Being nation of 115 small islands clearly has its advantages – distinct and unique ecosystems, vast amounts of coastline and ocean resources, to name but a few. But it also presents challenges, especially in terms of land and infrastructure. That’s why Seychelles is coming up with innovative solutions to maximize local land use, while also respecting the environment and anticipating climate change. Here, Pamela Charlette, who was appointed Minister of Habitat, Lands, Infrastructure and Land Transport in May 2018, outlines Seychelles’ plans for new developments and the many opportunities for international investors to get involved
What is your overall vision for the future of the Seychelles’ physical development?
Seychelles is a small country and an island-nation, and especially in Mahé, where most of the population is, we don’t have much land to give out. So, our vision is to maximize the use of our natural resources specifically land and ensure that the Seychellois lives comfortably in the comfort of their own home. For that, they need access to good housing, the ability to buy their own land and have very good infrastructure that will support economic development. Our vision is to have an integrated approach to development in the country. We recognize our vulnerability, so it is also key to make sure that all of this development is sustainable. There are quite a few aspects to that, including land reclamation projects. We have already completed successful land reclamation projects – Eden Island, for example – but these projects require international investment, as well as local support.
What are your key priorities in terms of infrastructure development and why?
The road network is a huge challenge for us. It’s something that we’ve been battling with for years now on Mahé. Traffic can be bad, especially here in Victoria, so we need to fund and develop new road infrastructure. We have plans for bypasses, road extensions and bridges, but it all needs funding. Government has a plan to reclaim land in five locations around Mahe and Praslin islands creating an additional 82 hectares of land. The cost of the project is anticipated to be about Euro67million. Land reclamation is also important, for the socio-economic development of the country and to link regions (so instead of having to go through town to get from the north of the island to the south, we could utilize reclaimed land to link different areas) and avoid traffic congestion on the existing main road network. Social housing is another area where we have to focus our efforts and deliver on targets set by the Government. The president has pronounced his commitment to through the 24-24 project which requires the Government to build 24 houses in 24 districts by February 2019. We are on a good track so far apart from a few delays outside of our control. It’s very pressing and we want to concentrate on delivering houses for people, but we also need the funding to do so. The government is also exploring new funding possibilities through the Private Sector involvement. To encourage that, a new law called Public-Private-Partnership Acts will be presented to the National Assembly before the end of the year. I believe PPPs will be a good way forward if international investors who want to become involved in projects across the board.
They Seychelles also has plans to create new tunnels to link Cascade with Grand Anse and Beau Vallon with English River. How important are these tunnels for the country?
The tunnels will link up regions in Mahé. The travel time for people and goods, which currently takes up to an hour, would be greatly reduced. But the tunnels would not only cut travel time – they are also for utilities. We need to find ways to get utilities like telephone cables, electricity, water and sewage from one region to another, so the tunnels would add value in that sense as well. So, not only will they shorten travel time and distance, they will add to the overall sustainability of development and reduce operating costs of businesses on the island. During the building phase of the project the materials extracted, can be used to supply the two privately owned quarries and also for the construction of the new Grand Anse Dam.
How can Seychelles benefit from the global leadership that China is exhibiting in the realm of infrastructure with its Belt and Road Initiative?
We’ve been very fortunate to have a very good relationship with China for a long time. They’ve always been at the forefront of our development. Some infrastructure has already been funded by the government of China, including the construction of the Palais de Justice, the Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation Building and the Anse Royale Hospital. At the same time, we welcome more cooperation via bilateral agreements, grants or alternative funding options, such as PPPs. The tenders will also be international giving the opportunity for Chinese Investors to bid. Currently, there is one Chinese company that has a contract with the Seychelles through the Public Utilities Corporation. The company is called Sino-Hydro and they won an international tender to raise the La Gogue dam project, which will boost the water supply on Mahé. This is the kind of partnership that we really want to nurture and encourage.
Are there currently any contracts open to bidding?
There are quite a lot of projects coming up that will need investment. In Victoria, we have a waterfront project that is coming up and there is opportunity for investment in its associated infrastructure. I’m quite sure FDI will be involved in its development. There is still a lot of need for infrastructure on Aurore Island, as well as investments in tourism and social housing. We also have possibilities to open tenders related to land reclamation, dam and tunnel projects that could be funded.
To what extent is environmental sustainability at the heart of everything you do?
Seychelles is vulnerable, especially where climate change is concerned. So with everything we do, we have to keep in mind climate change and how it’s going to affect Seychelles. There’s a big boost in renewable energy, something that we are also incorporating here. The president also announced in his State of the Nation Address on 6th March 2018 the need for Seychelles to move to liquefied natural gas, which is another area where investment from China could be welcome. It is estimated that demand for electricity will grow at a rate of 4.5% per annum in the next 5 years. This leads to a forecasted requirement of 68 MW of capacity by the year 2020. The estimated cost of the project will be USD216m. It’s something that’s still a concept that we’re exploring and developing. Also, we have a planning authority which works to look at the different structural designs to make sure Seychelles is resilient against cyclones. Seychelles is not in the cyclone belt, but it is getting closer. So our plans have to make sure that buildings are suitable for this kind of eventuality. And, of course, to keep our environment as pristine as possible, we have to be careful how we develop.
What final message you would like to send to Chinese readers?
Seychelles welcomes investors and invites international firms and companies to come and have a conversation through the Seychelles Investment Board to find out how they can best be involved in the economic development of Seychelles islands. Thus far, I’ve talked mostly about Mahé, but there are also other islands open for development, including tourism development. In my experience as former minister of fishing and agriculture, I acknowledge the immense opportunity that also exists in both sectors. Especially as we champion the Blue Economy agenda, aquaculture is another potential investment opportunity. Seychelles is full of opportunity; we just need investors who understand our culture, our vulnerability as a small island nation and above all, our sensitive and unique environment and its biodiversity.