Greenwich Mean Time UTC/GMT offset
Capital City Freetown
Currency Sierra Leonean leone
National Day 27 April
His Excellency Mr Patrick Georges Pillay arrived in London in January, accompanied by his 14-year-old son. He returns to the UK, having studied at Warwick and Sussex Universities during the 1970s and 1980s, to reopen the Seychelles High Commission in London, which has been closed since 2003. A gardening fanatic, Mr Pillay has enjoyed the recent spring weather – a luxury he never got to fully appreciate as a student!
The new High Commissioner credits his career to ‘two very determined people’ – his parents. ‘My mother said, “University is what I want for my children,”’ he explains. ‘And the Seychelles is very much a matriarchal society – if the woman says “Do it”, then you do!’ Thus the last three of Mrs Pillay’s nine children, of which Patrick was one, travelled abroad to complete university degrees.
A career in academia eventually fused with a career in government. Mr Pillay served successively as the Minister for Education and Culture (1993-98), Youth and Culture (1998-99), Industries and Business in (2000-01), Health (2001-05) and finally Foreign Affairs (2005-09). While at the helm of the Ministry of Industries and Business, he concentrated on the offshore business sector as an additional economic pillar to tourism. He also strengthened a business authority and developed a legal and administrative framework designed to attract investment in the Seychelles.
Due to budgetary cutbacks, by 2003 the Seychelles had closed all but two of its missions. However, soon after Mr Pillay was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs ‘it became apparent that the Seychelles was losing a lot without them.’ Accordingly, the government has opened a mission every year since. Mr Pillay planned to retire last year, but the President thought otherwise, sending him to re-open the mission in London. Now, the High Commissioner says, his country wants ‘to reach out and be more visible and present on the international scene.’
Mr Pillay’s experiences as Minister for Foreign Affairs taught him the importance of networking on the international scene. He negotiated a reduced membership fee with the South African Development Community (SADC) and requested help from some of its larger states. The Seychelles rejoined the SADC in 2006, and since then it has been extremely active on the international scene.
What are Mr Pillay’s hopes and plans for his role as High Commissioner in the UK? ‘Aside from opening the High Commission?!’ he jokes, before outlining plans to work closely with the Commonwealth Foundation, which is currently chaired by Simone de Comarmond, a former ministerial colleague from home. He also plans to liaise closely with the UK’s Seychellois community ‘to work out how we can make the most out of our potential and encourage investment in the Seychelles.’
When asked about the Seychelles’s greatest diplomatic challenge, Mr Pillay does not hesitate: ‘Piracy impacts our tourism and fishing industries and is an issue that touches on all the countries in the region. Three or four years ago, we never thought that piracy would affect us, just as we had rarely heard the word “tsunami” before 2004. It is not only a question of trying to get the pirates to stop taking our yachts, cruise ships and tankers, but also of working with the international community to try and come to a long-term solution on the problems in Somalia. This has become quite a hot potato for us to handle.’ Thankfully Mr Pillay will be able to call upon vast reserves of political experience in tackling this complex international issue.