Sri Lanka-Seychelles: A special relationship | Daily News


Sri Lanka-Seychelles: A special relationship

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa with former Seychelles President James Michel.
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa with former Seychelles President James Michel.

The special relationship of Sri Lanka with Seychelles started when Seychelles was a permanent member of the UNHRC. Seychelles was a former French Colony but the country stood against American imperialism, and was in the former socialist block.

Being a permanent member of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), it voted along with Russia, China, Cuba etc. against the resolution condemning our country and defeated it in the first instance. As a result we developed a close relationship with Seychelles.

SriLankan Airlines plane

The population of Seychelles is only about 100,000. However it has much more than that number of migrant workers in the hotel, fisheries and construction industries. Among them are many Sri Lankans employed as teachers, hotel workers and in the construction field. In fact the Chief Justice and two Supreme Court judges at that time were Sri Lankans.

It is interesting to note that over 400,000 high end tourists, mostly from Russia and Europe, billionaires and millionaires, visit the country every year. Tourism is the main income for the country. The fisheries industry comes close to it. Multinational fisheries companies are registered in Seychelles as it is a tax heaven with liberalized registration laws.

Per capita income is very high and all the unemployed are paid a handsome dole.

There are hundreds of very attractive islands mostly owned by billionaires like Bill Gates who spends one month every year holidaying in Seychelles. Even Prince William and Princess Kate spent their honeymoon in Seychelles.

Although the country is rich and beautiful, its Banking industry and Insurance Industry were not well developed and not properly structured at that time. There were no leasing or hire purchase facilities in operation. The Health Services were also in a poor state. They used to go to Mauritius even for minor surgery and to Mumbai or Mauritius for major treatment like heart surgery.

Due to the newly developed relationship with Sri Lanka, the President of Seychelles had requested the then Sri Lankan government to open Banking, Insurance and Healthcare facilities.

During that period Bank of Ceylon (BOC), had several overseas branches in London, Chennai and Maldives. Despite being not so profitable, the London branch continued to operate due to the prestige involved in having a foothold in the business capital of the world, the large number of Sri Lankans in UK transacted business there due to the nostalgia involved in being the first overseas branch.

BOC was planning to expand operations in Chennai as Sri Lankan businesses like Damro and others were expanding their operations there.

A Seychelles Island

In the mean time BOC was planning to expand its operations in Africa for business as it was more lucrative to operate in less developed countries where there was much less competition. The invitation of the Seychelles President to open up operations in that country was considered as a gateway to Africa by the then government and the BOC management.

During that period about 200 Sri Lankan English teachers as well as a similar number of hotel employees were working in the lucrative Seychelles Hotel Industry. The construction company, Sanken Lanka Ltd, was one of the leading construction companies with over 500 workers, operating and expanding its business in Seychelles.

The Hotel Industry started importing fresh fruit and vegetables from Sri Lanka. One Mr. Dody a Maldivian educated in Sri Lanka, who owns a Hilton Island Resort, started importing fruits and vegetables from Sri Lanka through Mihin Lanka and later through Air Lanka. The Colombo - Seychelles flight is still profitable mainly due to transportation of fresh vegetables and fruits from Sri Lanka. Opening of BOC branch in Seychelles immensely helped those businesses. We introduced leasing facilities for the first time in that country and it has become a highly profitable business. BOC operations are still running at a profit. That’s why still the branch is in operation although the Governments have changed.

The Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation and Nawaloka Hospital opened business at the same time. After medical consultations in Seychelles they proceeded to Colombo for further treatment and surgery at Nawaloka or other private hospitals. Thus the Sri Lanka was able to attract lucrative business from less developed countries.

I believe during the past few years those business avenues were neglected and not given proper prominence due to the change of Governments.

During that period BOC Travels opened up a travel counter at the BOC Branch to get high end tourists to Colombo as their second destination.

Discussions were made and arrangements were on the cards with leading travel companies in Seychelles, to operate Seychelles-Colombo tourists operations. Due to change of government all those plans came to a standstill.

(The writer was a Director Bank of Ceylon and Chairman BOC Travels who negotiated with the Seychelles Travel Authorities).

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