St Helena Online

Tag: Lawson Henry

‘Shameful’: workers left adrift by lack of Ascension flights

Saints working on Ascension could face a 15,000-mile trip to get home – just 700 miles away – if the fears of one St Helena councillor are realised.

The Hon Derek Thomas spoke in response to news that the newly announced air service for St Helena will not include flights to Ascension. The RMS St Helena is due to make its last voyage between the islands in mid-2016.

Chief secretary Roy Burke said efforts were still being made to find a replacement link – by air or sea.

Mr Thomas told fellow councillors: “Saints flying up to the UK from Ascension and the Falkland Islands [and then] to Johannesburg will simply not work.

“We need to have an agreement in place to take account of Saints working both on Ascension and [the Falklands] to enable them to continue their careers on these islands and be able to return to St Helena.”

The Hon Lawson Henry said it was “shameful” that flights to Ascension – connecting with the Royal Air Force service between the UK and the Falklands – had not been agreed in the contract with Comair.

He said: “Let us remember how it became possible for St Helena to have air access, as opposed to continuing with shipping, when the referendum was taken all those years ago.

“Saints living on Ascension and the Falklands took part in the referendum and it was only because of their vote we were able to get a majority in favour of air access. I was one of those Saints voting.

“We did so because we were told there would be a link to Ascension.

“This is something our government has failed to acknowledge, and it is shameful.

“All those announcements last week make no mention of those Saints on Ascension and the Falklands. They have simply been forgotten, even though they continue to make significant contributions to St Helena.

“They own property on St Helena and continue to pay taxes on this property where it is rented.

“This government and the British government need to acknowledge the contribution made by these Saints. By not doing so there is going to be a continual black cloud over air access and it will distract [from] what should be the most important time in our history.”

The Hon Corinda Essex said the lack of a link with Ascension was “the biggest elephant in the room”.

And she feared work opportunities on Ascension and the Falklands would be lost without a replacement for the RMS – just as job contracts end with the completion of St Helena’s airport.

“The loss of offshore jobs could spell disaster to economic growth on St Helena,” she said.

  • According to various websites, the distances are: Ascension to the UK, 3,559 miles; London to Johannesburg, 5,645 miles; Jo’burg to St Helena, 2,283 miles. Add 3,800 miles for those flying from the Falklands to Ascension, and a tricky 60-mile journey across southern England between RAF Brize Norton and London Heathrow – with no connecting flight. The total journey time would be well over 24 hours.

I had my bag pilfered at Johannesburg, says Lawson

Saints will be flying in and out of an airport with a high crime rate and a reputation for losing baggage, the Hon Lawson Henry told fellow legislative councillors. He spoke from experience.

He said: “Many Saints, including myself, have had to travel to Johannesburg to gain links to other international airports, and our experiences have not been good. I have had my baggage pilfered and I know at least one other member of this house has suffered the same fate. There are real concerns for our people’s security.”

The Hon Dr Corinda Essex shared his concerns.

She said: “A further concern relates to the high crime rate and lack of security in Johannesburg in comparison with Cape Town.

“Saints, particularly those travelling for the first time, will need advice and guidance regarding personal safety and that of their belongs, particularly as an overnight stop is likely to be required southbound. How will this be provided?”

Saturday flights in BA livery confirmed for St Helena
Flights: chief sec admits doubts over medical care and crime
‘Shameful’: workers left adrift by lack of Ascension flights

Governor’s Cape seduction: tax breaks to lure investors

The lure of ten-year tax breaks is set to make St Helena a hot topic with investors in Cape Town, says a South African financial website.

The MoneyWeb report – ahead of a visit by Governor Mark Capes – says the opening of St Helena’s airport in 2016 “will open the island up for business.”

And it lists an array of incentives to pull in investors.

They include “early tax breaks, zero customs duty, corporate tax and capital gains tax for seven years on investments over £1million and below £5million.”

For even bigger investments, it goes on, the tax sweeteners would continue for ten years.

“Investments of more than £1million will attract a 50% discount on freight rates, and those bigger than £5million also qualify for a 50% discount on passenger rates,” says MoneyWeb.

It adds that St Helena has no off-putting sales or property taxes.

An event for would-be investors has been organised by Wesgro, the marketing agency for the Western Cape, to coincide with the governor’s stop-over en route to Tristan da Cunha.

The island party includes Julian Morris, who is leaving his job as the island’s head of economic development.

“The St Helena government is planning £24 million of infrastructure upgrades in the next few years in anticipation of air access,” says MoneyWeb.

“Opportunities are mainly focussed on tourism, fishing and services.

“Extensive research has shown opportunities in especially heritage and culture tours. The island’s link to Napoleon is a huge point of interest. Bird watching, gaming, fishing and diving, and to a lesser extent astronomy are other niche tourism markets targeted.

“On the fishing side, St. Helena has a 200-mile exclusive zone where it controls marine resources and tuna stocks are largely untouched.

“Fresh and frozen tuna provide opportunities as well as sports fishing, says Morris.”

The report does not mention efforts to bring a vessel to the island to enable local fishermen to exploit rich fishing around the island’s sea mounts.

But it does say that the island team will be “in serious talks with prospective hotel investors and parties interested in establishing a fish processing plant”.

The island team, including Enterprise St Helena director Rob Midwinter and councillor Lawson Henry, departed from Jamestown yesterday (7 November 2013).

Lawson will travel on to London with Dax Richards, the island’s Assistant Financial Secretary, to attend the annual Joint Ministerial Conference for overseas territories.

Read the MoneyWeb report:

Ascension Saints deserve a pension, says Lawson

A call has been made to end discrimination against St Helenians who are denied an island pension because they have spent much of their working life on Ascension.

In a speech at the inaugural meeting of St Helena’s new Legislative Council, Lawson Henry said there was no pension scheme for Saints who worked on Ascension.

He said it was unfair to deny them the Basic Island Pension on St Helena because their work on Ascension contributed strongly to the economy at home.

Lawson, who worked on Ascension himself, said: “As I understand it, one of the criteria is that a person must work on St Helena for a minimum of 20 years.

“This effectively cuts out all those St Helenians who have worked on Ascension for all or most of their working lives.  I strongly believe this is wrong and in some respects unintentionally discriminates against those Saints affected by it.

“I would argue that given the close links between the two islands over many years and the significant contribution that Saints’ working on Ascension and elsewhere for that matter has made and still do to this island’s economy.”

He said that when he was a councillor on Ascension, it was known that “remittances from Ascension to St Helena was over £1 million per annum”.

He said: “This did not take into account monies Saints sent to families through the mail system and hand-carried.

“I would further argue that Saints living on Ascension continue to make a significant contribution to the island; many own their own homes here.

“Up until late Nineties, St Helena benefited from the income derived from fishing licences sold on Ascension.

“Like St Helena there is no national pension scheme on Ascension that Saints can contribute to. They rely on small gratuities paid at end of their working lives.

“I believe, given the close links between the islands and the significant contribution that these Saints have made to our economy over many years, that they should benefit from our Basic Island Pension scheme and that particular criteria must be reviewed to include them.”

Fight looms over secrecy oath that blocks human right (updated)

Update: Councillors have all now sworn the oath of confidentiality that prevents them revealing any information about St Helena Government. A new story will be published later today, following the inaugural session of the new legislative council.

St Helena’s new councillors are being placed under pressure to swear a vow of secrecy that goes against one of their main promises to voters.

If they are forced to swear the oath of confidentiality today (Wednesday 24 July 2013), they face denying people one of the basic human rights protected in the island’s Constitution – the right to receive information.

It also goes against at least one of the seven principles of public life that St Helena Government has previously claimed to uphold, to be as open as possible.

The two councillors who topped the voting in the 2013 general election have issued a joint objection to the pledge.

Their statement says: “Lawson Henry and Ian Rummery wish to place on record that while they must take this oath, they object to it as it has no place in St Helena’s Constitution.

“In addition to introducing freedom of information legislation they will work to remove this archaic oath from the Constitution.”

It is not clear what would happen if all 12 new councillors refused to make the secrecy pledge. The Constitution says that no person shall be compelled to take any oath which is contrary to his or her belief.

But councillors are thought unlikely to want to do anything that would delay starting on work that has built up since the last legislative council was dissolved, 13 weeks before the election.

A private report seen by St Helena Online says that when a past councillor refused to promise confidentiality, he was “effectively barred from office” until he gave in.

Councillors will be asked to swear “that I will be a true and faithful Councillor and that I will not, directly or indirectly, except with the authority of the Governor, reveal the business or proceedings of the Government of St Helena or the nature or contents of any document communicated to me, or any matter coming to my knowledge, in my capacity as a Councillor.”

Ian Rummery said: “I cannot find any parliaments that require an elected member to take an oath of confidentiality. There is no place for such an oath in a modern democracy.”

Parliamentarians in London are only required to swear allegiance to the Queen – as do councillors on St Helena.

The oath clearly goes against the spirit of transparency that the new councillors have pledged to introduce to island government.

It also flies in the face of the right to freedom of expression. The island Constitution says:

“A person’s freedom of expression includes… his or her freedom to receive information and ideas without interference.”

The confidentiality pledge also breaches councillors’ own freedom under the Constitution to “disseminate information and ideas without interference”.

Excessive secrecy in The Castle directly conflicts with the UK government’s call for good governance in Britain’s overseas territories – including transparency.

It is also seen as a significant reason for distrust of St Helena Government.

Advisers from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, led by Lord Shutt of Greenock, will be asked for guidance on the issue when they arrive on the island.

The full statement from Ian Rummery and Lawson Henry reads:

At the Inaugural Meeting of the St Helena Legislative Council on 24 July 2013, newly elected councillors are required to swear or affirm three oaths.  One of these is the Oath of Confidentiality.

This oath states that a Councillor will not ‘directly or indirectly, except with the authority of the Governor, reveal the business or proceedings of the Government of St Helena or the nature or contents of any document communicated to me, or any matter coming to my knowledge, in my capacity as Councillor.’

Lawson Henry and Ian Rummery wish to place on record that while they must take this oath they object to it as it has no place in St Helena’s Constitution.  Such an oath contravenes the right to freedom of expression and is in opposition to the Nolan Principle of Openness which requires an elected member to be ‘as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take.’

Lawson and Ian are committed to making this government open and transparent.  In addition to introducing freedom of information legislation they will work to remove this archaic oath from the Constitution.

‘Now for transparency’ says Ian as reformers win election
Transparency campaign launch – July 2012

St Helena Constitution 2009
UK Parliamentary Oath

Stedson attempts to revive party politics on St Helena

An attempt is being made to introduce party politics to St Helena for the first time in four decades.

Stedson George has announced the launch of the St Helena Democratic Socialist Party.

It follows a separate announcement by would-be councillors Lawson Henry and Ian Rummery that they would campaign together in the 2013 general election – due to take place on 17 July.

Stedson has distributed a manifesto in island shops, calling for better pensions and benefits, free health care for Saints, and a fairer society – which includes confronting the “wild difference between island and expat salaries”.

Ian and Lawson’s “common values” include: the need for freedom of information; better water and housing; pensions and benefits that reflect living costs; more support for health and education; economic development to benefit all Saints, not just in tourism; and a “level playing field” for local and overseas businesses. 

They have begun holding public meetings, which other election candidates have also attended, but they have not formally established a political party.

Stedson told Saint FM Community Radio: “You hear people talk about the government as if it was some faceless people in the Castle.

“The government is actually the executive council. And the executive council is made up of five elected Saints, so you wonder, if they are the government, why are they doing things that are perhaps not in the interests of the people/

“I think the answer is because they are not united. They don’t have a unifying manifesto – a policy – and the old saying is, divide and rule.

“I think the only way to overcome this is to form a political party.  

“I know it’s been done before. Mr Tony Thornton formed a Labour party back in the Seventies, and people will say that didn’t work so why try again?

“I think somebody has to make a start, so I have decided to make a start. I have called it the St Helena Democratic Socialist Party and of course if the name doesn’t suit people we can always change that.

“I have prepared a manifesto and if people don’t like the manifesto we can change that, but this is a start.

“If you have a party you have to follow the party line, and everybody will be singing from the same hymn sheet.

“This won’t happen overnight. To have an up-and-running party is going to take some time but if you only have one candidate, at least you have made a start.

“The aim really will be to increase the number of party members and candidates, and when you have seven you are in a position to form a government.”

Several other election candidates have come forward. They include Derek Thomas, Earl Henry, Christine Scipio o’Dean and Cyril Gunnell – all members of the last legislative council – and Nigel Dollery.

The closing date for nominations is 2 July 2013.