I think Seychelles needs and outsider now more than ever before
ways necessary in whatever you do. If you look at the judiciary as a whole, theres a lot that can be improved within the institution itself in terms of administration of justice,infrastructure and other resources for legal research for instance. I believe the mentions could be done electronically by e-mail as lawyers waste a lot of precious time hanging around the court premises to take mentions. Time and resources could be spent elsewhere if the mentions were done electronically. We have to simplify the way we work and make things work a bit faster. For example, we have the Seychelles Legal Information Institute (SEYLII) where you can get some resources to do your work. But its not updated in a timely manner and regularly that can be improved.
Is there a reason you would choose a particular case, what makes it interesting or a challenge?
I love challenges, its in my nature. I thrive on challenges. I ve been lucky enough in the 25 years that I have been a lawyer to have been involved in some fantastic cases which have made history. I remember my first really challenging case, it was about a Russian girl, Julia Timonina. She was working at Creole Travel. She was given 24 hours to leave the country. She was basically deported. Julia came to me and we fought the case, it was two long years in court. At one point, she had to live in Mauritius. I had to travel to Mauritius to the US Embassy to speak to the Mauritian government to keep her there while I fought her case here in Seychelles. Eventually, I won the case in the Court of Appeal. The court ruled that Julia could stay in Seychelles. The deportation order was cancelled. But she decided to leave the country anyway. I think she was disgusted by the way she was treated by the system which was a one party state at that time. And now I m doing the case of Alexia Amesbury, another interesting case where we are challenging the appointment of Gabrielle McIntyre, an Australian citizen, as Chairperson of the Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission. We ve filed a case already with the Constitutional Court where we are arguing that Section 4 (2) of the Act requires that a Seychellois be appointed as chairman and that the appointment of Gabrielle Macintyre, is illegal and unconstitutional, since she is a foreigner. The Act is clear. It says that the Commission shall consist of a chairman, vice chairman and five members, two of whom shall be non-Seychellois and non-resident of Seychelles. We are saying that two foreigners should be two of the five Commissioners, not chairman or vice-chairman. That is basically our argument.
The coup detat is a sore point for many people in Seychelles, do you think having a Seychellois as head of the Commission will give the proceedings more meaning?
Correct. Even in South Africa with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, you had Bishop Desmond Tutu who was the chairman hes a South African. He knows the history, the culture and the people. He knows what they went through during that period (apartheid) in your history. Seychelles also, I would agree, that a Seychellois would give more meaning and people would be able to identify themselves with a Seychellois as the head of the Commission. That person will know the Seychelles history, know what the Seychellois people went through during those 40 years. More importantly, there is the issue of the language barrier. People who are watching the proceedings on television most people would prefer it to be in the Creole language. The people telling their stories are better able to express themselves in their mother tongue. Having a foreigner there might make them a bit reticent in talking freely and feeling at ease. Sometimes when Creole has to be translated into English it loses its sense and its spontaneity. For me, a Seychellois would be perfect for the job.
The Truth and Reconciliation and National Unity Commission proceedings are underway, do you think this is a good thing for Seychelles?
This is a very good thing for Seychelles even though I ve heard a lot of criticisms. This should have happened a long time ago. Its happening just before an election. So the timing of it is also interesting because its live on TV and everybody can see it. Its probably going to drag on until just before the next election and probably would have an impact on the outcome of the election as well. A lot of youngsters dont know the history of Seychelles. They dont know what people went through. But when they watch the proceedings now, I think it helps to educate them about our history. Probably a lot of people will be surprised. Young people especially will be surprised that these things happened in our country.
Do you think former president James Michel will testify?
Very interesting. A lot of people would love to see James Michel testify, including me. I would like to hear his side of the story because he was a man on the inside from day one. He is relatively young. I m sure his memory is still intact. He could shed some light on what happened.
You were a member of the Seychelles Democratic Party; would you ever go back to Parliament?
I would never want to go back to Parliament. For me, it was an experience that impacted me negatively in the way I see the politics of my country. I was chosen by the Democratic Party. I was not a directly elected member, I was a proportionally elected member. My party chose me because we made a deal with the Seychelles National Party at that time. I went with an open mind, feeling ready to contribute to the development of the country and to play my part. I got a rude awakening when I got there. At that time, I was probably the shortest-lived Member of Parliament. I was kicked out within three months of being there. The reason I was kicked out is simple: There was a motion brought by Hon. Waven William from the SPPF side. The motion was asking the National Assembly to accept the offer of France to patrol our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). That would come at the cost of the French government. We got the order paper and had a meeting at Arpent Vert. Everybody unanimously agreed that we would support the motion, it was in the national interest. Because I studied the Law of the Sea, UNCLOS, (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) I was asked to present my argument first in the National Assembly. They selected four other people to speak among them was Wavel Ramkalawan, Bernard Georges and Jean-Francoise Ferrari. I presented my arguments and spoke in favour of the motion as we had previously agreed. When it was their turn to speak, my other colleagues started to mention an island called Tromlin. There was a dispute at the time between Mauritius and France about the sovereignty of this island. My colleagues argued that if we support the motion, we will be in conflict with Mauritius because we will be seen as supporting France about this island even though the island had nothing to do with the motion. When it came to a vote, having spoken in favour of the motion, I naturally voted in favour together with the SPPF members of parliament of the motion. And all my colleagues abstained. Within 24 hours I received a letter from Roger Mancienne, informing that I was no longer a member of parliament. I challenged this and went to court. I lost in the Constitutional Court, then I appealed and I won in the Court of Appeal on procedure. I think I was set up because immediately after I was replaced by Jose Henri, a member of SNP, instead of another DP member.
Would you ever go back into politics?
My options are open at the moment. I ve got some clients who are on retainers. These are corporate clients. According to my contracts with those clients, if I become a politically exposed person (PEP) by being a member of a political party, I have to forfeit the contracts. So, I have this dilemma where I say okay I m going into politics so I lose my contracts with my corporate clients or I remain as the lawyer for these companies but I cant become a member of any political party.
What is your view on politics in Seychelles currently?
I believe we are at a crossroad. I say this because after 40 plus years of having the same party in government, in the last election the government lost the National Assembly, for the first time. This was historical. I believe personally that the next election is going to be close. There will be a revolution in the next election either way. I would love an outsider to come in, not from the institution a bit like what happened in America. Because Seychelles is too small and fragile. We cant move from one extreme to another extreme. We need someone to come in and stabilise the country. Hopefully, after five years, after things have stabilised, then we can go back to politics as usual. I m also scared, I fear for the future of Seychelles. Because when I look at the debates in parliament, or go on social media and see what people are writing about, the Truth and Reconciliation, of our history and what happened I fear that there might be an inclination towards revenge. Like what happened in South Africa. You are lucky you had Nelson Mandela who came in to stabilise the country a bit. I would hate to see somebody come in and saying after 40 years of being on the other end of the stick, now I m going to do the same thing to you that you did to us for the past 40 years thats my fear. We are too small. We cannot afford to go down that road.
What in your mind makes a great president?
First, you have to be calm and not impulsive. You have to be patient, rational and you have to be able to take tough decisions. Sometimes in politics, a politician tends to forget that the decisions they make affect the daily lives of the people. I think that not making a decision at all is worse than making a bad decision. You can make a wrong decision; you are a human being. So we make the wrong decisions. As long as you accept that you made a wrong decision and you can correct it or make new ones or move on. I would like to see a woman president in Seychelles. I would love to see for the first time in our history, a woman at the head of the executive. We have one at the head of the judiciary. I think a woman president would be fantastic for Seychelles.
Are there any female presidential candidates that come to mind?
Mathilda Twomey would make an excellent president. I say this not only from my point of view. I ve talked to many people out there. Almost all the people I ve spoken to agree with me that Mathilda Twomey would make an excellent president. I admire her intellect. She s a candidate who is more likely to win if she stands than any other candidates, I think
If Mathilda Twomey had to run and asked you to be an adviser or be a member of her party, would you consider it?
One hundred percent. I would support her all the way. I sincerely believe she s the right candidate for the job. I singled her out because shes not part of the political institution, shes an outsider and I think Seychelles needs an outsider now more than ever before.
What do you think the difference will be if Seychelles had a female president?
She will bring a fresh perspective to the presidency, in the sense that from a womans perspective. Our society is a matriarchal society. The woman is the mother, wife, the nurturer of children and keeper of the family. Women in Seychelles are not properly represented in politics. Their voices are not being heard and not enough is being done to support women. From this, you will see a lot of social problems that come up because of the support that is lacking for the mothers of Seychelles. We have a lot of single mothers in the country. You see children growing up we keep talking about the drug problem, the housing and alcohol problem. This is partly based on the fact that those women, single mothers and even married ones are not getting the support from society that they need. Having a woman president would probably give more perspective to the problem, probably give more support and give these women a forum where their voices can be heard and things can be done for them specific programmes targeting mothers in society, this is what we need.
During the medical marijuana case, the court couldn’t rule in favour on one of the points brought against the government and that is specifically violating articles 15, 16 and 29 of the Constitution of Seychelles. The court deemed there wasnt enough factual evidence to show the medical benefits but had to rely on experimental reports from various organisations. Do you think more emphasis should have been placed on obtaining factual evidence knowing the importance of this case?
I disagree with the court on one issue. We ve got evidence from Doctor Gupta from CNN. He wrote a letter to the Attorney General, Jeff Session, where he stated the medical benefits of medical marijuana this evidence was brought to the court as well as a large body of articles written by journalists in the medical field who have seen the proof of the benefits of medical marijuana. I was a bit disappointed why the court was not brave enough to venture out and accept that there is medical evidence that medical cannabis is an alternative to a lot of conventional chemical medicines that we are using now, especially for certain ailments such as cancer, high blood pressure and epilepsy. My argument was at the end of the day, its freedom of choice. I dont believe the state has the right to legislate for people on that basis for people who are sick some people are dying. They have no alternative. They get conventional medicine from the hospital. They have nothing to lose by trying something else. Who are we to say you cant. Thats why I say its a bit unfair.
The Attorney General representing the government of Seychelles has announced they have already submitted their appeal against the ruling in the medical marijuana case, how significant is that move to your case? Do you think there is a possibility the ruling could be overturned?
I ve seen an email from Minister Jean Paul Adam which he wrote to Ralph Volcere, my client because Volcere was asking what is happening with the regulations. He has said that the government is working on the regulations. Even though they ve appealed, the regulations will be passed eventually. There are no consequences that will happen, even if the court rules against us in the Court of Appeal, the government has already committed itself to introduce the regulations to let people have access to medical marijuana. So, thats not an issue. The issue on appeal is a technical legal point. I ve seen the notice of appeal. The Attorney General is saying because the Constitutional Court did not find violations of Article 16, 17 and 18, therefore they could not make an order for the government to introduce regulations. This is purely an academic argument.
There was recently a ruling regarding the 11 year long Plantation Club case. Can you shed some light on the latest developments?
A liquidator was appointed to liquidate the assets, sell the assets of the company, pay the creditors and dissolve the company. A Mauritian national, Gerald Lincoln, the appointed Liquidator, who was working for Ernst and Young, at the time, even though he was not appointed in that capacity, came to court and made an application, he said that he has sold all the assets, paid all the creditors and that there was no money left. He wanted the court to release him and to dissolve the company. We filed an objection, as the lawyer for the owners of Plantation Club. We filed objections arguing that there are several discrepancies and inconsistencies in the accounts of the Liquidator and also in his affidavit. He also paid himself excessively, under the wrong schedule of the Company Ordinance, which was not in accordance with the law. His application was dismissed and the court recommended to President Faure to set up a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the liquidation of the Plantation Club because there were some serious allegations, and proven in court, that even though the hotel was ordered by the court to be sold for USD60-million, the buyer only paid USD54-million. Then the government using taxpayers money, topped up the difference to the tune of 45 million rupees. So altogether the liquidator was supposed to get SCR480-million. That was 2008, there was a foreign exchange crisis in Seychelles. The government wanted to keep that USD60-million as FOREX and pay the equivalent in rupees at the rate at the time which was six or seven rupees for the dollar. USD60- million was equivalent to SCR480- million. So with USD54-million being paid, it was USD6 million less than what the court ordered. So nobody knows where this USD6 million disappeared to. At the time Mohammed Afif was Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, and the person who gave evidence in the case from Central Bank is Christopher Edmond first Deputy Governor of Central Bank. He told the court that the Central Bank is only the banker for government, so he could not say what happened to the missing USD6-million. So we are left with more questions than answers. I think President Danny Faure should set up the Commission of Inquiry fairly quickly as recommended by the court to shed some light on what actually happened