St Helena Online

Foreign Secretary ‘wants hands-on help for islands’ – report

Britain’s Foreign Secretary is said to want a more hands-on approach to the way the UK deals with its overseas territories, including St Helena.

An early report on a White Paper stategy document – expected to be made public within days – says William Hague wants the territories to benefit from expertise across the entire government, and not just from the FCO and the Department for International Development.

That could mean staff from The Castle in Jamestown being sent to work alongside civil servants in London – with UK officials being sent to St Helena to share skills and gain understanding.

The insight comes from a news agency report from the Caribbean, but St Helena Online understands that changes could still be made to the White Paper before it is officially published – in early July at the latest.

There is no suggestion that the agency report is inaccurate, and indeed, the information reported so far fits with what politicians have already said in public.

The Cayman News Service says the White Paper wants people in the territories to have “the same high standards of governance as in the UK”. That means the same human rights, rule of law and integrity in public life.

A number of people on St Helena commented in a public consultation that was held to guide the new strategy, including the island’s tourism association.

The governor of Anguilla had announced that the paper would be published today, but then UK officials said it would come out later in the week.

The White Paper sets out the UK Government’s intentions towards the overseas territories, which include Gibraltar, Bermuda, Pitcairn, five Caribbean island groups and all the British islands in the South Atlantic.

The Cayman report emphasises a crackdown on corruption – a significant problem in the Caribbean, which led to the elected government of the Turks and Caicos Islands being replaced on orders from London.

The references to territories drawing on expertise from across government accord with a series of statements from various departments in Whitehall, setting out what they do for the territories. Sceptics have suggested some departments have struggled to find anything meaningful to say.

The decision to build an airport on St Helena – the single biggest project on the books of the Department for International Development – is seen as a firm evidence of the coalition government’s wish to have a stronger relationship with the overseas territories.

In the past, there has been criticism that FCO officials were more accustomed to diplomacy work than efficient public administration – meaning they have not been best equipped to run small island governments.

Andrew Gurr’s appointment as St Helena’s previous governor was seen as an attempt to break away from the FCO tradition. In a recent talk to the Friends of St Helena, he spoke of the difference in culture between Foreign Office types and more practically-minded staff from the Department for International Development.

Bringing in experts from other areas of government would raise standards, according to the news agency account.

It quotes William Hague saying: “The UK will provide support to the territories, where necessary, to develop good governance, robust public financial management and sound economic planning. In particular we will support greater exchange of expertise between public servants in the territories and the UK.”

SEE ALSO:
Civil service versus the can-do culture: a governor’s view
Island life is tough, report finds – report on White Paper consultation

LINK:
UK wants high standards – Cayman News Service

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