Tuesday, May 26, 2015


“I am prepared to step aside…”

There is “a big chance” that opposition parties will get together and “strategize” to fight President Michel at the next elections, Lalyans Seselwa leader Patrick Pillay tells TODAY. In the following interview, Mr Pillay makes his mea culpa for not having spoken up when he saw “corruption” when he was in power and explains why he became part of “the system”.

By Deepa Bhookhun

I’d like to start with an unsubstantiated rumour that hasn’t so far been denied by the State House, to the effect that government might be getting ready to present a constitutional amendment to change the mode of election of the President. What’s your take on that?

If this happens, then the different parties will simply have to get together and try and strategize. I personally am not worried about it. I am speaking in my personal capacity and haven’t consulted my executive committee about this but I have heard the rumours and my own personal view is that I wouldn’t worry about it, because even if they amend the Constitution - and they can as they have a majority in the National Assembly – I don’t think it will change the fact that a majority of Seychellois want to see a new government.
 It will however be a clear sign to the nation that the ruling party is in panic mode and is not confident that they can win the elections. If they were so sure of their strength, as the President said earlier this year, why does he have to amend the Constitution? Call the elections tomorrow and we’ll see.

But the political landscape has changed since, hasn’t it? Do you feel that you and your party have had a role in this?

You know, when that statement was made, I wrote an article to say that their confidence came across as arrogance and that, in fact, James Michel was providing a stimulus for the phoenix to come out of the old SPPF and this is what has happened. In actual fact, this statement was one of the catalysts that brought about the creation of our party. We thought we needed to stop this nonsense; to show that we’re not to be taken for granted. We’re not all idiots, you know.

So when the President said that he was so sure to win and could hold the elections at any time, the decision to create Lalyans Seselwa hadn’t been made yet?

No. I actually learnt that the President had said that in TODAY at my home in Morne Blanc. And I thought, ‘well, that’s a little bit rich’. And I’m sure that with hindsight, the President realizes he shouldn’t have said that because it stimulated a lot of people who were almost dormant and all of a sudden we thought no, we have to stop that.

Has the reaction to the creation of your party been what you expected it to be?

Beyond my wildest expectations. So much so that I am supposed to have been kicked out of London for having molested a child, I’m supposed to be in the ICU, I’m supposed to have molested my own child. It’s a sign of panic. I ran five ministries, I worked for government for 40 years and now all this character assassination? I expected it and I won’t react and I won’t crack. I have my mother’s strength and my father’s heart as well as my spiritual strength.

When you announced that you were going to create a new party, many people weren’t sure whether or not this was a ploy to further divide the opposition. The fact that you were very much favoured by the SBC in terms of airtime also did a lot to fuel speculation. Let’s have it out: are you or not an agent of Parti Lepep?

I was actually surprised by the coverage, I must say. I don’t watch the SBC news when I am in it so I didn’t see the coverage but I was told about it. The explanation, I think is that they are in panic mode and they’re trying to show that they’re very democratic by showing Pillay and his group. I think the reason it was aired is so that the President is seen the good guy who is now bringing democracy to the country. It has never been done before and never with the SNP.

But there’s always a first time and at least it’s positive!

Yes. But to answer your question about whether we are an agent of Lepep, the answer is no. We could be said to be an offspring of Lepep but I can say categorically that we are not an arm of Lepep. I can tell you that if one day I come out and say “let’s form an alliance with Parti Lepep” – it’s not going to happen but for argument’s sake, let’s say it does – I think my entire committee would resign and go home. We have no intention of forming any alliance with Lepep. I don’t want to be associated with certain persons in Lepep because they are corrupt to the core.

This is a perception, the President says.

Yes, apparently they’ve been saying, “where’s the evidence?” It’s everywhere. In health, in land. There are ex Ministers who have done things that the whole nation knows about.

You said that you left government in 2009 because the corruption situation had gotten out of control. Why didn’t you denounce it then?

Because there is such a thing as collective responsibility.

But surely not after you left!

No, not after I left. I did not at the time feel comfortable to talk about that for all kinds of reasons. I had been involved in certain things which I will not talk about now but when we set up our anti-corruption commission, I will have certain depositions to make. But when you are a Minister in a government, you need to have a certain amount of loyalty. The serenity prayer - help me to change the things I can and to recognise the things I can’t change - also helped me a lot back then. This has been my guiding principle and I didn’t feel comfortable in talking about what I saw. And I saw a lot.

Then some people may say that your silence made you complicit!

It could well be and if that criticism is levelled at me, then I will accept that maybe I was complicit by virtue of association; that maybe even though there was collective responsibility, I should have stood up against it. That said, I have stood up against a number of things which I won’t talk about now. But like Ahmed Afif said very clearly at our press conference, corruption is not just about stashing money away in foreign accounts, it’s also about the process of decision making which is sometimes skewed. I have fought against that in ways that haven’t been visible. I haven’t disclosed it yet because I don’t want to embarrass some people. Let’s not forget that we’re living in a country where there is a kind of institutionalized fear so you don’t want to say something that will compromise somebody’s situation. So I’d rather be accused of being complicit than saying things that will compromise the position of former colleagues.

This institutionalized fear that you talk about, let’s not forget that you were part of the system that institutionalized the fear!

I was part of the system like we have all been part of the system. What happens is that somebody disappears and then it becomes systematic. When Hassenally disappeared then Alton Ah-Time disappeared and then Sinon Desnousse went, all of us - and me included as a 26 year-old young man - start thinking “am I going to be next?” Will it be my brother next? So, to me it was not a matter of having a revolution: your mind isn’t ready for that, your personality neither; your maturity is not there so we can’t blame each other. What we all did was join the system because you don’t want to be next.
 And that fear is still there. The moment we decided to register our new party, we went to see people to ask for their support. Do you know how many people said that they will vote for us and support us but that they won’t be able to sign our registration papers because they’re scared? Their relatives who work in government might lose their job. That fear, I was telling the bishops the other day, is not going to go away tomorrow.

But things are much better, surely?

Yes things have gotten better otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to stand up and say there was corruption even when I was in government.

How and when did things start getting better?

I think there has been a lot of people who have fought for more openness and we’ve got to give them credit and respect. Wavel Ramkalawan for instance. Some people may not like him but Wavel has shown extreme courage at a time when he was being practically mauled by 33 MNAs in the National Assembly. I’m thinking of journalists in the opposition like Roger Mancienne who was constantly trying to develop that kind of openness in the system so that we have more confidence to say let’s all come out. It’s been a gradual and slow process. I can’t say it started yesterday or that it started with Mr Michel getting in power but I think people are becoming bolder.

But credit where it’s due. Maybe it is President Michel who is more open and has helped the process!

Yes and no. I think he has had no choice. He’s realised that President René had a firm hand. With President René, what he says goes.

Because of the fear?

Fear but also respect because people realised that he was firm-handed and people felt safe with him. But when James Michel came, he realised that that kind of dictatorial approach to government was working against his party and that it was in his advantage to be seen as the person who would loosen the reins a little. And he was bright enough to start doing that slowly, to bring more transparency. But in my view, it is only a perception because I think he has been as hard-handed as President René but in a different style. He has wanted to go to all the funerals, to go and visit the Pope, to visit people whose houses have burnt down. The approach has been different but I don’t think that we can say that under President Michel, the fear has gone away. He has been a little bit more open to the democratic process but there is still victimization under President Michel and, to me, that’s not acceptable.

Before you came out, there were rumours that you had the support of Albert René although he denied it in The People. But you never actually came out and said it clearly. Do you or do you not have his support?

(Hesitates…) No, I don’t think he’s said overtly that he is supporting us and I don’t expect him to. And knowing what I know, I think it’s only natural that he would try and support James Michel. After all, he is his dauphin and his anointed son and I think he sees the demise of Parti Lepep as the SPUP, SPPF before – both of which were his creation - so he doesn’t want to see that happen. He has not actually said to us that he’s supporting us but he has said that he is disappointed with the man he appointed as his successor.

When did he say that?

More than once.

And you’ve said you’ve remained friends with Sarah René. What does she say about it?

She’s very discreet and Sarah was the one who called me to ask if I had seen the article in The People, which I don’t read. I am comfortable with what the old man has said – I don’t have any problem with it.

Even with being called a traitor?

I don’t have any problem with that because I don’t expect him to say otherwise.

So you are saying that Albert Rene has to officially say he’s supporting Parti Lepep’s candidate but that privately, he might feel differently?


And when you say that, you think this will bring you votes from Parti Lepep followers because it helps you to create the impression that Albert René is supporting you?

No. I thought it would but I am now convinced that it’s a small minority of old people who are SPPF diehards who will be swayed by that. But the majority of young people – those aged between 25 and 35, let’s say– will not be bothered by what Albert René says and in fact I now think that if he endorses us publicly, it will be to the disadvantage of Lalyans Seselwa.

You’re talking of people of a certain age but at your press conference, we didn’t see any spring chickens either!

Absolutely. That criticism is absolutely right and it’s been levelled at me before and I said wait for our line-up of candidates for the National Assembly elections. Wait until you see who comes on the stage when we do our first public meeting on Friday May 29. We have candidates for all districts except Praslin and La Digue, they are all young people and you will be surprised by the number of young professionals supporting us, including former MNAs of Parti Lepep.

Is this why you hinted at your press conference that there could be people in government joining Lalyans Seselwa soon?

Yes, there will be people who will come openly, people who the public would not have expected to see. Bear in mind that many people have too much to lose to come out now – because of their pensions, etc. - and they won’t come out until the end.

There’s a very interesting “engouement” for the upcoming elections. There’s now going to be a few candidates running for President. Is this a good thing?

Yes and no. I think it’s time for us all to meet together and I hope we do soon, to strategize. I don’t personally think it’s a good thing to have so many parties because it can lead to a dispersion of energy, of thought and this will be to the advantage of the monster that we want to get rid of.

Have you spoken to the other opposition parties yet?

I have met up with Alexia Amesbury and we know that we are fighting for the same cause but Alexia had wanted to show that a woman can stand up on her own and say I don’t agree and I want a change. We now have to agree on the next level. If we want a change, how do we strategize to ensure that we win the cause that we are fighting for?

So there is a chance that Lalyans Seselwa, the SNP and Mrs Amesbury’s SPSJD could get together, is that what you are saying?

A big chance. Whether there’s another two that register tomorrow and I’m sure that Parti Lepep is thinking of creating one or two PDMs (laughs…), we will certainly look at joining forces to change the system for the betterment of Seychelles, to have a more open and democratic Seychelles where there is justice.

But the big question is: if the opposition parties get together for the Presidential elections, who will sacrifice himself or herself and who is going to go for it?

I am prepared as party leader to say: look, I am not running after the post of President; if you feel that you are the one who stands the best chance of winning and three or four other parties feel you are the best candidate, I am prepared to step aside and speak for you at rallies and support you because my only wish is to die with one title and that is “Ton Pat”. Nothing less and nothing more. I don’t need titles, I’m not interested in that, I’m interested in seeing a different system where there is justice, dignity and freedom. This is what I worked for.

Have you started discussing this with the opposition parties?

No, not yet. Wavel and I meet often in social functions and we laugh and talk and we say we must talk but we haven’t so far. Alexia and I have talked.

But what you are saying is big. If all the forces of the opposition get together, you could be a force to be reckoned with…

You know, I think all of us in the opposition are wise enough to understand that as long as we remain divided, we are not going to get this man out of office. And if we have this man and his party in office for another five years, Seychelles will be irreparably damaged. We need to get together to ensure that we have a better system.

Many people have been going to the treasurer of your party, Dr Ramadoss, looking for money. Just last week, he published an insert in newspapers with allegations about the health system. Is he acting on your behalf?

The photo of him standing with a group of marginalized people is Dr Ramadoss acting as Dr Ramadoss because, you see, when he was with Parti Lepep, he was the central committee member for Mont Fleuri which is one of the disadvantaged sub districts around Victoria and it has a lot of social problems. Dr Ramadoss’ style has always been to be very kind with money. Nobody can deny that and nobody in Parti Lepep can deny that. I think he got over excited and when people came, he did give them some money but he was acting as Dr Ramadoss and not as the treasurer of Lalyans Seselwa. With regards to the insert he put in newspapers, I spoke to him when I heard of the project and I said to him that he can do what he wants as long as he does it as a medical doctor and not a member of our executive committee. He was insistent and I didn’t have a problem with it although some friends believed we should have stopped it. I am the party leader and I could have stopped it but I didn’t because I don’t think it’s a bad thing that we get people thinking about what’s going on in the dialysis department. Dr Ramadoss believes it has been effective because his message has reached many people: that the dialysis has become a bit of a racket and people get commissions when patients are treated.

How is the party doing for money?

I thought we would have done better but I think my approach was wrong. To tell you frankly, Dr Ramadoss is the one who is funding us and what I do is send my driver and a security guard to go around my districts - we’re each responsible for three districts – and to see who needs help.
 The poverty level in Seychelles is something that has shocked me. I have been in government for 42 years and when I was at the apex, I never realised that in the foothills, it was that bad. There are people who have nothing to give to their children. So what I do is send my security chap and my driver and I give them SCR400 and they take a family to the shop and buy whatever they need. I am giving money in a different way as opposed to giving money when people ask because there are so many drug addicts nowadays.

Your opponents will have more to distribute. Will this be a problem?

Human nature is human nature and people will accept money. So I say to people: take the money but vote for us. I can’t give money the way they will because I earn SCR57 000 a month which includes both my pensions and I don’t have that much money to give. So I tell people to take the money if it’s offered because at the end of the day, it is their money!

And the million dollar question – will the elections be held this year?

 I think so. Around October/ November, I would say. After the Jeux des Iles. I don’t think he’ll be waiting until next year because the party is hemorrhaging too much. The SPPF tactic when a district was hemorrhaging was to remove the candidate and replace him. If Lepep has the same system, then they will stem the hemorrhaging.