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President Ramkalawan is under-fire – but he showed his critics who’s boss

14th May 2021

 

Assured performance: President Ramkalawan at the May Press conference
Assured performance: President Ramkalawan at the May Press conference

By Lewis Betsy

 

President Ramkalawan has always had his critics, but it was a surprise to me to hear hostile comments made by some who I thought would be sympathetic to him.

I talk to a lot of people and during the past weeks have sensed a growing disappointment over what is happening.

On the streets, in the market, and from calls on the phone, I was beginning to pick up a disturbing pattern.

People said they were unhappy with the way the government was operating. They complained it was like the old days. They voted for change, but where you would think to see a difference – in the various departments in government offices and majority of the PSs and all the sports federations – it was like nothing had altered.

I heard strong – and some hot-headed, abusive – opinions expressed, but of course that is politics.

Whatever position you adopt you can have people arguing against you, even if at one stage everyone considered themselves allies.

So it was with interest I listened to what the President had to say at his Press conference this month (May 6).

Well, credit where credit is due. Ramkalawan took on his critics and put them in their place.

It was a very good performance by the President on the night. He made sure that  everyone knew who was in charge – and that the buck stopped with him.

He was on top of the detail and, I think, managed to calm everyone with his assured performance.

Because of Covid-19, the Press conference was a virtual one, held via Zoom, and President Ramkalawan highlighted the importance of holding such meetings with the Press.

It was, he said, to shed light on important and prominent matters, to lay to rest rumours and misconceptions and, in the interest of the nation, to question the work and decisions of the government.

It was a valid point as the role of the Press in Seychelles concerns me greatly. I take note of an index, published annually by the the group Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which is one of the world’s leading non-government organisations campaigning to defend and promote freedom of information. 

This index shows that in 2021, Seychelles was ranked 52nd of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index. 

In 2002 when the index was first launched we were 61 (out of 139). 

Compare us to Madagascar, (57), Mauritius (61) and the Maldives (72). The Comoros was 84th. As another comparison, the UK is 22nd.

I note too that May 3 this year, was celebrated as World Press Freedom Day and the theme chosen for this year is “Journalism Without Fear or Favour”.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said journalists were providing the “antidote” to what he has characterised as a pandemic of misinformation surrounding the Covid-19 crisis.

In February, Ramkalawan said he had talked to his ministers and “informed them that when a journalist has questions we must answer them and tell the truth”.

However, at the May Press conference concern was expressed that it was difficult for journalists to obtain information from government officials. 

The President said he will go back to the ministers on the issue.

I trust this will sort out the problem.

Seychelles has the opportunity to lead the way here. We need a free Press to address the wrongs of the past 40 odd years.

Indeed, I have plans afoot to keep our people better informed and more aware of what is happening in our beautiful country. I’ll give more details on that later.

President Ramkalawan’s Press conference went on to deal with a wide range of issues: Covid – naturally, and many other virus-related topics – through to national unity, the war on drugs and the distribution of wealth among the Seychellois people.

The President was positive on what he could do and this reassures me.

The angry voices on the street may want action quicker and say he has had time to get things moving.

Yet I would urge caution. I agree change is needed, but the greatest threat at the moment is the virus.

I believe that until we have the Covid pandemic under control, we need to exercise more patience with the government.

We will probably have to wait at least a year to see if the promises made by the LDS take shape and we get any lasting changes.

The world is in a very uncertain place at the moment. We must give our leaders all the support we can.

Lewis Betsy
Lewis Betsy

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