CEO Gerard Hoareau clarifies procedures, delays and bribery allegations.
The CEO of the Planning Authority, Gerard Hoareau has, interviewed by” The People” spoken about procedures followed by an application for any development.
He has also explained the role of architects or draughtsmen referred to as “licensed agents” and explained how some applications may occasionally be delayed. He also dismissed allegations that the Planning Authority is open to bribery.
Mr. Hoareau who was appointed CEO of the Planning Authority in July 2011 explained that the body is not mandated to approve applications for housing, business or other development.
He explained that the body is mandated to consider all applications and development proposals defined as ‘development’ in the Town and Country Planning Act, CAP 237, (TCPA) the current piece of legislation, amongst other things controlling development in the Republic.
“I know I do get the hammering, but I’m merely the facilitator. All planning applications are considered, approved, deferred or refused by the Planning Authority Board which has 13 members and meets every Friday”.
Mr. Hoareau noted that members are appointed by the Minister and they are high level decision makers (made up of Principal Secretaries, CEOs) in Ministries and Agencies, such as Environment, Health, the Lands Division and Department of Land Transport, SIB, Tourism, etc..The Board is also composed of a person from the private sector.
He noted that (as a matter of policy) every applicant must (seek the services) consult an architect or draughtsman because of the technicalities involved with proposals for development on land. All applications filed are acknowledged within 24 hours and informed that he or she can expect a reply in six weeks’ time.
The applications are immediately circulated to the referral agencies, i.e. Environment, Health, Department of Transport, Fire and Rescue Services, PUC(water, electricity, sewerage), Land Use Planning, Tourism, just to name a few, and the private sector represented by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI).
Applications have to be done and submitted by agents in several copies- up to eight for large development project such as tourism, commercial projects- so that they can be circulated simultaneously to all agencies with minimum delay.
There is also a Planning Authority sub-committee within the Planning Authority Secretariat, which screen and reviews all new applications every Monday and Tuesday, before submission of its recommendations to the Planning Authority Board for consideration. Visits to sites are made every Tuesday.
This comprises mainly of technicians inside and outside the department such as the DRDM, Department of Transport, Health, Environment and Survey Division.
Mr. Hoareau noted that both the Planning Authority Board and the Planning sub-committee are guided by two important sets of legislation: the “Town and Country Planning Act” and the “Environment Protection Act”. The Health Act also comes in handy as regards to amongst other things, waste water facilities associated with any development.
These for instance, stipulate what distance a structure must be from a river or stream, a beach or other physical feature. The distance of septic tanks and soakaways from any building or watercourse is also set by the laws.
There Mr. Hoareau noted that it is very important that structures are built in conformity to the regulations. “Otherwise, we end up with sub-standard construction with weak foundations”.
He added that after January’s flooding disaster in East Mahe, subsequent inspections revealed that many houses or other structures were not built according to Planning regulations or in a lot of cases had not received any Planning approval at all.
Come Wednesday, the Secretariat of the Planning Sub-Committee, prepares a report to the Board, copies of which are also issued to all referral agencies, the latter precisely for follow ups by them on deferred cases in the absence and/or untimely receipt of their comments so that they can come prepared for the Friday’s Board meeting. Referral Agencies are normally given 14 days to comment on applications circulated to them.
If during their deliberations, the Planning Authority Sub-Committee is unclear about a particular application and cannot take a decision, the application is highlighted and referred to the Board for a resolution the coming Friday.
Most often, a decision is reached by consensus or compromise. Otherwise a vote is taken to determine the course of action.
But on no account, will the Planning Authority Board okay an application without the assent of the Environment Department.
It is however not uncommon for the Authority to request additional information or recommend alterations.
In such cases, agents are immediately informed by letters copied to applicants. It is there, very often that the delay begins. Some agents fail to attend to the Authority’s request and/or communicate with their clients, who turn on the Planning Authority, accusing it of failure to deliver on time.
Of a total over 2,500 applications considered last year, only 60 plus cases, were refused.
Where an application is refused, the applicant, may under the law, formally appeal to the Minister responsible for Planning Authority and in our case this is the Minister for Land Use and Housing who is advised by a small committee, fully independent of the Planning Authority.
After East Mahe Flooding, tighter control.
Mr. Hoareau said that after the East Mahe flooding, the number of Development control officers have been doubled from four to eight.
These officers inspect sites regularly. The Authority is now also firm on the proviso that prior to starting any building works; it should be informed by the applicant, contractor or agent of the commencement. A “Commencement Notice” allows the Development Control Officers to monitor the approved development to ensure that it is strictly in line with conditions of approval.
Mr. Hoareau said that such inspections are very important to ascertain the terrain on which the house of other development is going on. Very often, it is sloppy terrain and measures have to be taken to contain the embankments associated with the proposed or approved development.
Mr. Hoareau said that it is also advisable before embarking on any project and incurring significant expenses to submit a preliminary application to ascertain how feasible it is in relation to the land.
He noted that the person will be advised accordingly and that such advice is free.
Developing other policies.
Mr. Hoareau told “The People” that the Planning Authority is presently playing an important role in developing policies for the crematorium, temporary housing for expatriate workers and hoarding off construction sites, land use policies and others.
The Authority is also involved in planning of the “Beau Vallon Golden Mile” project, the Bel Ombre hotel and the Port Glaud waterfall site.
Questioned about the large construction at Soleil d’Or, a controversial eye-sore which was due for demolition, Mr. Hoareau said it has been necessary to re-tender the demolition works.
Mr. Hoareau noted that when he took over the Planning Authority in July 2011, there were just two old cars which he termed as ‘saret’. “We now have four jeeps and doubled the number of Development Control Officers, but I personally still feel we are not doing enough considering the heavy investment Government has placed in the Authority”. Public expectations are very high and yes it is taking time but it is a complexed process especially when you have to join forces with very many partnering agencies some of which within their limited resources are yet to be adequately geared to handle applications.
He noted that the Land Use Plan for all districts on Mahe will be finalised in the not too distant future. “This will clearly zone land for diverse uses such as residential, tourism, agricultural, forestry, reserves, and other fields of activity. It will help streamline development and make it more harmonious with the environment”.
Regarding the recent visit by UPC officers from Abu Dhabi, Mr. Hoareau refutes all allegations made against the visiting team and the Planning Authority. He said that they were here in Seychelles on a fact finding mission to help with the preparation of a Terms of Reference for the much awaited Master Plan for Victoria.
Abu Dhabi he said, went through the same process as us and we are very fortunate to receive their free assistance in this respect. The Planning Authority, being a body corporate is prepared to consider any form of assistance or help extended to it so long that this is in line with its mandate and will help to improve the lives of Seychellois.
I am indeed saddened when we are all crying foul given the current situation in Victoria and when you are offered help from a ‘Good Samaritan’ still allegations are wrongfully lashed against government and the Authority. Our people need to know that we in Planning Authority do not have such experts and should there be anyone out there who can and willing to do the same thing for free, come forward and we shall entertain their assistance. Despite whatever we remain focus in our mandate, duties and responsibility and will take on board anything that is good for our people. We have been reassured by the team that the plan will be a plan that will only reflect the aspiration of Seychellois and they shall do what it takes to ensure that this happens.
Responding to allegations that the Planning Authority is vulnerable to bribes, Mr. Hoareau is adamant that this is not the case.
“I do not have the power to influence the 13 persons who sit on the Planning Authority Board. I am a simple member of this Board”.
On a more personal note, he said he has always declared his assets which are a house built with a R125,000 SHDC loan taken in 1990, a parcel of land purchased privately for R50,000 at around the same time and two cars, one of which is used by his wife. The cars were all purchased from government loans offered to Public sector employees. He has no children.
Mr. Hoareau adds that he feels he can say likewise for his deputies. “If anyone has taken bribes, then I am not aware of that. Anyone making such allegations against us, must prove this , otherwise they are unfounded and plainly malicious”.