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Economy Politics Uncategorized

Development Challenges on the Horizon for the New UK Prime Minister

Building and maintaining global relationships, especially for the purposes of international development, is something the United Kingdom prides itself on. The UK has a history of providing aid to countries around the world, but also in facilitating capacity building and providing support for governments that lack the resources to develop themselves. The UK’s new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, will have to ensure that their foreign policy agenda is selective when it comes to developing relationships.

The balance of global regimes is shifting towards autocracy. The last year marked the lowest levels of international democracy seen in thirty years, and it seems unlikely to be an outlier. With this trend, an increasing number of countries in the developing world are heading in the direction of autocratic governance that veer away from democratic ideals. The risks of establishing and strengthening relationships with these countries, however, are high. Not only does it strengthen the regime’s hold on their countries to gain official support and recognition, but being associated with countries that are undemocratic also damages the UK’s reputation. In the interest of facilitating the spread of democracy as well as reputational self-interest, the UK’s new Prime Minister must ensure that the relationships they choose to develop cannot be exploited or manipulated into a political risk.

Former Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, Liz Truss’s appointment at the start of the month to the highest office in the UK and her experience with foreign affairs only underscores this international development angle. Her stance so far on the United Kingdom’s foreign policy has been to build a “network of liberty” with allies around the world who will work together to fight for and support democracy. Her aggressive stance on foreign policy and her desire for a “perpetual Brexit” are cornerstones to her international agenda, and with the power of the Prime Minster’s office, she is likely to turn her focus to developing and fortifying this network.

Her international development agenda also leaves a lot to be desired, with many charities criticising it as a missed opportunity and as a “neo-colonial approach to aid spending”. International aid distribution is already an important issue, with countries like the Seychelles and Rwanda providing case studies of the possible shortfalls of this type of relationship-building. The government of the Seychelles is undergoing a negative transformation with the leadership of President Wavel Ramkalawan. Elected in 2020 on a platform of cleaning up corruption and drugs, Ramkalawan had been heralded as a wave of change for the small island nation. The President’s landmark action so far has been a national corruption trial to persecute those responsible for the alleged embezzling of part of $50 million worth of aid money. The instigation of this trial set new expectations with the international community that under this government, Seychelles will move towards greater economic strength and become a safe and secure destination for aid and foreign direct investments.

As this trial progresses, however, aspects of it from prisoner treatment to the credibility of evidence are showing a different side to Ramkalawan’s government. Complaints about prisoner treatment from those detained by the government revealed that their detention facilities did not meet human rights standards, and only after the Seychelles Human Rights Commission investigated did the government promise to make changes. The Seychelles constitution was amended after the corruption trial began, in order to expand the government’s power to conduct the trial in the style they wanted. The anti-corruption body in the Seychelles has been accused of intimidation by the defence lawyers, and the detainees were placed on no-fly lists despite posing minimal security risks. Several detainees have also consistently been denied bail, despite the government admitting that concrete evidence in their cases is lacking. While all of this continues to take place, the European Union is providing €300,000 for an anti-corruption project in Seychelles, intended to build capacity with technical aid and national awareness.

The other case is Rwanda, the poster child for international development projects. It is a clean, organised and efficient state, transformed from a country disfigured by genocide to one of the most orderly in Africa, all under the helm of President Paul Kagame, who receives endless praise from Western leaders for his incredible successes. Economically, the country is strong, and international aid is well invested with a visible impact. His regime and governance style, however, are clearly autocratic. He shuffles his security team constantly so as not to allow a military coup; he has advisors beaten over disagreements; his current term lasts until 2034, and he may change the constitution again to further extend it. With so much evidence of the improvements he has made, however, President Kagame remains a respected and well-liked leader in the international community.

It is clear to see that the firm governance of leaders like Ramkalawan and Kagame, coupled with aid funding, has allowed these countries to transform. This governance, however, comes at a cost and national leaders cannot continue to ignore that. The risk of developing relationships with autocratic countries is that as the economy improves, the leader’s credibility amongst his people increases and his international legitimacy grows. This reinforces his belief in his actions and expands his ability to act as he sees fit without repercussions.

The new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom plays a crucial role not only in the future of the UK, but also in the future development of the global south. Developing and establishing international relationships is a difficult and intricate task, and must be done with the utmost care. Economic development is not the only hallmark of growth and prosperity for a country – social issues, equality and human rights are all equally important. The pursuit of economic growth and democracy cannot come at the expense of human rights, and the UK has a duty as an international leader to ensure it plays no part in encouraging or supporting leaders that do not share these values.

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Justice Politics Uncategorized

Ronny Govinden Continues To Enrich Himself At Everyone’s Expense

Corruption in countries like the Seychelles has become something which people unfortunately accept as a given. When there is little oversight, those that are in power take advantage. That doesn’t make it okay but it is expected. What people don’t anticipate is the extent to which those in power will go in order to shamelessly promote their own interests at the peoples’ expense.

Such was the case in a recent expose published by The People, according to which Chief Justice of the Seychelles Supreme Court Ronny Govinden, took advantage of his position of power and proximity to the Seychelles leadership in order to acquire for himself a property portfolio unrivalled by many in the country.

At first glance there is nothing wrong with acquiring properties. If you have the money and would like to invest in an extensive property portfolio, then of course it is your right. A problem arises however, when the price paid for the property is significantly below market value, raising questions regarding the conditions under which it is acquired.

Accusations have been levied according to which a series of parcels of government land were acquired by the Chief Justice at below market costs. Most recent was piece of government land (H8312) measuring 995 square meters that was acquired on April 6th 2022. Unlike the other land, which he reportedly procured on questionable terms, this parcel saw records leaked pointing fingers directly at the current government of Wavel Ramkalawan. It is important to remember that Ronny Govinden, over the course of the past more than a decade has always been in an official position of power in the Seychellois justice system, currently a Chief Justice and previously as Chief Prosecutor and Attorney. One might expect a member of the judiciary to hold himself to higher standards, however this does not appear to be the case with Ronny Govinden.

The corruption in relation to this most recent acquisition is all too apparent, having paid only SR 122,800 for a plot easily valued at SR1.2 million. It looks like the position of Chief Justice comes with the added benefit of being able to purchase state land at 1/10 of the price. Had he kept the land for himself and built a home we might have been able to excuse this and look the other way. A man who gave his whole life to the justice system may be entitled to certain benefits although it’s not clear why buying multiple parcels of land would be necessary.

Govinden’s greed unfortunately knows no boundaries and prior to his acquisition of the most recent piece of land in April of this year, the Chief Justice sold all of his shares in his other properties to his former spouse for SR4.5 million. This means not only did he acquire land at an undervalued price in his capacity as an official of state, something which very obviously screams corruption, but he also enriched himself with the help of these properties.

The Minister for Lands & Housing, Billy Rangasamy, has been providing excuses for Ronny Govinden, saying that the sale of the land at far below market-price was approved on “compassionate grounds”. Specifically, this was due to Ronny Govinden’s sale of all his previous land to his ex-wife following their divorce. However, getting divorced and subsequent sympathy is not a good enough reason to approve the sale of government land to a public servant at such a discount, especially considering his ownership of quite a few other properties which he similarly purchased at below market terms.

If the government will do anything to concretely address this corruption is doubtful. This is simply one of surely many cases of corruption that was uncovered by investigative journalists. If anything, we can anticipate that this expose will simply encourage those in power to cover their tracks better. Regardless, we will continue to investigate and expose such instances of corruption because without clean and trustworthy government, the future of any country is doomed.

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Economy Politics Uncategorized

Colonial Legacies Continue To Build The Modern British State

The nostalgia with which many reflect on Britain’s colonial legacies is not surprising. Tony Blair famously stated in a 1997 speech, “I value and honour our history enormously,” and that the country’s history of empire should be the cause of “neither apology nor hand-wringing”. The post-Brexit world has only encouraged this sentiment, which seeks to reinvigorate the spirit which once allowed Britain to rule more than half the world.

Although the empire that is seen by many as a product of the British state, an often overlooked aspect of Britain’s successful domination of the globe is the role of laissez-faire capitalism, outsourcing and public-private partnerships. The most well-known of these in the British context was the English East India Company, which by 1800 commanded a force larger than that of England. Ruling approximately one fifth of the world, philosopher Edmund Burke famously referred to this as, “a state in the disguise of a merchant”.

While Britain continues to focus on its post-colonial narrative, tearing down or renaming close to 70 statues of slave traders and colonialists across the country, colonialism in a different guise perseveres. Identified quite accurately as an, “incomplete process of British decolonisation” by University of London law lecturer Kojo Koram when discussing his new book, ‘Uncommon Wealth: Britain and The Aftermath of Empire’, Koram expressed how colonialism continues to inform both symbolic issues, such as monuments in public spaces, as well as more practical concerns.

Building an empire was after all, in its essences, a material project aimed at extracting resources and supporting the Empire’s foreign policy concerns. In this regard, not only is decolonization incomplete, it is being promoted in a different guise in ostensibly now independent locales employing private public partnerships. This can be seen quite prominently in the Seychelles Islands, in the role that British Queen’s Counsels have been playing in the country’s justice system.

Only becoming an independent republic within the Commonwealth of Nations in 1976, the Seychelles has remained particularly reliant on its former colonial overlords. This has become especially apparent throughout the course of an ongoing, and extremely questionable corruption trial, which has been functionally led in its entirety by British barristers and investigators. Employing KC’s Steven Powles and Edmund Vickers to lead the prosecution, the two have been responsible for overseeing the prosecution of nine arrested for a mix of allegations. Patrick Humphrey a former British police officer was tasked with leading the investigative side of the case.

Despite the involvement of internationally recognized criminal lawyers with an expertise in human rights, allegations of human rights violations have run rife. Concerns have been raised regarding impartiality, intimidation tactics have been leveraged against the defense and unconventional legal mechanisms, such as changing laws ex post facto to facilitate retroactive prosecution have been employed. All this, coupled with accusations that the case is essentially a politically motivated one, used by the incumbent President Wavel Ramkalawan to rid the country of supporters of the former government has raised more than a few alarms.

One would expect a seasoned former police officer as senior as Humphrey to ask more than a few questions regarding the methods employed to investigate the case as well as the nature of evidence found. This has included weapons, which to date cannot be conclusively tied to the suspects having any wrongdoing. Shockingly, British High Commissioner Patrick Lynch has not expressed any concern over the involvement of British lawyers in the case. This is despite regular comments by the High Commissioner commending UK-Seychellois cooperation on issues like police reform and tackling serious crime.

EU Ambassador Vincent Degert has similarly been noticeably silent. This is despite the instrumental role which the EU has played in funding ACCS anti-corruption efforts, and the role which EU ambassadors are expected to play in ensuring things such as freedom of the press and human rights. This is even more the case when EU funding is being directly allocated towards state bodies that act in stark contravention of international human rights standards.

Although their focus should be on addressing issues of democratic backsliding, these international experts have been recruited to the government’s ranks to lead the prosecution. Naturally, the support of international professionals are instrumental for establishing the legitimacy needed for the ongoing miscarriage of justice to go on unimpeded. When such actions are placed within the context of colonial history, it becomes apparent that they are in good company.

Colonial lawyers played a central role in propping up despotic local regimes that were deemed friendly to British foreign interests in the days of the Empire. Take the story of Sir Frank Clement Offley Beaman as a prime example. Educated at The Queen’s College, Oxford, he became a judicial advisor to the Indian Civil Service in 1879 working his way up over the course of the subsequent 28 years to High Court Judge, a position to which he was appointed in 1907. His position attained was a product of the relationship he established with the local government and the way in which he used legal tools in support of both the caste system and opposing women’s emancipation.

A similar example is evident in the case of Mr Dinsha Davar. A London educated barrister, Davar was a member of the same Middle Temple Inn of Court as Mr Powles and Mr Vickers, an Inn which seems to have a sordid history of members supporting neo-colonial endeavors. Davar saw the opportunity to be appointed a high court judge and having become close with the Maharaja of Baroda State, Sayajirao Gaekwad III, fervently employed the law to fight political enemies of the Maharaja, famously sentencing Indian nationalist and anti-colonial activist Bal Gangadhar Tilak to six years of hard labour.

It is unclear if the motivation of Mr Powles, Mr Vickers and Mr Humphrey are monetary, securing longer term local positions of power, as is widely (albeit controversially) practiced to this day in former colonies such as Hong Kong, or a combination of the two. Irrespective of their personal interest, British colonial legacies continue to shape the future of the Seychelles justice system and not for the better. A state in the grips of neo-colonialism can never be the master of its own destiny.

Categories
Justice Politics Transparency Uncategorized

Seychelles’s House of Cards is Beginning to Crumble

Factual errors continue to riddle one of the most high-profile cases Seychelles has ever seen. In an exclusive report, on the basis of confidential information overheard in the halls of the Seychelles Ministry of Justice in Victoria, more questions are unfortunately raised than answer. One thing is certain however, and that is that the prosecution in the case of the “missing 50 million US dollars” have not been completely upfront with the public, and their own evidence proves it.

For those unfamiliar, the saga begins with 50 million dollars donated by the government of the United Arab Emirates to Seychelles at a time when it was struggling to keep on the lights. Faced with a financial crisis in 2002, the money was meant to help pay outstanding balances to major creditors. In a surprising twist, allegations were raised that the funds were misappropriated; several government investigations occurred over the years, but no arrests were made until after the election of Wavel Ramkalawan in 2020, alongside his Vice President Ahmed Afif who himself had been previously implicated in having a role in the money’s disappearance. However, it’s important to note that all previous investigations did not point fingers to any of the current accused or held that there was no evidence the money was mishandled; Ahmed Afif has not been one of the nine Seychellois arrested.

As one of his first acts in office, President Wavel Ramkalawan decided to arrest nine people whom he and those leading the prosecution, the Anti-Corruption Commission of Seychelles, decided had misappropriated the money. The entire case had been premised on the fact that the funds, which were held in an account belonging to a government entity, the Seychelles Marketing Board (SMB), at the Bank of Baroda in London were allegedly transferred out to unknown accounts & subsequently pilfered, either through unauthorized expenses or someone stealing the money.

Now, personal accounts which have been exclusively obtained and whose authenticity have been corroborated beyond a shadow of a doubt, paint a picture which is significantly different. As was noted, the donation was meant to assist Seychelles in purchasing food, paying for electricity as well as making payments to creditors who were owed money.

According to insider information conveyed by concerned citizens working at the Ministry of Justice, who were able to provide confirmation that documents they had seen, including the financial evidence discovered by the ACCS, indicated that funds were not embezzled or misused. Rather, for example, on the 24 October 2002 a transfer of $6 million dollars was initiated to the Dutch Bank ABN AMRO. Cross referencing communications obtained by the ACCS between the late President France Albert Rene, who requested the donation, with His Highness of the UAE Sheikh Khalifa, who provided the funding, shows that President Rene listed debts at ABN AMRO as part of the usage that was going to be made of the donation; our insiders have also corroborated this.

Another clear example of funds that, despite allegations, were not misappropriated, was a $5 million dollar payment to the Malaysian petroleum company Petronas. Again, if we were to cross reference the initial request for funds from the former President Rene to the leadership of the UAE with the transfer initiated, we would find that this was actually described as one of the reasons the initial donation was needed, making the payment completely legal and within the scope of what the donated monies were meant to be used for.

Information from government sources have also given indication that proof has been found that the funds were actually transferred to the SMB’s own declared accounts, all known to the Seychelles government. For instance, 15 October 2002 saw $6.8 million dollars transferred to Nouvobanq, where we know from the publicly available COSPROH report that the SMB had a number of accounts which were routinely used for government business, including the repayment of creditors & debts. Quite simply, it seems like a lion’s share of the financial evidence obtained by the ACCS actually works against the Seychelles government’s case.

The government and prosecutors know this and, according to confidential conversations had, they have been panicking for some time. Although some of the defendants have been coerced into cooperation and made bail and others have had their charges dropped, others have been held for months on end in conditions that don’t comply with any legal system. International lawyers already filed complaints of intimidation and human rights violations, all of which have been ignored by the government. But filing a case which has been ongoing for 9 months on the basis of accusations which, quite frankly, are inaccurate is a severe problem and can bring this entire house of cards tumbling down.

Lies are like cockroaches; for every one you find, there are many many more hidden. The last thing this case can afford is any more lies coming to light. The government and prosecution can be sure they will. People are becoming more and more concerned with the absurd miscarriage of justice and political trial currently taking place in Seychelles. The time to put an end to this is now.