the 33 miners of the San Jose mine were rescued 69 days after being entombed ?!
Is there any lesson we can derive from this drama?

On 5.8.2010, a tunnel deep down in the privately-owned-and-operated San Jose mine in the Chilean Atacama desert, 700kms NW of Santiago, collapsed and sealed off 33 miners in the deepest reaches of the mine.
At the time of the accident, the tragedy qualified for a brief mention in the mainstream global news channel as had other similar news stories of mine accidents from Russia through USA to China.
The world moved on and the news cameras panned to other dramas, not particularly moved by the anguish and despair of the families whose lives were torn apart from understanding that their loved ones were entombed 700m under the mountain.
No one had any news of the trapped miners’ fate. First attempts to locate and establish whether or not there were survivors proved futile and posed serious risks to those who had volunteered for a hypothetical rescue.
With the uncertain fate of their 33 countrymen at stake, Chile found the resolve not to turn away from what seemed an impossible task and invited the world community “with any technology and knowledge” to come forward and help. This call from a modern Chile, a country showing it cares for its citizens, was answered!
On the 22.08.2010, the news flashed through that the 33 miners had been located and that they were all alive!
Locating the miners in itself was a notable feat of dogged determination. What was more notable was that there were survivors at all, 17 days after the accident. No one had dared to hope for such a miracle. Nobody had ever survived that long, trapped underground.
With the extraordinary news, came the sobering reality of the survivors’ situation: The miners had only survived to be condemned to their inevitable final entombment.
They were 700m deep under the mountain, with no way out through the hard rock, had managed to survive, in an emergency shelter below the collapsed mine roof, on 48hrs ration for the 17days it took rescue probes to breach their tomb, took stock of their condition and deliver supplies. Rescue attempt required drilling through the rock to reach and extract them from their damp and hot (33°C) prison. No one else has ever managed a rescue from such depth.
Mining has been going on from time immemorial. Mine collapse had both recurringly took place and its due in human lives. It was a fact of mining life! For the San Jose mine survivors, their being found could not dispel their stark reality.

The Chilean Government and the miners’ families remained resolved not be cowed. With the help of specialist drilling and consulting engineers, 3 rescue bore-hole projects got underway to pull the miners to safety. Even before the drilling projects started, Camp Hope had sprung up from the stark, cold and dry desert landscape, the anguish and prayers of the miners’ families driving the engineers and rescuers to the limits of their abilities and that of their machines.
This caught the attention of the media hype circus. As the rescue project bore on, they all flocked to this remote, ancient, accident–prone and hitherto insignificant mine, in the Atacama desert, to turn the glare of their global limelight, more used to candid postures of the glitz and glamour circles, on the humble and modest families. The Hungarian toxic red mud and its individual tragedies were relegated. As were the ongoing uncompromising and unforgiving mire in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with all the other usual captivating global news-headline dramas.
For the media, their ratings and audimats demand that they go beyond the simple matter of seeking and presenting factual news. While the world appreciated the front-row seats of the unfolding drama at the San Jose mine, some of us, however, also despaired over the media cynicism in trying to delve into the swirls of hopes and despair of the miners’ families to lay bare the strengths and frailties of the human spirit in the face of adversity.
Some of us had to make a conscious effort to lock off this media frenzy as an unnecessary distraction from the world-first, real and live-broadcast epic of the rescue mission underway.
I looked more to the relief of fathers, mothers, wives, sons, daughters, friends and partners as the 33 miners who were once taken for dead, were once again each in turn for over 24 hours, given a new birth.
I felt deeply the pride of the mine shift-foreman as he handed over his, brusquely- interrupted and much-prolonged shift, to the Chilean President!
I sought more the sharing of the emotions of each reunion and the wonder of a whole country united behind the single and common purpose of not giving up on their own, however modest and humble.
This is the lesson that I take away from the Chilean, San Jose mine rescue. Not about who is or not a hero, however many heroes there were to lead the rescue mission to a successful conclusion. Not the hype about how the miners and their community will personally and collectively cope!!.
It also brought a chilling thought over how sometimes, misplaced national pride sometimes condemn those we want to save. Had the Russian government been as determined and open as the Chilean, then perhaps the Kursk tragic episode of 10 years ago, could have turned out differently, and the world could have added to its experience and skill in rescuing those imprisoned beyond reach.

Bravo Chile! For giving us an example of fortitude, unity, national pride and common purpose.

mercredi 6 octobre 2010

Two Tales of An Island

It was exactly 3 years ago on 04.10.2007, when Mr.Jacquelin Dugasse, then Minister for National Development, formally presented the National Assembly with a preview of what was termed the biggest investment project ever to be undertaken in the country.

There was to be over €400M in Foreign Direct Investment, from the period 2008 to 2012 for the new 780000m² newly reclaimed -at a cost of €13M - Aurore island, itself part of the East Coast Reclamation Phase III project!

€400Million at one scoop!! Who was the genius who managed to pull that rabbit from the white elephant’s hat! For that kind of capital input, the representatives of the nation were suitably impressed to be quite ready to brush aside such persistent issues as the wisdom of the multi-million investment for a reclamation project with unclear Land Use Plan, or the ability of the country to sustain the long term economic debt implications, or again, how much of our national soul had we bargained into the deal!

There were to be an 18-hole golf course, 144 luxury villas, 90 condominiums, a casino, a five-star hotel and a waterfront marina.
All constructions and operations of the facilities on the island were to be undertaken and managed by a company named as Aurore Nouvelle Seychelles,2 tiers-removed from its RSA parent company.
Local businesses were led to understand that they would benefit from the vast range of business opportunities that were to be made available.
1000 jobs were promised for the development phase and some 400 other during its operational phase.
The country was to further benefit from various facilities that the developer was to put in place, such as
· US$10M electricity generator to be provided by Aurore Nouvelle Seychelles,
which was to also supply the nearby Ile Perseverance.
· US$1M desalination plant with links to the national water network,
· Sewerage treatment plant which would also serve Ile Perseverance.
· Construction of the North Mahe Highway from Maison du Peuple through Ile Perseverance and Ile Aurore right up to La Retraite
· Bridge to link Ile Aurore to Anse Etoile.
· An additional US$100M reclamation of 35 hectares to add to the national territory
· 10% of the sale price of condominiums & villas each time there is a new sale and each time there is a change of ownership.

Three years later, same island, different tale! The €400M investment was nothing more than another empty promise. ANS the magician, Aurore the hat, and €400M the rabbit were all part of the bundle that lasted the time it took for us to understand that it was all another show with little to grab onto once the curtains are drawn. We had not even blinked!!

The case of Aurore Island is not an inter-corporate deal that misfired due to the 08-09 global crisis. It is an illustration, if ever another was needed, of how the current political leaders squander the limited means of our small nation, are too eager to chase after windmills in seeking to take their coals out of the fire and have no shame in feeding us hogwash to cover their mismanagement and incompetence!

The President himself came forward on 4.10.2010 to announce (one assumes with some mysterious sense of pride and personal achievement) that “Seychellois investors and small-scale entrepreneurs are to be given the chance to bid” for the revised projects at ile Aurore. “The economic environment is now favourable to encourage small Seychellois businesses and create more wealth in the country……” he said. “ the time has come when Seychelles has enough large hotel schemes to cater for a certain kind of clientele……” he said. “We now have a new strategy … give more possibilities for ordinary Seychellois to invest not only in tourism projects but related economic projects and developments.” he said.


Three years ago, we did not notice that local entrepreneurs had the investment capability to take on Aurore.
Three years ago, we had not understood that we had enough large hotels
Three years and one harsh economic reform after the Aurore bubble bust, we suddenly turn around to take notice of our own kinfolks!
The questions now are, what Land Use Plan does Aurore have, how far back has the bubble bust put Ile Perseverance, the North Mahe Highway, Anse Etoile –Aurore Island Bridge, etc. and are we capable of pulling a €400M rabbit for it all?

That’s our merry-go-round with defective brakes! The operator is out for lunch!

mercredi 1 septembre 2010

Making our National Assembly more effective

Yet another workshop where there will be a lot of polite blathering and where yet another well-intended foreigner will tell us the time from the watches on our wrists!

Once the talking will be over, the trainers gone and their mission reports duly filed, we will revert to the same old Assembly we have known since 1993. The one where the members, in particular from the ruling party, will continue to be rendered honourable by the sole requirement of their constitutional office. The one where there is no honour to be derived from bothering to stand up and speak out in the interest of the constituency. (The demise of Anse Aux Pins MPA Michel over abortion laws is likely still to be one that none will want to threaten their cosy tenures.) The one where the interest of the constituency is equated, sine qua non, to those of the ruling party!
Toeing the party line is, undeniably, not something unique to our National Assembly. What is unique to ours seems to be the quaint habit, transferred or acquired from other arms of government, of making the right noises when there is somebody around to listen and too willing to take our empty words seriously!

Our National Assembly takes itself seriously! As it should! Far from me to say the contrary! However, it can never hope to be effective in anything other than a rubber stamp for the Executive, unless it rids itself of the mind-set that the members represent their party first and foremost above the better interest of their constituencies. In a land where the interests of the constituencies can be easily swayed or bought around election time, there is little hope of the Seychelles National Assembly ever “living up to its constitutional responsibility of assuring more responsive and accountable governance”

Being flippant with our History ?

On the night of 4th-5th June 1977, a certain James Alix Michel was one of the central figures who helped the Leader of the SPUP (since SPPF, now SPP) to depose the President of the Seychelles’ 1976 SDP-SPUP Coalition Government.
One of the reasons given for the 1977 Coup d’Etat that ushered in 15 years of the SPUP-SPPF One-party rule, was that the Seychelles’ First President was more interested in, and spending too much time, travelling overseas and therefore forsaking the affairs of the country.

Since that terrible night, time has flowed and our collective memories have dimmed out or been blunted by the sheer weight of the unrelenting propaganda from the state-controlled media, including the Daily newspaper, Nation.

In 1976-1977, another James went overseas on presidential visits to continue in the job started some years earlier in his capacity as Chief Minister, to market Seychelles, and attract the interest of financiers and other donors willing to invest and aid in the building of the newly-born nation. Those were the times when our tourism industry got off the ground. Those were the times when the shroud of isolation started to lift, allowing Seychelles to start preparing its place under the sun.

33 years down the road, the Nation now comes out in stout defence of the necessary overseas travels of the current President, the same James Alix Michel of 1977.

We are expected to accept that this time round, the various (and many) overseas visits were “all in the name of Seychelles and our people”, and “have borne fruit. Seychelles’ image abroad has been greatly enhanced, and our country’s success and the harmony that reigns among our people has drawn the admiration of the world more than ever before”

Both Nation and the President flippantly overlooked the historical fact that the 1970s visits of the other James were not for his own personal benefit. They bore fruits from the inflow of foreign capital of which we all ate and upon which the 2nd Republic would build its fortress. The visits did build international partnerships on equal footing that endures to this day. They did spread the reputation of our peaceful harmony, along with what the first President was-and still is-fond of calling “our joie de vivre”, both undoubtedly convincing arguments to secure investments, at negotiation tables.

In 2010 James Alix Michel’s overseas travels seek the same purpose as those of the erstwhile First President. The only difference perhaps lies in that one never sold our land and souls to those with ready cash and undeclared ambitions whilst the other is too willing to accept immediate capital with little qualms over real risks of the nation forfeiting its dignity, independence and sovereignty

In 1977 James Richard Mancham’s overseas travels were enough for others to violently force him out of the Presidential office.
In 2010, James Alix Michel may grow to discover that his overseas visits may turn out to be a growing millstone around his political neck. At the next election, the nation may yet call him to account and pay the price for sacrificing our future development goals and pimping our independence and sovereignty against easy and immediate favours, in particular to indecently petrodollar rich Arab Sheikhs!

dimanche 23 mai 2010

Of Harrods and Seychelles Rs.1 Public Land Deals

Did the Editorial Committee of the Seychelles Nation all attend a special school with the extraordinary merit in dulling its patrons’ sense of discernment between the obvious and the obfuscate?

Our local daily published a ‘contributed’ treatise titled “The lesson from Harrods” over the transfer of that iconic London shopping stop from Al Fayed to a Qatari investment group! For the contributor, “news of the sale was announced as if it were the most natural thing. There were no recriminations. There were no condemnations, even though the property changed hands and passed from a resident to a non-resident”.
It went on to wonder “ if such a transaction in Seychelles would have been greeted with the same intelligence and wisdom.”
Happy in having closed in on an unsuspecting public, the contributor revealed its target : a jibe at our local political opposition. “For recent history has shown that the moment that the government disposes of a property, a plot of land or assets a public outcry ensues. Is it due to ignorance, an issue of race, or simply bad faith? One is sorely tempted to believe that it is a combination of all three.”

The contributor (along with the nation’s Editorial Committee ) missed out on an important point which rendered all the arguments of the article void. The point for public concern is not one of residency or non-residency in so far as the law allows for non – resident ownership.
The point is that Harrods is a private enterprise. That the British Monarchy along with others, high or low on the socio-economic-political ladder, have shopped in there, did not give it, (barring consumer pressure) one bit of say in the matter, in so far as the transfer did not transgress national and international laws.

There is obviously no comparison possible between the transfer of Harrods and the transfer of Seychelles Public assets by the Seychelles Government to private individuals.
The Seychelles Government is bound to account to every Seychellois how it manages each public asset.
No Government can ‘dispose’ of a 120000m² public property for Rs.1 (or another 40,700m² for Rs.60,000) in far-from crystal clear conditions, and not expect a public outcry. Beyond any immediate political capital to be gleaned from denouncing Government’s action over transfer of public assets, the local political opposition is for the moment the sole credible voice against what often appears as the Government’s pimping of our national assets.

jeudi 15 avril 2010

Lessons From The Tragedy Of Rodyanne’s And Her Unborn Twin Babies’ Deaths

21-year old Mrs Rodyanne Elizabeth–Fred, in her 38th week of pregnancy, died at the Seychelles Victoria Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit on New Year’s Day 2010, along with her unborn 2.6kg and 2.7kg twins.
An inquiry into the circumstances of this tragedy was called by the President and the One-Man Inquiry Commission report by former Attorney General A. Fernando, found that the deaths were the direct result of professional to high professional negligence by the personnel of the Ministry of Health.

In going through the report (
?option=com_filecabinet&task=download&cid[0]=60&item=74) I could not help but feel what must have been the utter despair, and painful realisation of Mrs Fred’s family that over 11 days from 20th December 2009, they were helpless spectators as their beloved daughter, sister and wife Rodyanne in obvious distress, and her babies, slipped away from them while under the care of our national health service.

The report obviously had no business to go into the blunted trust of the family, nor into the matter of those other sudden deaths, in or outside the health service, that have gone by unexplained and un-inquired.
As with all investigations, it did however provide pointers to how similar tragedies could be avoided, if we have the heart and will to take decisive action on its findings and recommendations. For Rodyanne’s and her baby twins’ deaths not to have been just a singled out case for a commission of inquiry, we will need to move far away from that presidential office shelf that is the fate of all such inquiries and reports.

Firstly, there is the matter of Responsibility for Negligence.

Professional Negligence having been confirmed, it would be most unprofessional and an invitation to future tragedies, to let this go by without taking firm steps to root it out.
Doctors, Obstetricians, Anaesthetists, Nurses, Midwives, Engineers were found to have singly and collectively erred in doing what we expected their training and experience demand of them, though I am certain none of them deliberately took the option to ignore Mrs Rodyanne’s many and repeated complaints and let her babies slip into death..
This failure was compounded by the lack of clearly-spelt-out patient-diagnostic and follow-through medical intervention procedures, a negligence which can only be laid at the doors of those responsible for running the system.
Both the professionals and the system seem guilty of complacency.
How strong is our will to go into the structural and operational details of our free national health service to cauterise this sore of complacency? How prepared are we to invest in giving ourselves the required resources (personnel, training, equipment, procedural codes, etc) that would clearly point to health service as our top priority over, for example, maintaining a national, armed military force?

Then there is the matter of Respect for Life as embodied in our 1993 Constitutional Bill of Rights. This raises two issues, to do with on the one hand, the rights of the unborn and on the other, on the need for investigation into any Life that ends suddenly.

As regards to the unborn twin babies who died with their mother, chapter 19 of the report could have perhaps restricted itself to establishing their status as persons with the right to life, as provided for under the laws of Seychelles.
It’s all very well to seek to place our laws in the context of international conventions, but how the heck are we to interpret, let alone apply, what goes on in Peru, Hungary, USA, UK, Africa, etc, unless there have been specific provisions incorporating these legal decisions, applications and ideals in our national statutes ?.
That the former Attorney General saw the need to argue lengthily on this simple matter of establishing the Seychellois unborn baby’s right to life would seem to indicate that, along with the founding fathers of the 3rd Republic, we all missed out on an essential definition of the scope and extent of our Constitutional Bill of Rights.
At this time of Constitutional Review, maybe this is yet another blurred area that we must bring into sharper focus to clearly spell out both what we define to be a person as well as when we demand respect for a person’s right to life. In this, we should perhaps allow ourselves to be guided by the intent of the current pregnancy interruption regulations, which indicate the point beyond which any action or omission to prevent the foetus from being born should be no more no less than homicide!

As regards to the Inquiry Commission itself, it seemed to be a glaring demonstration of the saying “missing the forest for the trees”.
The Inquiry Commission into that single tragedy clearly showed that we must not allow any single death to go by without a thorough investigation into the circumstances, including the eventual contributory actions or omissions of persons, leading to it.
The One-Man-Inquiry Commission, whatever its merits, seems to stumble over its own feet in so far as it seeks to impose the perception of an authority it does not really have because we have unfortunately grown to forgo the requirement of formal enquiry into sudden deaths. That’s where the trees hide the forest. The One-man Commission was being made to enquire into one tragedy, singled at the discretion of the President, among several others that went largely unnoticed.!!

At this time of Constitutional Review, we must retrieve the spirit of the Hon. MNA Anthony Derjacques’ recent motion to the National Assembly, for formal, public inquest into each and every sudden death in our land, with an authoritative body created for that specific purpose. This, rather than leaving this prerogative at the pleasure of the President, will be a better way to give substance to the respect for a person’ s life spelled out in our Constitution.
No one may die in our land without us all knowing why and how and without whoever be found responsible for causing the death, being called to account for his actions or omissions, in disregard to our Bill of Rights.

mardi 6 avril 2010

Of Development Policy and Our Best Interest

I read with interest, the “Open letter from Minister Jacquelin Dugasse to Regar on planning and land issues “ of Seychelles’ Nation’s Letter to the Editor, 06.04.2010.

Perhaps Minister Dugasse was too taken up denouncing Regar’s cavalier reporting, to allow himself a moment of frankness. When has he, or any other of his colleagues of the Cabinet or Chief Executives of the Public Service, ever been forward with truthful and straight-forward responses to queries from the local political opposition on matters of public concern?

Admittedly, Regar, can most often be faulted over its enthusiastic dedication as the mouthpiece of the local political opposition rather than making any pretence at ethical journalism. But then, one has to factor in that Regar functions in a climate of partisan politics in which matters of public concern are managed by the Executive, the Public Service and Government (all in the unyielding hands of the ruling party) on the merit of their political impact. There is too often a marked paucity of information on any matter that could cause mud to be thrown at the Government. Never mind that this is supposed to be a Government of the people, by the people and for the people or that we were promised Accountability, Transparency and Good Governance!

To his credit, on the matter of the Sheikh’s mountain-top development proposal, Minister Dugasse steered clear of exercising the priviledge of his office and ruling on the case under Section 10 of the Town and Country Planning Act (1976).
That, in itself seems to be a loud suggestion that the development proposal was a hot potato which the Sheikh could have done well not to present the Government with.
However, Government had already enjoyed the largesse of the Sheikh and, as with all such cases, pay-back time could not be ignored. Some technician at the Ministry of Lands / Habitat must, at the behest of his Minister, have hatched a Cabinet Paper on the Sheikh’s appeal, arguing the merit of expressing our gratitude to the Sheikh and keeping blessedly quiet on developmental policy issues which had led to refusal of the development proposal by the Town and Country Planning Authority (TCPA).
Cabinet had only to duly stamp its approval and Minister Dugasse could proudly and justly claim the reversal of the TCPA ruling as a collective responsibility taken in our best interest.

In any other country where accountability, transparency and good governance have some meaning, perhaps one could have taken Minister Dugasse to task on how elastic is the interpretation of both the policy regarding skyline development and the country’s best interest.

The first has been around since the 1980’s, well before the sheikh took interest in our islands. Perhaps in a then, justified, if however vain, move to foreclose any further attempt to emulate the USAF “golf-ball” tracking station, built a few years before the current Town and Country Planning Act of 1976, that sat beacon–white atop the La Misere skyline, perhaps to the angst of those who were then deep into their “Yankee Go Home” campaign!

It is not the first time that the wealthy and influential are allowed to mar the islands’ skyline with their private developments. Each case debunks our publicised seriousness in the development policy, which seeks to restrict development to below the skyline and thus conserve as best as possible, the pristine appearance of our islands.

Minister Dugasse may have been too engaged in seeking to trounce Regar, to notice that he was inadvertently revealing that as a people, we cannot be entirely proud of those in whose hand we have entrusted the care of our best national interest.
In the mid 1990’s, therefore at the time land transfers in the Barbarons area were being managed for the Sheikh, the Government also transferred 10 acres (or 40,470m²) of state land in the same general area to the 2nd Former President.
The latter transfer was for a declared Rs.60,000.00 and provoked general, Regar-inspired outrage of the now (in)famous “Rann Sa 10”.

We can now thank Minister Dugasse for indicating that the 2nd former president had indeed benefited from some particular consideration in procuring state land at Rs.1.48/m², while at about the same time, other similar transfers were being made for costs averaging Rs.97/m².
In the 2nd former president’s case, Government seems to have lost out for at least Rs.3.865M!!
In that particular case, Regar did its thing, providing what scant information could be gleaned from public service registers and rachetting public outrage. Nobody from the Public Service came out to provide clarifying information. Those who were entrusted with the business of managing our best interest barely blinked as we lost Rs.3.865M on transfer of our assets.

With so many wealthy and influential groups out there with return favours to call in, the Executive is unlikely to tire of the juggling act between sticking to a coherent development policy and maintaining a semblance of managing our best interest. And we must perhaps be thankful to Regar for keeping them at their stations!

mercredi 31 mars 2010

Professionalism In Intercepting Somali Pirates

The Seychelles ‘Nation’ of 31.03.2010 reported an anti –piracy operation by the EU Naval Force and Seychelles Coast Guard (SCG) in which 6 Seychellois fishermen and 21 Iranians were rescued and 9 Somali pirates captured and an unknown number of pirates lost at sea.

I had mixed feelings going through this piece of news. Whilst congratulations to the SCG seem to be in order, I cannot but feel that we may have inadvertently stepped up the stakes.

It is a good thing that the rescued fishermen from Seychelles and Iran will not have to endure the ordeal of being held for ransom in some pirates’ rear base in Somalia as several other fishermen and ship-crew still being held in captivity.
It is also a good thing that another batch of those irksome Somali wallahs will be made to answer for their actions before a court of law!
It is perhaps also a good thing for the message to come loud and clear for other Somalis lurking out there on the open ocean that little Seychelles is ready and quite capable of taking determined action to safeguard its territorial integrity.

The other untold side to the story seems to give less cause for elation.

Firstly, a week ago, on the 23rd march, a mere 1.5kms NE of Silhouette island, a skiff with 9 persons on board believed to be Somalis, coasted to the “St Christophe” a Seychelles fishing boat. They asked for food and water and were later escorted by the SCG to outside the Seychelles EEZ.
Secondly there is the matter of how, on the 31st March, the SCG managed the interception and engagement of pirates within our territorial waters.
Thirdly, when read in the context of recent reports of unauthorised presence of persons believed to be Somalis well within the Seychelles territorial waters AND our obvious hardened resolve translated into forceful and aggressive intervention, there is yet another cause for great concern that we may be treading the path of a delicate and high-stakes escalation.

Far from me to begrudge the SCG any claim they would want to make, or that they would see laid at their feet, for professionalism.
This said, it seems to me that professionalism was a tad lacking in some aspects of the reported actions of 23rd and 31st March.

A skiff with 9 persons believed to be foreign nationals, is intercepted in the country.
The skiff was not unlike the type usually used by Somali pirates. However, as the occupants appeared inoffensive, they were given food and water and escorted outside the EEZ.
The management of this interception seems to question the SCG’s professionalism.
1. The skiff’s occupants did not have entry clearance into Seychelles. There are laws that direct how the matter must be managed.
2. Assuming that the occupants were only fishermen from a neighbouring country, who had drifted close to our shores, there are also laws that direct how the case must be managed.
Humanitarian considerations, in particular those close to the hearts of an island nation with its own fishing community that frequently drifts out into the open ocean, dictate further that whoever is saved from aimless drifting, be given proper care and eventually repatriated to their own country.
(We have several instances of our local fishermen drifting out into the open sea, some never to return. In the mid 1980s, two Seychellois from the then military-controlled island of Coetivy, on a fishing trip, spent several weeks adrift when the engine of their 3-m fibre-glass, open fishing boat broke down. They eventually landed 1500kms away, on the East coast of Somalia, were taken into custody (they were then wearing military fatigues and suspected of being some local rebels) but eventually released into the care of Humanitarian Agencies and repatriated home.)

Escorting the skiff and its occupants outside the EEZ seems to indicate that the SCG did not consider the matter to have been one of innocent-drifting fishermen. Which begs the question why the matter was not then treated, at the least, as illegal entry!

The operation of 31.03, aided by an EU maritime patrol plane, followed a reported pirates’ attack and capture of a local fishing boat, the “Galaté”, with its crew of 6 nationals, in the middle of night some 90kms SE of Mahe. That’s an open stretch of ocean of the southern plateau and fishing banks, approximately 210kms N of Coétivy Island and the Fortune Fishing Banks, 115kms NE of Platte Island and a mere 75km SSE of the exclusive five-star Fregate Island resort.

The SCG received orders to intercept the dhow, which then had a known crew of pirates and total of 27 hostages, the latter of whom were the 6 Seychellois fishermen freshly captured. In the ensuing exchange of fire, the pirates’ mother ship was disabled, caught fire and was abandoned by all. The SCG picked all 36 occupants from the sea with emergency medical evacuation of 1 Iranian with gunshot wounds.

I can understand and even support the SCG’s determined resolve to deprive the Somali pirates the freedom to move and operate in our waters. I recognise that one cannot pretend to a hardened resolve unless one is ready to be aggressive in engaging a known adversary.
However I cannot but feel that this must be pursued with clear rules of engagement that take into priority consideration both the lives and safety of hostages and the potential of risk escalating factors
In both these latter regards, I would tend to lean towards dubious show of professionalism by the SCG, notwithstanding a certain sense of satisfaction that this time round, the pirates were thwarted.
My fear is that our determined resolve will have raised the stakes for the inevitable future encounter, the outcome of which, should the SCG go in guns blazing, may not be as welcome.
Indications are that the pirates, once antagonised, seem bent on vengeful retaliation, as the reported attack by a pirates’ mother ship and 2 skiffs on the SCG’s “Topaz”, returning to base from the rescue mission, would tend to suggest, notwithstanding that the authorities seem quite dismissive of this. The sinking of the mother ship and a skiff, presumably with the loss of all onboard, following quickly in the wake of the previous rescue mission, while it will have signalled our hardened resolve to be tough, may also have sharpened the other side’s need for vengeance.

In the face of yet again clear indications of the pirates’ capacity to be marauding undeterred in close to proximity to unprotected islands and population, I feel cause for increasing concern that those whom we will seek to rescue in future, or who will be in the forefront of the fight against the pirates, may very well pay the highest price.

Professionalism also demands that this is avoided at all costs!

jeudi 18 février 2010

With Arab Money, Paradise will be turned into the Prostitute of the Indian Ocean

In 2008, for a symbolic SCRs.1.00 (then US$0.15, today US$0.08) the Seychelles Government transferred a large chunk of state land at La Misere to an Arab Sheik
When news of the transfer reached the public, it caused some outcry, with the local political opposition vocally denouncing another sign of what was deemed the Seychelles Government’s irresponsible management of national assets.
In response to the protests, the Seychelles Government, in the person of Minister Joel Morgan, informed that over and above the Government’s gratitude towards the considerable assistance Seychelles had benefited from the magnanimous Arab Sheikh in question, the land was deemed not suitable for development, ergo, its symbolic transfer value.
Barely a year after the Arab Sheikh became owner of part of the central highlands of Mahé, the nation was astounded to see one of the most extensive private residential development underway on land that was supposedly unsuitable for development.
Indications are that the palatial development has been undertaken contrary to Town and Country Planning Act (1976), which usually do not permit any construction to mar the national skyline (though this is not specifically stipulated in the Act!) (The former US tracking station’s characteristic white domes atop the mountains for over 30 years from the 1960s, was well before the Town and Country Planning Act. It was also a military project -usually exempted from city planning regulations - and the result of negotiations between the US military and the British colonial administration.)
There seems to have also been further concessions granted to the developer to import his reportedly 700-strong team of foreign nationals for the construction. Plus reported diplomatic priviledges allowing direct and duty free-imports for materials.

I consider it reasonable for the political opposition and others to have voiced outrage over this matter.

Because I also feel outraged.!

The outrage is not over an Arab Sheikh owning property in Seychelles and building his palace!

It is over the blatant irresponsibility of a government who, yet again, surrenders a piece of national territory to a foreign national for next to nothing (unless one were to factor in the favours and largesse received, and that may or not be related to the land transfer)
It is over the re-enactment of the same scenario (bar the transfer cost)of rich foreigners rushing in with their petro-dollars, lapping up parts of our limited national territory and driving real estate cost through the ceiling, effectively relegating us, and our modest desire to one day own a piece of land, to the place of dreams!
It is over the blatant arrogance of the particular Arab Sheikh developer to use his wealth, power and influence over our vapid local leaders, to put himself above the law and contemptuously shove aside our country’s development regulations.
It is over reports that the development site is de facto foreign territory to which our national law enforcement agencies may not even access to investigate and address recent reports of serious environmental pollution emanating from the development site.
It is over the all-too obvious signs that our government is quietly, and perhaps un-intentionally, turning Seychelles into the classiest prostitute of the Indian Ocean, pimping parts of our country to those of the richest, most influential foreigners who crave to own a piece of what we used to call paradise.
It is over the increasing sense of unease that my pride in living in and owning a piece of that paradise will, in the not too distant future, be turned into shame for being no less than part of the chattel that used to be Seychelles!
It is all the more galling in being totally unable to do anything to correct the outrage!

mercredi 10 février 2010

The risks are REAL

For once, The Independent article of 08.02 ( read like a fairly well-balanced appraisal of the potential risks to the Seychelles economic mainstays from pirates’ activity within or in proximity to Seychelles’ EEZ.

Minister Morgan’s refutal published by The Nation of 10.02 ( seems to focus on the one part of The Independent’s article that touched risks to the tourism industry. This rebuttal may be quite acceptable in terms of the expected official response to re-assure the sensitive (European)market.
While we are certainly not a “pirates’ paradise”, it would however be a grave mistake to brush off Daniel Howden’s “nightmare scenario ..(of) pirates washing up on one of the exclusive beaches waving guns at free-spending tourists” .

Seychelles’ territorial integrity does indeed stretch to small, low-lying remote islands sprinkled over a vast expanse of open sea. Some of these provide exclusive resort facilities to the higher end of the tourism market. Their remoteness, clientele and the proven capability of pirates to operate within range, do mark them as potential targets!

It is perhaps because of our having understood the risks that troops have been stationed on some of these islands!
Without ceding to paranoia, perhaps it would be wise to ensure reliable and immediate communication between our remote islands and Mahe. Perhaps we should also revise the deployment of the security forces in order to allow bases in the outer island groups, as both a visible deterrence as well as for rapid deployment, immediate and effective intervention.

This “nightmare scenario” of our sovereignty being compromised is not new. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, in the face of the humanitarian and political catastrophes that were hitting Mozambique, Madagascar and the Comoros, there were one or two who quietly voiced concern on whether or not we were equipped and ready to manage a potential tide of refugees that could unlawfully be landed on our remotest islands. Fortunately we were never put to the test.
And then Somalia broke down and Western Naval Security Forces inadvertently pushed Somali pirates off the Gulf of Aden into the South West Indian Ocean!

mardi 9 février 2010

La Plaine St Andre : A piece of Seychelles Cultural Heritage askew ?

Lest we forget:
The object of what was presented in the “Nation” of 09.02.2010 as part of our national heritage should not only be the buildings and vestiges of what was once the property of Grand Blanc Jean-François Marie Jorre de Saint Jorre.
It must also be a recall of what we now know to have been the sufferings and indignities visited upon the flesh and souls of those who were deemed simpler and humbler, torn from their ancestral lands and forced to serve the needs of their Grand Blanc master in the person of Mr Jorre de St Jorre. True, there were then, others like him lording it in our land: Sauveur Thomas Audibert, Guichard, Fournier, Antoine Barthélémy Hodoul, Jean François Hodoul, (père et fils) Julien Antoine Hodoul, Antoine Maurel, Pierre Hangard, Jean Marie Le Beuze, Charles Blaise Savy, Pierre Fournier Louis d’Offay de Rieux, Andre Nageon de l’Estang, Landrous, Maximilien Morel, Pierre Gontier, and Jean Pierre Langlois, and others, bourgeois, vulnerable nobles, demobilised military or adventurers, the whole bag of them, who had all left their troubled country (from St Malo, Antibes, Morbihan, Yonne, La Ciotat and Ile de France or Ile Bourbon,) and fortunes in search of better prospects, and in the process, bestowed upon themselves the merit of being more cultured and civilised.
That the nation must preserve whatever vestige that has survived through the ages as an enduring silent testimony of the past, is a good thing. However, in order for us not to be a modern and accommodating accomplice in perpetuating the ignominy of our humbler ancestors being cast aside, unworthy of homage and remembrance, we must guard against modern economic projects that divert focus to only the visible signs that allow immediate recall of the prestige and vibrant fortunes and glory of a certain era, the stuff that commercial promoters – and perhaps influence from the circle of contemporary descendants of the Grand Blanc – would be more comfortable with as an income generating tourist trap.
We must not dismiss further into the mists of time and our collective conscience, the memories of what our enslaved forebears had to endure to shore up the prestige and glory of the Grand Blanc. Should we but dig into the foundations of the La Plaine St Andre Estate, we would perhaps discover that these lay upon the silent bones of those whom history never bothered to give a name: The Mingas, Bristols, Moumous, Lajoies, Octobres, Samedis, Kissombees, Acikciris, Poonelewas, Amices, Lesperances, and so many others whose memories need to be stirred from our national archives where they lie silent and dusty.

Ironical it is indeed, that in the name of Cultural Heritage, we have since the 1980s been focussing so much national attention to restoring the glory of an edifice that reeks of Grand Blanc arrogance and oppression, the same stuff that some prominent local politician with a gift of the gab used to bludgeon us with as the embodiment of evil and the supreme obstacle along the path to national freedom.
The modern Savys now have beyond life-time lease of Ste Anne, the same land that in early 19th century, their Grand Blanc ancestor Charles Dorothé Savy worked his 100 or so slaves before the abolition of slavery.
The Hodouls have their La Ciotat. The Nageon de l’Estang, d’Offay de Rieux, Gonthier, Maurel, etc, all have had their fair share of prominence in the contemporary social, economic and political life of the nation. Will La Plaine St Andre be yet another reminder that history can afford to frolic only around the memories and vestiges of the rich, powerful and influential?

Go Eddy! GO

Modest and humble but moving on with dogged determination, Eddy Maillet makes us all proud.
The truth and sacrifices of his personal and private journey from humble Sports Assistant (Physical Education Instructor) with the National Youth Service and defender in his district amateur football team in the 1980’s to FIFA 2010 World Cup Referee is one that perhaps Eddy will –must- one day tell.
Whether or not Eddy gets to be the Man In Black on the RSA World Cup pitch is secondary to what he is now for us all and to football in our islands. He is a beacon that has been steady and uncompromising, and unlike some of us, his ambition and drive never an object for the public limelight until the goal is achieved.
Congratulations Eddy! I share with you and your family the pride and glory of your moment!