Thanks for the comments on my intro blog, both positive and negative. The strength of the media reaction came as a bit of a surprise to me, but it has certainly stirred the debate about people’s image of the FCO. I take the point that during the current financial crisis people don’t want to hear too much about the upsides to what I’m doing (tricky because I am trying to encourage new people to work for us!). Having just spent two months in Lagos, Nigeria, one of our high threat posts, maybe I was over-enthusiastic about the change of location and the contrast (more about Lagos in a future blog).
I’m not sure either that the Seychellois will see the joke about life being a beach here. On 31 October, the President of the Seychelles, James Michel, made a national address to announce new economic reform measures that he acknowledges mean tough times ahead. This included the floating of the national currency, the Seychelles Rupee, on 1 November. Since then, its value has dropped significantly and continues to move as the world market resets its value. Petrol prices have immediately risen and costs are going up. Understandably, people here are worried about the effects (from which the mission's staff won't be immune). The Seychelles has a national debt of around US$800 million and the President is seeking to address this with Government reforms.
The High Commission in Victoria is engaged on these issues, as well as supporting the International Monetary Fund’s reform programme for the country. And with all of this going on domestically, there is also the global financial crisis and its potential effects on the Seychelles. For example the tourist industry, a major source of income to the local economy, may be affected as money gets tighter across the globe. (16,000 British tourists visited the Seychelles in 2007 – another reason for our presence here as we provide consular help when things go wrong for them.)
Supplies to the island have always been problematic due to the isolated location and tight legislation on using foreign exchange. Basic food items can be hard to come by. There is often a flurry of excitement in the office when we hear that a nearby supermarket has had a delivery of UHT milk! And when cars or machinery break down, it can take months for a spare part to be delivered.
The reason that I have been sent here is to provide cover for the Deputy High Commissioner, who in turn is covering the Head of Post position whilst both the High Commissioner and locally engaged Vice Consul are on training in the UK. Everyone is multi-hatted, being a small mission, so for me this has meant assessing visa applications, authorising passports, authorising payments for goods/services, the formal and rigorous check of the accounts at the end of the month and a “surprise check” of the account during the month. “Captain 31” makes a good point in his/her comment on the BBC website (Radio 4, PM) when s/he says that local staff should take on most of the work and UK staff should only be sent out when essential. The FCO has been putting that very idea into action for some time now and lots of UK-based staff have already been re-deployed with local staff taking their place. The Deputy High Commissioner slot here is being cut in December. And our visa service has very recently been “hubbed” into Nairobi and Port Louis as part of a world-wide scheme to rationalise the network.
Another aspect to my current posting is helping to organise a Royal Navy ship visit. It is the first time that I have dealt with one – permission has to be sought from the local authorities for the ship to dock, calls on the key contacts have to be arranged, logistics for its arrival and transport have to be sorted out. And importantly, the visit coincides with Remembrance Sunday, with the Acting High Commissioner reading a lesson in the cathedral. I’m about to leave for my next post, so unfortunately, I will miss the service here. When I’m in London, I volunteer every year as an usher at the FCO for the Cenotaph service down Whitehall. So, I’ll leave this blog with a reminder to buy and wear your poppy.