Making Friends and Enemies In Seychelles.
A tsunami is a phenomenon caused by an earthquake beneath the ocean. The repercussions can be disastrous if proactive procedures are not in place. This scenario is a real menace to the political landscape in Seychelles. Beneath the calm, tropical-holiday luring landscape-an economic crisis is threatening the near communist police-state political control of the Government of President James Michel. The economic crisis caused by the relentless greed of the party hierarchy now threatens the survival of the country. It’s demise signaled by a near frantic squabble “free-for-all” mentality beginning to manifest itself, over the remaining spoils. This is however, completely against the IMF-supervised reform programme, with the President now dangling between the devil and the deep blue sea.
This is a problem solely of the ruling party’s making. President Michel’s rise to his current position is reward for blind, fanatical loyalty to President France Albert Rene. Michel, at the time, was a man who could be trusted to do what he was told to do. With the advent of the one-party socialist state, James Alix Michel occupied a number of posts as: Minister of Information, Minister of Education, Minister of Finance and Environment, Vice-President and finally President. At the helm of Finance and Environment, the two most important positions in the Seychelles economy, Vice-President Michel oversaw some deep-seated transformations in Seychelles. During his tenure Seychelles underwent transformation into a Five-Star tourism destination.
During the same period Seychelles also become an international tuna processing center. These were presented as an economic-coup to the populace, the finer nefarious points of these agreements given the prevalent tight media control never seeing the light of day. The only whiff of these accords occurring through occasional leaks to opposition newspapers. Most of these revolve around generous arrangements and concessions being given to the international companies while the local people are given only menial employment opportunities in many of these establishments. Examples of the arrangements and concessions cover a wide-range of activities.
A classical example, going against all accounting principles is that of capital assets purchased by government at inflated costs from the tuna factory. Another mooted point is the subsidized sale of electricity to the same company by the government. Again within the tuna industry, are the cheap costs of licenses for fishing in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Seychelles waters.
To further indict the industry, the Government did not make appropriate and transparent provisions for salaries of Seychellois fishermen plying their trade on board the European Union vessels. In fact with respect to the salaries of the fishermen, the government receives substantial payments that should in reality be paid to the fishermen. This has resulted in local fishermen on these vessels spending years on the high seas, earning a pittance with no recourse being made by government. The same holds for the dock workers unloading the tuna vessels. Again government is the middle man with respect to payments due to the dock workers.
With respect to the five-star hotels, numerous concessions ranging from leases, employment permits, zero-rate taxation concessions for vehicle imports, materials, employees, profits’ repatriations are just some of the inducements given to these establishments. Controversy over these concessions and the local politicians and civil servants actually profiting from these underhanded deals is a headache rapidly becoming a cerebral aneurysm for the Presidency of James Michel. Problems are also accumulating for the selective application of the strict environment protection legislation when it comes to these five star establishments.
At present, a coral reef in the supposedly protected Ste. Anne Marine National Park is being broken to accommodate a hotel’s wharf marina for yachts. Another hotel is building a road in the Ramsar site protected marsh. The flouting of environment laws also extends to construction where the 25-meter tide water mark near the sea is also being disregarded by another proposed establishment on the popular Beau Vallon Beach on Mahé. This disregard and non-enforcement of legislation lies at the heart of the governments problems.
During the 1990’s Seychelles began to suffer from a dearth of foreign exchange to sustain its economy. This led to the introduction of the Foreign Exchange Control Act by the then Finance Minister and Vice-President James Michel. The gambit of the act was to strictly regulate the flow of available foreign exchange through the banking system. Any request for overseas payments had to be evidenced by a reciprocal deposit of local currency in a “pipeline” with any one of the local banks. When available, foreign exchange would be allocated according to priority of need. The theory was greeted with appropriate accolades.
The practice has resulted in the sum of USD 2.5 Billion leaving the country without going through the government supervised “pipeline”. A polemic has been created because whilst some people have been taken to court for being in possession of foreign exchange and even imprisoned and their all their non-local currencies confiscated for not going through the pipeline; the owners of the USD 2.5 Billion appear to be untouchable and unaccountable. Allegations are rift that the sources of these funds are from government contracts and kick-backs from the companies trading in Seychelles, all with close ties to the government -hence the wall of silence surrounding those funds origins.
The possibility for this happening is because of the structure of government and governance is based on the soviet-style centralized control framework. Everything and anything is subject to the ruling party’s sanction. All government civil servant posts and promotions are scrutinized for loyalty to the party. All literature, professional research and academic excellence is guided by this one principle. It has served James Michel well and is therefore a most valued measure.
The converse has also arisen in that it has opened the door to nepotism, cronyism and the even worse bane of entrenched corruption. If you are loyal to the party you can get away with even murder, as shown by the case of the Rwanda genocide. There are allegations that very senior members, of the administration including the President were involved in the sale of arms used in the genocide in Rwanda.
In fact one of the key players in the arms transaction, former Colonel Bagosora from the Rwandan side, was recently jailed for life. Besides the sale of arms, they were also heavily involved in the subsequent cover-up. Again Seychelles remains unscathed. All reports fed to international organizations are compiled by party loyalists. No party image tarnishing reports are ever found, and all indicators and indexes are doctored to suit this image comparable to that of East Germany – before the fall of the wall.
In Seychelles’ case, things have come to a head with the economic crisis caused by unchecked onerous foreign debts taken by the President’s loyalists. The country’s inability to service these debts led to the IMF-supervised programme. Difficulties have been compounded by the international economic crisis, and the scourge of Somalian piracy acts. These have delivered sharp body blows to the tourism industry and the tuna processing industry. Salvation in the form of the IMF has however, come at a price. The price is that Seychelles makes a clean break with past practices and takes appropriate measures to ensure accountability, transparency, good governance, and responsibility. Given that the stakeholders in these hegemonies of corruption have close ties to the ruling party; the cure threatens to kill the patient.
The ruling party of President Michel has long identified itself as the Seychelles Society. Any criticism of the government and the extra-luxurious, opulent lifestyles of its cronies are viewed as criticisms of society. Since the reforms set in motion go to the heart of the ruling party and President’s Michel’s power base any attempt at further implementation or to reverse it (containment) will further fracture an already fragile coalition of interests. Trying to salvage the ruling party inherently means that there will be casualties. Determining who the casualties are is not a pleasant prospect when it could be that your best friend is your worst enemy.