Marianne McCurrie

Global Diplomat

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Thursday 06 November, 2008

More from the Seychelles

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.

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This is more like it. Well done. Cushty.

Posted by Mark on November 06, 2008 at 06:24 PM GMT #

So when do applications open for Operational Officers? Soon i hope!

Posted by Jason on November 06, 2008 at 10:01 PM GMT #

Well as a Canadian I dont think you have anything to be ashamed of. I already wrote Stephen but I actually enjoyed your last post and I think that having posts like this is very progressive on the part of David ... if he is the one who instigated them... and the FCO. But...Im not British so maybe the relations between the British public and government is more strained than I could be aware of from watching the BBC world news and reading these blogs. But if the British public is angry it seems odd that they would take it out on the diplomats...especially the lower level ones? especially when i just learned from the Guardian that the bankers will be getting their bonuses afterall ... and had made monkeys out of the government! Keep up the good work!

Posted by Steve Mc (Canada) on November 07, 2008 at 12:30 AM GMT #

Very good post Marianne which illustrates some of the pressures that FCO staff are under.

Posted by Andy on November 07, 2008 at 01:44 AM GMT #

More info about Seychelles on SeyBay

Posted by Seychelles on November 07, 2008 at 04:24 AM GMT #

Hi Marianne, I was surprised aswell when I saw the articles. I didnt see anything wrong. Its a little pathetic when newspapers have to create these stories, just so they can do a bit of government bashing. What do they expect you to do? be in a hut in Antartica? The FCO has to be all around the world and some officials will inevitably be in nicer areas than others, like you said, your next post or previous may not be so nice. Keep up the Blog.

Posted by Seb on November 07, 2008 at 10:17 AM GMT #

Hi Marianne, I came across your blog and the media reaction to it via the BBC. You seem to be a very positive person so I hope the adverse reports don't get you down. I think they're very unfair. Obviously, you're trying to give an interesting account of life and so you're not moaning about the more difficult aspects of your work. 20 years ago I was a Floater myself and as well as the marvellous opportunity to see the world it gave me, I remember living out of a suitcase for 2 years and never getting to take any holiday. Months on tropical islands in the rainy season, working from 8am until after sunset are not as glamorous as people might imagine. You certainly learn how to take the rough with the smooth and to make the most of the enjoyable moments to sustain you through the tougher times and there's nothing wrong with that! Anyway, good luck to you and keep up the good work!

Posted by Margaret on November 07, 2008 at 01:40 PM GMT #

Whichever bright spark in the FCO thought up the title "Worldwide Floater" as someone's job title needs to be demoted immediately.

Posted by Will Meek on November 07, 2008 at 03:05 PM GMT #

"Well as a Canadian I dont think you have anything to be ashamed of..... But if the British public is angry it seems odd that they would take it out on the diplomats...especially the lower level ones?" -In the spirit of international relations I may be able to enlighten you. In general, moaning and grumbling is part of the British character. It can be very therapeutic, cathartic and brings people together. 'Look at her working for the government in the sunny Seychelles on taxpayers' money, alright for some guv wish I had her luck it's not what you know' etc etc etc. British people like a good moan, in general. Also, can I raise the issue that on a British government site, why does the anti spam system on the blog ask you to answer a 'simple MATH' question. It should be a simple MATHS question. Sorry, grumbling again.

Posted by Mark on November 08, 2008 at 01:47 PM GMT #

You have an amazing grasp of the socio-politico-economic situation. Is this all your own work or that of your Press Office ? Ignore your detractors on the original blog - they are only jealous - moreso in these straitened times....

Posted by Ubert on November 08, 2008 at 06:44 PM GMT #

Hi Marianne, As a fellow Worldwide Floater (though Home Office, rather than FCO) I too live out of a suitcase and know as well as you do that it isn't as glamorous as people would like to believe! Work hard - play hard. Nowt wrong with that!

Posted by Fiona on November 10, 2008 at 06:33 PM GMT #

Marianne,Following your comments on the IMF bailout plaese can you update us on the current forex situation including why the rate still appers to be £=14rupees. Has the float made it easier to get hold of basics?

Posted by Visiting Seychelles on November 11, 2008 at 06:37 PM GMT #

From personal experience, Marianne is one of the hardest working employees in the FCO. Her previous "floating" postings have involved lots of very hard work and long hours. Clearly the Telegraph had very little to report on that day.

Posted by Steve on November 12, 2008 at 08:39 PM GMT #

To Visiting Seychelles, I have now left for my next post, but understand that the latest exchange rate is £1=25 Rupees. Although supplies have not been affected, the prices for the basics are rising significantly.

Posted by Marianne on November 15, 2008 at 03:26 AM GMT #

I always wear a white poppy myself. Work easy, play easy.

Posted by Mark on January 21, 2009 at 10:47 PM GMT #

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