We need to stand together as a nation to defend our territory, says campaign group
Julia Morin is the new head of the environmental campaign group Preserve Seychelles. Its main objectives are to maintain the Seychelles territory as a military-free zone and to protect the natural resources and pristine environment of the islands for future generations. The group has long campaigned against the Indian and Seychelles governments building a large military installation on Assumption, but there are other battles in sight too. Seychelles Life asked Julia for an update on the organisation’s activities…
Seychelles Life: Congratulations on you becoming Chairperson of Preserve Seychelles. Do you plan to make any major changes with your campaign group or are you happy with it on its current course?
Julia Morin: Thank You. Preserve Seychelles has a solid foundation, and this is because of what has been done by the founding members. We started off with the Assumption saga as focus, but now in line with our constitution, we will be working on a larger scale, looking more closely at other issues that threatens our being and livelihood as a nation; that threaten our sovereignty.
The future of Assumption is still causing much concern. What support have you had from politicians?
For the time being politicians prefer to remain quiet about this issue. I am making reference to the two main political parties in the country. This is a hot topic and with elections on the way, for them it is convenient that this issue is placed on the back burner and bring it back on the table after the elections. We met with the leader of the opposition and we were supposed to meet with the leader of government business, we have not yet been able to do it. However, it is on the agenda of the newly elected executive committee. The small political parties have been quiet vocal about this issue.
After all your campaigning do you believe there has been sufficient transparency from the Seychelles government?
Simple NO! They try to use certain tactics that would make people believe that they are being transparent, but we have been going round in circles. Pertaining questions are put out there, but the government remains very quiet. How many times has the President said one thing and then done something else? Statements are put out there by international medias organisations about the issue of Assumption, but what does our government do when they say that these are just allegations? Do they refute these, or it is more convenient to remain quiet?
Have you had any response from the Indian government?
The Indian government is going about their business as usual. It is on our agenda to pay the newly appointed High Commissioner a visit in order to present to the general our constitution and other relevant documents. Work is on the way on Agalega (two outer islands of Mauritius), and it is only a matter of time, that they try to play the coastguard card to move on to Assumption.
Do you fear the worst and that in the end a major military installation will be built there anyway?
With the current leaders of this country, this is exactly what will happen, if we as a nation do not stand together in unity to defend our territory.
Campaigning costs money, how is Preserve Seychelles financially supported?
It is important to note that up to today, no one receive any sort of salary from the organisation, all work is done on a voluntary basis. In regards to funds, we had one fund-raising activity last year, and we also received certain donations. We now have activities that we are now working on certain fund raising activities and putting in place systems that will facilitate how we receive donations. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has contributed in one way or another so far towards the cause.
Do you have any influential backers in business or politics?
As members, we have people from all walks of life, but I cannot say that we have any specific influential backers as such. The major energy comes from within the organisation and we are gradually seeing people with the right type of baggage who are willing to assist us on different fronts.
How many rank and file members do you have and what age groups do they cover?
We have 10 elected executive committee members, and with regard to members, we have over 300, and still receiving application forms. We also have co-opted members, our founding members, along with the honorary members.
You are non-political and appeal to all sections of the community, but to achieve greater success would you consider linking up with another campaign group?
As we continuously say: in unity there is strength. We have already started talking to certain members of certain other groups, and we are looking at working in collaborations with groups having the same targets. What we are doing is not an ego thing, thus we are not seeking any sort of glory from any one. It’s not about us, but what is best for Seychelles.
What reaction has the organisation had from the general public and the media?
All sorts of reactions. Some are seen as positive, some negative and even mixed, especially from those who are not too sure about us. We have allowed partisan politics to run our lives and when a group such as ours is formed, not everyone understands and thus to some we may be seen as a threat, sadly enough. Some are curious about us, and some fail to look at the aim of our organisation, and find it easier to attack our members on a personal level. This is sad, but we will not be discouraged by these. We use them as part of our walk through experience to strengthen us and provide us with more baggage in order to move forward. On the other hand, we do have that group of people who appreciate what we are doing; the stance that we take and what we are about. Thus we do receive support.
You mention the fishing industry as another cause for concern. Do you have much trust in the integrity and competence of the Seychelles government over its administration of the industry? If not, how do you intend to tackle that? Are there other areas that worry you?
I wonder if there is anyone who has any sort of trust in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. The fishing industry is an area that should be one of our main bread-winners in this country, but are we really benefitting from this industry, or just some big shots, with those whom they carry in their pockets? As Preserve Seychelles, we have created sub-committees to cover issues/areas of major concern in the country today. So far we have three established sub committees: Heritage and Culture headed by George Volcere; Environment/Bio-Diversity headed by Steve Agricole; and Fisheries headed by Ricki Morin.
Other sub-committees will also be set up, but we have to get the right people on board; those with the knowledge and experience. We need to tackle important issues with efficiency, and not just talk without knowing what we are talking about.
Could you tell us a little about yourself in terms of family, work, campaigning background and why and how you became chairperson of Preserve Seychelles?
I am married, with a daughter of seven and I am a teacher by profession. I remember when I heard about the insane proposal to have an Indian military base on our island of Assumption, I knew that I had to be part of the protestations as I am a citizen of this beautiful island and also the mother of a nature and Seychelles-loving daughter.
I missed the initial protest in Victoria as I had to attend the funeral of a close family member, my husband however was there along with the other determined patriots.
I did however joined in almost, if not all, of the other protests that followed. Without my knowing, I was actively engaged along with others in standing up against the proposal and for that matter the government.
Upon the registration of our organisation, I was the secretary and Terry Sandapin was the chairman. On the 23 November 2019, we had our AGM, and a new executive committee was elected, with me as the new chair. To me this is a great honour, as I have been handed an organisation that is standing on a very solidly established foundation.
A lot of challenges await us, and it is not easy to be the Chairperson of Preserve Seychelles, while also having my family, work and my life as a whole. I believe that if I did not receive the support of my husband, that it would not be easy for me to juggle my time among all this. I am grateful and also thankful for this challenge! All of us together, we can go the extra mile!