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Posted on Friday, 20 November 2015 11:00

Seychelles Country Profile 2015: Catching fish and tourists

By The Africa Report

Flag Seychelles

Gently favourable economic trends and the increasingly positive international image of the Seychelles will help President James Michel and his ruling Parti Lepep maintain a firm grip in 2015.

While communications breakthroughs are getting citizens better connected and better informed, the main concerns for this small and idyllic country will remain, more than ever, its ability to keep attracting high-spending visitors and to increase the catch of tuna and other fish.

The next national elections are planned for 2016. The opposition Seychelles National Party (SNP) and its leader Wavel Ramkalawan boycotted the 2011 polls, leaving Michel and Parti Lepep to take all but one of the seats in the national assembly. Prior to those polls, the SNP demanded electoral reforms to level the playing field.

A multi-year discussion about electoral reform took place afterwards, but the SNP rejected the Public Order Act and other proposed reforms in early 2014, saying they did not reflect the conclusions of the multi-party consultations.

Undue influence

The SNP has yet to announce if it will repeat its boycott. The opposition has not won the presidency since the return of multi-party democracy in 1991 and continues to accuse the ruling party of exercising undue influence over the judiciary and other state bodies.

The tourist trade was expected to grow again in 2015 after a disappointing first half of 2014, when arrivals from Europe fell by 7%.

By early October, the numbers were already up and level-pegging with the record year of 2013, when for the first time the country took in more than 230,000 visitors, earning a healthy $343m in foreign exchange.

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German tourists now outnumber those from France – formerly the primary source of visitors – while there has also been a rapid rise in those coming from China.

In contrast with its earlier policies of import controls and price restrictions, the government has greatly eased the business environment for the benefit of hotel and tour companies, allowing them to modernise and compete more effectively with other international destinations.

Flight connections with Europe, the Gulf and other Indian Ocean airports are also being expanded.

Air Seychelles launched flights from Mumbai, Dar es Salaam and Antananarivo at the end of 2014, and a new air services agreement has been newly signed with India, which is seen as having the potential to become a huge source of new business.

Domestic demand and imports have grown strongly, as has credit to the private sector, but the International Monetary Fund remains critical of the preponderance of public enterprises in the economy and has urged more rapid liberalisation.

In response, finance minister Pierre Laporte promised greater transparency in public spending, with all government contracts above $755,000 to be scrutinised by a procurement committee.

He also confirmed that the state is going to sell its remaining shares in Seychelles Commercial Bank.

Green energy

Wind turbines have been installed on the main island of Mahé. Already producing 2% of electricity generated in the country, these will be complemented by further projects to take renewable energy production to at least 5% of the total in the coming years.

The Public Utilities Corporation has plans to establish photovoltaic arrays for solar energy, with the cooperation of the private sector. Great hopes for longer-term energy security are being pinned on exploration for oil and gas.

After a review of legislation in the energy sector, the state-owned PetroSeychelles hired a Japanese firm in October 2013 to undertake geophysical surveys and has begun inviting bids for new exploration areas south of Mahé.

Among existing licence holders, Ophir has already started collecting seismic data in one block and Afren should soon follow suit in a second.

The gradualist liberalisation of the economy is mimicked in the media, where the state still dominates broadcasting but there are now some independent radio stations and news magazines.

However, opposition activists accuse the government of blocking their party websites, and individuals have been arrested for posting critical comments about government officials on social media.



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