How would you describe the bilateral relationship between the UAE and Seychelles?
The relationship between Seychelles and the UAE, and Abu Dhabi especially, is a beautiful partnership. In September of 2014, we proved the strength of our relations by signing a visa-waiver agreement, making Seychelles the first African country to benefit from visa exemption in the UAE. Apart from that, we have an excellent program of collaboration between our two countries, which is not only characterized as a bilateral relationship, but as a friendship that has evolved over the past 20 years with HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan having a residence in Seychelles and the royal family, and HH General Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan who comes to the Seychelles regularly for holidays. They have developed a love for the Seychelles and a friendship that is long lasting. As a result, they have been prepared to make tangible manifestations of that friendship through substantial grants to the Republic of Seychelles for the development of our youth and for social sectors, such as housing and healthcare. The economic reforms I launched in 2008 have been successful in opening the way for partnership as an avenue of investment with the UAE, and Abu Dhabi was the first to give us $50 million to boost our reserves. Over the past 10 years alone, the value of projects and grants between Seychelles and Abu Dhabi has amounted to almost $200 million. For a small country like Seychelles, this is huge. You can see the results of their investments all over the country, and they can see that the funds have been judiciously and properly utilized for the development of the country.
The Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council has begun preparing the Seychelles Strategic Plan. What does the plan signify for Seychelles and how is it progressing?
The Seychelles Strategic Plan will help in the proper planning and development not only of the town itself, but also the surrounding areas, which could turn into plans for the whole island and the whole country. It is a coordinated exercise that aims at creating ownership by the people in the future development of the country. We have meetings with the population and all stakeholders so they can give their views, and also try to maintain a balance with all the different sectors of development, including businesses, residences, national heritage sites, and the different utilities that will be needed over the next 30 to 50 years. It is a comprehensive plan that Abu Dhabi is helping us to develop that will enable Seychelles to ensure its orderly and sustainable development for the future. At the same time, it is a realistic plan, acknowledging what can be done now, and what can be achieved in the future. It is extremely important and useful for the development of the country, and the clean energy component will be incorporated as well. Technicians from Seychelles and Abu Dhabi will further study the plan, develop it, and come back with their suggestions. We have two more scoping exercises to do for the whole project.