“Let’s spread the wealth around”.
It is only three months since young Marco Francis was elected chairman of the Seychelles Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) replacing Vaithinusamy Ramadoss who had resigned.
But, he has since been active on so many fronts that it seems a long time has elapsed.
Mr. Francis, who is also chairman of the Seychelles-India Trade Association and runs an offshore company, said that since his election, he has been devoting 3/4 of his time to SCCI affairs.
That is because he felt there was so much to be done. “Our objective is to make Government aware of our stance before implementing any economic policies. A good Government-private sector dialogue, avoids wasting time and it is the only way forward”.
Top on his agenda, was making representations on behalf of the SCCI, regarding the Corporate Social Responsibility Tax, which the Minister of Finance had in his 2013 budget address, set at 0.5% of a business’ annual turnover above R1 million, irrespective of whether donations were being made to social projects, charity or sports.
Following negotiations with the Ministry of Finance, a compromise has been reached and now half of the tax is deductible, provided the other half is being donated to charity or approved NGOs.
“But”, said Mr Francis “Our goal is to have the tax levied on profits, not on turnover”.
He noted that there is another similar tax charged for Tourism marketing and many SCCI members are subjected to both and SCCI are in negotiation to address this issue also.
Mr. Francis said that SCCI also negotiated to have the ASICODA system of clearing goods at customs delayed for three months, until both importers and clearing agents were familiar with it.
“This has helped’, but there are still outstanding issues, the main one being that the Internet provider is too slow, Database crashing and Containers are piling up at the commercial port as a result. This is pushing up costs, which will eventually be passed on to the consumers.”
The People: How Does the SCCI view the Property Law envisaged by Government, which will restrict the sale of immovable property to non-Seychellois, who may however purchase on 70 year lease?
Mr. Francis: “We have made submissions to Government regarding this issue. We think Government should tighten the sanctions system and have more transparency in the process on foreign ownership and have a tax on residential property to non-Seychellois ownership.
As it is, the Property law envisaged by Government, developments, such as Eden Island and villas linked to 5-star hotels will still continue selling freehold to non-Seychellois, while others will not. This amounts to negative discrimination.
I believe that if all non-Seychellois owners of property are taxed, as this is done in some Mediterranean countries, it can generate up to R100 million yearly which can be used to fund housing projects for our People.
The People: How does SCCI view new hotel projects coming up?
Mr. Francis: “If there is demand for more hotel accommodation capacity due to very high tourism arrivals, then we definitely need more hotels, both 5-star and other categories. But, the current statistic is that our hotels are filled at just 62%, which is rather low. We must have discussion on this matter. SCCI believes that the various government ministries and the Private Sector must come together and Talk. We must agree our economic strategy for the next five and 10 years. There are indications that with the pullout of Air Austral and soon Qatar Airways, we could end 2013 with 22,000 fewer tourists than envisaged.
The SCCI supports an open skies policy and believes that with more airlines coming to Seychelles, the better for our tourism industry. We should not use our airspace to negotiate landing right in other jurisdiction. More airlines coming here, means more visitors, extra revenue in landing fees and more employment for our Seychellois”.
The People: You have also been discussing with Taxi drivers. How do you think their working conditions can be improved?
Mr. Francis: We have two types of taxis in Seychelles, and the license Taxi, funnily enough, they hardly consider the ‘pirate taxis’ to be a threat. They believe the two can complement one another. They say that all hotels should have taxi bays thus allowing them to get a fair share of the tourism business. Just now, taxi bays are provided at some of the old hotels, but not the new ones, who bring in chauffeur-driven limousines for their guests. Taxi drivers are not happy about this. SCCI is for spreading the wealth more evenly around.”
The People: What about the Farmers, do you see anything changing for the better?
Mr. Francis: Yes, the SCCI believes things are moving in the right direction. Already we have at least three operators manufacturing animal feed locally and a few more importing. So confidence in farming is being restored.
It is a fact that locally produced meat, like pork and broiler chickens are healthier to consume with no chemical hormones added. But our finishing products, our packaging and labelling need improving. Just now, most hotels are importing their meats and are not buying local, which I am sure they would if the products look more appealing. The SCCI is talking to the farmers’ Association to press the need for better finishing. I also think the Government is committed in improving the agricultural sector and see things the way we do.
The People: You have also been talking to SENPA. The commercial banks are hardly helping with their high interest rates on credit?
Mr. Francis: “Yes, we must support small businesses and give them a fair chance. It’s true; banks are not helping at all with their high lending rates. The SCCI is contacting some international organisations, who may be benefactors to help set up a special fund with low interest to support small and medium enterprises.
Most of SENPA members are small ventures involving just one or two persons. But, if we can help them grow this will create employment for our people.
SCCI is dedicated to serve the people and the business community, we need to unite and support each other.