30th anniversary: Q&A with Roger Mancienne, Speaker of the Seychelles National Assembly
Mancienne is the 5th Speaker of the Third Republic. (Seychelles Nation)
(Seychelles News Agency) - Roger Mancienne is the Speaker of the Seychelles National Assembly, who was sworn in October 2020 as the fourth speaker of the country's parliament since the return of multi-party democracy in 1993.
Mancienne, who is 75 years old, is also the leader of the Linyon Demokratik Seselwa (LDS-Seychellois Democratic Union) political party, which won a large victory in the legislative elections in 2016 and a landslide victory in the 2020 presidential and legislative elections.
On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Seychelles National Assembly of the Third Republic, SNA interviewed Mancienne to get his views on the evolution of parliamentary democracy in Seychelles and his own experiences as speaker, as well as plans for the future.
SNA: As a former leading opposition politician, editor of the former Regar newspaper, and today as Speaker of the Seychelles National Assembly, you have witnessed three decades of parliamentary debates and how they have shaped the lives of the people of Seychelles and their fledgling democracy. For you what are some of the most important moments during this historical period as both a witness of history and a participant in political life?
RM: I am not sure I will be able to distinguish the most important but I can pick the most memorable and those are what contained some drama and fell outside the main routine of Assembly business.
I remember the incident of Christopher Gill crossing the floor from the Democratic Party to the SPPF [Seychelles People's Progressive Front] side. This has never happened again as such.
The bye-elections that were held within the term of the Assembly also were quite remarkable events. There was one for Ause Aux Pins, one for Mont Fleuri and one for Anse Boileau.
The Assembly moving into its own building at Ile du Port was of course a historic event. It was the first time the institution had its own home, which gave it status as a branch of government, enhancing its image. In the same way, live broadcasting of Assembly sittings in a variety of media, TV, radio and social media, has greatly enhanced its visibility and reach.
The 6th Assembly, in which there was a majority opposition and a minority of the government party was a watershed moment and a remarkable occasion. The cohabitation, as it has been called, brought a new perspective. It started with much curiosity about how this would work and we saw a new perspective on democratic governance.
|Mancienne said that the Assembly moving into its own building at Ile du Port was of course a historic event. (Seychelles Nation) Photo License: CC-BY|
Of course, one very dramatic occasion came with the debate on radio licensing which led to a violent assault by the police and armed forces on a protest by the opposition party outside the Assembly building.
In my own time, the reconfiguration of seating in the Chamber had a lot of symbolic importance which I believe gave a better reflection of what the Assembly was.
In between such events, some instances of matters on the floor were memorable when they were concerned with dramatic issues such as piracy in Seychelles waters, the Economic Development Act, which gave citizenship to investors, and all the TRNUC [Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission] episodes.
SNA: What do you believe are some of the most important laws that the Seychelles National Assembly has passed in its 30-year history as a democracy?
RM: When it comes to laws, I will start with the amendments to the Constitution, which made changes in the system of government such as the formulation of the post of Vice-President and how power could be transferred.
The creation of some secondary institutions such as the Human Rights Commission and the Anti-Corruption Commission was very important. So too were the laws that defined and enhanced certain rights and these came with laws such as the Public Assembly Act, allowing more freedom for political activities and the Access to Information Act.
But very notable was the whole revision of the Civil Code by the 6th Assembly, which modernised the law in many many instances, and the Creation of the Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission (TRNUC) by the same Assembly.
SNA: What was it like to be an opposition politician during the years when the Seychelles People's Progressive Front (SPPF) had a majority in the Assembly? Was it always a fierce antagonism or were there moments of compromise?
RM: Personally, I was not very closely involved with the Assembly but I participated in some deliberations. For example, with the financial crisis in 2008, I took part in discussions on reform which I think contributed to the country finding its way out peacefully.
During the piracy crisis, there were discussions across party lines on our response. I would not say there was always fierce antagonism. Things were generally tense but the opposing parties did dialogue and there was some communication although government business remained generally a one-sided affair.
SNA: Why did the main opposition parties boycott the 2011 parliamentary election that led to Parti Lepep (formerly SPPF) having a one-party Assembly, apart from one proportional seat for one opposition member?
RM: Yes, this was an interesting episode in our political history. The situation was that the opposition had lost a number of elections in which electoral procedures and political rights such as the freedom of expression were seen to be unfair. We had protested over the years but there was always resistance from the government party.
So, after losing election after election which we felt had been unfair, we decided we could not continue doing things the same way. So, we took the decision to boycott the elections. It was a big gamble because a party that does not take part in elections can easily be obliterated. But our absence created a void and the presence of one opposition member was seen as a total sham.
Eventually, people realised that a democratic system needed a credible opposition. In the absence of formal opposition, dissent spread in the ruling party itself and in the end, we emerged with a larger opposition force. The strategy paid off because it led to the changes that we wanted. The Electoral Commission was reformed and other changes came about which greatly improved conditions for political participation.
SNA: You were a founding member of Parti Seselwa, which later became the United Opposition (UO) and then Seychelles National Party (SNP), which merged with other opposition parties in 2016 to form the Linyon Demokratik Seselwa (LDS) and for the first time won a parliamentary majority that same year. What do you believe were the ingredients to winning the election?
RM: The ingredients were the creation of a larger opposition force by bringing together all the actors who were on the scene and also the improvement in conditions. The creation of LDS was an important moment because it showed the opposition forces could unite under one banner and it gave new prospects for a widely based government team. This of course coincided with the perception that we had reached a stage when change was necessary. This is what brought about the results of the 2016 elections.
|LDS won the National Assembly elections in 2016. (Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY|
SNA: You are still the Party Leader of LDS, as in the past, today you have many critics of an alleged bias towards your party while in your role as speaker. How do you respond to this issue and do you intend to continue to remain Party Leader until the next elections and beyond?
RM: I am criticised from both sides. From one, I am accused of bias towards my own party and from the other side of being too lenient to the opposition. I have heard the criticism and I have noted what is being said. But in the end, my only judge is my conscience. I believe I am applying the rules fairly and allowing both sides to express their views.
I have criticisms of my own for Members who do not respect the rules and do not show respect for the institution. I will continue to examine my own leadership and ask the Members to also scrutinise their behaviour. The Speaker is elected from the majority party so I cannot escape the association but I try to be objective and impartial. As for continuing as Speaker until the next election, that depends on my party. They asked me to take this position and they can remove me when they want.
SNA: Do you believe that the Seychelles National Assembly needs to be reformed in any way, including the format of its sittings or any other procedures?
RM: We have made a major change in the format of the seating arrangement this year and I think this is a great improvement. There are some rules of procedure which I believe need to be re-examined and we have a Committee of the Assembly charged with this. It is the Standing Orders Committee. I think we have to see how we organise debate better so that we deal with business in a set period of time for instance.
SNA: With your breadth of experience and memories of Seychelles' political life, have you noticed any patterns in topics discussed in the Assembly in terms of the complaints of government inefficiency, lethargy, corruption and wastage that are said to be present both in the LDS-led government today and the former ruling party that was at the helm of the government for 43 years? Do you believe there is hope for real change, something that your party promised for so many years?
RM: I believe there has been real change. My party has delivered and will continue to deliver on change. In the life of this Assembly, I have not heard of one credible charge of corruption on the part of government officials and LDS has not taken any advantage of its position as the governing party.
Our government has moved swiftly to get the country back on track after the COVID episode. People forget easily but many things have moved forward. We have seen major reform of some systems such as the welfare programme and procurement procedures. I have not heard of any case of wastage of government resources. Sure, there are complaints but most of them are just politics.
There are of course still many shortcomings but many of them concern the way the public service works and this is very hard to change. I think we can do better in the efficient delivery of services. At the same time, there is a huge effort to tackle some of the major challenges that the country faces such as the drug problem. There has been change and I hope there will be more.