National Assembly: Tourism’s state institutions start year penniless
The tourism department, the tourism academy and the tourism board all begin this year with no money from state coffers following the decision by the Linyon Demokratik Seselwa (LDS) majority in the National Assembly yesterday to vote down their budget allocations for 2017
The JJ Spirit Foundation's "Espace" Building is at the heart of the issue that taxpayers should not subsidise political organisations
Almost 24 years after the start of Seychelles’ Third Republic, the country will, for the first time ever, discover what it means when a budget allocation is not approved by the National Assembly after the legislature yesterday voted down the SCR147,275,000 budget allocation for the Seychelles Tourism Board (STB), the SCR 15,575,150 allocation for the tourism department and the SCR1.9,90.9,210 set aside for the Seychelles Tourism Academy (STA).
It was in the presence of the newly-appointed tourism minister Maurice Loustau-Lalanne - he replaced Alain St Ange who resigned last week - that technicians from the tourism-related state entities attended the National Assembly’s budget committee on Thursday to answer questions on their respective budget allocations.
The National Assembly had sought clarification from the minister and the top executives on a substantial part of the budget allocations of the bodies under the head of “use of goods and services”.
According to the budget documents, which are also available to the public on the finance ministry’s website, the STB’s budget line under the head claims SCR134,303,800 broken down into SCR4,799,270 for “office expenses”, SCR3,078,710 for transportation and travel costs and a sum of SCR123,272,640 under another sub-head o f‘other uses of goods and services’.
The same queries were raised with respect to the Tourism Department’s SCRl5,575,150 budget allocation where a sum of SCR8,830,070 has been allocated to the head ‘use of goods and services’ with a sum of SCR5,128,290 set aside under the sub-head o f‘use of goods and services’.
It is these two heads of expenditure that provoked the most questions from the members of the National Assembly who wanted to know what was included in the large sums. Responding to their queries, the tourism department explained that the SCR5.1 million represented SCRl.2 million in security, SCR716\000 in consultancy fees and SCR240,000 per month in rent for the office space at the Espace Building.
The STB, for its part, explained that out of its SCR123 million allocation under the ‘use of goods and services’ head, SCR91 million was to pay for marketing and legal fees and SCR18 million to pay overseas staff.
These explanations led to more questions on the types of contracts drawn up with overseas staff and also the rent paid under the lease ties and the Jj Spirit Foundation, owners of the Espace building from which they operate.
Debates over Standing Orders
When the legislature reconvened for work yesterday, it was to receive more detailed answers to those queries. However, the debates quickly turned into a slanging match between both sides of the floor as to what could and couldn’t be done and as to whether the standing orders, the rules and regulations that govern proceedings in the house, had been properly applied.
A move by the leader of the opposition, Wavel Ramkalawan, to adjourn the debates on the budget allocations for the STB and the tourism department was turned down following strong objection from the Parti Lepep MNAs, leading to a vote being called on the budget lines. Despite a call by the LDS member to vote separately on the budget allocation of the STA, the principal secretary' of finance, Patrick Payet, said the budgets for the STA and the tourism department had to be voted together, leading, in the final analysis, to the LDS using its majority to vote down all three budget allocations by 14 LDS votes against 13 Parti Lepep in favour.
It is unclear why the STA budget could not be voted on separately from the departments since it was presented separately. Howrever, the statement made by one of the Parti Lepep members that the vote would hold back the building of houses seems to point to a manoeuvre to show the decision in a bad political light.
Objections to rental of “Espace”
The crux of the LDS’s objection to the STB’s and the department’s budgets is primarily over the rental space occupied by the tourism department and the STB in the “Espace” Building which they say, is owned by a political organisation. The argument is that government ministries and departments should not be funding such organisations through payment of rent.
In this case, it will be recalled that the STB and the tourism ministry’s headquarters moved into the Espace building in 2013 under severe criticism at the time. It was in June 2013 that the chairperson of the Jj Spirit Foundation and the then secretary' general in the office of the former president, James Michel, Lise Bastienne rejected criticism over government offices relocating to the “Espace” building owned by the Jj Spirit Foundation.
The tourism ministry, led by former minister Alain St. Ange, moved out of premises at the state-owned National Library' building on Francis Rachel Street to the first floor of the Espace building on 3 June 2013, followed shortly after by the STB, which abandoned the state-owned premises at Bel Ombre, to move into and occupy the second floor.
The opposition weekly, Le Seychellois Hebdo, had run an article in May 2013 referring to the move as “controversial” since the Seychellois taxpayers wrould effectively have to foot the bill for rental that would be paid to the Jj Spirit Foundation, an organisation believed to belong to the ruling Parti Lepep.
Mrs. Bastienne had responded to the article saying that she was “not aw are of any contention” regarding the rental of private office space by the Jj Spirit Foundation to government bodies. She had told LSH that as office space in Victoria was limited and since government “has not been able to fund new office space, it leaves room for the private sector and NGOs to build offices and offer them to the government or any other organisation, for that matter.”
She also rejected any contention that the taxpayer was being ripped off. “Government pays rental for office space to many private sector property' holders when it does not have space in its own buildings. Does the Seychellois taxpayer benefit in that case?” she asked, answering in the affirmative, “because it encourages the private sector to build and invest in the economy and it encourages the economy to grow.”
NGOs, like the Jj Spirit Foundation, generate funds through membership fees, donations and investments, such as property development, and that was what her organisation was doing, she added.
Whilst its proponents have argued that the Jj Spirit Foundation is a youth-oriented NGO, rejecting any accusation of its political affiliations, it is common knowledge that the electorate has always associated the name with the driving slogan of the 2006 presidential election campaign of James Michel.
Furthermore, how this NGO was able to purchase a highly valuable piece of reclaimed state land despite the provisions of the State Land and River Reserves Act has never been fully explained. Under that law any state land can only be sold by open tender and for its “full value” and can be given away only “for religious, charitable or educational purposes or for purposes of public utility'” - objects that some argue, do not include operating in the real-estate business.
Source: Today.sc 1-7-17