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CHOGM 2011: “Exclusive interview with Seychelles President”
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CHOGM 2011: “Exclusive interview with Seychelles President”

The President of Seychelles His Excellency James Michel at the Leaders' Retreat in Kings Park Park, Perth, Saturday 29 October 2011. Photograph by Howard Moffatt/CHOGM.

The President of Seychelles His Excellency James Michel at the Leaders' Retreat in Kings Park Park, Perth, Saturday 29 October 2011. Photograph by Howard Moffatt/CHOGM.

World leaders are in Perth on the west coast of Australia this week to take part in the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

Francis Ventura, 21, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Melbourne, spoke to His Excellency James Michel, President of the Republic of Seychelles, about issues such as poverty alleviation, youth empowerment, environmental sustainability and Commonwealth rejuvenation.

Ventura: So we’re here with James Michel, His Excellency James Michel, the President of the Republic of Seychelles, so we’re very, very pleased. I’ve heard him speak before in Melbourne; I understand that he’s passionate and he’s quite a significant person, especially amongst young people because his government has shown, indeed he personally has shown a strong commitment to ideals which young people hold dear.

Indeed topics that we spoke about at the Youth Forum last week such as human rights, economic development, environmental sustainability etc, so he’s very kindly agreed to be interviewed and his remarks will be seen by young people all around the world including, there was a young delegate from Seychelles who will see a copy. So, Your Excellency, thank you very much.

First of all, I was just at a press conference with David Cameron and Julia Gillard, and Mr Cameron spoke about a Diamond Jubilee Trust Fund which will be established to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Given that anywhere between twenty and thirty thousand people die every year, or children especially die from preventable diseases, and given the number of nations in the Commonwealth, some close to you, Mozambique, Maldives etc rank among the lowest on the United Nations Human Development Index, do you see or will you push for, a trust to alleviate poverty within the Commonwealth?

President Michel: I think this initiative is a very commendable one, I think, as we celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty. This will provide the opportunity to really have something that is worthwhile, that will benefit the children of some of the poorest countries and as you have said, so many children die every day from starvation, disease and so on, and a trust that can be built up to a level that can alleviate these kinds of suffering. I think we’ll go a long way to give these unfortunate children a better life.

As these countries prepare and work towards building the capacity themselves, to be able to ensure that they have the capacity to look after their children and ensure that they eliminate poverty, they eliminate disease as much as possible and ensure that every child has the right to live and become productive as they grow up. So, I would personally welcome any initiative to ensure that children are first of all saved, and then have the possibility to grow and become productive because I believe in the youth, because I believe in the future and the future is the youth.

This is why in my country, in Seychelles, I do everything I can to put in place, as much as possible, programs that empower the youth, empower the young generation to ensure that as leaders of tomorrow, they will continue to sustain the growth of the country and continue to build not only the wealth but also the capacity in everywhere, social, culture, security and ensure that our country will continue to grow as prosper.

Ventura: On a similar topic, Your Excellency, I remember you spoke in Melbourne about the incompatibility between consumerism and environmental sustainability. You lead an economy which is a market-driven, capitalist economy. At the same time you’re also passionate about environmental sustainability. So what measures have you taken to promote the compatibility between the two?

President Michel: I think compatibility is possible, it is a reality. We have proved it in Seychelles. We have established a market economy. We are empowering our young people to become a nation of entrepreneurs. To build, to depend on themselves in order to build their future, to create wealth for the country. At the same time, we have educated them. From a very early age our children are educated to appreciate the values of the environment, to appreciate what nature has given them and also to appreciate the fact that nature doesn’t belong to us but we belong to the nature. Therefore, we have to preserve nature if we are to be able to benefit from what nature has given us and this is why we have developed this policy of integrating the protection and the management of the environment with development.

As far as our tourism industry is concerned, we ensure that hotels are built in such a way that the hotels are integrated in the environment and that the developers participate and contribute to the protection and the management of the environment. This is working very well. In the other sectors, like fishing for example, we ensure that we have sustainable fishing activity. On the continental plateau we ensure that it is reserved only for our fisherman, and then we monitor the sustainability of the species that exist, and there are certain species where we put a ban during certain periods of the year or a number of years to ensure that they reproduce until they can be allowed to be exploited again.

Even fishing, we monitor the activities and any other activity that we do that is economic that is necessary for development and the creation of wealth, that there is always sustainability to ensure that the environment is protected. We have very strict environmental laws which ensure that, and on some islands we have strict rules that no development takes place above a fifteen metre contour line, to ensure that we protect the pristine environment.

So in that way, I think we are unique because we want to preserve our country for future generations and the young people themselves, we are conscious of that, so we can sustain our economic development and our livelihood for the future.

Ventura: Your Excellency, just to quote your Foreign Minister Jean-Paul Adam, who is also a Facebook friend of mine, so we’ll have to become Facebook friends by the end of this, he stated in 2010 to the United Nations that the quote ‘one size fits all’ model of international development has not worked. How can development thus be tailored in order to provide economic, political and social benefits to the people where it’s being implemented?

President Michel: I’m sorry I didn’t quite get your question.

Ventura: The current ‘one size fits all’, according to Jean-Paul Adam, is not working. So how do you believe that international development can therefore be tailored differently for particular countries?

President Michel: So this is the problem with most of the current international institutions. Most of these large international institutions were created after the Second World War. I think the time has come for rejuvenation and earlier at the session, the second session of CHOGM, we talked about a Charter for the rejuvenation of the Commonwealth. I think it is important because without rejuvenation, we become irrelevant, and today I think the Bretton Woods institutions, the United Nations have become irrelevant in a way, or are becoming irrelevant because they do not represent the realities of the new global economic and social environment.

The world has changed, but the rules of these institutions have not changed. Therefore, there is a need to relook at the rules of these institutions and ensure that new guidelines, new rules new charters are conceived and worked out to be able to fit the specificities of different countries or different economies, or different cultures because we are living in a globalised world, but we have different countries with different specificities.

Let us look for example at the small island states. You cannot put us in the same bag as you put any big country with different kinds of resources or more resources that small countries do not have. So today, even if small countries work hard and strive to be able to make it to the middle-income level, then they are penalised and they are no longer given access to concessionary credit and so on, and what will happen is that they will slip back into becoming poor countries.

So this is what I call the ‘middle-income trap’ because once you’re there, once you’ve done well, you are penalised because you’ve done well. This is because again, of the specific criteria created by the Bretton Woods institutions after the Second World War, which has to change. All these institutions have to be rejuvenated in the light of modern-day realities.

Ventura: Thank you Your Excellency. Just to quote your Foreign Minister again, he’s predicted that piracy has led to a reduction in your economy of 4%. Given that issues such as piracy and terrorism usually emanate from economically disadvantaged areas, is it not in the world’s economic and strategic interests to ensure that there is a strong push to end global poverty?

President Michel: Well of course. There should be a strong push to eliminate poverty. There’s so much wealth on this Earth, and yet so many people are living in poverty and I don’t believe in hand-outs, I don’t believe in begging, but I believe in sharing equally the resources and wealth of the planet which belong to humanity. [It] doesn’t belong only to a few countries or a few groups.

This is why I think the poorer countries, instead of just being given aid for the sake of being given aid, should be given the technology to be able to develop their resources and become self-sufficient to be able to sustain their own development and be able to stand on their own two feet.

Let us look for example at renewable energy. We have island states. We have smaller countries which can become models of countries which can run on renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy and other forms of renewable energy. But we are unable to do it, we do not have the resources, we do not have the technology.

So the bigger countries should be in a position to help these countries to build up their capacity, to be able to achieve that. These can become laboratories for the rest of the world to see on a bigger scale. It also can become an opportunity. In Seychelles the large companies, with the technologies, can set up solar farms, it’s a business. They can sell the energy, the power, to the national grid. We can buy, and then we save on fossil fuels. They make money, they get a return on their investment and we become a carbon-free economy.

So we need to be more innovative and this is what the world is not doing enough, this is where the wealthy countries, the industrialised countries, are not doing enough to promote and engage themselves in such innovation for the future. Whatever is being done or is planned to be done is too slow. Time is not on our side. We need to save the earth otherwise we’ll all go with it.

Ventura: Last question. Your Excellency, fellow Commonwealth nations have very low positions on the 2010 United Nations Development Index, these include South Africa at 113, India at 132, Pakistan at 128 and Sierra Leone at 161. Australia is a close second, I’ll just point that out as an Aussie. How can the Commonwealth, as a member-based organisation better ensure greater diplomatic and economic cooperation amongst its members to generate greater prosperity?

President Michel: Well I think the Commonwealth itself in terms of capacity to do things; there is no mandate to do that. But, the Commonwealth can share ideas, can exchange views and come up with possibilities of what can be done, and then the Commonwealth, as  a bigger voice, share these ideas to the institutions that can make things happen and perhaps also where ideas can be shared with the nations who are part of the Commonwealth. These different countries [can] implement and perhaps try and see whether they can be of use.

But the Commonwealth, I see it as an institution in which we have shared values of course, and of course ensure that member states respect these values because these values, I think, are the foundation for growth, the foundation for stability and unity, which is very essential for growth and for the creation of wealth of any country. The Commonwealth sort of helps to, in the networking system, to ensure that we are in a position to make sure that we make these things happen.

Ventura: Thank you very much. There are billions of young people who will be very interested to read these remarks as they obviously affect us, the next generation, so I trust you’ll enjoy the rest of your time in Australia and enjoy the sun, it reminds you of home. Thank you very much and I’m sure young people around the world will be very interested to hear your remarks.

President Michel: Thank you.

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About me:

“G’day! My name is Francis Ventura and I am currently studying Politics and International Relations at the University of Melbourne. I am also the youth director of the Australian Republican Movement.

“As Melbourne is the sporting capital of the nation, I have a keen interest in cricket and Australian Rules football. I also love exploring Australia’s beautiful environment. After my studies I would like to dedicate my life to human rights, with a focus on protecting civilians living in war zones or under totalitarian regimes.”

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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