Speech by President Danny Faure 30 July 2020
31 July 2020 | State House
Seychellois brothers and sisters,
Today marks exactly 6 months since the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared that the outbreak of a novel coronavirus constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
On 11 March, COVID-19 described the situation as a pandemic and here in Seychelles we had our first case on 14 March. Until today our country remains in a state of Public Health Emergency. Given this Public Health Emergency, I directed the introduction of multiple measures to save the lives of our people and mitigate the impact of this pandemic on our economy.
As you know, we are reopening the airport and resuming commercial flights from 1 August. This was not an easy decision, and it was not one taken lightly. The decision was taken following a series of consultations between government and all sectors and partners, including the private sector, civil society, SIFCO, Federation of Employers Association, and Federation of Workers' Unions.
In order to make explicit why we took this collective decision, I would like to detail everything we have done together over the last few months, where we are today, and what we are facing in the future.
As you will remember, when the first cases of COVID-19 hit us, we took the following measures to save lives and stop the virus from spreading in our community.
We introduced measures to restrict movement and we closed the airport, schools and non-essential services. Acting cautiously, we limited economic, social and sporting activities. We educated ourselves about the nature of this virus and ways to avoid catching it, especially through good hygiene and social distancing which we are practising today.
These measures helped to stop the spread of this virus and stop any COVID-19 related deaths in Seychelles.
We went even further. We provided financial assistance to those employers facing financial difficulties to ensure that no Seychellois workers were laid off during the first few months of uncertainty. We also sustained businesses dependent on the tourism industry such as taxi drivers and other small businesses. This assistance will continue until December.
The Central Bank worked with commercial banks to offer affordable financing for businesses in difficulty. There is in total SCR 1.2 billion available to commercial banks to support businesses. Additionally, Government acted to accelerate this assistance by acting as a guarantor.
During the months of April, May, June and July this year, Government has paid more than SCR 509 million to support workers in the private sector. Despite the fact that we have faced difficulties and delays, 16, 299 workers have been able to sustain their families and honour their loans and expenses like everyone else.
SCR 513 million is a lot of money for our small economy, but I firmly believe that the comfort and dignity of our people has no price as long as the means permit.
We reinforced social assistance to support those in the informal sector. For example, in July 2019 we assisted 2266 families under this programme. In the same period this year, we assisted almost double: 5399 families.
These are some of the effects of COVID-19. This is the price we need to pay to make sure that nobody is left behind and that nobody goes hungry.
Brothers and sisters,
As of today, 665, 581 people have died from COVID-19 around the world. But this pandemic is more than a public health crisis.
It is having a catastrophic effect on the world economy and Seychelles as we already see. Before COVID-19, our economy was thriving: USD 3 million entered our economy and our banking system every day. More than 75% of this amount was from the tourism industry. Today this industry is on its knees. The amount of foreign exchange it is bringing in has reduced to almost nothing.
Other economic sectors dependent on tourism have also been severely hit and their revenue has also reduced drastically.
This means that the country’s total revenue is less, foreign exchange entering the country is less, and the revenue that Government is collecting through taxes is less. And as we see, with less foreign exchange entering the system, the foreign exchange rate has risen from 1 Dollar to 14 Rupees before COVID-19, to 1 Dollar being 18 Rupees today.
As the cost of Dollars goes up, the cost of commodities we import goes up. We all see the changes in the price of goods at the shops.
Despite the rising costs, Government has intervened to maintain the price of 14 base commodities that STC imports, including the 6 items that were recently added to the list. These goods cost the same as before COVID-19. We are also working with STC to ensure that the country has a 6-month stock of commodities.
STC was also asked to work with local farmers and fishermen to ensure they have a market for their produce, supporting our efforts to guarantee food security in the country.
Under the scheme for fishermen, more than 100 tonnes of fish have been bought from artisanal fishermen and fish processors.
Between January and June this year, STC bought 100 tonnes of chicken and 5 tonnes of pork from local farmers. In the same period, STC also bought SCR 10 million worth of vegetable produce from local farmers.
Government established infrastructure for local meat producers to ensure they can continue production despite increases in the price of animal feed. This intervention has allowed farmers to continue operating over the last few months and for their products to reach the market at an affordable price.
Government has regularly consulted the Chamber of Commerce and associated importers and retailers to ensure the provision of commodities to the community.
I also met with the leadership of SEYPEC to ensure we have a stock of fuel for at least 6 months. This allows SPTC and other means of transport to keep running, fishermen to go fishing, PUC to produce electricity, businesses to run, and our families to get electricity and gas at home.
With an economy that continues to shrink, more businesses will close and more workers will lose their jobs. Government has created a company: Seychelles Employee Transition Scheme (SETS) that is working on a series of programmes to provide training and reskilling to those who have been made redundant to facilitate their reabsorption in the workforce. Through SETS, workers that have been made redundant continue to get money at the end of the month.
Seychellois brothers and sisters,
Here is some of the work that has been done in the last 4 months. It would seem that sometimes we lack appreciation for the amount of work and sacrifices made by some for the well-being of all, and we let ourselves get distracted by negative propaganda. Sometimes you get the impression that there are some who hope that we do not succeed. But I tell all those men and women that are doing this hard, difficult work: do not lose faith and continue to work hard. I call upon all Seychellois, in all sectors: let us reinforce our contribution for Seychelles, especially when faced with this crisis we are in. Let us remain in solidarity.
Government has done everything possible to minimise the impact of COVID-19 on our country. But everything that we have done will not be sustainable in the long-term because we are eating into our reserves. Let us appreciate that our reserves have a limit.
Each of us have to do our part to review and prioritise our spending. Let us support local produce as much as possible.
It took us 44 years to attain the quality of life we enjoyed before COVID-19. But it has taken just 4 months for COVID-19 to paralyse our tourism industry, our economy and our progress. Just think: it took us 12 years to successfully accumulate the reserves that are sustaining us today.
According to our estimations – and I say estimation because nothing is certain – it will take at least 5 years for us to return to where we were before COVID-19. And this is assuming the creation of a vaccine that ensures COVID-19 is no longer a public health threat globally.
So, it is just not possible, with only the exportation of fish, offshore banking and other economic activities, to replace the revenue we were getting from tourism right away. It is necessary, but it will take time and it will cost us.
In the meantime, we need to reopen our borders to slowly restart our tourism industry and enable more economic activity. We reopen our borders to visitors from countries that WHO has declared as low and medium risk. We do not produce medicines, we do not produce enough food, we do not produce fuel and without foreign exchange entering the country, we cannot buy these essential items.
As I have said earlier, this decision was not easy but it is necessary. When you have a country to run, there are decisions you have to take even though they are difficult. But we need to prepare ourselves for potential risks, because this pandemic is everywhere and people can bring it despite the precautions we take.
If we get a case, it is important – very important – that we stop it from spreading. These controls are in our hands, it is our responsibility. Let us redouble our efforts and follow the advice we are encouraged to follow every day by health professionals. Wash or sanitise your hands regularly. Practise physical distancing. Wear masks when necessary. Let us stay well-informed. Let us stay calm. Let us stay united.
Brothers and sisters,
As I have said, even though we reopen the airport, even when we minimise the effect of COVID-19 on our economy, we will continue to face a lot of uncertainties. It is for this reason that we need to take care of and use our reserves well.
You will remember that we had to redo the 2020 Budget after the arrival of COVID-19. This Budget had many measures to cut government spending and suspend certain national and community projects.
With this Budget we will have a 14% deficit instead of a surplus of 4% that we estimated before COVID-19. This is an indication that assuming our tourism industry and our economy does not recover to sufficient levels, we will not have a choice and we will have to make certain adjustments requiring a lot of sacrifice.
Soon we will have a presidential election. As you know, elections are expensive. This year we budgeted SCR 15 million for the presidential election.
Next year, we are expected to spend more for the National Assembly elections when their mandate ends. Faced with the difficult economic situation we are in, and to avoid the expenditure of an additional election, I have decided that in the interest of the financial well-being and economy of Seychelles, we will hold the presidential and national assembly elections together.
It is in the interest of our country that we complete these two elections this year. On the one hand, it will reduce spending and at the same time it will allow us to dedicate 2021 to addressing the economic challenges facing us.
Elections are necessary in a democracy. At the same time, they take a lot of energy and resources and naturally also bring certain divisions and distractions.
It is especially important that in a period of uncertainty and difficulty as we are in today, that the people choose someone who is best able to lead the country as President and also their National Assembly which has its important role.
When Seychellois choose their leaders in general elections, the country will get the political stability and unity that it needs to survive as a nation.
This afternoon I met with the Speaker of the National Assembly, Hon Nicolas Prea, and I briefed him on our dire economic situation. I discussed the importance of the country holding these 2 elections at the same time. This will be in the best interest of Seychelles.
Seychellois brothers and sisters,
Article 110 of our Constitution gives authority to the President of the Republic to dissolve the National Assembly for a reason considered in the national interest. I am informing you that this is what I am doing tonight to allow the National Assembly elections to be held at the same time as Presidential Elections.
I informed and gave notice to the Speaker my intention to dissolve the National Assembly in the national interest as the Constitutions provides. Consequently, after 7 days I will publish a proclamation stating the dissolution of the National Assembly in the Official Gazette and the National Assembly will be dissolved the next day.
In politics, despite rivalry there needs to be respect and appreciation. My experience as President for almost 4 years has been one where I work with an opposition-led National Assembly. We have not been able to work together as I would have hoped in all cases. I have experienced certain obstacles but I have always put the interests of Seychelles first.
I take this opportunity to sincerely thank the Sixth National Assembly, the two Speakers that have served the Assembly, the Leader of Opposition, the Leader of Government Business and Honourable Members from both parties.
Seychellois brothers and sisters,
Seychelles has always been bigger than us all. We know that this situation we are in today is more difficult than anything we have faced before. Once again I ask all Seychellois to unite and work together in common purpose. It is our only chance to succeed.
May God continue to bless our Seychelles and protect our people.