jeudi 26 mai 2011

Putting Seychelles before all else

“..Putting Seychelles before all else” is indeed a noble cause for all the nation’s children to work for.
Fresh from its last and fourth consecutive electoral victory, the ruling party can afford to be magnanimous and invite everyone to take a rightful share in the task of nation building.
The local political opposition will, however, most likely and not unreasonably so, take the call join to in this noble cause, with a pinch of mistrust. Similar calls were made in the past and not much changed towards reinforcing our democracy, whether or not the political opposition made common cause with the ruling party.

Firstly, a political opposition has an unchanging reality the logic of which it cannot escape at the risk of losing its "raison d’être". It exists as a counter-balance to the government, a voice of dissent that, in a functioning and respected democracy, offers the vital check on, and alternative views of, government policies and programs elaborated from the ruling party’s political agenda. The logic for a political opposition is that it cannot afford to jump into bed with the ruling party, unless the nation confronts a major crisis the nature of which threatens national sovereignty and overshadows all partisan politics.

There not being, at this point in time, any crisis facing the nation, the call to the opposition from the ruling party must be taken as an invitation to do nothing more than assume its role as an opposition in a democracy, with responsibility and vigour. To use all means allowed under the Constitution to be as effective and vocal in the support and defence of the interests of the 45% of the electorate it represents.

The ruling party may cackle, strut and preen about the Government and the President being for every Seychellois. The reality has, is and will always be different. Our country has, is and will likely continue to be victim of the great political divide that has so divided us since the first days of the quest for political representation around the end of the 19th century.

Since then, political intolerance across the highly polarised divide has endured both the bumbling pre-independence years and the long, dark ones of One-Party rule where it was carefully cultivated to reach its culminating point to allow for all the country’s children who had a dissenting view of the ruling party’s policies to be crassly labelled as enemies of the state, to be persecuted, deprived of employment, shunned from the public service, handicapped in all economic ventures, blocked from business, when not imprisoned, tortured, forced into exile, and sadly for a few of them, killed outright!

If most of this last ugliness has washed away since the 3rd Republic, the nation remains polarised on its usual 55-45 split. The 45% minority still endures the frustration of the government of the 55% majority playing lip service to democracy while carrying on with business as usual of a one party state logic. No amount of cajoling or entreaties will do anything to help bridge this gap and "dialogue des sourds" unless there is a genuine efforts by the ruling party that it has a duty not only to make comforting speeches about national unity but to also vigorously pursue a national plan of action that will wear away at the mistrust and suspicion that bolster the political divide.

Nothing will change unless the ruling party makes an effort to recognise and respect the vital role of a political opposition in a democracy, and allows it to assume its role unfettered, as the Constitution allows it to.

Nothing will change unless the ruling party understands that, while the all the children of the nation expects to share in creating and benefiting from the national wealth, 45% also feel the need for the greater enjoyment of their constitutional rights, liberties and freedoms. As president Barrack Obama recently confirmed “…all human beings are endowed with certain rights that cannot be denied.”

This is the core “revendication” which the Seychelles President consistently fails to even understand, to wit his last inaugural address, where not one word was uttered, despite mild placating words in trying to define democracy as a “ dynamic process. In the New Seychelles we shall continue to put in place and strengthen our legal and institutional frameworks to ensure the progress of our democracy. It is my aim to improve on our achievements and to reinforce the rule of law, good governance and transparency. Seychelles is determined to provide a shining example of the development that is possible when good governance is prioritised”

Without the government respecting and guaranteeing our constitutional rights and freedoms, there is little chance of our democracy going any further than from the hole in which it is stuck!

But perhaps there may be a shift in the wind. In stating that “ is time for us to consider our brothers and sisters who may not share the same opinions as we do, not as our enemies, but as Seychellois who are also contributing to the future of our country, even if we remain political adversaries” president Michel may perhaps be having the first whiff of understanding that business as usual will need to yield to the higher recognition that we need to bridge the gap of political intolerance. An understanding that will perhaps grow into recognition that, indeed, the political opposition and behind it, 45% of the population, are no longer enemies, but sons and daughters of the land, equal before the law, with as much rights and freedoms to be respected as everyone else.

From this, there could be a chance of us all to work, each in our own ways, towards reinforcing our democracy, creating national wealth, ensuring professional and ethics-bound public and security services, impartial and effective justice, fighting rampant social scourges, securing the future for generations to come. Then and then only, shall the country be proud to look the rest of the world in the eye and not blink one bit!

The first steps towards this noble goal shall be when:
* Appointments or promotion to senior and top executive posts in the Public Service (including within the military, paramilitary and police) along with membership to Parastatal Boards and Statutory Bodies, are decided on merit alone, the latter defined in terms of qualifications, proven experience, seniority and aptitude, as opposed to affiliation to and "militantisme" within the ranks of the ruling party.
* The Ministry of Community Development ceases to be, via the District Administration, the extention of the ruling party’s arm in ensuring politically- motivated local community development programs. Members of the district administration should at least reflect the prevailing local mood and aspirations.
* Specialised Health Care, Professional Training, along with financial support for commercial ventures, are decided upon by professionals on the merit of each case and on known, published criterion
* Housing programs, the concern of all governments, are developed in a serious and economically sustainable manner, and in accord with what the country can reasonable afford while not stinging on basic standards.
* Housing allocation and Social Welfare criterion are set, if necessary by proper legal instruments, and applied openly and fairly without interference by local politicians.
* Our human rights including freedom of speech and association along with no unlawful detention, a stop to all intimidation, and removal of all impediments to lawful assembly, broadcasting and publication are vigorously upheld and guaranteed. When no one may die not from known, medically established cause, in our country without there being a proper public inquest in the cause and circumstances of the death and, where applicable, criminal charges diligently pursued through the courts.
* Elections are handled by an impartial commission comprising persons of impeccable integrity with no known political affiliation. When the Voter Register is based on a verifiable district / national population database with cross-referrenced bio data, becomes credible from being open to reasonable challenge, is rid of those who are registered under multiple names from different districts, when a mechanism for inter-district migration record and control is set in place for election-registration purposes.
* When the Judiciary becomes truly impartial and given the means to properly discharge its responsibilities as the vital 3rd arm of our national setup. When the Courts will grow to grant equal considerations to the legal worth of all and every case without regard to the parties involved.
* When the national security forces grow to develop into a professional corps, governed by their oath to serve the country which is defined as excluding exclusive favours to the ruling party and its leaders and systematic intimidation of known opposition leaders and supporters. When new rules are put in place for the possession and display of firearms in public by the security forces and when there are professional rules of engagement in the use of firearms for maintaining law and public order. Such that no member of the security forces can continue to feel being above the law, with relative freedom to use deadly weapons such as in simple matters of search and arrest.

These are little steps that can be taken within the short term, will go a long way towards establishing trust in our system, make little demands on our economy and can deliver big dividends towards reinforcing our democracy. Then and only can the children of the land all join in the task of nation-building, certain that each is respected and none can be unreasonably expected to compromise one’s political position.

lundi 23 mai 2011

Thirsting for Freedom

The serenity with which each of us face our everyday life is always the result of compromise reached between what each of us believe in and seek to achieve and that of the next person’s. One’s beliefs and pursuits have as much merit as the weight with which we measure them against those of other’s. The glass can be half empty, just as much as it can be half full. There is little point is fighting over which version is more truthful.

Thus it was that on Saturday night, the dream of finally quenching my thirst for freedom was once again blighted by the SPPF-PP election –winning steamroller.
Some may argue that mine is a dream not based on the realities of the present-day Seychelles. Some will define the latter as being the place where a government inherited from a 1977-coup d’etat is growing up into a modern and respected democracy while orchestrating considerable local popular appeal, recognised and respected human rights, thriving economy with both local and international investments, including those from petrodollar–rich Gulf States.

Let there be no doubt that there are sufficient numbers of my fellow countrymen who either fully believe that this is indeed the case or who have never been particularly concerned over the intricacies and complexities of democracy, human rights and the economy, as long as there is always food on the table, clothes on one’s back and a house to shelter from the storm!

The last three consecutive elections of the Seychelles’ 2nd Republic from 1993 are eloquent on the consistently 50%+ support granted to the SPPF-PP, former One Party State, government. The ballot boxes of Saturday 21st May 2011 did not falter from yet another confirmation in both popular support and endorsement of the government’s populist social and economic development programs. 55.43% is as decisive as any electoral victory one can get in any democracy!!.

What’s the use of cursing the majority of the Seychellois voters’ vulnerability to pre-election generous gifts and honeyed, vote-winning campaign propaganda. In this they are no different from other voters across all continents, regardless of how deep democracy is rooted, respected and upheld.

What we should perhaps curse is our inability to cut across the academic rhetoric of our campaign for democracy to link it directly to the voters’ real and daily concerns. To do this, we need to find a way to educate the voters on how we have been and continue to be walled in by the nation’s pervasive dependence on state- benevolence, with far ranging impact from our jobs, formal training, social welfare, housing assistance, extra medical care, business facilitation, service infrastructure to our leisure, sports and cultural development.
These daily practical considerations far outweigh the merit of taking a moral high ground, particularly in defence of the often elusive extravagance of rights and freedoms.
We need to succeed in persuading the voters that the time will come when we will each need to weigh the importance of democracy, rights, freedom, equality before the law, equal opportunities for all, responsible parliament, independent judiciary and accountable, transparent government, that define the long term basic quality of our everyday lives against the immediate impact of material favours that make us see one day through to the next.

This is indeed what has driven revolutions throughout history and perhaps to a great extent, is the galvanising force behind the ongoing events in the Arab world. The thirst for freedom cannot be quenched from the well of immediate and short-term material comforts.

The voters must be educated to fully understand that the nail driven into the coffin of our rights and freedoms is real and occurring everyday, in big and small moves.
It is doing so, each time that the state apparatus of security clearance turns some of us away from a job opportunity, career advancement, promotion, training. A security clearance that departs from seeking to establish the threat level that may be posed on a known and declared reasonable need of state security, to embark on an evaluation of one’s adherence to a certain political party and ideology.

It does so when political affiliation is a discriminatory tool used in everything from a favourable administrative outcome for social assistance, some sensitive town and country planning matter, to a licence or business venture.

It does so when we continue to allow fear to rule our lives, in part from our not having forgotten the killings, disappearances, arson, criminal frame-ups and forced exiles upon which the present government built the foundation of its modern fortress.

The same is achieved at each time each of us shrugs off reports of State transgressions in upholding the rule of law, transparent and accountable government by consistent disregard to review the Public Order Act from the One-party era, endorsement of obvious political discrimination by the police and state security forces, failure to manage public assets in transparent transactions, or from taking decisive actions to root out corruption in the public service, etc.

It does the same when we fail to weigh the import of actions and declarations, however small or big these can be, by those who are entrusted with the highest office and duty to safeguard our democracy, rights and freedoms. It is, for example, a testimony to how disrespectful the Speaker of Parliament can be to the values, and by extention, how undeserving he is, of his office, when he makes a public declaration that the political opposition must be eliminated!!

It does so when we remain indifferent to our public-funded daily newspaper blatantly flouting the basic principles of impartial journalism by consecrating a special page of each publication to the President.
It does so when we fail to recognise that receiving some crumbs from the national cake, is part of our rightful claim rather than being something for which we should be thankful.
It does so when we remain silent at the slow and insidious erosion of the dignity of our elders by state largesse that is always vocal on its material worth and silent on its moral merit.

The quality of our lives will never change, unless we can each see beyond, and turn away from, the pre-election gifts and honey.
It will never change as long as the electorate continue to be easily swayed by promises of more shared wealth and material comforts and remain unfazed by speeches on freedom and liberty.
A new Seychelles has been promised. It will not be one based on the strengthening of freedom, liberty and rights. It will be another 5-year extention of the patronising one derived from “remaining close to the people…..and working hard for them….a vision to build a new Seychelles…”
Beyond the obvious rhetoric tones, perhaps we should recognise that if nothing much will change, then at least our wounds will heal and will have made us stronger for the next bout. By then, we will perhaps have developed a strategy to bring down the panem et circenses Election-Winning Machine of the SPPF-PP.

This will perhaps include having an Electoral Commission as opposed to the current one-man Election Commissioner, whatever his merit and the level of his integrity, appointed by the president, and Election officers who remain members of the public service and therefore subject to the whims and caprices of that Administration.

The new strategy will perhaps also include a credible voters’ register that will have debunked all attempts for a person, under various guises, to be recorded as an eligible voter in different voting centres, and other attempts to surreptitiously arrange for voters to be transferred from one voting centre to the next depending on the strength of a given contender in one or the other district.
In this regard, it may be necessary to secure a viable means by which the actual district population can be established, and arrange for a formal and verifiable mechanism allowing easy record of changes in the district population database (births, deaths, migration) and from which the district voter register will be derived. As it is, the current voter increase in certain districts from 2002 (51730 votes cast) to 2011 (59242 votes cast) defies the logic of the national (7512) 14.5% average: Anse Etoile (60.7%), Baie Lazare (32.8%), Beau Vallon (35.4%), Glacis (68.4%), Pointe Larue (40.6%), Roche Caiman (28.8%), Bel Air (–6.3%), Grand Anse Praslin (-4.7%) Port Glaud (-5.4%) St Louis (-0.8%)

More importantly, it shall also perhaps be the marking moment when our democracy and electoral set-up will have started to be transparent and trustworthy enough to be spared the scrutiny and judgement of foreign observers.

In the short-term, let us be prepared for the griping and moaning from post-election social and economic burdens that will surely repeat themselves.
As a true democrats, I for one, must be resigned to recognise that 55.43% of my fellow countrymen apparently do not share my views. I must therefore join the ranks of the 44% to respect the verdict from the ballot boxes, however warped and a perversion of my definition of democracy, it may be!