Seychelles, Republic of: Interview with Mr Patrick Joseph

Mr Patrick Joseph

CEO (PetroSeychelles)

Mr Patrick Joseph

As a paradise in the Indian Ocean, Seychelles competes with many other island nations across the globe, from South East Asia to the Caribbean, as well as with nearby countries. Nevertheless, you’ve managed to position yourselves as one of the top tourism destinations worldwide. What competitive and comparative advantages sets this country apart from your main competitors?

There is no point of comparison, this is the most beautiful place on earth. I believe that what we have done right is to manage a balance between our environmental protection and tourism, something other countries are struggling to achieve.

We also have a multiracial population that has managed to live in harmony, which is also an excellent example for the rest of the world. These are strong points that we need to show the word and that have taken us to where we are today.

One of your main challenges is to find the right balance between protecting the environment and developing your economy. PetroSeychelles is a parastatal company that oversees the upstream petroleum sector, promoting and supervising oil exploration programs in the Seychelles Exclusive Economic Zone. How does the nature and mandate of your company fits in the overall sustainable vision of the government?

We haven’t made any discoveries yet, but we may have been blessed with resources that in my opinion this country needs to make use of.  We want to do it properly and learn from other countries’ experiences, failures and good practices. Take Norway, they have an oil industry within their pristine environment as well, so we will take note of the things they have done.

It’s about understanding the environment and understanding your industry.

We have interviewed Mr Dogley, Minister for Environment, Energy and Climate Change, and we learned that Seychelles has set out to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2050. What will be the role of PetroSeychelles as a parastatal entity should that be achieved?

We would applaud such achievement, we as Seychellois will do everything in our power to have a cleaner environment, although we are convinced that we can have a clean oil industry. Personally, I believe we might not reach that 100& goal by 2050 but that we will be close.

In any case, if this is the vision of the government, PetroSeychelles will support it and we will probably find other roles within the scope of that vision for our expertise.

Until then, our task is to help the country overcome its energy difficulties, that’s the mandate that we have and that is what we push for.

What can you tell us about Seychelles involvement in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI)? How are you communicating these efforts and commitments to Seychellois that could oppose oil extraction?

We were the ones who spearheaded Seychelles entry into EITI, because we are aware that the oil industry can be a curse as well; the money may come in and not reach the people but remain in a few pockets. So, we believe that this has to be done properly since the beginning, even before a discovery is made.

We believe that by being transparent and knowing how much money comes in and how it is diverted we can get through the concept to Seychellois that we do not have people pocketing money.

The EITI is being managed by the Ministry of Finance, and the multi-stakeholder working group that has being set up is now looking at implementing the EITI which includes steps to communicate with the population about these advances, such as laws that need to be enacted.

At PetroSeychelles we are assisting this process as we are providing all the information that has been requested from us. We are also involved by organizing talks with youth where we explain PetroSeychelles activities and how we are contributing to the EITI process.

PetroSeychelles was created so as to solve the conflict between SEYPEC’s activities as shareholder in exploration companies and its role as regulator. How is the dynamic nowadays between the two entities?  

Originally there was a company called the Seychelles National Oil Company (SNOC) which looked at upstream activities, and SEYPEC was created as a subsidiary to generate money by marketing the products and turning that into funding for the activities of SNOC. SEYPEC, wanted to expand the scope of its activities and absorbed the staff of SNOC, which was ok until SEYPEC decided to invest by buying shares in the oil companies present here. Seypec could not have shares in companies it regulated so the government split the company and now you have SEYPEC and PetroSeychelles.

The only relationship we have with SEYPEC right now is that we share a building, we retained this floor in SEYPEC’s building as part of the “divorce agreement”. They have no saying in what we do, nor the other way around.

It is stated in your website that attracting Foreign Direct Investments and promoting interest in petroleum exploration among the international oil companies will be at the highest level of priority of the policy objectives. What is your strategy to attract potential exploration and production companies to Seychelles?

First of all, we promote the excellent geology we know we have, because if you do not have good indicators of potential accumulations companies will not come in, so we have to ensure that those companies know what we have by contacting directly companies that we know, attending conferences and publishing periodical papers. Secondly, we make our fiscal package as attractive as possible; we compare ourselves to other countries in the region, Tanzania, Kenya, Mozambique and we ensure that what we offer in terms of Government take is competitive, especially since no discoveries have been made so far. Once we make a commercial discovery, we will revise these conditions for future agreements, but for now we have to make it very attractive to investors.

PetroSeychelles is the regulatory body responsible for issuing and administering licenses for petroleum exploration to international companies. Are you looking to diversify the origin and corporate vision of the E&P companies interested in Seychelles’ EEZ?

We don’t really look at nationalities, we look at the technical and financial abilities. As long as they can demonstrate that they have these abilities to undertake the work program, that’s enough.

In doing so, we gather a diverse group of candidates; from small companies to big companies.

Seychelles is also working jointly with Mauritius to develop exploration in the Joint Management Zone (JMZ) estimated to measure 396,000 square km of continental shelf in the Indian Ocean. Can you tell us more about this joint initiative?

This initiative came about due to the UN International Law of the Sea. Article 76 provides for coastal countries to claim an extended continental shelf as part of their rights. Because one of the areas that we could claim overlaps an area that Mauritius could claim, we decided to put a joint claim in and work together to present the submission jointly.

That submission to the UN was accepted and as a result the two countries have certain rights to exploit the resources of the seabed and subsoil that may be there. It is working so far as we already have the legal instruments ready and we are now in the process of starting to attract oil and gas companies.  This we are doing jointly with the government of Mauritius but there will be, in the near future, a Designated Authority which will manage the activities in the JMZ.

Finally, eBiz Guides is the premier guidebook for business globetrotters. Do you have a final message for those readers that only see Seychelles as a tourism destination?

These guides provide an excellent overview of what is happening in a given country, especially in terms of business. I would therefore encourage them to read them through and expand their vision.