Tuesday, November 25, 2014


“Democracy at work”. After all the recriminations that characterised Saturday’s meeting at Port Glaud between the promoters of Emirates’ Cap Ternay resort project and members of the public, this was the only positive way government officials could described the exercise. A meeting overwrought with emotions and tension where members of the public clearly expressed what seemed to be a non-negotiable objection to the project.

To describe the meeting as full of tension and of animosity would be to fall short of all the emotions that were on display on Saturday at the Port Glaud community centre. But the authorities has prepared for such an eventuality – a police officer was on standby in case a riot broke. And back up was ready and waiting at the Port Glaud police station in case things got out of hand.

And getting out of hand, they did. The meeting started with murmurs of disapproval towards the project followed by loud objections whenever a member of the panel spoke. The panel consisted of principal secretary (PS) for the ministry of Environment and Energy, Wills Agricole, the director general (DG) for Wildlife Enforcement and Permit Division at the same ministry, Flavien Joubert, local project managers Dereck Rioux and Shane Kleinschmeit as well as the project team members Dene Murphy, Bill Pujin and Derreck Steinhobel.

Barely five minutes after the meeting started, an elderly man stood up and cried out to Wills Agricole “Mr. Agricole, you are the principal secretary of the ministry of Environment, you are government too, how could you let the Arabs do this to us?”

The frustration went crescendo after questions – albeit hostile ones – put to the panel found no answers. After a presentation by Mr Joubert to help the public better understand why the meeting was part of the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) process, the public was told that issues put forward during the meeting will be included in a report which will be made accessible to the public for review and comments.

 At this point during the meeting, an inhabitant suggested that the report be uploaded online for comments and Mr. Joubert said that the 2008 version of that project was already posted but that he would make note of the suggestion.

 Mr. Murphy was next on the agenda to present the project to the public but he appeared to only frustrate people further. Many people said they could not understand the purpose of the meeting since it appeared that the project had already been approved. To which Mr. Joubert vaguely explained that his ministry was simply making the project a Class 1 one and that this had for requirement the elaboration of an EIA report.

This, however, was only one of the very few questions that actually got an answer. Faced with allegations that the project has already received approval from the powers that be, ministry officials affirmed that they were not aware whether or not the project had already been placed in the hands of contractors.

 Members of the panel could also not say why or how the dredging of the sea would happen except for “creating a bathing experience for the clients”. They also could not explain why access to the beach was presently restricted in spite of the presentation guaranteeing beach access to the public once the hotel was open. They could not say why they had to “restore strategic areas such as the marshes” even if there was nothing wrong with it in the first place, they could not answer where they will be getting the sand to re-profile the beach, they could not justify the destruction of marine life - with the dredging activity - and finally could not explain why those answers weren’t available.

 Notwithstanding this, Mr Murphy to whom TODAY spoke to after the meeting, told this newspaper that he remains hopeful that the project is one that will materialize and more importantly, said that “there has already been a commitment, an agreement between the Seychelles Government and the Emirates”.
Dene Murphy described the meeting as “a heated one with a lot of emotions”. He said he was “well aware of the objections on social media” leading up to the meeting as well as the hostility towards the project.

“I believe that we have to listen to what everybody has to say. I am only the developer of Emirates and I have been forthcoming with all the information I was in possession of,” he said adding that he could “understand the emotions but that is why we have these public meetings, in fact I won’t take anything negative out of it rather the positive.” He estimated that the project may be developed over a two-year period but would not reveal the actual cost of such an investment for “confidentiality issues”. He nonetheless confirmed that it was a substantial sum of money and the next step for him and the project team would be to complete the scoping exercise. “The real purpose of the meeting is indeed to get public participation, and to take note of what they have to say. From there we will include these in our final assessments to the ministry of environment,” he told this newspaper.

 Hence it is not known if the promoters and the authorities will go on with their plans of destroying private property to make way for the hotel.

 Dr. Nirmal Shah of Nature Seychelles is an inhabitant of the Port Glaud district and his property lies in close proximity to the project. He was particularly concerned that his property was very likely to be used as a “car park” in the eventuality that the beach access through the hotel was used.

 In this regard, Mr. Murphy said that the access road to the hotel needs to allow for easy transportation of building materials and will thus be enlarged by two metres. He also mentioned that there would be some walls that will be demolished to allow for the new enlarged road.

 Mr Murphy however ignored the fact that the enlargement would mean the demolition of some private properties including that of Dr. Shah. For his part, Dr. Shah said that “to come up here and say that you will demolish these walls when they are clearly private properties” was disrespectful to him and other owners.

 There was no reaction to the point made.

The panel unsuccessfully tried to convince people that the project should create jobs for some 400 Seychellois. But some people said it was “clear that these positions would be filled by expatriates”. Mr. Murphy guaranteed nonetheless that the operators would recruit and train as many Seychellois as possible as they have done in their other hotels in the Bahamas for example. Moreover, he said that the Dubai international airport had more passengers going through it than in long-established Heathrow in England. According to him this would be a great advantage to the Seychelles’ tourism industry. The point did not appear to calm people down as the main contention seemed to be the destruction of so many natural habitats.

“Restoration means making something better. What you are doing is called destruction,” one young lady said.

 The meeting adjourned on a very sour note. Kisnan Louise from Port Glaud district told the panel that they needed to come back with another presentation in another meeting since they had not been able to address any of the questions raised by the public. Mr. Joubert said that there would indeed be other opportunities to harvest other opinions. “Make it your responsibility to review today’s discussion and know that your points have indeed been noted,” he said.

 As for PS Agricole, he concluded that “what is important is that we are once again reassured of your commitment towards the environment of Seychelles. You have all raised valid points that the promoters should definitely consider. What we have seen today, this is real democracy at work.”