Allegations that St Helena’s financial secretary is tied up in conflicts of interest are “grossly unfair”, legislative councillors have been told.
Chief secretary Roy Burke defended Dax Richards after concerns were raised by the island’s public accounts committee.
They resurfaced during yesterday’s debate over whether St Helena Government should underwrite a £500,000 bank loan to its own hotel company.
Mr Richards – one of the highest-ranking Saints in the history of St Helena – sat on the boards of both the hotel and the bank, as well as being in charge of the government’s finances.
Mr Burke said he and Governor Lisa Phillips were reviewing the finance chief’s many roles.
The Hon. Cruyff Buckley told fellow councillors: “Questions have to be asked about our financial secretary and his position on various boards which play vital roles in St Helena’s development – namely the Bank of St Helena, the St Helena Hotel, and also Connect St Helena.
“This council has to ask if this is conducive to public perception of neutrality.
“Moreover, the capacity of the human being to deliver enough focus in one’s primary role, which is attending to the finances of the St Helena Government.”
Mr Burke told councillors: “It’s important to ensure wherever possible we protect members of staff from those perceptions and allegations of conflict of interest, which in all cases are grossly unfair.
“So we are reviewing those posts.
“We are fishing in a very small pond here and when we have individuals who shine it’s inevitable that those individuals get put forward for those posts.”
He said ways would be found to offer such roles to other members of St Helena Government.
He also admitted a need to “make sure we look after our state-controlled entitites in a much better way than we have in the past.”
The Hon. Lawson Henry said the public had “legitimate concerns”, but the government should “allay rumours” surrounding the hotel and its directors.
“In the spirit of openness and transparency and to protect those directors… there should be a full independent audit of the processes and the management of the hotel so far.”