Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Where is the truth On Public Land Management in Seychelles

There seems to be something that is not right with Public Land Management in Seychelles.

Take these reports by the Nation of 31.03.09 regarding land at Grand Anse Mahe, Beau Vallon and Desroches Island.

At Grand Anse Mahe, a 20Ha state (public) property by the coast with some 700m sea front running more or less parallel with the west coat road from the La Misere Junction, at a varying width from 140 to 400m (for the purists, this area is centered at 4°40’39”S 55°27’00”E) was slotted for private tourism development.

Much of that property is taken up by some streams and their combined marshy estuary. For as long as I can remember, and that covers a span from the 1980s to date, the rest of the property has, over the years, seen some cultivation under the management of the public Agricultural Development Agencies, often more haphazard and experimental than a serious long-term goal in the quest of food security. For the better part of the last 10-odd years, the whole property was left more or less idle.

Somewhere in the labyrinth of the Seychelles’ Pubic Land Management machinery, somebody must have succumbed to the promise of converting yet another swath of apparently useless, and certainly unused, land into ready money and, in the process, hand over to foreigners, another part our national territory and heritage.

In all similar past conversions and transfers, there was never any consultation with the local population and district authorities. Both had little to say, in how state (public) land was managed, other than to rubber stamp the decision handed down from up or to swallow one’s indignation and frustration at being reduced to mere powerless spectators as our heritage is sometimes squandered.

One is therefore somewhat amused to read that the Government of Seychelles, on the merit of “very strong objections from the district’s authorities and some of the inhabitants,” is back-tracking on its decision to turn this property into tourism development. 
If there is any truth in that, then one can take comfort that maybe from hereon, our voices can be heard, if we all call out loudly together. Maybe, from hereon, we may just have a chance to slow and eventually stop the process, which could otherwise risks us being turfed out as foreigners in and on our own land!

It takes a hefty dose of courage for one not used to being humble to come forward and, to all practical purposes, admit to clumsy handling of public property. But was this really the case? Let me not be too naïve. 

We do not seem to have a Land Use Plan, as required by law, to determine the breath and scope of development in given areas. “Acceptance by the people” is not something that JJ just came up with! It’s been there as a requirement since Independence and always ignored. (Not surprisingly, the Minister responsible for Land Development seems to be completely ignorant of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1975 which does not grant, in the matter of publication / consultation with regard to LUP, the leeway ‘ if necessary the population as well’ )
At best we have only aborted attempts to Land Use Plans (1986,….) and some nice glossy displays that are merely wall decorations for some public land offices.

Did the Seychelles ‘Government not take into consideration that it “should not stop agricultural development when food security is an issue and that the land should be kept for agriculture rather than using it for tourism” before it even gave consideration to the proposal for tourism development project on the property? That would have been the time for “consultation” with the local population and district authorities! (Forget the EIA. Most often than not, it is prepared by the promoters.)
The horse would have been right there in front of the cart!

Considering all this, one is more tempted to believe that we are not being given all the reasons for the back-tracking. I would speculate that local (district) objections could be merely a convenient excuse behind which to hide either, or a combination of, awareness of some over-reaching, final hedging of the promoters or delicately sensitive financing that came to light.

And why do I feel uneasy about that prestigious Beau Vallon site!

That’s a chunk of land (centered approx. 4°36’42” S 55°25’50”E) with roughly 300m sea frontage and an inland depth of some 300m reaching beyond the river and new road, with one or two enclaved plots, off the current public parkings.

It’s been going back and forth since the mid 1990s after its previous ‘Acquisition in the Public Interest’. In the mid 1990s, a German promoter had a mega-tourism development project for the area. The Beau Vallon road was even diverted to accommodate the project.
20 years later, the area is still undeveloped. And we hear that the property has changed hands from one foreigner to another? Could this be one of those more than obvious versions of how to clean up some difficult-to-explain money!

What of Desroches Island ?

For those who may have forgotten, Desroches is a 6km long by widest 1km finger of coral island with a pristine perimeter of fine, white sandy beach lying on a SW/NE angle SW of Mahé. (centered, approx. 5°41’22”S and 53°40’23”E)
It emerged from its lack-lustre days as a guano, copra and agricultural crops island of the pre-independence years to the exclusive retreat of the priviledged few after the 1977 coup and a tourist resort under the management of the IDC from the late 1980s.
According to the nation article, the island now has a population of 13 IDC staff (I presume nationals) and 250-275 foreigners.

Was it really necessary to have 4 Cabinet Ministers and 2 Chief Executives with a haggle of other Public Service officials, travel 230kms to query “availability of employment for Seychellois workers, efforts to conserve the environment, opportunities for school children to visit the island and the impact of the different projects”?
That the IDC wants to embark on a publicity stunt, that’s its business. But to recruit our Public Service as extras takes the biscuit! Our honourable MNAs should do well to maintain a certain dignity and not be used as the next props.
I also hope public funding will not be required to provide school and health infrastructure for the largely foreign population working for an essentially private enterprise.


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