SNA interview: President says COVID catastrophe avoided, seeks national unity gov’t
With Seychelles – 115 islands in the western Indian Ocean – gearing up for its presidential and legislative elections from October 22-24, SNA is talking to the island nation’s political leaders and presidential candidates about their campaigns, their plans as well as their take on pertinent issues in the country.
This is another interview in a series.
Faure, 58, says his wish is to depoliticise the Seychellois society.
SNA: What are your expectations for the upcoming elections?
DF: I believe it will be an interesting one. At the same time, it is important to note that it is being done at a time when Seychelles is dealing with the threat posed by COVID-19. The abnormal situation means a different approach to the traditional campaigning we are used to.
I say it will be interesting because it will reflect the work I have done as president during the past four years.
I believe that under my presidency, I brought about more respect for national institutions. People do not just criticize but there’s self-criticism. I think people are now more open about matters that directly impact their lives. They analyse and pay close attention to what is happening in the country and I think they are in a better position to choose among the candidates who will be contesting the presidential and legislative elections.
I am confident that the Seychellois people will choose wisely and make a choice that is in their interest and that of the country in general.
SNA: Many political parties have expressed their intentions to take part in the elections. Do you see this as being to your advantage?
DF: I look at it in a democratic way. I would not have liked it if there were only two political parties. The fact that there are more candidates including independent ones, show that our democracy continues to evolve.
SNA: Your party lost the legislative election for the first time in 2016. Have you been able to identify what went wrong?
DF: I think that since losing its majority in the National Assembly, United Seychelles has done its homework. I believe that the candidates being proposed reflects the party’s analysis. The party’s approach has also changed.
United Seychelles understands that the work I do as president should not contradict their political approach. The party has come forward to support my candidature because it saw that I was sincere in my approach when I called for harmony, respect, tolerance, and most importantly national unity.
Faure and his running mate Maurice Loustau-Lalanne. (Seychelles News Agency)
SNA: At one point there were talks about the lack of unity within the party. Has the party been able to resolve this issue?
DF: Yes. Initially, some people did not understand why I wanted to distance myself from the party to focus on the presidency and let politicians handle the party. When they see what I have done in the past four years, they now understand why I took such an approach.
I told them that I will come back to the party at the appropriate time and stand as its candidate and I would prove that all the work I did as president were in the interest of the Seychellois people. It is on this basis that I want the party and its parliamentary candidates to accompany me in this upcoming elections.
SNA: Isn’t talking about COVID-19 all the time an exaggeration, especially when we talk of economic recovery next year?
DF: If we don’t talk about COVID-19, then we are not being honest. To be able to handle COVID-19, we must first as a country recognise that it is our worst invisible enemy. It is the cause of today’s chaos as it brings a sense of uncertainty.
Prior to reopening our borders, we set up a National Integrated Framework to ensure that each key stakeholder knows their role in the fight against this pandemic.
Two months ago, before we reopened our airport, the tourism sector thought that tourists will be coming from our four main traditional markets – Germany, France, Italy and UK. Some suggested we should do it at the beginning or end of September. But the majority thought it should be done earlier to create demand in the market. I warned that we can only do our part, but we do not have control over what happens in those countries. It has already happened with France which was initially on the list of low-risk countries now being labelled a high-risk country following an upsurge in the number of cases there.
So, we had to sit back down and come up with new ways to attract visitors from these four main countries. We now have specific criteria for these four markets.
We understand that the situation in the market is dynamic, but we cannot change our minds incessantly as this may lead to instability in the tourism market. It is therefore important to have a national framework that allows us to consult and discuss.
Another concern is the demand for foreign exchange on the domestic market. The Central Bank injects money into the local economy on a weekly basis to ensure our foreign exchange is not affected. Our reserve is for 18 months and so we must make it last that long.
We cannot spend everything in 12 months because this will have a direct impact on foreign exchange, which in turn will affect the inflation rate and eventually the cost of living.
Because of all these challenges, we need to make everyone understand that COVID-19 is real, and we must face it. People need to understand that this is our priority.
SNA: The measures you are implementing will be until December. What will be your plans after that?
DF: I will give the details in my manifesto but the next two years will be dedicated to guaranteeing livelihoods. We must make sure our people are fed and that we secure employment.
I have also asked our economists to establish a framework so that businesses that recover can be removed from the list gradually.
Had I not taken the decision, things would have been different today with many people out of a job and a serious problem for the banks. We cannot leave people to fend for themselves. I believe we have avoided a catastrophic situation.
Faure launched his campaign for the October election in January this year. (Seychelles Nation) Photo License: CC-BY
SNA: Do you think you have managed to save the economy, employment and the people?
DF: Had I ignored the seriousness of the situation, like some other countries, we would have had a catastrophic result. I sprang into action when I was contacted by our Public Health Commissioner on March 14. I trusted our health professionals. I asked them to do their job and to communicate with the population at least twice weekly. And on Wednesdays, they are invited to our Cabinet meeting to discuss national policies and their implementation. That is how we saved lives.
When we initially announced a three-month assistance between April and June, there were concerns about what would happen after July. I proposed that we set up a company – Seychelles Employee Transition Scheme (SETS) to train the employees who were going to be made redundant. The private sector thought SETS would be in direct competition with them and undermine their work.
Now they understand the raison d’etre for having a company like SETS which is a success story. The company has registered around 600 people who have been made redundant in the private sector. Now there is the opportunity to retrain them so they can be absorbed in the labour market.
SNA: If you are elected, will housing remain a priority for your government?
DF: Housing remains one of our priorities because it is a contributor to social problems. However, it is costly. We must suspend other projects if we are to deliver houses to the population. With COVID-19, we must be conscious of what we call balance of payment. More construction will put pressure on our foreign exchange that we need for three main things – medicine, basic commodities, and fuel.
We, therefore, need to find a balance between the amount of foreign exchange and the number of projects we have. Maybe we can also attract foreign direct investment. It will be encouraging if we do but then again, the pace will be slower unlike when we had economic growth.
SNA: The economy was good before COVID-19 ensuring stability in various sectors, so now what are you going to offer to the electorates?
DF: Once elected I want to set up a government of national unity because I want to depoliticize the Seychellois society. Our constitution is very clear about civic responsibility and engagement of citizens at the national level. It does not mean that we must politicize everything. We need to empower our citizens and consolidate national institutions.
We also need a Cabinet that reflects Seychelles’ diversity, not one where all its members originate from one political party. I have already shown what type of government I want for Seychelles by choosing a running mate who is not affiliated to any political party. The only thing is that he fully supports Seychelles.
He has spent 45 years in the public service and I am counting on his years of experience. We will have other competent professionals and a few politicians – people that we need to tackle our number one priority which is to save our economy. By the time our economy starts to recover, I would have neared the end of my mandate and I will not stand again.
Now the people will choose their president among the five candidates. I want Seychellois to look at me and my credentials and not to judge me by what my parents or grandparents did in the past.
I am asking you to trust me, the person who is in the burning kitchen and who didn’t run away from the house when it was engulfed in a fire, but rather stayed to make sure the fire did not spread into the bedroom where you are sleeping.
Faure said “Once elected I want to set up a government of national unity because I want to depoliticize the Seychellois society.” (Seychelles Nation) Photo License: CC-BY
SNA: How would you describe the past four years with an opposition majority in the National Assembly?
DF: To be honest when the results were announced and subsequently former President Michel said he was stepping down, I expected to inherit something different. Our approach would have to be Seychelles above everything else. I was inspired by the concept that Seychelles is bigger than all of us and I have stood by this belief during the past four years and my presidency has been based on those profound words.
When I addressed the National Assembly for the first time, two days after my inauguration, I sincerely felt that my opponents saw in me somebody who was reaching out. And I also felt they were also reaching out because two weeks later I chaired a meeting with the LDS leadership and their executive committee where they asked that we depart from the passing of power. I supported their request which I believed came as a shock to them. So I was prepared to have that kind of discussion.
Cracks started to appear when former Speaker Patrick Pillay decided to step down and took to the street to call for my resignation. This was later followed by the whole LDS team taking to the streets and calling for ‘Danny Out’, and disrespecting the institution and the presidency. This was the start of the tension.
I told my Cabinet that this was politics and we should not let it affect the work we were doing for the country. But they wanted to weaken the government as they did not have the two thirds majority to remove me from office. They needed three more people and they approached people on our sides. One subsequently left to join them.
Our work became more and more difficult. Appointment of new ministers was not supported. I still believed that if I had been given all the ministers, I requested we would have accomplished far more as a country today.
Unfortunately, this did not happen because their primary objective was to weaken the government, by frustrating the ministers, calling them in every week and applying pressure. What they did did not serve Seychelles. Luckily, we have some strong women and men who did not falter. That is why I said we have to depoliticise the country.
SNA: You also took the Speaker of the National Assembly to court and that was the first time this ever happened. Do you still feel it was the right decision?
DF: I had to. Maybe I should not have been quick about it but rather take the administrative approach as I did afterwards to give public servants their allowance. But we proposed a law that I thought would receive the support of the National Assembly. Unfortunately, they did not support it but rather opted to politicize a regulation that had nothing to do with politics.
I took it to court to prove what the government was doing was the right approach but unfortunately, the Judicial Review said the assembly can quash an SI. In the process, I learned a valuable lesson and took the administrative route to pay the public servants.
However, we have not resolved this matter. We have created an anomaly in the country’s financial structure. One that would have to be addressed soon by the seventh National Assembly. In real politics and leadership, you cannot postpone problems. You have to face it and handle it.
SNA: You once proposed that the Electoral Commission should organise a referendum on whether or not Seychellois living abroad should have the right to vote in national elections. This was later withdrawn. Would you say you are more mature now in your approach?
DF: I am more experienced and mature and all these are good for Seychelles. My other advantage is that I have held many portfolios as a minister in the government. This is a huge advantage for a president.
My predecessors, for example, France Albert Rene was a Prime Minister and lawyer and came to power in a completely different situation. He headed a revolution.
Former President James Michel was a military person with the rank of colonel in the army. He was also the Chief of Staff and his minister of defence was Ogilvy Berlouis. So, he was a military person who became president.
Apart from former President James Mancham I am the only one who is a civilian. I am the commander in chief but not military. So, my style of governing is different. I am not influenced by the military way of doing things.
I have occupied posts in all the big ministries and I understand their work. I could just retire and relax or become a consultant and sell my ideas to other countries. I am not prepared to do that because I am grateful to the country that made me who I am today. I’m prepared to give back to the country. I believe that Seychelles needs all its children, especially one who has been tested in all fires – big and small.
SNA: We see you dancing and singing from time to time. Are these the things you enjoy doing in your spare time?
DF: My children and I love music. I love singing and dancing especially ‘sega’ and ‘moutya’.
SNA: How important do you think a country’s cultural heritage is?
DF: It is very important. Seychelles should not become like some Caribbean countries which have been heavily influenced by American music. We do not want to lose our culture … I feel we should be cautious about allowing other influences into our own music. Technology albeit good, may have a negative impact on our traditional music if we are not careful.
So, we each have to play our role to promote our culture and ensure its survival. We must understand that visitors to our shores do not only want to enjoy our environment but our culture as well.
A nation with rich culture is an educated nation. Visitors pay to appreciate a country’s culture. So we should never destroy our cultural heritage.
Source: Seychelles News Agency