Air link with Jo’burg brings praise and concerns

Legislative Council members have welcomed the announcement that Comair Limited is to operate Saturday flights to St Helena in a British Airways aircraft. But they also voiced concerns about crime, transport of Ascension, and the future of the island’s long-standing medical links with Cape Town. Read more:

Chief sec admits doubts over medical care and Jo’burg crime
‘Shameful': workers left adrift by lack of Ascension flights
Don’t cast aside ‘family’ of carers in Cape Town, officials urged
I had my bag pilfered at Johannesburg, says Lawson

See also coverage on St Helena’s budget, here

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Higher taxes for the highest earners: tough budget makes unpopular decisions ‘for the many, not the few’

A higher rate of income tax has been introduced on St Helena as part of a tough Budget that has caused “disquiet” for some.

But Financial Secretary Colin Owen said it was a Budget for the benefit of the many, not the wealthiest few.

The highest earners will pay 31% tax on all income over £25,000. The basic rate of income tax rises by 1%, to 26%, on income over £7,000.

As one councillor observed, the tax bill for a person earning more than £75,000 will rise by more than the total annual income of Saints living on the Basic Island Pension.

A new disability benefit is being introduced, and rules are changing so that work over the age of 65 can count towards final pension settlement – helping to end an injustice that meant former Ascension workers were not entitled to a full pension on St Helena.

Mr Owen told Legislative Council: “It seems clear to me that the vulnerable and less well off need to be supported during this time more than ever before.

“If that means that taxes have to rise to pay for a better funded benefits system, improved services at the hospital and to support safeguarding of all people on the island, then this government believes this is the right approach to take.”

He quoted the mantra that “the broadest shoulders in society should be the ones that carry the heaviest loads.

“This equally applies to St Helena and only those with minds not broad enough to think beyond their own interests would disagree.”

Mr Owen said the island was entering “the most important year in St Helena’s history” with commercial flights from February 2016.

But the government faced massive spending pressures in order to meet the requirements for the airport, including accreditation. The police and fire service are being given extra money in readiness.

He said three councillors had served on a committee that considered “a raft of ideas for reforms” to tax.

The Financial Secretary said the island’s UK aid funding had been set for only a single year because of the path of its future economy, post-airport, “is difficult to forecast”.

He said: “We still have uncertainties around airport-related expenditure for airport certification and operational readiness.”

Rises in taxes on alcohol, tobacco and sweetened fizzy drinks are intended to improve health on the island – which has one of the highest levels of type-2 diabetes in the world.

Further duties and incentives could be introduced during the financial year to support the green agenda.

“More work is required to define what support can be provided to commercial farmers on the island,” said Mr Owen.

He said some people had urged waiting until 2016 to bring in the higher rate tax.

But he said: “St Helena can no longer put off change and delay decisions, especially ones which deep down we all know are right for the good of the nation and not just the individual. To say otherwise is to turn the other cheek and not address the issues we face on St Helena.”

Some changes “will not please everyone”, he said. “In fact, it has caused some disquiet in certain areas of our community.

“But I have been reminded by many people of late that the budget must not be for the benefit of the few but for the benefit of the majority of St Helena’s people.”

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St Helena’s Budget – in figures

New higher rate of 31% tax on all income over £25,000 from 1 April 2015.

Basic income tax rate rises by 1% to 26%, from 1 April.

Personal tax allowance stays at £7,000.

Companies’ income tax paid remains at 25%.

Tobacco: 5% increase in duty (about 16p extra on a packet of 20 – total about £3.20 duty on average cost of just over £5).

Alcohol: 3% increase (11p on a bottle of wine, 4p on a bottle of Castle, 46p on a litre of Captain Morgan). Cider over 4.5% strength now taxed at the same rate as beer – earlier than planned.

Liquor Duty (on locally-produced alcohol): 50p per litre increase to £4.

Diesel and petrol now both taxed at 39p per litre.

No changes to Customs Duty on Vehicles, or the customs duty rates of 5% and 20%.

Freight rates and passenger rates on the RMS St Helena: unchanged.

Plastic bags and Styrofoam take-away cartons: excise duty rises to 10p each.

Carbonated sweetened drinks: excise duty remains 75p per litre.

Stamp Duty remains 2.5%.

Businesses: investment tax credit, accelerated depreciation, rollover relief on capital gains, and unlimited carry-forward of losses remain in place for 2015.

Further duties and incentives will be reduced in coming months to support the green agenda – for instance, encouraging use of energy-efficient electrical goods.

Local tax and customs are forecast raise just over £10 million. Other revenue sources, including rents and fines, are expected to raise £1.4m.

DFID’s budget aid settlement is unchanged at £13.55m. Other DFID aid includes £1.2m for safeguarding, £2.68m for the RMS St Helena and £1.2m contingency funded, as needed.

Benefits:

Income Related Benefits: basic level to rise from £41.64 to £54.90 per week for the first householder, and to £31.90 for other adults in the household.

Basic Island Pension to rise from £53.53 to £56.80 per week (for a full complement of years worked). Those receiving £40.15 will receive £42.60 and those receiving £26.77 will receive £28.40.

The new rates apply from 3 April 2015, to be paid from Thursday 9 April.

From this date, IRB recipients will receive an increase in their weekly benefit from £51.64 to £54.90 and

Two recommendations from the Sainsbury report become policy in 2015/16: £50,000 has been budgeted to fund a new disability benefit called the Better Life Allowance. And money people earn after the age of 65 will count towards their Basic Island Pension – a “fairer way” of assessing it.

Executive Council has also agreed to raise the island’s minimum hourly wage is also to rise from 1 July 2015, from £2.30 to £2.60 (from £1.45 to £1.65 for those aged 16 and 17).

Key spending:

St Helena Government plans to spend just over £32m on recurrent costs such as staffing (£14.8m) – an increase of some £2.3m. A total of £6.7m is set aside for employing people from overseas on technical co-operation contracts, and £872k for overseas medical referrals.

Health Service: an extra £252,000 of spending on top of last year’s increase of £692k – a rise of £944k over two years.

Police and Fire Service: an extra £326,000 of spending, including £110 for sea rescue.

The Police and Fire Service will see an extra £326k of funding, partly to prepare for the opening of the airport. This money includes £110k for a new Sea Rescue Service.

There is also continued support for civil bodies, including the Human Rights Office and the Community Grant Scheme.

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Drinks tax does little for Dr Corinda Pepper…

St Helena’s councillors are sharing the pain when it comes to tax on alcohol.

“Everyone enjoys a good beer or a glass or wine and I declare my interest,” the Hon Brian Isaac told LegCo.

“Saints are known to enjoy socialising. If we put such commodities out of the range of Saints they will turn to other socialising activity which will impinge on the good of the island.”

New councillor Pamela Ward Pearce got an early lesson in making tough decisions.

“My husband has objected to me raising the price of beer,” she said, “but he understands that this is for the greater good.”

In fact, annual increases in tax on alcohol and tobacco have not led to a drop in consumption, said the Financial Secretary.

Excise duty has not gone up for fizzy drinks – a new tax that brought international attention when it was introduced last year.

That appears to have been some relief for the Hon Dr Corinda Essex.

“I am sure the drinkers and smokers may not be very happy with the increase in duties,” she said, “but I am personally very relieved the duty on Dr Pepper has remained the same, even if this does not in fact incentivise any improvement in my lifestyle.”

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Ronnie takes flight

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SEE ALSO: 
Saturday flights in BA livery confirmed for St HelenaScreen Shot 2015-04-01 at 21.30.42

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Elected members get tough on tossers (of litter…)

The Honourable NIGEL DOLLERY is no mere tosser of throw-away insults when it comes to litter. He used plain English to give his response after legislative councillors voted to review St Helena’s anti-littering laws, and enforce them. These were the actual words of his adjournment debate speech (slightly edited). 

I recently had an interesting experience. I was sat on a step, looking across the road. I saw about four or five pieces of litter – bottles and cans. They were about 15 foot from a rubbish bin. I then went into Grumpy Old Man mode.

The idle tossers could not be bothered to clean up behind themselves.

For those who might have doubts about the use of the word “tosser”, according to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, it means a contemptible person. Contempt is feeling that someone is worthless or beneath consideration: a bit harsh, but I am happy with it.

Tosser seems a reasonable word for a person who tosses their litter in the expectation that another will clear up behind them. Why did they not put their litter in the bin?

I then went into adult mode. There is some litter: some drunk or thoughtless or uncaring person left it there but I could sort it out. I walked over, put it in the bin. I showed myself not to be a tosser so was content.

I do not need to boast further, but I will. I stopped between Model Cottage and the stables to pick up an abandoned pizza box.

So what? Well, I saw a comment in the paper about how councillors should take a lead on our very real littler problem. I then saw the light. All it takes is all of us who are not tossers and who care about our island to pick up any litter we see and put it in the nearest bin.

I believe the Honourable Speaker already does this, leading by example. This would be a real start in getting rid of the litter left by the tossers. It would make a difference. Not an enormous one but it would be a start.

Do not do what I did the first time round, which is to be grumpy and blame anyone I could.

Do not try and shift the responsibility on to any group: parents, teens, drunks, prisoners, the uncaring, St Helena Government and its officials, or our the councillors. I dealt with the bit I saw and will always try to adopt that approach.

What this approach means is that any real blighted areas will start to stand out. Then there is something to investigate and deal with, only using the law if necessary.

So do not be a tosser. Pick up rubbish when you see it. Thank you.

  • In his closing speech to the adjournment debate, chief secretary Roy Burke said that he personally was not a… what the councillor said. “I have great sympathy with the Honourable Nigel Dollery’s problem,” he said. “I live very close to him and quite often pick up litter myself, so I am not one of those people he referred to earlier… without using the word.”
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Fishing directors ‘declined council talks’ as vessel lay idle

MFV Extractor, by Bruce Salt. Click to see full gallery

MFV Extractor, by Bruce Salt. Click to see full gallery

A lack of public information about the future of St Helena’s first offshore fishing vessel has been called “extremely disturbing” by a councillor – after months without a single fish being caught.

Public funds helped to pay for the MFV Extractor, which began landing large catches from the sea mounts around the island soon after arriving in James Bay in April 2014. But fishing  ceased in late 2014, with no formal explanation.

The Hon Corinda Essex raised a question about the future use of the Extractor at the March 2015 meeting of Legislative Council. But she was told it was a matter for the private company set up to run it.

Extractor's crew got a hero's welcome. Picture: Bruce Salt

Extractor’s crew got a hero’s welcome (Bruce Salt)

She said the directors at Saint Marine Resources Limited (SMRL) had declined to meet councillors to say what was happening.

The company issued a statement in February 2015 saying they hoped to use the vessel for maritime training and off-shore fishing within three months, eventually building up crews who could operate the vessel in rotation.

It said: “It was hoped that the MFV Extractor would return to operation in January 2015.

“Sadly, following the tragic death of skipper Trevor Thomas and subsequent notification from other crew members that they no longer wish to continue their involvement in this venture, the company is now in the process of exploring alternative options.

“The Directors of SMRL recognise the significant contributions to the fishing industry in general made by skipper Trevor Thomas along with other crew members.”

Early catches were healthy. Picture by Bruce Salt

Early catches were healthy. Picture by Bruce Salt

Trevor’s daughter, Tammy Williams, has written a letter to island newspapers after Dr Niall O’Keefe, head of Enterprise St Helena, made no mention of their achievements in a speech on island successes.

“I suppose the Extractor saga does leave a bitter taste in one’s mouth,” she says. “I thought at the very least the fish landed by the Extractor, amounting to some 60-plus tonnes of prime tuna exported last year, was worth mentioning.”

SMRL director Rob Midwinter said he was unable to comment on concerns raised at LegCo because he had been travelling back to the island on the RMS St Helena at the time.

Dr Essex had asked the chairman of the economic development committee, the Hon Lawson Henry, when the vessel would be operational again.

He explained it was a matter for the private company, but she said that “elected members requested the board of SMRL to meet with them but the invitation was declined.”

Attorney general Nicola Moore said: “Regrettably, it’s a matter for private company law. There is no requirement to provide information to members of the public.”

Dr Essex returned to the issue of government funding for the vessel in her adjournment debate speech.

“It is extremely disturbing that we as elected members are unable to obtain basic information regarding progress relating to that investment,” she said.

“Members who sit on Enterprise St Helena and Fisheries Corporation boards have been provided with some confidential information but this is not accessible to all members.

“We all have a responsibility to monitor the outcomes of public expenditure.”

She suggested there might be “a need to strengthen the company’s public accountability… perhaps there should be a change in the structure of SMRL’s board.”

Tammy Williams’s letter notes that the crew of the Extractor were presented with a St Helenian flag when the vessel arrived in James Bay on 19 April 2014, after overseeing the refit in South Africa.

“After some considerable time and sacrifice away from home and family for three months, the Extractor crew sailed into James Bay with all the hopes and dreams of building a fishing industry.

“The crew of the Extractor were a perfect example of local people making it work and helping to turn the island into a viable and prosperous place to live.”

She notes that Extractor left her moorings “after six months of lying idle” on Friday 27 March – the day Dr Essex was pressing for information in the council chamber.

Terry Richards, director of SMRL, has subsequently given this statement: “The company is currently pursuing a publically advertised commercial exercise, and is unable to comment further at this time, however the company has maintained that it will endeavour to keep the public informed via press releases as and when it is in a position to do so.”

SEE ALSO:
Trevor O Thomas: a tribute from a friend
Island crews hailed for ten-hour rescue operation
St Helena’s very own offshore fishing vessel – in pictures

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Interpreter hired for court case

An interpreter is being brought out from South Africa to assist at a trial at the next sitting of St Helena’s Supreme Court, attorney general Nicola Moore told members of Legislative Council. She did not identify the defendant, or the language spoken. The information was disclosed in response to a question from the Hon Pamela Ward Pearce.

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DFID sets aside £19.4 million – including child abuse cash

The UK’s Department for International Development is giving St Helena £1.2m of new money for safeguarding of children and adults.

The announcement came as a team from the UK neared the end of two weeks on the island, investigating alleged failures to deal with widespread child abuse.

The safeguarding money will be used for training, and raising awareness in the community. ​

DFID has set aside a total of £19.43m for St Helena in the coming year. The core budget aid settlement is to be maintained at the same level as last year, at £13.55m.

The planned running deficit of the RMS St Helena is £2.68m. Use of the ship has increased but fuel costs have fallen.

DFID has further confirmed a contingency fund of £1.2m to cover unexpected costs, from legal cases, fuel price rises, and unplanned airport spending.

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Words of support for Saint FM – but no actual money

The cash-strapped Saint FM Community Radio has been given messages of support by members of St Helena’s Legislative Council – but so far, no financial help.

Councillors were given a briefing on the station’s funding problems before their March 2015 session. The rival SAMS Radio One is heavily financed by St Helena Government.

In his adjournment debate speech on Monday, Councillor Derek Thomas said: “Honourable members will be aware of the continuing financial difficulty Saint FM Community Radio is experiencing in being able to continue to survive.

“We are aware of the huge volume of listening public both on island and overseas and I do hope as a government we will be able to provide some form of assistance and support to enable Saint FM to continue.”

The Hon Brian Isaac said: “I would like to make a mention of the many people in the community who are fundraising and supporting Saint FM Community Radio behind the scenes, to stay alive.

“I feel in any democratic society, independent media is important and should be recognised by government. I would wish the staff and listeners well in their fundraising and hope the station goes from strength to strength.”

SEE ALSO: 
Saint FM vital to island spirit, says director Dieter

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