Thursday, June 25, 2009

Face-a-Face in Seychelles - Corruption Debate

Face-a-Face TV Programme & The Controversial Corruption Debate in Seychelles

I was indeed looking forward to this much anticipated Face-a-Face TV programme dealing with corruption in Seychelles. I sat myself in my favourite chair, Seybrew in hand, and turned on my old faithful Sony to see what the host was wearing for the night!

An hour later, I picked myself up, shook my head in disappointment, and started to wonder why I continue to waste an hour of my life every couple of weeks to watch this charade on SBC.

Why is it that everyone who goes on this show pussy-foots around the subject instead of going for the bulls eye? Why is it that no one has the guts to come forward and state the real facts? Why is it that no one challenges the status quo, or gives real life examples as to what is happening in the country? What are they afraid of?

Let us start with the host of the show, Mrs. Jacqueline Moustache-Belle. While we all know that she is no Larry King, she can surely do better than that with all her experience at SBC. We do know that she is protecting her own job, that of her husband and of course her son who both work for the Government as well. Thus, I have to assume that either she is a die-hard SPPF-Le Pep fanatic or she is simply protecting her livelihood. Either way, she is in no position to waver too far to the right, which by the way, is where the truth really lies. In all of her shows, Jacqueline has a way of stifling debate, oppressing the speech of invitees who lean against the Government’s ideals, and for most shows that I have watched, she seems to allow members of the Government to have more air time to express their opinions. Also, it seems that the FOR Government people always sit on the right, and the AGAINST the Government or topic du jour are on the left. Is there more than meets the eye to this sitting arrangement? Ou ek nou, ou pa ek nou?

Now let us move on to the invitees themselves. Why are they so afraid to speak the truth? Why are they so scared to open up, speak their minds and make reference to reality? They all seem to be mummified, and their answers are weak and timid. In last night’s show, at least lawyer Nicole Tirant had some fire in her veins, but this was quickly extinguished by Mrs. Moustache-Belle. Well-known footballer and businessman straight-shooter Suketu Patel made some valid points. For example, he stated that the law is merely a useless piece of paper as there is no desire from the top to really tackle corruption. But he scored his highest mark when he stated that corrupt Government workers who have stolen millions are now allowed to declare these ill-gotten assets on a piece of paper held at the Central Bank vault, with no fear of prosecution. And pity the ignorant who cannot challenge such cases given that the public has no access to these infamous “declaration of assets” documents. Patel called for those forms to be made public, and surprisingly, Mr. Dodin the Ombudsman who was extremely technical throughout the night agreed with him.

Of course, poor Mrs. Leka Nair who is in charge of managing this controversial Declaration of Assets Department did not have much to say, except for the fact that she can only forward paperwork to the Attorney General’s office when someone did not comply. Pretty lame for an overseer, although this is not her fault but probably attributed to the design by the great architects of this wishy-washy legislation.

I also like Mrs. Tirant’s take that in Seychelles, we make too many laws without looking at the real consequences down the line, and that a law in itself will do nothing for our country unless it is enforced. Her analogy that “a cow born in a pig pen remains a cow” was brilliant! Her call basically was to a lame Attorney General’s office, to a pathetic Police Department, to the already corrupt Government heads, and to a mediocre Judiciary to get off their fat butts and to start prosecuting some of the perpetrators who have stolen millions from our country. I wish she had been more explicit. But anyhow, I digress…

In retrospect, I believe that the Face-a-Face show has some merits and might be good for Seychelles in the long run. However, an air of conspiracy fills the studio every time the show comes on and that in itself seems to be a form of corruption, be it media-corruption, forced-corruption or otherwise. We all know that the topics are chosen for a reason, but the truth never seems to come out by the end of the show, and the summaries leave you empty and wanting for more. We are all aware that most of the invitees are from the top echelon of our society, are respected members of our society, and are supposed to be some of the best brains in the country. So why are the discussions so shallow that rhyme, reason and reality take flight whenever the show begins? In fairness, we do get a glimmer of hope every now and then, such as when Captain Adam of Sepec stated that his company had not been audited for 10 years, or when Docklands Supermarket owner Radley Weber stated that everyone is buying money on the black market, or better yet, when car-hire owner Ferley Etienne stated categorically that the problem is not too many cars on our roads, but that Government should build more roads since they had been collecting millions in road taxes and high import duties. Such inspiring moments are few and far between, and one has to seriously wonder where the problem really lies.

Now we also know that the show is taped, so probably Mrs. Moustache-Belle and her boss Mr. Afif edit the tape, send it to State House for approval, and the important, incriminating points that are made by the invitees are removed so that the public is not influenced in any way by seeing the “juicy bits”; or the truth so to speak.

Maybe this is simply the way SBC operates, as its mandate, motto or “Modus Operandi” seems to be “suck up to the President and his Government” and edit everything so that it makes Michel, his party and his Government look like good guys. With or without the teleprompter! Remember that Michel is the person in charge of the Information Ministry, and we have seen enough staged Michel and Antoine Onezime’s interviews to understand who is the real boss, let alone the recent interview with Per Fondater Albert Rene. So what should we really be expecting? A free media? Didn’t the O’Reilly report recommend that the state media become more independent? Since Michel took over from Rene, have we seen a more independent media? Or have we regressed and seen that SBC Radio, SBC-TV and even the state-controlled newspaper “Nation” have all been hijacked by State House to push forward their own agenda?

I believe the way forward is to have the show broadcasted live and in front of a studio audience. That way, we can see a real debate taking place, we will hear non-edited responses from the invitees, and the reaction of the audience would bring an element of reality to the show. Maybe the audience could also participate by asking a few questions at the end of the show. Something similar to the Doha Debates which can get quite heated at times. And it would be great to see Moustache-Belle replaced as host now and then with a hard-hitting “line of fire” type of interviewer. That might get some corrupt Government worker to sweat and actually spill the beans, although I would personally prefer a lie-detector test. Now that’s a thought!

Back to the corruption debate in Seychelles, I wish that Jacqueline would have invited me on the show. With that privilege extended to me and with all of Seychelles listening in anticipation, my closing statement would have gone something like this:

In regards to corruption, I would urge the Attorney General to start with a financial and forensic audit of the last 30 years of the ex-SMB, its previous Chairman Mr. Albert Rene and its Managing Director Mukesh Valabhji, as everyone in the country say that these 2 people have stolen millions of dollars through corrupt deals. So let us start at the top of the corruption chain.

This would be followed by Central Bank and its previous Governor Mr. Francis Changleng, as many millions more have gone missing during his tenure.

I would ask the AG to start the investigation of IDC and its Chairman Mr. Glenny Savy as Seychellois are quite wary of these island deals that have gone down for nearly 3 decades.

Then it would be the turn of Nouvobanq, DBS and Savings Bank given that banks are well-known to have colluded with corrupt officials. Especially in regards to foreign exchange transfers.

Then on to Air Seychelles and its current CEO Mr. David Savy, then to STB and its previous management including Mr. Francis Savy. While we are at it, let us look seriously into this Ste. Anne island One Rupee lease deal and see if this was not a corrupt deal.

I would then put a team onto Mr. Dolor Ernesta, the previous Minister of Land and Habitat. He has certainly been accused of many shady land deals and he was known to have signed numerous land sale transactions favouring a few Government officials and foreigners.

Onwards to Sepec since it handles billions of rupees of annual transactions, and also investigate those oil tanker deals even closer. I would also look into Intelvision for allegedly getting numerous duty-free tax concessions, and then to Minister Joel Morgan for the alleged US$4.5 million dollars which disappeared under his watch.

I would also investigate the ex-SIDEC officials and find out why the allocation of all these wonderful plots of land on the Providence reclamation went to high-ranking Government officials, Mrs. Rene’s Emerald companies and others friends of the SPPF.

Then I would seriously look into the case of the Meridien Barbarons and the Fishermen’s Cove hotel-land sales, given that Mr. Mukesh Valabhji was again involved in those deals. Then have a team investigate The Plantation Club Hotel and the ex-Tracking Station sales to Arab Sheiks.

Then move on to Abhaye Valabhji to find out why Government only bought cars from their company for over a decade. Then check out Space95 and find out why they received an order for a thousand notebook computers from the Government without a tender; and do not forget to check out that multi-million dollar contract they received for an Electronic Government Project that was scrapped before it got off the ground. In fact, since Mr. Bernard Moutia is an ex-Central Bank employee and his sister Danielle is married to Mr. Francis Changleng, I would extend the investigation to both Mr. Moutia and his sister.

And Mr. Attorney General, I would suggest that you set up a different task force to deal with the alleged corruption that has taken place on La Digue, Praslin and our other islands as well, including Anonyme and Long Island.

I would also take a chance and investigate one of our new Seychellois, Mr. Siva. Find out how he managed to get a passport so quickly, and do check all records of financial dealings with our Government and high-ranking officials.

And last but certainly not least, I would start an investigation of Mr. Brigadier Leopold Payet and all the other top brass who has controlled the Armed Forces finances for the past 30 plus years. ”

Now, the Attorney General’s office will definitely be inundated with just those few cases I have mentioned above. But then, Mrs. Nair did mention that her job was to ensure that there is no corruption and to dismiss the “perception of corruption”. If the Attorney General’s office comes out after these serious investigations and tell the people of Seychelles that all the above companies and individuals came out squeeky clean, then we will surely know for a fact that there is ZERO corruption in Seychelles, and that all along, it has really and simply been the “perception of corruption”. After all, Mr. Rene did tell us once that he had “tres peu de sous”, and many Seychellois people actually believed him.

On the other hand, if only one or two corrupt individuals are prosecuted and sent to jail, we might have dancing in the Victoria streets and Jacqueline can revel in the fact that it all started with her show.

In the end, I believe the past rather than the future holds the key to the corruption problem and those missing millions or billions of dollars. And not even Jacqueline, her Face-a-Face show, her guests, nor the audience will ever know the truth or the lies that are currently buried in our Central Bank vaults, or more probably the vaults of offshore banks.

I simply cannot wait for the next show… really.


Anonymous said...

I totally agree that the past rather than the future holds the key to the corruption problems. Corruption is like any crime because in the process many people suffer and even die. Crimes cannot be pushed under the carpet. They have to be fully investigated to bring justice, equity, fairness and ORDER in DISORDER and finally peace in the hearts and soul of everyone . They call it law enforcement and NO ONE IS ABOVE THE LAW for ever.


Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

The long and short of this issue is that corruption has caused the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars to Seychelles.

The corruption culture is deeply ingrained in Rene's set up. Michel has inherited this system and he protects it.

It is because of corruption that Seychelles is bankrupt today.

The SPPF apparatus ignores accountability and Face a Face has as well. In fact, Mrs. Belle was very careful not to offend any one who has become rich through corruption. I am most certain, she told the guests before hand, what not to say. The show could be called Farce-a-Farce.

Anonymous said...

You mean FARce-a-FARce???? :-D

Anonymous said...

This is an excellent article and I congratulate the person who had the courage to write it. It is time for a showdown between President Michel and the people of Seychelles. He keeps talking about transparency and says that corruption is not that bad in Seychelles. But anyone who has lived in SEychelles in the past 30 years know that there has been major corruption. A lot of it started with the army. How many houses and flats have been built with army funds? All the girlfriends and wives have new homes and nice pieces of land. Where did they get the money? From ministers getting nice pieces of land for cheap, to Mr. Rene himself buyign 10 acres for 60 thousand rupees. Isn't this corrption? I think it is time for a change. If Americans can vote for a new leader Obama, so can we. As Obama said, together we can.

Anonymous said...

How many Tuna boats caught fishing in Seychelles waters without a license released with a minimal penatlty to pay...The Govt could have seized the boats and used it to catch our own Tuna for export or futher sales...Koksec or whatever that boats name would not have to be bought and sold for a song Ahwi the more you think of it the deeper we SINK....

Anonymous said...

You forgot the amount of houses Mr. Brigadier Leopold Payet actually owns.
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