President James Michel delivered his 12th State of the Nation Address to the Seychelles National Assembly this afternoon, placing emphasis on social justice, welfare, the fight against drugs, healthcare improvement, democracy and good governance.
Mr. Michel said the year 2015 had produced a positive economic outlook for the country.
He noted that a growth rate of 4.34% was recorded and the foreign exchange reserve in the Central Bank was US$536 million. This represents almost five months’ worth of importation.
Seychelles continued to service its external debt regularly, and reduce debt stock to 62% of our Gross National Product (GNP). Seychelles remained well on track to achieving its public debt reduction objective of 50% of GNP in 2018. A level which many European countries have not been able to reach. The rate of inflation was 3.2% at the end of 2015.
The tourism industry experienced considerable growth, with a 19% increase in visitor arrivals, and a 17% increase in revenue. Approximately 40,000 Seychellois travelled overseas last year, which represents 44% of Seychelles’ population. The government enable 1,612 people to enter employment in 2015, and the unemployment rate was at 4.2%.
Up to December 2015 a total of 538 loans valued at SR507.3 million were approved under the small and medium enterprise (SME) scheme; a total of 117 new small businesses were created, and this brings the number of small and medium enterprises in Seychelles to 2,290.More than 270 Seychellois obtained university degrees either from the University of Seychelles, or from universities overseas. Statistics show that today, approximately 75% of Seychellois families are owners of their homes. Seychellois purchasing power has increased, mainly as a result of the reduction in the cost of fuel, electricity, water, LPG gas and certain goods.
“I represent a party that has struggled for more than 50 years for the liberation, freedom, dignity and emancipation of all Seychellois. We fought for social justice, for equality, for fraternity, for unity. And we’ve taken the Seychellois nation far – very far – over the 38 years that we have been in power,” said President Michel during his State of the Nation Address.
“We will continue working to build an even better Seychelles. Encompassing change, because it is we, Parti Lepep – and always we – who have brought about real change in this country. And we shall always do it when necessary. With respect to our fellow citizens. In peace and unity. In dignity. With fraternity and compassion. Without hatred and without the desire for revenge. Without personal agendas. Without JCBs, without bulldozers. Without arson. Without stamping on anyone.”
He said that this year Seychelles will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Independence, which would be a moment for greater solidarity and national unity.
“If we have reached where we are today, it is thanks to our determination and our conviction that, within us Seychellois, we have the courage to stand up and do what is right for our Seychelles. We have done it TOGETHER. Now my call as the President of Seychelles is for us all to rally together to consolidate our unity, to preserve our stability and to continue to make the Seychelles that we love remain that country of peace and unity in the world.”
The President presented several Government decisions and priorities for the year. The following is a summary of the main points made:
Minimum wage increase and income tax
The President announced that there will be an increase in minimum salary for a 35-hour week, from SR4050 to SR5050 monthly. There will be no personal income tax deduction on the minimum salary. This measure will take effect in April.
Furthermore, as from July, persons who earn a salary of SR 8555.50 or less will also not pay income tax.
The President announced that a progressive income tax system for other tiers of salary would be introduced as of January 2017.
The President announced that the social security/retirement pension would increase to 5050SR, to match the minimum wage.
He also announced that his Government would propose a new law which would change conditions of pensions for Government Ministers and Members of the National Assembly. They would not get automatic pensions after leaving post following a period of service. They will get their pensions only at the national age of retirement, and this would include both past and present office holders.
Cost of living
In order to make the cost of living more affordable, the President announced that the Seychelles Trading Company would stabilize and reduce the cost of certain goods. Furthermore there would be removal of VAT from certain goods. There would also be stabilisation and – depending on the situation on the international market – reduction of the costs of consumption of electricity and water, LPG gas, and so on.
13th month salary
Following the introduction of the 13th month salary in the public service in January 2016, the President said that his government believes that it is absolutely fair that private sector workers also receive the 13th month salary. He said that legislation will be introduced for the private sector to follow the government example. The aim is to encourage productivity and improve services, and also distribute more of the wealth and welfare with the workers, acquired through policies put in place by the government.
The President said that his government has decided to offer a reduction of 25% on the price of the house to those who are on a house purchase agreement with the Property Management Company (PMC).
Other people who are renting houses from PMC and who wish to join the house purchase agreement, will also enjoy this 25% reduction.
Other PMC tenants who do not wish to join the House Purchase Agreement scheme, and who are on the minimum wage, will receive a contribution from the Agency for Social Protection to meet 50% of the rent.
Furthermore, people who are buying a house or a plot of land for the first time, will not have to pay stamp duty on the first SR 2million.
He said that the government is also intensifying repair works in housing estates, and the reconstruction of estates where necessary, such as at Pointe Larue and Baie Lazare.
The President announced that there would be a revision of the conditions and criteria for welfare assistance, in order to give the Agency for Social Protection more flexibility when deciding the amount of help to give to people in difficulties.
The President said that in recognising the need to support the most vulnerable families who do not have the means to take a loan on their own, government is foreseeing the creation of a special fund for the renovation of homes which are in poor conditions and which represent a risk to families residing in the houses.
The President said that the patients from Praslin and La Digue coming to Seychelles Hospital on Mahe for treatment would receive boat transport free of charge
Also post-secondary students from Praslin and La Digue who are studying on Mahe would receive 2 boat tickets a month for
Subvention of cost of travel by boat and plane for all pensioners between Mahe, Praslin and la Digue.
Fight against drugs
The President said that his government would intensify the medical treatment and detoxification programme for addicts and introduce a programme of clean needles for addicts, used under medical supervision.
He said that the programme of rehabilitation for young people caught in possession of drugs would be intensified,mainly through community services, the strengthening of services and facilities offered at the Praslin and Coëtivy centres, and the creation of a Drop-in Centre on Mahé, a facility which will allow addicts to make a new start in life in an appropriate environment and with the necessary professional support.
He added that there would be proposed amendment of the laws on drugs to cater for these new considerations, and among others,to allow judges and magistrates complete discretion when passing sentence after drug related conviction as well as the setting up of a special court to hear all drug offences.
Also, there would be an introduction of a different regime/programme for those caught with certain amounts and types of drug, for personal consumption.
He said that a proposal would presented to Indian Ocean Commission Ministers when they meet later this month, to establish a high-level regional structure for intelligence gathering, coordination and operations in the fight against drug trafficking.
The President said that the law introduced by the British in 1955 to criminalise homosexuality would be repealed. He said that the Constitution of the Republic of Seychelles guarantees the protection of all citizens, without discrimination and that Seychelles also has a United Nations human rights obligation, since 2011, to abolish all provisions in our laws that criminalise homosexuality between consenting adults.
Democracy and good governance
The President said that as an evolving democracy, we have to consider the number of consecutive mandates that a President of the Republic can serve. After a lot of reflection and consultation, he said that he decided, together with his government, to propose to the National Assembly that the President will serve only two consecutive five-year terms, and not three as it is now.
The President said that a bill will be coming to the National Assembly soon for the creation of the Anti-Corruption Commission. The commission will have powers to investigate, detect and prevent practices linked to corruption. It will also receive complaints against corruption and record investigations into allegations of practices linked to corruption in all government departments and all institutions which get funding and donations from government.
The President said that SR30 million had been earmarked for the implementation of small projects in districts. He said that with the increasing focus on early childhood, much work is being undertaken to build day care centres in several districts in order to help families, especially mothers.
Tax evasion audit
The President said that the Ministry of Finance is undertaking an audit exercise to determine if there has been any tax evasion in certain sectors, and how Government can maximise its revenues. Any tax revenue that can be recovered after this exercise will be re-invested in the social sector.
Outsourcing health services
The President said that audit in the different health departments has revealed serious deficiencies which must be addressed quickly. He said that, to start with, the diagnostic and laboratory services would be outsourced- same as was done with dialysis unit, with great success, in spite of considerable resistance. He added that the strategy of gradually outsourcing certain essential services will bring a huge improvement in our health service delivery.