Response to a letter on government transparency, September 2012.
Let me be very clear from the outset. I am a very strong supporter of openness and transparency in Government. By the same token, I am also a very strong supporter of the “Council Committees (Rules of Procedure) Order 2010, signed off by this Council.
I quote the relevant sections for ease of reference:-
Section 3 (3) “Meetings shall be held in public except where, in respect of any item of business, the Chairman directs or the Committee resolves that the public should be excluded because the nature of that business is such that it ought to be treated as confidential”
Section 3 (4) “A direction or resolution under paragraph (3) may be made about the business of a future meeting, and the Chairman shall make arrangements for the public to be made aware in advance of time and place of any meeting which includes items of business to be considered in public”
I firmly believe that the above procedures are providing for the good governance, suited to the culture and circumstances of the people of St Helena. Islanders are closely knit families and the simplest of issues can split family harmony for decades. It is no secret amongst Islanders that many Island families still hold grudges against each other that took place before, even I was born.
I can assure you that a very large percentage of government business can be easily linked to individuals or organizations, without putting identification clues in print. Very often now there is finger pointing suggesting an individual leaked information, but in actual fact more often than not, it is the guessing game that provides the linkage to the issue.
Over the past two and half years of this election term, Exco meetings and Council Committee meetings have been held in public and minutes published, where and when it was considered appropriate. In the beginning, three or four people including the media, attended public meetings and the minutes place in the media.This interest quickly faded away altogether, because it was considered boring, simply because no other people’s business was on the agendas.
Council Members then turned their attention to encouraging the public to take part in the reforms covering Tax, Lands, Immigration, Social Benefits, Institutional arrangements, Tourism, Untargeted subsidies plus others reforms which have all been in the public domain.
In the last year renewed affords have been made to try and do things differently to enable more of government business to be available to the public – land planning, management accounts, contracts register, Councillors expenses, Council committee meetings and minutes, board meetings are all now in the public or available to the public in one form or another. All Legislative Council business is laid on the table in the House and placed in the public library, available for public inspection.
In spite of the information release procedures currently in place, it is inevitable periodically an issue will be released that will cause conflict in the community, as indeed has happened in recent weeks. Chairpersons must therefore be constantly alert to this aspect.
To conclude, I take this opportunity to advise that since fol and Human Rights are being linked in the media, Human Rights is also currently a very sensitive issue amongst this closely knit community. Joining these two issues together will only take the smallest spark to set the community on fire.
As an Elected Councillor, I am therefore obliged to advise that whilst I am strongly in support of open government, I am content that the current Council procedures, provides for the good governance of law and order on behalf of the people of St. Helena.
– Rodney Buckley MLA