National Assembly leaders respond to proposed $519 million budget for Seychelles
The two leaders in the National Assembly gave their responses to the budget address of the Minister of Finance. (Joena Meme)
(Seychelles News Agency) - The two leaders in the Seychelles' National Assembly responded on Friday to the budget address made by the finance minister earlier in the week.
A budget of SCR11 billion ($519 million) was proposed by Minister Naadir Hassan in his address on Tuesday.
In his response, the Leader of the Opposition, Sebastien Pillay, said the Minister has presented the budget in a very troublesome and serious time where all his policy analysis is based on the distribution of vaccines to reopen the economy.
"The reality is that our country today like all countries in the world is suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic. Each country is trying to manage its situation in its own way. Some are doing it well, but there are some like Seychelles where things have unfortunately become difficult. Our country's resilience is being tested and will be tested again," he said.
Pillay said the budget is based on too much expectation that things will perhaps improve but with many contradictions and "not really saying how you will build a bridge to go from where we are today and move forward."
"All indication shows that things will not improve but the government wants to make us believe that the turn around the country will make will be fast enough and the impact on people's lives will be minimal," he added.
Pillay said that maybe Seychelles will achieve its target of vaccinating 70,000 of its population by April "but Europe and our biggest markets will still be dealing with COVID because according to their estimation it is in six to seven months that they expect to reopen."
He talked about the expected revenue to be collected and said it will be difficult to do so with the various cuts made.
Less revenue will be collected if "you reduce tax and cut the FA4JR (financial assistance for job retention) and such other measures because these were also supporting VAT and income taxes especially in the private sector. This will mean that revenue on income tax will decrease by 12.5 percent which represents a loss of 82 million rupees" said Pillay.
The Leader of the Opposition said that cutting the welfare, Unemployment Relief Scheme (URS), part rental and others is premature and not a good decision.
He called on the minister to do what is best for Seychellois in this difficult moment and "make the president understand that it is in the interest of the country to continue with assistance until the mid year review when we will have a better indication for when things will be."
Pillay talked about several points in the budget including the proposed capital expenditure of SCR1.9 billion which he said is excessive.
"In a time where our debts are increasing and uncertainty on revenue that we will collect why don't we limit and even freeze some of the capital expenditure especially on projects as we did in 2008."
He also talked about the grants and donations and asked if we know how much of these will go in procurements to India or China on existing projects. "The fundamental question is what are we giving in return and what are we putting on the table."
On the issue of corruption, Pillay said the Minister of Finance has many tools at his disposal and instead of talking about corruption he should be taking action.
On his side, Bernard Georges, the Leader of Government Business, said the minister's address was in two parts one to look at our economic situation, and the main reason why Seychelles is in this situation and the second was to propose structural changes in several sectors of government and to relaunch the economy.
"Don't renovate but rebuild and rebuild better, that was the minister's message. To be able to do that the minister is proposing a series of measures that are so obvious that we ask ourselves why others did not see," he said.
He said that the opposition like saying that they put people at the centre of development but he believed that they put welfare at the centre of development and this has brought about a culture of dependence.
"Workers have lost their sense of responsibility and welfare has become a destination instead of assistance in difficult times," said Georges.
He added that the minister talked about directing people towards employment and that a solid country must be built on a structure where the family is the foundation and members of the family at the working age in employment.
"With this structure a country is healthy...I am asking the government to become more flexible when it comes to employment at this difficult moment the country is going through because restructuring will take some time," said Georges.
He said the Minister also talked about cutting abuse, corruption and duplication in the government and once again this is a series of measures that should have been done a long time ago.
"I am now hopeful that our fishing industry will progress and our country can get more revenue that will allow the government to go ahead with the initiatives mention in this budget like valued added products, port extension, dry dock and others," said the Leader of Government Business.
"I am hopeful that agriculture can become such a way that our dependency on importation can be reduced at the same time creating jobs and opportunities for our citizens and revalorize the abandoned lands and our island for the production of more food," he added.
Georges said that there are some small ideas in the budget that he believes will really change the country such as waste sorting, family friendly businesses, flexible working hours, scholarships sponsored by private companies and a school of excellence.
He said this "removes the decision from the government and give the freedom to each citizen to make their own destiny and make every company play their part in this transformation."