St Helena Online

Tag: John Turner

‘Shops are silent. There’s disbelief’ – islanders mourn Saint FM

“I just saw Bernice walk up the street.  Everybody, and I mean everybody, stopped her to ask two questions: ‘Why did it close?’ and, ‘How’s Mike?'”

The day after St Helena’s independent radio station closed down, JOHN TURNER sent a personal reflection on what it meant to the island, and on the contribution made by founder Mike Olsson and his wife, Bernice. Read it here.

St Helena Online joins a campaign for transparency

Ignorance may be bliss, but it’s not good for democracy.

St Helena’s elected councillors are making decisions that will set the course of the island’s future, but we are rarely told what they will talk about in advance.

That means people cannot voice their own concerns, and possibly raise problems that the officials in The Castle didn’t know about.

In England, councils must tell the public what they will discuss at meetings, without anyone having to ask. It’s the law.

That also means publishing all the background reports, which provide the media with the facts they need to tell the public what’s going on.

It doesn’t happen on St Helena.

It is also a requirement under the Freedom of Information Act that English local authorities publish the minutes of their most important meetings.

At the moment, all we get is a report by Governor Capes. It might tell you something was discussed, but not necessarily what was said or decided. It hardly counts as public scrutiny.

St Helena does not have a law on open government. The government in Jamestown says it observes the spirit of UK freedom of information laws.

But when it comes to ExCo and LegCo meetings, it really, really doesn’t.

Making such information public is called transparency, and the senior UK politician who is bankrolling St Helena’s airport says it is vital to a healthy democracy.

Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development, told St Helena Online in May: “It matters because it allows people to be accountable for what they are doing. Sunlight is a brilliant disinfectant.

“Openness and transparency, explaining things to people, makes a better government, and that’s why we support it so strongly.”

But Mr Mitchell also said he would not want the UK to impose a freedom of information law on St Helena. It was for the island’s elected councillors, he said, to decide how to make SHG more transparent.

After he made his comments, island blogger John Turner launched a Facebook page called Transparency St Helena. Its supporters included former bishop John Salt. It was a start.

Today, the St Helena Independent and St Helena Online join forces with John under a new campaign banner: St Helena Freedom of Information.

We know we have a good case, because only last week, further indirect support came in the UK government’s White Paper on its overseas territories, which spoke of the importance of having proper scrutiny of public affairs in Britain’s far-flung islands.

It said: “This important work helps strengthen the people’s trust in government, and encourages greater public participation in decision making.”

It also quoted the Seven Principles of Public Life that some other territories have adopted, including one on openness:

“Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.”

St Helena Government says the UK’s Freedom of Information Act would be too cumbersome for a small island administration. Maybe. So let’s have a debate about what would be reasonable.

Councillors, you heard Mr Mitchell. It is time to lead St Helena into the sunlight.

SEE ALSO:
‘Transparency and scrutiny lead to public trust’ – White Paper
AUDIO: International Development secretary on transparency
LINK:
St Helena Independent
St Helena Freedom of Information – blog

Brits to pay 21 times island rate for dentist as fees double

New medical charges on St Helena mean UK visitors must pay 2,000 per cent more than islanders for dental care.

The cost of a consultation for expats from the UK will rise by 150%, from £21 to £52.50. Expats from non-UK countries already pay the higher rate.

Tourists should be covered by travel insurance.

Prescription fees for St Helenians will go up by 12.5% when the new charges come in on 1 July 2012, from £1.75 to £2.00.

St Helena Government (SHG) says the increases will help to fund subsidised care for Saints on lower incomes. The island’s average salary has been quoted at just £4,000 a year.

But island commentator John Turner says the new charges “intentionally discriminate against contractors working here… unless they work for SHG.”

He cites the two levels of charges:

group 1 includes Saints who are normally resident on St Helena, the Falklands or Ascension. They will be entitled to heavily subsidised care;

group 2 is “everybody else” – liable to be charged the full cost of their care.

But he says expats working for SHG will pay the same rates as islanders. “SHG has taken aim at the private sector,” says John – who came to the island as the first bank manager but how has St Helenian status.

The Health and Social Welfare Directorate said its review of costs “was to ensure a balanced service from 1 July 2012, with those on lower incomes not being excluded from medical or dental care because of costs, and those who are able to pay for these services paying.”

SHG says doubling charges for UK residents is “simpler”.

It says that despite the increase, “each prescription continues to be subsided by over 50%, with the average cost of a prescription actually being £4.72 per item.

“Persons currently exempt from paying medical fees and charges are not affected by these increases.”

SEE ALSO:
Experts, expats and what England expects: a governor’s view

LINKS
Random Thoughts From Offshore – John Turner’s blog
Existing fees for UK visitors
Existing frees for visitors not from the UK
Existing fees for St Helenians – not currently available on the SHG website (20 June 2012).

Facebook page calls for more open government

A campaign page calling for greater transparency from St Helena Government has been launched on Facebook by island commentator John Turner. It follows comments by the Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, who said that he favoured transparency but would not impose it on governments in the overseas territories. He said it was for journalists, councillors and voters to press for more open government.

Read more in this week’s St Helena Independent (25 May).

SEE ALSO:
AUDIO: DfID Secretary on island’s “brilliant opportunity”

LINK:
Transparency St Helena

Rat claims discounted as pest control staff are laid off

close up of a rat
Rats are a threat to health – and to St Helena’s wirebird population

Claims that rats are on the increase across the island have been discounted by St Helena Government (SHG) – just as the number of pest controllers is being halved.

Five of the 11 staff who lay bait are to lose their jobs.

Councillors have confirmed receiving complaints, but a statement from The Castle says: “There is no indication at present that rat numbers are increasing. The number of requests for rodent control has not risen significantly.”

It also says that the number of rodent bodies being found went down by a fifth in 2011.

TREADING CAREFULLY:John Turner finds rats on the doorstep

But in Blue Hill, John Turner tells a different story.

“We are experiencing a significant growth in the number of rats killed by our cats,” he says.

“We used to get about one body per week. Now it’s six in a week.

“We currently have half a dozen cats and they’re all pretty efficient rat killers. We find the evidence on the doorstep.”

The government statement confirms that baiting has been cut back in recent years, because of shrinking budgets and the rising cost of rodenticides. It says:

“The section’s rodent control programme is  forever evolving from what used to be a proactive approach to more reactive approach.

“There are presently 11  pest control operators, including two  supervisors, who regularly bait different residential areas around the island.

“Baiting is mainly carried out around farms , dwellings,  and along roadsides.  Control within dwellings, sheds and garages is done by request.

“Rodent  control on private land such as coffee plantations is also done by request.”

Bait stations have been set up around the island where rodents forage or feed. Staff check them “as often as possible”, but that depends on weather, the number of requests for help, and the distance operators have to travel.

Roads linking with private homes are included in the baiting programme.

But where long stretches of roads and pasture land might have been baited routinely in the past, now it is done when problems arise.

Rumours of a shortage of bait are denied: “The directorate  always has poisons on the shelf as back-up; therefore there is enough available for use when we are waiting for our next consignment.”

St Helena law says householders and landowners “shall take such steps as may from time to time be necessary and reasonably practicable for the destruction of rodents.”

Infestations must be reported – and control staff have the right to enter land to destroy rats.

But the kind of poison now used by the health department is too powerful to be used by the public.

Rats became resistant to Warfarin, which was safer for other species but required several “takes” before the animal would die.

Now pest control staff use more toxic rodenticides called Difenacoum or Bromadiolone, which need only a single feed to kill.

Rats have been completely wiped out on some remote islands with vulnerable wildlife, but SHG says it is “highly unlikely that complete eradication is possible”.

Instead, the aim is “to reduce rodent control populations to a tolerable level”.

John Turner is unconvinced that the health department can cope with the problem by working more efficiently once staffing has been cut.

“The island is basing its future on high-end tourists coming here to see our environment,” he says, “but I can’t imagine they want to see this particular aspect of our ecosystem.”

Media funding must be fair, says John – as MP holds debate

The re-launch of the St Helena Independent – in competition with a government-funded rival – has prompted island blogger John Turner to oppose media subsidies.

But in the UK, one Conservative MP has called for tax breaks and financial assistance for local newspapers that cannot survive in the face of competition from the internet.

Louise Mensch says they are vital for local democracy – an argument that applies just as strongly in St Helena.

John writes about the issue on his internet journal, Random Thoughts From Offshore. He says: “Let me plant my flag firmly in the ground.  I believe the government of St Helena should not be subsidising any media organisations.  It is, in my view, a completely inappropriate use of taxpayers’ money.

“If the government seriously believes that media on St Helena needs help to grow… it should offer that cash to all of them, fairly.”

Louise Mensch has organised a debate at Westminster (24 April 2012) after learning that two daily newspapers in her Northamptonshire constituency were becoming weeklies.

She says: “The local press performs a unique function in our democracy, as often only a local paper will hold a council or MP to account. Government has to look at ways of preserving Britain’s most popular print media.

“When we think of so many things that are subsidised that have only limited appeal, surely there is a case for tax advantages for local papers.”

She says the UK government should think about “ways to facilitate local communities and businesses owning their own papers – like the supporters’ trust model for football clubs.”

Perhaps she should read The Saint Times – a newspaper launched by St Helena’s motocross club.

John Turner has been signed up as a columnist for the St Helena Independent, which re-launches on Friday, 27 April 2012.

SEE ALSO:
The St Helena Independent is back – this Friday

Media section

LINKS:
Random Thoughts From Offshore – John Turner’s island blog
Mensch calls for more tax subsidies for local press – UK Press Gazette

Tourist cash sails away – in a ‘millpond’ sea

Arcadia lies off Main Street, Jamestown
Off-shore funds: tourist cash stayed on board P&O's Arcadia (picture: Hazel Wilmot)

She came, we saw, she left – the words of hotelier Hazel Wilmot after the P&O cruise ship Arcadia left James Bay without allowing passengers ashore.

Questions are now being asked about why the island traders lost the chance of tourist income,  despite “millpond” conditions at the landing steps. It is understood some passengers were too elderly to be able to manage conditions at the wharf.

“We were left with catering for 1,800 passengers and a mini market, with no buyers. Such is life,” said Hazel, who owns the Consulate Hotel in Jamestown.

She declined to rush to judgment without knowing the reason for the failure.

She cited the case of the Aurora, whose captain declined to land passengers even though the sea was calm – because he knew conditions were due to worsen later in the day and some might be stranded ashore.

P&O's Arcadia in the bay
Tantalising: passengers weren't allowed to land

The adults-only Arcadia stayed in the bay long enough to pick up eight passengers who were joining the ship at St Helena.

Earlier this month, councillors were told there was a shortfall in funding needed to build a breakwater to reduce the risk of the island losing income – up to £10,000 a day – when passengers cannot land.

BLOGGERS:

‘There was a murmur of frustration and discontent’ – Derek Richards
‘A sombre reminder how hard it is to make a living here’ – Gillian Scott Moore

COMMENT: 

I think we should also express our sympathy for the ship’s passengers, who missed out on what would doubtless have been the highlight of their holiday – seeing the delights of St Helena!

John Turner, St Helena
www.burghhouse.com

SEE ALSO:
Funding shortfall delays safer landing stage
St Helena cruise passengers stranded in the cold

LINK:
P&O ship Arcadia
St Helena Tourism

‘Bring back the Indy’ campaign launched on Facebook

The front page of the final St Helena independent.A Facebook campaign has been launched to press for the relaunch of the St Helena Independent, despite new competition from the government-funded Sentinel.

Owner Mike Olsson announced that the 30 March 2012 issue would be the last. He said the paper would not be viable because St Helena Government (SHG) was to transfer its advertising and other financial support to the new title.

The Facebook campaign is the idea of John Turner, who runs the Burgh House business consultancy.

He said:  “The purpose of the campaign is to give people a way to show support for restarting The Independent.

“Making The Independent viable with the withdrawal of government advertising would be a challenge but not necessarily impossible. If people show their support I hope it will encourage Mike to look for a way.”

The closure was debated at a specially-convened meeting of the Chamber of Commerce’s council, Wednesday 4 April 2012.

Hazel Wilmot, owner of The Consulate Hotel in Jamestown, has called for the president and vice president of the chamber to resign over their role in launching a government-subsidised title in competition with a private business.

SEE ALSO:
Sentinel goes live: click to read St Helena’s new paper
Men behind The Sentinel face call to resign
‘The Indy challenged the government: is this why it had to be silenced?’  

Education on St Helena: ‘Teachers can earn more as cleaners’ (updated 10 April 2012)

Educational standards are too low on St Helena and the outlook for jobs is ‘bleak’ if there is not a radical change of culture – not just in the schools. That’s according to an official report. Staff are rising to the “huge task”, says departing education director John Sullivan, but they need the support of the whole community. Read the blunt facts here.

Is it all bad? Do you have inspiring stories to share? Is it just a question of culture? Please share your views using the form below. Your comments so far:

This is very sad to hear as over the years St Helena has had very good  Saint teachers, but they have left the profession to go abroad and work as stewards, cleaners, etc because they get paid more money doing these jobs. I spent nearly two years on St Helena working as a nursery assistant but left to take up employment on the Falklands in the 80’s as a club assistant, which paid me three times more than working on the Education Department on St  Helena. Sadly 20+ years and things have not changed. It is so unfair for the St Helena people as they get paid pittance compared to the ex-pat who gets hired to do a job on St Helena, whether it is educational, medical etc, they get paid UK wages and used to receive free holidays back to the UK, free housing, and free water and electricity. It would be interesting to know if this still happens? When you think about it, Britain is still treating us who are British Citizens like slaves… after all Saints do the job just as good as them and sometimes even better but who gets the benefits? Not our Saints! Therefore can you blame us for leaving the island? We are still slaves there as far as the government is concerned… maybe that is what the British government want so they can move in there and have the good life on St Helena. As for some of our councillors, it makes you wonder who they are there for! They seem to forget they get elected by the people of St Helena and are there to fight for the PEOPLE OF ST HELENA!!!

Natasha Stroud, UK

Let’s hope St Helena teachers don’t get pushed out, or less St Helena people have the opportunity to go into teaching. It would be a shame. Let’s hope there is more teacher training to the UK standard for our Saints.

Nicola Jane Wallace, UK
via Facebook

Speaking as a parent of two school students I’d like to thank John for his contributions. He made a real positive difference during his time here.

John Turner, St Helena
www.burghhouse.com

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State-funded paper won’t be controlled from The Castle, says founder – as Independent announces closure (updated Tuesday 27 March 2012)

The announcement that the St Helena Independent is to close on Friday, citing government-funded competition – has prompted strong reactions. Read comments here.

So far, however – because of personal pressures – this website has not carried any response from the organisation behind the government-subsidised St Helena Sentinel, which launches on the same day.

However, the St Helena Herald carried an interview with founder John Styles shortly before that paper closed down on 9 March 2012. It’s on page 22, on this link.

In the article, Mr Styles is asked whether the newspaper will be “run by government”. He replies:

Most definitely not. Some commentators have suggested this, citing the fact that a government subsidy will be required (although it is hoped to reduce this over time).

However it is wrong and misleading to suggest that this will result in government control. The new media organisation is owned by the independent voluntary sector. It has a board made up of senior representatives of the voluntary sector and a CEO who is a member of the board. It is totally independent of government.

Our mission is “to enrich people’s lives with media services that inform, entertain and educate”.

And our core values are, “on behalf of the community, to cherish and preserve the media’s independence from the state, its impartiality and professionalism, and its honesty and integrity.”

“I laughed so much I nearly choked” – read John Turner’s reaction to this story on his St Helena blog, Random Thoughts from Offshore 

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