St Helena Online

Tag: Cyril Gunnell

Politicians are free to campaign – except when they’re not

Displaced councillors on St Helena have been left confused about whether they can exercise their political freedoms under pre-election “purdah” rules.

St Helena Government has issued a statement saying they are not constrained by the rules – which it says are not rules at all.

But it also says that they are limited in what they can say as members of council committees.

All councillors continue to serve on the eight government committees, though no new policy decisions can be made until an election – which may not take place until 13 weeks after the island’s Legislative Council was unexpectedly dissolved on 19 April 2013.

Former councillor Cyril Gunnell told Saint FM listeners: “It’s still not very clear.”

Officials are prevented from speaking in public about policy matters or contentious government business, to avoid appearing to give an advantage to any particular election candidate. 

But the government statement said that former councillors were not classed as public officials, even though they served on government committees.

Former LegCo members are known to have shared their anger and concerns with each other, and discussed a public response. There has also been talk about what they were allowed to say since purdah had been imposed – prematurely, in the view of some.

Mr Gunnell said: “Anyone wishing to stand for re-election don’t know what it is they can and cannot do.

“I have been emailing the legal people to get some legal advice on this and I am still confused.”

The government statement said: “There are no ‘Purdah Rules’ – there are Purdah Conventions.

“All former councillors have been advised that they exist to create a level playing-field, not to tilt it.  Former councillors who intend to stand for re-election must have no advantage over new candidates, but nor must they be disadvantaged in any way.”

But this is where it apparently gets confusing for council veterans:

“The purdah conventions limit what can be done as chairmen or members of council committees, or members of ExCo, but they do not affect at all what can be done in a person’s private capacity.”

The statement continues: “In particular, they do not constrain former councillors from announcing their  candidature (and campaigning) in exactly the same way as new candidates.  All former councillors have been so advised.”

In fact, guidance issued by The Castle on the day of the dissolution merely discourages councillors from making political statements during committee meetings – it does not ban them from doing so.

It said: “Such meetings must not be used as electioneering platforms, giving sitting members electoral advantage over other candidates. Officials attending such meetings must withdraw if members indulge in such activity.”

That appears to contrast with the latest statement that politicians are “limited” while in committee sessions.

Mr Gunnell said it was unclear to him whether political campaigning could start before the formal writ of election was introduced – expected in the second or third week of May.

He said: “My understanding is the election period, when people would start to campaign, would start from the writ of election. To me, that is the purdah period. It hasn’t been issued yet.

“I have taken legal advice. I have been told now that my question is one on which opinions differ. How can they differ to such an extent?

“I feel our hands are tied behind our backs.”

A statement issued by The Castle on 2 May 2013 said: “On a small island, the campaign effectively starts with Dissolution.”

It said this followed best practice – even though it was a clear departure from UK practice.

But the SHG line has since been endorsed by chief magistrate John MacRitchie in guidance issued to island broadcasters, aimed at ensuring fair coverage of candidates.

It said the guidance only applied during “the actual election period”, and added: “This period begins with the announcement of the Dissolution of the Legislative Council.”

£3 million enterprise body is vital for better future, says Paul

Disquiet over the funding of St Helena’s new enterprise agency has prompted the island government to release the text of a statement by Financial Secretary Paul Blessington.

Runners head away from Prince Andrew School in the Festival of Running
The tourism office – which staged the festival of running – is now part of Enterprise St Helena

Enterprise St Helena (ESH) was set up at a cost of nearly three million pounds – but most of that was coming from the UK Department for International Development (DFID).

That investment was vital to giving Saints a brighter future when the island has an airport, said Paul.

The statement was delivered at a meeting of the island’s legislative council after Councillor Cyril Gunnell asked for the finances to be explained.

Paul said: “Public debate has shown a lack of understanding about how and why Enterprise St Helena is being funded.  I therefore welcome this opportunity to set the record straight.”

He said the agency was set up “to help private enterprise flourish on the island” as work began on its first airport.

The St Helena Development Agency merged with the Tourism Development Project to create the ESH.

Total funding for ESH in 2012-13 is £2,763,863. DFID is providing 76% and the remaining £460,000 is being put in by St Helena Government. That’s about 1.6% of SHG’s budget.

“Just under half  (49%) of the £2.76m is existing funding from the old SHDA and tourism projects, whilst just over half represents new funding for additional activities.”

New funding includes:

  • £112k for seeking new investors
  • £140k to develop commercial sites
  • £89k to provide extra help to businesses
  • £105k for skills training
  • £14k for support to the fishing industry.

Paul said economic development was the top priority in the island’s new Sustainable Development Plan.

“Unless St Helena successfully grows its private sector economy, on the back of the opportunity provided by the airport, there can be no long-term improvement in living standards for current and future generations of Saints.

“There are many competing demands out there for scarce public funds, but this government has wisely agreed that some of those funds must go towards economic development, if progress is to be achieved.

“An extra commitment of 1.6% of the budget is a relatively small price to pay in relation to the potential long-term return to the island.  This is about investing now to ensure a brighter future – a future with more money to invest in essential services such as education, health and social welfare.”

Island media, 17 February 2012

St Helena Independent: waste dumping and recycling – airport jobs – Essex House – polytunnels – link with NHS in Devon – Youth Parliament elections – and the man who travelled 5,000 miles to trim donkeys’ hooves

Columnist Vince Thompson looks back at a 2011 report on the island’s waste dumping problem – which has now become pressing because the existing tip at Horse Point is too close to the new airport runway and creates a hazard. Vince says the report appears to say that kerb-side collection of recyclable waste could only work if people were forced to do it. ‘This is complete nonesense,’ he says – referring to his own experience of introducing such a system in the UK.

‘By the way,’ he concludes, ‘the report includes an Action Plan. The final action in the plan was scheduled for completion by December last year. I don’t think any of the actions have even started yet.’

Basil Read, the company building St Helena’s airport, has taken on 15 Saints – out of 54 people who were interviewed in mid-January. Roles filled so far include a foreman, administrator and site agent. Six plant operators and six general labourers have been taken on. Further plant operators are still needed.

The paper praises improvements to historic details at Essex House in Jamestown, following concerns about whether they needed planning consent.

A team of advisers has been shown round tourism sites and businesses on the island, including polytunnels being used by Martin Joshua to grow salad crops. He said growing crops year-round under cover was the sustainable way to reduce imports, but more sites were needed. A visiting trainer is to run a week-long course on covered production from February 27.

Plans to set up a link between St Helena and a group of National Health Service trusts in Devon have been explained to Councillor Cyril Gunnell during a visit to the UK. He went to Devon with Dr Suresh, who is to be the island’s next senior medical officer.

Elections to St Helena’s Youth Parliament are to be held on 2 March 2012, with the election period starting on 25 February. Potential candidates need to fill in a self-nomation form.

A farrier from the UK has travelled the 5,000 miles to St Helena to clip the hooves of the island’s donkeys – and train islanders how to do it when he’s gone. Colin Goldsworthy, who worked at The Donkey Sanctuary in Devon for 30 years, said the animals on St Helena were in much better condition than expected. He worked for free but had the honour of having a donkey named after him.

See also these stories from the St Helena Independent:

Saint ‘desperate’ for bone marrow donor
Columnist attacks ‘disgusting’ tourism plan
Castle stair tower ‘must come down’, says Trust