Sunday, March 1, 2009

Of the 2009 Seychelles State Of the Nation: A raw first reaction

February 26th 2009 was another of those annual moments when each Seychellois took a respite from the everyday, individual short-view concerns, to take a broader look at the Nation, with the hope that it may, for each one of us, provide an insight into the place each of us occupy in the national scheme of things and the scope and breath of what we may individually and collectively be required to do in order to secure our common, long-term prosperity.

The State of The Nation Address is a priviledged moment for the person in whose hand we have, by popular democratic vote, entrusted the responsibility to chart the course of the nation to ensure for each of us, among other things, that national goal of long-term prosperity, to tell us how far we are along this road.

It is a moment for us to be informed since the last address, of the progress we have achieved, the wealth we have garnered, the debts we contracted, the perils we overcame, the scope of any adjustments we have had to make, and the outlook for the immediate and long term futures.
It is a solemn moment for us to receive hard, raw figures, untouched statistics, a report of realities encountered, untainted by political bias and rhetoric, which we may all digest as befits our individual abilities, to find cause for contentment or concern, the better to direct our hands and resolve towards working for the collective good.

Did the 2009 Seychelles’ State of the Nation Address provide us with a clear, untainted picture of how the national economy is doing? Did it provide us with a clear insight in how the various sectors of the national service and economy performed? Did it provide a precise indication of what we achieved from the targets we had set ourselves, and the reasons for eventual failures and how these will be addressed?
Did it provide us with a road map by which we, as a nation, may chart through the perils of the current global economic recession?

Presumably the Seychelles Head of State and his advisers are happy that they did so. 
For my humble part, I feel, another of the now-familiar pangs of unquenched thirst for the true state of the nation of which I am part. This is not a matter of seeing the glass half empty. It is a matter of seeing, yet again, the Head of State skirt the issues and lose himself in what I consider as mind-numbing rhetoric. I endured his address not with the trust of a patient before a qualified doctor’s consultation and diagnosis, but as the slightly bemused spectator at a political comedy where the main actor seemed to have forgotten his lines and role. In short, the Seychelles State of the Nation can be reduced into one word : Reform.

This is the Economic Reform Program that the nation entered into in November 2008, without the merest suggestion of it during the February 2008 address, and that the Head of State is now shoving down our throats as the inevitable action he was compelled to take to both avert further risks arising from the global economic crisis as well as to preserve the hope of the prosperity he promised the nation.
This subject remained the central, if not the only, theme of his address, in which he doled out a few of the quick fixes he wants us to believe he is adamantly against. 

Listening to the President, one can easily be forgiven for understanding that the November 2008 Economic Reform was not a thoroughly thought-out program. Certainly the nation was never given an opportunity to provide an input prior to the SPPF government unleashing it over our unprepared heads. The 2005 district consultations provided not an iota insight into what Government was envisaging then for November 2008, if ever it was then envisaging anything! This is what he must have meant when he revealed that ‘politicians…..will not say what they would do tomorrow’
Nobody among those who prepared and planned the Reform Program seemed to have understood the difficulties that it would mean to the Seychellois families. Once the program was launched, there was the immediate dash by all, including the Government, to adjust costs and fees. The STC raised costs. The PUC raised rates. The SPTC raised fares. Loan Interests from both private commercial and Government, followed as did animal feed production. The climate was ripe for general hike in all commodity costs. 
In anticipation of the repercussions that these would have on the more vulnerable groups, a Social Welfare Agency was created to ensure a just and objective appreciation and provision of social assistance.
Three months later and notwithstanding the few millions US$ that we have accumulated in central reserves, the national mood is one where families are under pressure and needs to be helped with “high cost of living …(a) primary concern”

The STC is now required to bring down costs in 11 basic commodities and General Service Tax (GST) will be removed from day-old chicks and animal feed it produces. As it will be on medicines and some agricultural supplies. Housing loan repayments may be restructured. The Social Welfare Agency must revise its National Assembly-approved case appreciation to “help parents who are working hard but are still struggling to make ends meet.” 
The PUC and the SPTC will be subjected to performance and financial audits, to provide, among other things, “affordable services. GST raise in the tourism sector will be delayed, in answer to the anticipated bite in projected 2009 revenue from tourism. (This one, perhaps the only real result of the global crisis!)

No indication was given on the individual and cumulative costs of these measures, and most importantly, in the current national context, on how they will be financed and how they will impact on the final reform outcome. 

To me then, they are Quick Fixes, made convenient and seem to answer a more immediate need to pacify and accommodate the national mood of resentment. 

In the end, I found very little cause to rejoice in the President’s state of the Nation. Because it did not seem to really have addressed the nation’s state. It only delivered the same words and promises that I always heard and that seemed to come from the mouth of someone who prefers to live in another reality, one defined by the boundaries of political expediency and far removed from that of the Nation he heads.

There is cause indeed, to be Gloomy! 

Unless one takes cheer from the revelation that soon we will not require visas for short-stays in the EU. 
That one nearly got caught up in the web of state-house engineered achievements. The presidential pride should be tempered from realising that the EU Council resolved this matter since March 2001 (CE) no 539/2001) and Seychelles joined Mauritius, Antigua / Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados and St-Christophe / Nevis on that famous Annex 2 by virtue of CE 1932/2006.

Gloom also when one understands that 32 years ago, the President of Today was among those who found it unforgivable for a president to spend so much time in foreign countries, away from national affairs. 
Today, his own presidential time spent away, is “ensuring our presence on the international scene (which) is of particular importance.” His “undertakings on the international stage are aimed at promoting the good image of our country and its reputation”
It has been said that these noble aims were among the grievances that cost the first President his seat up at the end of State House Avenue.

We have a long way to go!



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