ALAIN ST.ANGE SPEAKS OUT ON CONTROVERSIAL SUBJECT MATTERS
What are some of the first things that you will tackle if you win the election?
The economy is suffocating, people are losing their jobs, and allowances are being cut left and right (though privileged members of society have notably been spared). This is having a direct social impact on families, especially those already struggling laboriously to make ends meet. Reducing the cost of living and correspondingly increasing the standard of living for the average Seychellois is our biggest priority. This shall be done immediately.
Our Manifesto explores our plans and policies for alleviating rampant poverty in some depth. After two weeks in power, we would expect to see a noticeable reduction in the cost of food locally. It is not a difficult feat if you have the necessary political will and the requisite know-how to achieve it. To show our commitment to this cause, my running mate, Mr. Peter Sinon, and I are going to dedicate 50% of our monthly salaries if elected to combating poverty. The basic minimum wage (SR5,800 or thereabouts) shall be significantly increased to SR7,500 – NO Seychellois gainfully employed in full or part-time work, persons receiving pension and social security payments, home carers and Government corporative contract workers, shall earn less than that monthly figure.
We shall ensure that the cost of living sees a marked decline within our first year in Office. I do not believe in the reintroduction of price control given that we have forged our way into a liberal market. We do not want to lock heads with private merchants, but we want to use what we have at our disposal to tackle this issue. The Seychelles Trading Company (STC) plays a pivotal role in the fight against the increase in the cost of living. The Government has already removed duty on 30 basic commodities. Nevertheless, we feel that this does not suffice (given that families rely on significantly more than 30 commodities each month) and should be raised to 100, at the very least. To suggest that the average Seychellois family can get by on 30 commodities a month demonstrates how woefully out-of-touch our Government is with the needs of the people. Additionally, we would need to relook at the way STC is functioning. It cannot afford to be doing business through a middleman. It needs to go directly to the producer of the commodity. That said, many products, such as rice and sugar, can be sourced in the region. And we should not logically be looking further than in Mauritius and Madagascar – two sister islands of the Indian Ocean.
We desperately need to rebuild and revamp our main industries – tourism, agriculture and fisheries – to salvage our economy and to ensure that the future for our Nation and for Seychellois is promising and fruitful. What we need to do as a Nation is to transform the tourism sector, putting it abreast with the current era we are living in today. Tourism is the lifeblood of our Nation’s economy. It will remain under my portfolio if I am elected. Airline partners within the region shall be called upon to work with us during this exceptional COVID-19 period. Our Nation’s approach to handling this virus must be preventative, rather than relying predominately upon contact tracing once it has already reached our shores. The half a dozen airports with direct nonstop flights to our Country shall have a dedicated health official who will screen and test all passengers heading for Seychelles. Technology and screening tests are progressing rapidly, and newer and more reliable screening methods shall be implemented prior to passengers boarding any flight to Seychelles so as to safeguard passengers aboard the plane.
At the same time, we need to hold in hand both the fishing and agricultural industry to maintain food security, and to empower Seychellois within these sectors to succeed. For the first year that we will be in power, One Seychelles will make sure that we have our tuna fishing vessel flying the Nation’s flag. This is not a pipedream – we have concrete plans in place and the right connections to make this a reality for Seychelles. Seychelles needs to reclaim its fishing industry. Let us not forget that one factor causing the biggest loss of foreign exchange in the Country is tuna being caught in our waters, then sold back to us in foreign currency. At the same time, Seychelles has signed controversial new fishing agreements with the European Union, which were ratified by the National Assembly despite their raising of red flags about them. This practice of adopting unsustainable and questionable agreements needs to stop immediately. Whatever agreements entered into must be beneficial for Seychelles in the long-run. Our seas should not be plundered by foreign entities with minimal benefit for our economy and zero regard for sustainability and preservation of fish stocks for future generations of Seychellois to enjoy.
To avoid crippling local businesses any further, taxes and VAT shall immediately be reduced. Loans for farmers, individuals within the fishing industry and the tourism sector shall be facilitated. With IDC being brought back within the control of our Government, Seychellois shall stand to benefit at long last from the islands that form part of our archipelago. Currently, next to nothing is being done to assist victims of domestic violence. There is nowhere for individuals fleeing from abusive homes to seek solace. Our very own Dean Padayachi has done tremendous altruistic work to house and home many women, at his own expense, who have fled abusive households. We can and shall do more. Plans for shelters offering temporary protection and support for victims of domestic violence shall be spearheaded.
You were the first political party to propose the establishment of a technocrat Government. What does this concept mean?
We at One Seychelles enjoy breaking from tradition. Historically, the ruling party has played Tetris with their Ministerial appointments, swapping Ministers around rather than dismissing the non-performing ones. Very rarely would a Minister be assigned a portfolio in which he or she actually has the requisite knowledge, experience and qualifications to competently manage it. This can be seen across the board, but particularly in Health, Land & Transport and Fisheries & Agriculture. This is because the ruling party has preferred to appoint politicians to Ministerial positions, rather than suitable technocrats.
Appointments in this respect tend not to be merit-based. Politicians, most of whom have no prior knowledge of the field, therefore constantly come and go, with everyone more focused on short-term wins rather than long-term vision. The public find themselves at the mercy of constantly changing agendas. Policymakers tend to be interested only in evidence that fits their own needs, ideology or prejudice, and they may ignore or even abuse those who provide evidence that does not fit the political agenda. This has been particularly the case in the Ministry for Fisheries & Agriculture, with transparency in decision making all but disappearing over time, culminating in the Seychelles Fishing Authority recently declaring themselves to be autonomous from Government.
Countless qualified Seychellois, leaders within their respective fields, have been passed over for key Ministerial roles or for leadership positions within Governmental Departments because these roles were ear-marked for friends or relatives of a certain politician, or for the party loyalists. They have been struggling for years to overcome insurmountable barriers from systems that seem to be determined to maintain old and decaying structures, rather than welcoming in the new. They are tired of the old ways of doing things, particularly when they are witnessing first-hand how outdated policies and attitudes are hindering the growth and progress of their Departments and the Nation as a whole.
Rather than closing the gap and combatting inequality Nation-wide, Government’s clumsy strides in tackling the issue have resulted in the opposite – poverty rates are on the rise, drug dependency rates are increasing, unemployment rates amongst the youth are sky-rocketing, and people are generally unhappy and tend to report deep dissatisfaction within their employment and with their quality of life. One Seychelles was the first to propose a technocrat-led Government, which will comprise technocrats rather than politicians. Indeed, it is all about finding the best person for the job without looking at their political affiliation (a significant break from local tradition).
Positions MUST be merit based, and must be filled by experienced, qualified, motivated and competent technocrats who have been trained within the field that is relevant to any given Ministry or Department. Appointments that are predicated upon political affiliation only serve to undermine the competence and success of any Ministry. For the first time, decisions that are taken within Government shall be hinged on what is best for Seychelles, not what serves the agenda of any political party or privileged individual(s).
One political party in particular has attempted to discredit you and your supporters on account of the legalization of marijuana being included on your election manifesto. Care to comment on this?
Some politicians may prefer to make shady promises behind closed doors, or some may refuse to rock the boat at all, and may just prefer to continue turning a blind eye to key issues within society. We are, and have always been, different. We have the courage and the political will to address the controversial issues that politicians have preferred to sweep under the rug for decades. Some may say that this is a ploy to get votes because that is easier for them to digest and believe instead of contending with the fact that we are more forward thinking than they could ever hope to be.
Why legalise marijuana, they ask? Why on earth not, we reply. In an interview with Today newspaper, a key politician seemed to take it for granted that cannabis is being widely used locally and queried why anything should be done about it. Countless Seychellois use it for medicinal purposes, with even high-ranking public servants known for sourcing cannabis to treat their chronically ill loved ones.
Why legalise it, they ask? Because the system has made us all hypocrites. Because too many Seychellois have been, and are continuing to be, penalised through the legal system for possession of cannabis. By failing to legalise it, they are damning the majority of the population to prosecution and possible prison sentences for possession, trafficking or cultivation of cannabis. Not to mention the constant burden on our limited resources for policing, prosecution, judging and incarcerating offenders. The narrowmindedness of some will be the downfall of many.
Why legalise it? Because at this point in time it would be wholly undemocratic not to. It is time to legitimise this industry and remove it from the black market. The economy will benefit, and through properly regulating the industry, consumers can be guaranteed a better quality (ie safer) product.
How would we go about this? 2 words: EDUCATION & REGULATION. We are not reinventing the wheel. Larger Nations than ours have worked this out. Why can’t we? Change is scary for some, but it is necessary. Admittedly, those who stand to benefit from maintaining the status quo may be unwilling to embrace change. While the abovementioned Paper seems to tout the issue as one of our Party’s sole priorities, thereby downplaying the bulk of our proposed policies and plans to alleviate poverty and to rebuild our struggling industries, fortunately the masses are aware of the content of our manifesto, which we alone made available to the public months ago. Legalisation of marijuana is just one of MANY plans and policies that we are pushing for.
Those most threatened by our presence on the political scene are focusing their attention on the most controversial of our plans, knowing full well that they cannot credibly pick at any other policy within our manifesto. It is ironic that some misguidedly claim that we have misplaced priorities, while they are citing the necessity of ridding the islands of invasive vines as one of theirs! We hope Today in Seychelles spends as much time and energy examining our lesser controversial policies, or otherwise examines other parties’ manifestos with this much gusto. We look forward to future editions of their Paper where, hopefully, the agendas being pushed won’t be so thinly veiled. It does not help their case that they followed the above article on cannabis with one titled, "Elections: Independent candidates yet to earn the trust of the electorate."
What have you noticed since re-joining the political arena?
Well, prior to our entry onto the political scene, the key players predominately remained the same, which is a sad state of affairs for our fragile democracy. The policies, values and plans of the entrenched political parties are much the same, with veteran politicians reluctant to rock the boat and seemingly allergic to innovation or change, despite preaching about it. It has not come as much of a surprise that many of our Legislative candidates have been threatened, verbally abused and harassed, nor that one was offered a bribe so as to not stand in the upcoming elections. Mud-slinging, fear-mongering and the spreading of lies are also not novel in local politics.
These dirty tactics have become an expected fixture in election periods nationally, indicating that the ways of the old (which have become the subject matter of many cases before the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission) are very much alive in today’s society. This of course applies only to a limited number of Seychellois, with these vocal individuals clustering mainly within one political camp that seems to relish any opportunity to denigrate another human being, or to pass a racial, xenophobic or homophobic slur. The alarming backlash that not only One Seychelles members received – and are still receiving – from political extremists, but also the abuse that the two independent candidates running in the upcoming National Assembly elections are withstanding (ironically from parties they once supported), reveals that the corrosive "ek nou, pa ek nou" attitude is still permeating society.
It does not help that key and well-established media outlets are not even hiding their overt displays of partiality, openly pushing their political agendas and undermining their very purpose, which is to disseminate unbiased and factual news pieces. This is also not new to Seychelles. Control over the media was an integral part of former regimes. It is sad that we have not progressed much in this regard. Fortunately, other media outlets are picking up the slack, and are doing their best to provide impartial news coverage to keep the public informed during this high-stakes election period.
As stated by Dr. Mathilda Twomey in her farewell speech in this regard, "Yet, we need to address the role that the media plays in this country. We should no longer tolerate unfounded allegations drawn from poorly put together assumptions. I encourage the people – demand factfulness. Do not accept newspapers that print statements as fact without giving verifiable sources, without naming the authors of the articles or giving the other side of the story an opportunity to comment. These sorts of articles harm the country more than the individuals targeted in the articles. I cannot express to you how often the newspapers have been completely wrong and blatantly lied to the public over these past years."
According to statistics from the Department of Employment around 6,000 youths are not interested in seeking employment. What programme do you intend to put in place that will entice the youth into employment?
I do not think it is fair to state that they are not interested. I think that they perhaps feel let down by the system. It is a sad reality that our system is designed to cater to expatriate workers over Seychellois, by virtue of the inadequate higher education or training opportunities afforded to those who wish to climb the career ladder. While skilled and managerial jobs within key industries are always on offer, few Seychellois are granted access to the educational opportunities that would open the doors to such employment possibilities. In such circumstances, businesses and NGOs are able to weed out Seychellois applicants for high-level and well-paid posts by setting the minimum education requirement to ‘Masters’, knowing full well that only a minority of Seychellois would be able to boast the qualification.
It is incumbent upon every Government to create constructive conditions for the youth to receive education. Despite this, there appears to be some unfettered discretion regarding who is awarded a Government scholarship, where in the world they would be permitted to study, and even which field of study they would be permitted to pursue in order to qualify for the funding. This is particularly so if the field of interest is one that is not being offered by the University of Seychelles. This discretionary power leaves the decision-making by the relevant authorities vulnerable to acts of favoritism. It also leaves capable youths who wish to advance in their careers at a sad disadvantage.
We have also heard accounts of tourism establishments and foreign operated NGOs declining the applications of qualified Seychellois for key posts (including those who have met and even exceeded the educational requirements for these posts), preferring to employ an expatriate for the role soon thereafter. Seychellois workers seem to be good enough to these establishments and organizations for the low ranking roles that attract meagre salaries – the posts that are generally filled by the local workforce merely to satisfy their legal quota. In the public sector, particularly within the legal and law enforcement fields, expats are placed on a pedestal, with disgruntled Seychellois feeling the disparity in level of respect being afforded by their superiors, salary being received, and countless other perks being bestowed upon their foreign colleagues, including transportation to and from work, and even a plane ticket home once a year.
The solutions to these wide-reaching problems are not difficult. Government just requires the willpower to address them in a constructive way, and the actual desire to give value to their Seychellois workers.
We are living in a world where people are seeking to be accepted for who they are and to be treated equally. In Seychelles, there is still a part of the community that feels they are not fully living the life that they want and this is the gay community. What will be your approach to this subject?
To quote Dr. Mathilda Twomey, the outgoing Chief Justice, in this regard (because she stated it so eloquently): "I am concerned by the underutilization of the Courts for breaches of human rights. Outside of the courthouse, I am aware of the gaps in the protection of some groups of people in Seychelles, these include people with mental health difficulties, disabled persons, children from broken homes, abused women, foreigners – especially unskilled labourers, and persons who are LGBTIQ+. Consciously or unconsciously, our society treats these groups as less deserving of the equality promised by our Constitution. We use, abuse and marginalize these groups. We cannot build a just society by leaving certain persons on the margins. I do not know what gives us the authority to choose whose rights to vindicate and whose rights to ignore. "Dignity and equality before the law are inalienable … We cannot justify the denial of rights, because something makes us feel uncomfortable. Dignity and equality are not to be promised or denied by a politician. This was given to all, 27 years ago, and cannot be taken away, and must be demanded. I think we all know that change is necessary. If we do not use the Constitution to confront racism, patriarchy, inequality, homophobia, xenophobia, corruption and the daily injustices so many face, we risk squandering the possibility of building the society we dreamed of 27 years ago."
Any politician who seeks to continuously marginalize members of society does not deserve to be in higher office. As a starting point, we would aim to re-define the notion of "family" in our Country. The definition that we presently have has created many obstacles for too many Seychellois. We would ensure that the LGBTIQ+ community is afforded a prominent seat at the table when we seek to make decisions that would ultimately affect them. It is high time their voices were heard and respected.