The House of Lords in London has been told that works being funded by the UK on St Helena were not progressing as expected.
Baroness Northover told peers that progress on energy improvements was good but most infrastructure projects were not providing value for money.
However, her comments appeared to be based on a strongly critical report issued well over a year ago, following the visit by UK aid negotiators in early 2012. Advisors have since helped the government to set out a more realistic agenda for work on island projects.
The annual visit by the UK’s Development Aid Planning Mission in February 2013 resulted in a much more upbeat report, though problems were still identified.
Separately, a value-for-money audit on the new customs shed found serious delays, failures in standards and waste of money. No further such audits have been carried out in the past year because the chief auditor moved to a new job and was not quickly replaced.
Questions are now being asked on the island about whether the severe water shortage in some areas was the result of inefficiencies and delayed works.
Concerns have since been raised about resurfacing work on the wharf at Jamestown.
The infrastructure issue was raised by Lord Jones of Cheltenham after representations from St Helena Independent writer Vince Thompson, who met the peer in the House of Lords.
The Liberal Democrat peer – who has visited St Helena – asked the government “what assessment has been made of the St Helena Infrastructure Improvement Programme in terms of (1) value for money, (2) adherence to programme, and (3) quality of end product.”
For the government, Baroness Northover responded:
“A review to assess the progress of St Helena’s infrastructure programme was conducted in February 2012. The review found that while work on the energy sector was progressing well and meeting quality standards, the majority of the programme was not progressing as expected and overall was not providing value for money.
“Following the review DfID has been working with the St Helena Government to ensure that their capacity and capability to deliver infrastructure projects are increased.
“We are continuing to invest in the Government of St Helena’s infrastructure plans, bearing in mind links to the airport construction, and are also investing in better management systems and procedures.”
The island government was strongly rebuked in the 2012 aide memoire for delays in spending four million pounds of UK funding, intended for vital infrastructure work.
The island would not be allowed to build up a surplus of funds in future, said the UK negotiators.
An infrastructure adviser and a programme manager spent a week on the island in February 2012 to draw up a “more realistic” plan for work on areas such as roads, water and power, along with “other needed activity” on visitor attractions, housing, IT and construction.
In July 2012, executive councillors agreed to invite island contractors to help tackle a backlog in projects resulting from the years of inadequate spending.
The aide memoire published at the end of the February 2013 visit by advisers was not so critical in tone.
But the mission warned that some savings plans put forward by government departments looked unrealistic.
It also said there had been no progress on adopting agreed guidelines on more efficient buying-in of goods and skills. An adviser arrived in January 2013.
It found the government’s budget planning had improved, to fit better with the priorities of improving health, education and economic growth.
The aid mission also welcomed plans to publish meaningful information on the government’s performance.
House of Lords question on infrastructure (www.theyworkforyou.com)
Jobs for island contractors after years of underspending (July 2012)
Extra £1.4 million is proposed to boost health and schooling (February 2013)
Failings alleged: drought chiefs promise to do better next time (May 2013)