National Assembly approves budgets for three entities under internal affairs portfolio

The appropriation for the Ministry of Internal Affairs was approved by 31 votes at a sum of R12,025,000, comprising the minister’s support services, as well as the allocations for the regional maritime security bodies, namely, the Regional Centre for Operational Coordination (RCOC), the National Information Sharing and Coordination Centre (NSICC), and Regional Fusion and Law Enforcement Centre for Safety and Security at Sea (REFLECS3).

In presenting the budget, the minister responsible for the portfolio Roy Fonseka explained that the ministry’s budget was in subsequent years attached to that of the Designated Ministers (DM) Office, but it is no longer the case.

“In general there is no increase in the budget of the Internal Affairs Ministry. If we look at the 2020 budget, it was R15.7 million, for 2021 the budget has reduced to R12 million. The bulk of the reduction is in the salaries because, as the minister explained, most staff who were in the DM portfolio have moved and are not part of the ministry of internal affairs now. There are reallocations, but in general there is no increase in the budget,” principal secretary for finance Damien Thésée clarified.

The assembly was particularly concerned with the various regional maritime centres, including the functions of each, the internal structure, as well as budget allocations to the entities. Director for Regional Coordination and Operations Centre, Colonel George Adeline noted that the centres are crucial to maritime security detailing the functions and objectives of each.

The NISCC has as its main objective the responsibility to enhance and create a mechanism for co-ordination and information sharing in the air, land and maritime space, while the RCOC organises and co-ordinates operations at sea to prevent and stop actions or situations affecting maritime security and safety in the Eastern Southern African and Indian Ocean region. Operations organised by the RCOC are funded by the European Union (EU) Colonel Adeline stated.

On the other hand, REFLECS3 provides national and regional capacity building for maritime law enforcement to gather national, regional and international information for maritime safety and security activities. The administrative costs of the entity are covered by the Seychelles government, while operations are funded by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crimes (UNODC), which also sponsors capacity-building for other forces within the region.

In defending the budget, Minister Fonseka emphasised the importance of having the right structures in place to tackle crimes and practices such as human trafficking which is becoming more prevalent around the region.

The assembly also voted to approve the budget for the department of immigration and civil status amounting to R64,809,000, by 33 votes in favour. The amount represents a 45% increase as compared to the 2020 budget, or an increment of around R20 million. Of the R64 million budget, R29.2 million has been allocated to wages and salaries while goods and services total in at R35.5 million.

Minister Fonseka in introducing the appropriation noted a slight increase of R33,153 in office expenses, R33,600 for transportation to cover ministerial and departmental visits to inner islands, as well as decreases in allowances by R697,000 and lower office rent expenses by R222,000.

Principal secretary for immigration and civil status Alain Volcère, highlighted the sum of R24.6 million for the biometric passport project which has been on the table for a little while. While he acknowledged delays in implementing the project, with the budget appropriation the project is “moving full-speed ahead” and should be up and running towards the end of the year, said PS Volcère. With the change in passport, the validity period will be up to 10 years as opposed to five years as it is presently, and will contain more pages. Provisions for passports for children are also accounted for in the appropriation.

“With regards to the biometric passport, I think it is important to see the rationale why we decided upon the proposed system. Actually the passport issuance system that we are using at the moment is outdated and even obsolete so there is no support or assistance for it at the moment. It is more than 15 years, dating back to 2004, which is why we were compelled to embark on the project,” said PS Volcère.

“We also need to make ourselves up to par with the 120 countries globally who are already employing the system. And we think there are around 500 million e-passports or biometric passports in circulation in the world. The world is becoming more stringent on controlling their frontiers, so we too need to change gears, and introduce the biometric as it will have a great impact in helping us achieve our objectives, especially to ensure the security of people’s identities,” PS Volcère stated.

Among the benefits of such passports he cited, is enhanced security through special security features such as facial recognition, as well as strengthening and extending visa-waiver eligibility from other countries.

Minister Fonseka, in response to countless questions about gainful occupation permits (GOP) clarified that approval of GOPs for posts after labour market research rests on the department of employment, while the department of immigration is responsible for the issuance. Presently 1,014 persons are still in the country holding expired GOPs, although some are still awaiting travel connections to their respective countries and the lifting of travel measures in place against the Covid-19 pandemic, ahead of returning to their countries of origin.

Honourable Sylvanne Lemiel, elected United Seychelles (US) member for Anse Royale sought more information as to an increment under the other goods and services for rent, from R88,000 to R177,000, to which PS Volcère responded that the 25 percent rent reduction for public service entities is factored into the budget, to cater for the rental of three properties, including an office on La Digue, another at the Pension Fund Complex on Praslin, as well as another large warehouse owned by the Seychelles Pension Fund at Providence, at which all records are kept.

A lot of deliberations in relation to the department’s budget centred around citizenship and immigration issues, efforts to review and reform laws, and changes to the law to allow for the extradition or deportation of persons involved in criminality to their country of origin.

The assembly during the afternoon session tackled the appropriation for the department of prisons, represented by superintendent of Seychelles Prison Raymond St Ange and senior accountant Tassiana Labrosse.

The appropriation, to a total of R79,607,490 represents a 9 percent decrease, or R7,402,167 less than that of 2020.

“If we look at use of goods and services, under wages in kind, there is an increase of R213,000. Under office expenses there is a reduction of R185,800 through a reduction in utilities, telephones by R526,000. There is a slight increment on uniforms of R134,000 and a reduction in water of R248,000,” said Mr St Ange.

“Transportation and travel costs, you will see a reduction of R1,300,000, as well as a reduction in rental of buses for staff transportation. There is also a reduction in air fares to inner islands and within this; there is also a component for repatriation of foreign prisoners,” Minister Fonseka said seeking for the assembly’s approval.

According to superintendent St Ange, the prison currently employs 16 officers from the Tanzanian Prison Service, and a further 48 from Nepal, on an average salary of US $900. These officers, who after the end of the contract are to be replaced with competent Seychellois, are also provided boarding and food provisions. Seychellois counterparts are soon to benefit from an amendment to the scheme of service so as to address the inconsistencies experienced in the past.

With regard to the increment for clothing and bed linen under the materials and supplies heading from R273,000 to R973,000, Minister Fonseka said the allocated fund is to cater for the introduction of prison uniforms for inmates as they do not currently have uniforms. The process with the Procurement Oversight Unit (POU) is to commence soon.

As for housing, for which the allocation has increased by over R100,000, from R511,000 to R725,000, Ms Labrosse referred to the rental of four houses at Reef Estate, Mandarine Estate, Baie Lazare and Brilliant for expatriate prison officers. In time, officers are to be housed at the barracks at the prison site in Montagne Posée, thereby eliminating the head from the fiscal budget. There are 121 local staff and 64 foreigners, she further revealed, although efforts are being channelled into recruiting more competent Seychellois to gradually replace the expats.

Superintendent St Ange also spoke about the programmes to render the prison more self-sustaining by amplifying efforts to produce more, and employing more sustainable practices including rainwater harvesting.

Honourable Norbert Loizeau, elected Linyon Demokratik Seselwa (LDS) elect for Bel Air questioned Mr St Ange directly as to the reduced appropriation other uses and service R1,370,000 under office building rent in 2020, but which has this year been reduced by R921,000, to which he replied that the sum was initially attributed to the construction of the barracks for the comfortable lodging of staff, as there was a lack of such facilities before.

As for the Coetivy prison facility, Mr St Ange noted a new approach for the prison island, with fewer expenses as when the programme was run in preceding years.

“It is not reflected in the budget because we don’t have out-of-pocket expenses except to send someone up there from time to time, and the argument is that the Island Development Company is supporting I would say 99.9 percent of the efforts. It must not be forgotten that the buildings are already there, we have paid for the buildings, and they are still in a good state. The minister went and saw for himself, and I think it is a win win for the country, the nation and of course the prison department,” Mr St Ange added.

The rehabilitation programme on Coetivy will not only give inmates an opportunity for reform and develop in sectors such as agriculture and prawn farming, said Minister Fonseka, but will also serve to in the long-term bring about a transformation within society.

The department’s budget was approved by 32 votes in favour.

The assembly resumes this morning with the deliberations on the Appropriations Bill, 2021.


Laura Pillay