Tuesday, June 9, 2015


“I will tell people to forgive the people that preceded me”

Lawyer Alexia Amesbury is this week’s guest. She launched her party, the Seychelles Party for Social Justice and Democracy, last month and says she is the best candidate for the Presidency. Here’s why she believes she’s the right person for the job.

You’re the Seychelles’ first woman Presidential candidate as well as a reputable lawyer. Do you think the country’s ready for you?

I think the country is ready for a change and not just a change in the sense that they want a woman or a man but in that it needs a person that is totally removed from past politics: a person who has no connection with what has happened in the past. But I think it’s fortunate that I am a woman and it makes it even more historical.

How long did it take you to decide to go for it?

Truth be told, it’s been in my mind for the longest time – 20 odd years, maybe more. I was going through my CV in preparation for this interview and one of the things that I said 15 years ago, under “achievement” is the following: raising the awareness of Seychellois women so that they know that they have rights that are legally enforceable. Under “ambition”, I wrote: to serve in a high public office in Seychelles, combat human rights violations wherever they occur. Little did I know then that the moment would come for the fulfillment of that prophecy.

So you felt there was a void and that the SNP, the SUP and others did not provide a viable alternative?

Yes and no. We all want to get rid of what we see as a corrupt regime and to have a new system in place because the system has failed us. We are united in that.

But do you not feel that your battle might be too philosophical for people to understand where you are coming from? In a Letter to the Editor published in TODAY, you yourself say that some people on social media have accused you of freeing criminals. Doesn’t that show that your battle for human rights is not understood?

At the moment, that is not the feedback that I am getting from people and I speak to a lot of people. They do not see me as someone who releases criminals or drug dealers but they see me as someone who defends people who, under our Constitution, are innocent before being proven guilty. That is the way I am seen – doing my job and doing it well. But I think that what they appreciate a lot more is that I also challenge government on issues that are perceived to be not only legally wrong but that are causing people to suffer. For instance, this law that recently gave a high increase to political appointees. That is morally wrong. Why? Because in a country where we have people on the breadline, for the government to legislate for itself and its cronies, such an increase in earnings is an abuse of power. I have calculated that just the increase in salary is costing the State SCR10 million annually. Now those SCR10 million could be used to give the pensioners a better life, to give the low earners a substantial increase in salary without costing the State anything more because the money is already there.

Is that why you say in your manifesto that the battle you have been leading in the courts can’t be led there anymore and that it has to be led in the political arena?

In the court, you fight cases one at a time but many of our problems need a political solution. And the only way to get a political solution is to go into the political arena. For example, I am so convinced of the illegality and the immorality of this huge increase that I feel that if I were in government, I would legislate away those increases and if I were President, I would not give myself an increase unless there was enough money to give the people of Seychelles a salary increase. Because in my book, when we have only one plate of food, it is not just the parents that eat that plate of food; they ensure that their children are fed first. This is why I see this law as a grave abuse of power and it is one that impacts directly on people and is directly linked to social injustice. And this is why the name of my party is very important because it has relevance for the local community because they all know and understand what a party for social justice is and democracy is about. And it also has relevance for the international community because I don’t need to explain to them the concepts of social justice and democracy and we must not forget that today we live in a global village and that we have international partners who when they see a new party in Seychelles, will go behind the name and try to find out who is behind that name and when they do that, they will find a party leader who is an attorney, a barrister of Inner Temple, qualified to practice in England and Wales, who has studied at the prestigious London School of Economics. They will see that as a referee, I have a judge working at The Hague. They will see that I come with a solid package of credibility. And that I am a breath of fresh air when compared to what we have now – a bunch of kleptocrats.

I hear you but political leaders aren’t elected because of their CVs! You say that you don’t have to explain what social justice and democracy mean to the international community but what matters are the people who vote. Do you not think that you need to speak their language?

The people who vote already know the meaning of social justice and the meaning of democracy. Because they have been victims of social injustice for so long. For example, the President goes up and say “now lafours inn mir” and they all want a part of it. The fact of the matter is, the people of Seychelles are tired of living in a country where the President tells them “lafours inn mir” when they did not even know there was a “lafours” tree. Nor did they hear the bats who are eating the lafours. We are tired of living in a country where we need closure because of events that have happened in the past and, if I am elected President, the very first thing that I will do, will be to tell the people to forgive the people that preceded me because you will need to build and to do that we need to be unified. Without closure over what happened in the past, we can’t be unified. I will not seek revenge but we have at some point to have an amnesty.

Since we’re on the matter, do you think it’s possible to get that closure? We’ve just “celebrated” another 5 June and although there have been talks of national unity and national reconciliation, they remain just that – talks.

We need the political will. Remember that the same party that created the 5 June nightmare is the same party that continues to be in power and the only way a healing process will begin is if a new government comes to power. And then we’ll see whether the 5 June should be a national day or a national day of mourning where we fly the flags at half-mast.

But mourning for whom? The coup d’état happened and then the government that perpetrated the coup d’état has stayed in power since and was later democratically elected. So how can it be a day of mourning when a majority of the voters have voted for this government and given it legitimacy?

We were talking earlier about how having a woman candidate would be a historic thing. But there’s something else that’s historic in Seychelles. If we win, the next elections will be the first time in Seychelles’ history where we will have a President whose mandate has started at the ballot box. James Mancham was not elected to be President. Albert René’s mandate did not start with an election and James Michel’s mandate did not start with an election. This time, we want the people to choose their President through the ballot box so that that mandate starts at the ballot box and not through any other means. And it is not just a day of mourning because people lost their lives. Yes, people lost their lives but to me it has a bigger significance. It was the day that our Constitution was abrogated. It was the death of the Constitution, to be replaced by a Constitution that was also the Constitution of the SPPF. There was no demarcation between the party and the State. This is an abuse and this is why today we have an authoritarian dictatorship in place despite the fact that we have a codified Constitution created in 1993. But we have a government who still has the mentality of the “parti unique”.

If it were true that we have an authoritarian dictatorship in place, there would be no democratic elections, you would not be able to say what you are saying and we would not be able to publish it!
 What is democracy? Is it just for us to be able to participate in elections? Do you know how many battles have been fought in court to be able to do exactly that? Do you know how many Constitutional battles have been fought for us to be able to have that freedom of expression right now? The government is in abeyance because we have just asked for the abrogation of the Public Order Act in court. Had we not challenged it and had the government not been waiting for a decision from the court, we might not be here. For the moment, it is a stalemate. Despite the fact that the Constitution says you have the right to assemble and you have the freedom of expression, the government keeps eroding those rights. And finally it did the big one. It took all our rights away in 2013 and had we not challenged it in court, god knows whether we would be here.

But this fight is led by people like you and you form part of a minority. Why don’t more people protest? Is it the fear or do they not mind?

People were scared and the minority are still scared but when you have hunger in your belly and the hunger is such a pressing issue and you need things to change because you need a better salary, you need housing, you need a scholarship for your children. At some point you have to put the fear aside. But why are we so fearful? Because we are the victims of a government that in years gone by and even till now, has not been opposed to using terror or violence. We are a peaceful nation but we have been terrorized over the years. And you know, there are several ways to kill a man. If you take away his livelihood, have you taken his life? If you take away his house, have you taken away his shelter? If you refuse to give him a license to do business, have you killed a man? And nowadays these are the more subtle ways the government uses to victimize the people. It might not be putting a bullet in your head but they are still killing the people of Seychelles in vast numbers.

I’ll give you an example: My husband is a fisherman amongst other things and he applied for a license to operate an ice plant on Praslin for fishermen but he wasn’t given permission to build an ice plant. They would rather have their ice plant operate at minimal capacity or not at all, they would rather have the fishermen from Praslin come to Mahé to get ice but they would not give him a license to operate an ice plant because he’s perceived as being an opposition person.

But this is not new, is it? My question is: why do you think people will react differently this time round? Weren’t they hungry in 2011?

 The Seychellois were very hungry then but now the abuse is more pronounced and we’ve had it for so long that people are saying enough is enough.

Do you think social media has helped?

Enormously. In 2011, we didn’t have “Seselwa Annou Koze” on Facebook and SBC and Parti Lepep had control of the media. As a result of social media, Facebook and “Seselwa Annou Koze”, the Seychellois have found a voice. They have been able to mobilise the masses and agitate the issues and today everybody is more empowered to come forward. This is the revolution that Seychelles needed. Not the kind that comes from the barrel of a gun. We have been given a voice and we are ready to make it heard to the end.

And you believe that the elections, when they will be held, will be free and fair?

No. I don’t believe so and I’ll tell you why. In Hendrick Gappy’s possession is a master disc of the voter register and we also believe that the Parti Lepep has a copy. Although they tell us that it is one of theirs and not one they got from the Electoral Commission. Political parties in the opposition have asked for a copy of that disc because we believe that there is manipulation of the register because they are people who vote both in Praslin and Anse aux Pins for instance. But unless we can digitally access it, we are at a disadvantage to prove it.

But under the new law, isn’t the Electoral Commission required to provide you with a copy of the voter register?

No, we are only being given access to the hard copies. Mr Gappy absolutely refuses to give us access to the soft copy and this is why political parties in the opposition have filed a case asking the court to order Mr Gappy to give us a soft copy. This is where we believe the rigging takes place.

Mr Gappy said during a meeting with the press to introduce the new electoral law that some 72 000 people are registered on the register of voters. Isn’t that a bit much for a small country like Seychelles?

It’s definitely a lot when you consider that Seychelles has 92 000 inhabitants! But unless we prove that it is strange, we cannot just establish that it is strange. You know, just like President Michel says that corruption is a perception, that it’s not real. Well unless we can prove that vote rigging is real, they will continue saying it’s a perception. But for us to prove that, we need the documents in their possession.

So you chose to go to court. I’m assuming, being a lawyer who has recourse to the courts often, that you have confidence in the independence of the judiciary?

To tell you the truth, I do not think it is possible for any country to have a judiciary that is 100% independent because of the way State systems work. However in Seychelles, there is perceived lack of independence and at times there is actual interference. Partiality or lack of impartiality have much to do with the way judges are appointed. And when judges are rewarded, they tend to be more severe in their judgments. This is how for instance that Seychelles now has a record of two things – the most indebted country in the world and the country with highest number of prisoners in the world per capita.

You say that Seychelles is one of the most indebted countries in the world. What are your plans to make the country solvent?

 Seychelles is indebted to the tune of USD1.8 billion. I believe there is a reason for this. I think – even though I cannot prove it – that the money the country borrows somehow finds its way in private accounts belonging to individuals or entities. The only time that we will know exactly how those things are being done is when we are in power.

But what if you get to power and you realize that it’s not that people are stealing, it’s just that the country is spending more, much more, than it is making?

Seychelles has vast resources. I’ll give you just an example. We have 115 islands. For whatever reason, it has been decided that 14 of those islands should be given to IDC for 99 years for SCR1. Now there are instances where IDC has subleased islands to people or entities. If it is leased to Ithe DC and IDC decides to sublease the island, then where is the money? To whom do the islands belong? Another one of our islands, D’Arros, belongs to the Palavis and was valued at 1 billion euros. This is just one example and we have 115 of them. St Anne is another example. It was transferred for SCR1 but the annual lease to Beachcomber is USD1 million for 60 years. Where is the money? Where is all this money going? This shows you that Seychelles has the resources. Don’t forget that Marie Louise and Coetivy have also been leased to IDC for SCR1 but we also know that those two islands are now prisons. So what is the agreement between the prison authorities, the government and IDC? Is it leased for nothing? Or for SCR1? We also know that every time prisoners need to come back to Mahé that they have to charter an IDC plane, it costs SCR300 000 for a trip. Who pays and to whom is it paid?

As soon as you launched your party, you published a public notice about a rumour that nobody seems to have any confirmation of to the effect that government is getting ready to amend the constitution to change the mode of election of the President. What is this about?

In law, failure to deny means you acquiesce and an acquiescence is an admission. The fact that State House has not denied the rumour means they have admitted that it is on the cards. Maybe because we have outsmarted them for now, it will take a while for them to come with the amendment. If that one goes in, who is to say that they will not amend the constitution further to the effect that the President can have a fourth term?

But it doesn’t make sense for government to do the first amendment because it would be an admission of weakness, would it not be?

Of course, it’s an admission of weakness but we have a government that is not into recognizing the need to make admissions. Even when the State failed in 2008, until today the President still hasn’t come out and said that there was a meltdown and we failed and the IMF had to bail us out. They are incapable of facing the truth, incapable of acknowledging where they’re gone wrong and they cannot say sorry. The inability to say sorry shows the inability to show compassion and a leader that lacks compassion is a cruel leader. And I’ll tell you why I say President Michel lacks compassion. He’s been in power for 11 years and he is the only person who has the power of pardon and, in 11 years, he has not pardoned a single prisoner. To me, that is a terrible record for a person who wants to be seen as the father of the nation. A father doesn’t do this.

Patrick Pillay said that the opposition parties need to get together to strategize. Is this something that you would be willing to do?

 We are in discussion with a few people as well as people who are not active in politics. For us, it is not only important to remove this government, it is also important that we give the people of Seychelles a viable alternative. The Constitution does not allow for coalitions but we are definitely talking ad strategizing and whatever comes out, will definitely be something that will benefit the people of Seychelles.

Would you be willing to step aside for somebody who you believe can do the job?

(Hesitates…) If it was decided by my party and as a consequence of our discussions with the others, that it will be in the country’s best interests that I step aside for a better candidate, then it will be the democratic thing to do.

But I sense that you believe you are the best candidate for the job?

 (Smiles…) Yes, absolutely!