Sarah Troman could be forgiven for wanting to take to the hills in her new life as St Helena’s first ever capital programme manager.
She will be responsible for overseeing about 30 major projects, including extending the hospital and moving the island’s “unfit” prison out of Jamestown.
It’s going to be a tough but necessary job, judging by severe criticisms of the way the government handled the building of its new customs house, and sat on UK aid cash intended for infrastructure projects.
It would be enough to make anyone want to escape into St Helena’s amazing landscape at the weekends.
And like so many before her, Sarah has found the island “both diverse and beautiful”, according to a press release from the Castle.
“So far she has walked to Flagstaff with her husband and daughter but hopes to do more walking,” it says.
Strangely, the release makes no mention of another island jaunt, described by husband Tim in his internet journal:
“Today we have had an enforced walk down to the Millennium Forest due to the quality hire car refusing to start,” he writes.
Evidently they had a good time enjoying the “lovely breeze” and the children’s activity area.
“It was only on the return journey did we both realise quite how steep it had been coming down… I have never known two miles to seem quite so long.”
The press release says Sarah will have responsibility for major improvements to roads – there’s no mention of the vehicles that are driven on them.
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.
Basic designs are being drawn up for moving St Helena’s “unfit” prison out of Jamestown. Planning advice is being sought, according to a spokesman for St Helena Government (SHG).
First, a new unit for young people with challenging behaviour must be built at Half Tree Hollow to make way for the prison to move into the unit’s current home at Sundale.
The prison building is to be taken over – aptly – by SHG’s legal department. The move is not expected before 2015.
The information was provided in response to a question by John Turner of the St Helena Campaign for Freedom of Information, after the government published an outline of various projects that are vital to island life.
The Infrastructure, Utilities and Construction Programme was drawn up with the help of UK advisers after SHG was rebuked for falling behind with maintenance and large-scale projects – partly because of problems finding contractors.
Executive councillors were given a confidential report on progress in early July, but said they wanted the public to be given more information on important works.
Three projects involve energy supplies.
Replacements for ageing equipment at the power station is now being tested, and a trial of photo voltaic cells – to harness the energy of the sun, and reduce the use of diesel – is being evaluated. Approval has been given for six extra wind turbines, and work has begun to appoint a contractor to manage renewable energy projects.
Several projects tackle housing issues:
encouraging owners to rent-out empty homes
finding sites to build homes for low earners
raising living standards in SHG housing
improving welfare facilities, and moving Barn View social care residents to the Community Care Complex
refurbishing sheltered housing at Longwood and building six new units at Plantation Cape Villa
The first year of the rental project involves identifying the reasons people are reluctant to rent out empty homes, and find ways to overcome them.
Work on government-owned housing involves clearing a backlog of maintenance, as well as converting properties and building new homes.
Infrastructure projects include work on electricity supply, including for the airport, and on developing a sustainable water supply – which includes providing treated water to all island communities.
Upgrades and renovations of the government’s property estate includes work to:
clear a backlog of maintenance of government buildings
build a new fire station
move government departments to free up buildings for the private sector.
No buildings have been let as a result of the government reorganisation in Jamestown, but a spokesman pointed out that the programme was at an early stage.
Another project involves setting up a sustainable system for waste, including recycling, prompted in part by a need to move the existing landfill site near Longwood to avoid causing a hazard to aircraft.
An adviser is currently on the island and a consultation is due soon.
The government is also redeveloping hospital facilities to cope with more residents and visitors, expected once the airport is built.
This includes providing better laboratory facilities for diagnosing medical conditions, and for carrying out tests needed to export processed food.
Island businesses are being asked to help with a backlog of “challenging” work to improve infrastructure on St Helena – such as roads and buildings.
It follows a rebuke in early 2012 by aid advisers over delays in spending several million pounds that was meant to be used for vital work.
Executive councillors have accepted that “capacity constraints” were partly to blame, according to Governor Mark Capes.
In the past, it has been reported that projects could not move forward because St Helena Government could not find contractors able to take on work on the island, including from overseas.
In his report of the executive council meeting of Tuesday, 10 June, Mr Capes said: “Councillors welcomed advice that discussions were under way with private sector interests to address this.”
Island contractors are expected to help clear a backlog of maintenance of buildings and other major infrastructure that has built up after years of inadequate spending.
A spokesman told St Helena Online: “The private sector will be engaged in the building and construction work of course, but over and above that we have need for a range of specialist technical work, such as construction design for some of the energy projects.”
An off-shore company is expected to be brought in “soon” to help manage projects from planning to completion.
Mr Capes said aid advisers from the Department for International Development had “registered some concern that progress was behind schedule on some projects and cautioned that we must aim to do better.”
In fact, the aide memoire signed at the end of the aid team’s visit in February 2012 voiced “deep concerns” over performance.
There had since been “limited and insufficient” progress, resulting in £4 million of aid money being stored up – which could have been spent in other needy countries.
That sum was due to shrink to around £1 million after payment for work to upgrade the power station.
The aide memoire – agreed with St Helena Government – said: “A surplus of funds is not allowed to build up again. DFID funds will not be paid in advance of need and will only be released if and when needed.”
An infrastructure adviser and a programme manager spent a week on the island in February 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.
The aid report also found annual spending on maintenance had not been adequate. “Work to address the maintenance backlog for much of the island’s heavy infrastructure and SHG’s stock of buildings has been prioritised under the plan,” it said.
Executive councillors are to be given monitoring reports every three months. St Helena Online has been told that Tuesday’s report by the director of infrastructure and utilities, David Thompson, is confidential and will not be made public.
However, Mr Capes’ report of the meeting said: “Councillors directed that more information should be made available, especially on the projects of most concern to the public, such as the roads programme.”