St Helena Online

Tag: LegCo

Democracy on St Helena: councillors opposed prison move – so the whole council was sacked

When councillors opposed plans to move St Helena’s prison close to homes above Half Tree Hollow, governor Mark Capes simply removed the problem: he disbanded the whole council.

Governor Capes took the “nuclear option” to shut down the legislative council for the maximum possible time so he could “work on” a new crop of councillors, the inquiry report reveals.

But Sasha Wass QC strongly criticises the moving of the prison to a residential area, because sex offenders would exercise outside the compound.

The public was never given a reason for Mr Capes dissolving LegCo at an hour’s notice, three months before setting an election date.

The governor also obstructed public debate by imposing three months’ “purdah”, meaning officials and former councillors could not discuss contentious issues. The government claimed this followed best practice, but the system only operates for about three weeks before UK national elections.

Deposed councillors sent a furious protest to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – which backed the governor.

The Wass report does not disclose any other reasons the governor may have had for using his power to remove councillors. It says:

“The inquiry panel raised the point with Governor Mark Capes that there had been fierce opposition to the location of the new prison. He said this: ‘With the prison, I took steps to make sure that we were going to get it done…

“‘I could see we were going to get resistance from our councillors, our elected members who had an attitude that prison is meant to be uncomfortable and unpleasant and there are other things to spend money on.

“‘So one of the reasons I dissolved the Legislative Council in April 2013 was because I felt that the councillors that we had at the time didn’t have the stomach for this.’

“Governor Capes explained that if democratically elected members did not agree with his approach, he had the power to dispense with them. He continued: ‘It was a sort of nuclear option and I dissolved LegCo and I delayed the election for as long as possible under the constitution.

“‘That gave us time to work on plans and strategy and part of that strategy was to make sure that whatever happened with our new councillors, and I was optimistic we were going to get a fresh crop of more…

“‘I wanted to make sure I could work on the new councillors to persuade them that this was the right thing to do to move the prison.””

In their letter to the FCO, 11 of the 12 deposed councillors said the handling of the affair had done nothing to inspire public confidence.

“The process could have been conducted in a more courteous way…. it infers a lack of respect for politicians, the people’s representatives. During this extended purdah, democracy suffers.”

A succession of reports had condemned the Victorian prison in Jamestown, which failed to meet inmates’ basic human rights.

Two months after deposing the council, the governor also imposed a law banning children from bars on Ascension Island, against the advice of the island council – a safeguarding move that won the approval of Sasha Wass.

She says the governor should not simply override objections to projects, because this causes “disquiet and division”.

  • The Wass report says Governor Capes told the inquiry panel: “They asked me to come here to coincide with the airport project because they needed someone who knew about Overseas Territories and how to get things done. My nickname was The Enforcer.”

SEE ALSO: 
Governor ‘cocked up’ by dissolving LegCo, says professor
Sacked councillors round on His Absency the Governor
London dismisses election protest against Governor Capes

Elected members get tough on tossers (of litter…)

The Honourable NIGEL DOLLERY is no mere tosser of throw-away insults when it comes to litter. He used plain English to give his response after legislative councillors voted to review St Helena’s anti-littering laws, and enforce them. These were the actual words of his adjournment debate speech (slightly edited). 

I recently had an interesting experience. I was sat on a step, looking across the road. I saw about four or five pieces of litter – bottles and cans. They were about 15 foot from a rubbish bin. I then went into Grumpy Old Man mode.

The idle tossers could not be bothered to clean up behind themselves.

For those who might have doubts about the use of the word “tosser”, according to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, it means a contemptible person. Contempt is feeling that someone is worthless or beneath consideration: a bit harsh, but I am happy with it.

Tosser seems a reasonable word for a person who tosses their litter in the expectation that another will clear up behind them. Why did they not put their litter in the bin?

I then went into adult mode. There is some litter: some drunk or thoughtless or uncaring person left it there but I could sort it out. I walked over, put it in the bin. I showed myself not to be a tosser so was content.

I do not need to boast further, but I will. I stopped between Model Cottage and the stables to pick up an abandoned pizza box.

So what? Well, I saw a comment in the paper about how councillors should take a lead on our very real littler problem. I then saw the light. All it takes is all of us who are not tossers and who care about our island to pick up any litter we see and put it in the nearest bin.

I believe the Honourable Speaker already does this, leading by example. This would be a real start in getting rid of the litter left by the tossers. It would make a difference. Not an enormous one but it would be a start.

Do not do what I did the first time round, which is to be grumpy and blame anyone I could.

Do not try and shift the responsibility on to any group: parents, teens, drunks, prisoners, the uncaring, St Helena Government and its officials, or our the councillors. I dealt with the bit I saw and will always try to adopt that approach.

What this approach means is that any real blighted areas will start to stand out. Then there is something to investigate and deal with, only using the law if necessary.

So do not be a tosser. Pick up rubbish when you see it. Thank you.

  • In his closing speech to the adjournment debate, chief secretary Roy Burke said that he personally was not a… what the councillor said. “I have great sympathy with the Honourable Nigel Dollery’s problem,” he said. “I live very close to him and quite often pick up litter myself, so I am not one of those people he referred to earlier… without using the word.”

Flights: chief sec admits doubts over medical care and crime

St Helena’s chief secretary has admitted to concerns about notorious crime at the airport that is to be the island’s link with the rest of the world – and about the future of medical referrals to Cape Town.

But Roy Burke could offer little response to an accusation of a “shameful” betrayal of Saints working on Ascension and the Falkland Islands, who could be left with no ship and no flights back to St Helena.

Comair Ltd will not offer a link to Ascension when St Helena’s first airport opens in 2016, because it would take pilots over their permitted flying time.

The Honourable Lawson Henry voiced anger, during Legislative Council’s closing adjournment debate, that Saints on sister islands had been left out.

He said it was their votes that had swung the referendum in favour of building an airport.

He also told how he had had his luggage interfered with at the airport, which is notorious for crime.

Mr Burke, in his closing speech, said: “We are all aware of Johannesburg airport’s issues. We will take action to make sure the citizens of St Helena and the travelling public are aware of the issues that are faced there.”

The Honourable Dr Corinda Essex had also voiced anxiety about whether hospital patients would still be sent to Cape Town, where a strong support network had built up among Saints and supporters. Johannesburg had no such network, she said.

Mr Burke said: “I too share that concern, as does the director for health, and we are currently in progress to find a way in which we can resolve that situation.

“Can the link to Cape Town be maintained? That’s a very good question and  I don’t have a short answer to that at the moment.

“But I would say that as far as medical referral issues are concerned, it does not necessarily mean that because Comair are flying to Johannesburg, that Johannesburg would be our evacuation point for a medical emergency, which is a different issue.

“It’s possible someone who needed to be evacuated very urgently might have to go somewhere else, and that might not be Cape Town either. So there’s a lot of work going on there to do with medical evacuation, which has yet to be concluded.”

Mr Burke could give little reassurance over future transport for Saint workers travelling for work on Ascension and the Falkland Islands.

They are to lose their current link between St Helena and Ascension – and onward flights to the Falklands – when the RMS is withdrawn from service in mid 2016.

The chief secretary said: “There are ongoing discussions about Ascension, particularly the link with St Helena: whether that is to be by air or sea. [There is] a lot of discussion to be had.

“Keep in mind that St Helena Government, in seeking to secure an air service provider, and also a freight service, included Ascension in the tender documents, although there was no requirement for those companies to provide [for that] as part of the contact.

“But those discussions continue and will continue until a resolution is found.”

Councillors Henry and Essex were among several elected members to welcome the news that Comair was to operate Saturday flights between St Helena and Johannesburg in a British Airways plane.

MORE AIR LINK COVERAGE: 
Saturday flights in BA livery confirmed for St Helena
‘Shameful’: workers left adrift by lack of Ascension flights
Don’t cast aside ‘family’ of carers in Cape Town, officials urged
I had my bag pilfered at Johannesburg, says Lawson
Ronnie takes flight
Flights to Europe and Cape Town ‘still up in the air’
Blast masters: Alan and co fire the last explosion on aircraft site

The Saints who will be lighting candles this Christmas, because they can’t afford electricity: a councillor’s tale

Many old people on St Helena will spend Christmas in poverty, too poor even to pay for electric lighting, the island’s Legislative Council has heard. The Honourable BRIAN ISAAC told of their troubles at the December 2014 sitting of the council. Here is an extract of his adjournment debate speech. 

Many people are proud to tell how they have lived through the Second World War, and recall the days of hardship on the island. They call those days the Good Old Days.

Picture by St Helena Government
The Hon Brian Isaac

There was strong family support and the island flourished with an abundance of fresh fruit, vegetables and fish.

Pay was low and work was hard. Transport was mainly by donkeys and there were few cars. Respect and discipline played a major role in everyone’s lifestyle.

Candles and wood were the main means of lighting and cooking, and for those who could afford a battery-operated radio, that was a luxury.

Social welfare never existed. Families supported each other. And for those who had no family support, the church gave a few shillings a week out of what was called the black box, and later called the parish and then the poor relief.

Social welfare came in later in the Sixties.

We have now moved very much into the 21st century and those days are long gone. But memories live on.

In this modern age of computers, the internet, telecommunications and television, and air access on the horizon, many of our senior citizens are still suffering hardship in silence.

I am aware of the recent improvements in the benefits system, the basic island pension, and the free medical care for those on benefits.

But the fact remains that many cannot cope with the high cost of living on the island, and  especially those living alone on £50 and £60 a week. Many of these people, when you meet them on the street, will give you a big smile and a warm Hello, but deep down they are suffering in silence.

Many have said that a few years ago they were given an additional payment at Christmas and Easter as a gesture of goodwill by the government, but now they feel they cannot buy anything extra at Christmas or even give their their grandchildren a little chocolate.

It saddens me to say that while many of us will enjoy the best of this Christmas season, many of our elderly will see a “meek and mild” Christmas

Many of our elderly have now reverted to using candles for lighting, which can become a health hazard; and using paraffin gel for cooking fuel, which again is a health hazard in close surroundings. They cannot afford the high cost of electricity.

I recall when social services provided subsidy for water and electricity for those suffering hardship, but this is now just a memory.

I feel it will get harder for these unfortunate people before we see it getting any better.

 

Councillor Isaac, a member of the island’s social and community development committee, said the government lacked the funding to implement some recommendations of York University’s Sainsbury Report, which led to the 2013 St Helena Social Policy Plan. 

At the time of the plan’s publication, the island had 196 people receiving income related benefit, 32 unemployed people on benefits, and 587 people living on the basic island pension. The report said: “We aim to empower Saints to take control of the present and the future to make the island self-sufficient on all fronts… as well as protecting and supporting vulnerable groups.”

It added that social bonds were strong in St Helena communities. “This sense of society and community flows through all aspects of Saint life, and that needs to be the basis of future social cohesion on the island,” it said. 

Read the social policy plan here

Saint FM supporters win funding vote in LegCo

A vote to end “unfair” media funding on St Helena has been pushed though Legislative Council.

But it was not made clear whether this would put money into the coffers of Saint FM Community Radio – or if so, how soon.

Nor did the motion say whether the government should stop financing St Helena Media Services (SAMS), which has received more than a quarter of a million pounds since being set up by the government in competition with independent media.

Some councillors voted against the motion, that “this Council calls upon the government to take immediate steps to create a level playing field, both financially and otherwise, for all local media organisations.”

There were concerns that money spent establishing SAMS would be wasted if it was unable to continue operating for long enough to become viable as a business.

Councillor Ian Rummery said: “It is reasonable that all media are treated the same.

“How that is done is a matter for our budgeting system to work out. That might mean some lose money and others will gain money to bring them into balance.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be done like that. Maybe clever management of fees for advertising could be used to help bring this about.

“I could not support the ongoing system where there does appear to be a wide disparity of treatment of the two groups of media we have on this island.”

The motion was introduced by Brian Isaac, a strong support of Saint FM Community Radio, which was revived by its own listeners in early 2013.

The station had abruptly closed down at Christmas 2012, shortly before SAMS Radio 1 went live.

The debate faltered when it became clear that some councillors who wanted to support Saint FM warned that they felt obliged to vote against the motion because of the way it was worded.

Mr Isaac then put forward a new motion, simply calling for funding for Saint FM, and the debate was adjourned overnight.

But on Tuesday (15 October) the original motion was reinstated.

Although the vote was split, the Speaker, Eric Benjamin, declared: “The Ayes have it. The Ayes have it” – meaning the motion had succeeded.

Ironically, the debate was part of the first formal Legislative Council session to be broadcast on the internet – thanks to SAMS Radio 1.

A note from Simon Pipe, editor of St Helena Online: Reporting of this story has been delayed for personal reasons. This blog began as a degree project and continued while I began building up paid work as a very part-time university teacher. On Tuesday, as this debate was taking place, I was preparing for a successful job interview at Coventry University. I will shortly be taking up a humble but full-time role in the journalism department, which will enable me to qualify to teach in higher education. I hope to be able to continue running the website in a low-key way, possibly with the help of students; however, my St Helena activities will clearly have to be scaled down from now on. It’s been fun, and I thank the St Helena Independent and many individuals who have given great support, including staff in the government press office.

Les Baldwin wins a place on Executive Council

The Honourable Leslie Baldwin has been elected to serve on St Helena’s Executive Council.

The seat became vacant when Nigel Dollery stepped down from the island’s main decision-making group only weeks after the July 2013 general election, citing personal reasons.

Mr Baldwin will also take over the chairmanship of the social and community development committee.

The election took place on Monday 14 October 2013 at the first full meeting of the island’s new Legislative Council.

Mr Baldwin had to win the support of at least seven councillors to secure the required majority. No other candidates were put forward and there were no votes of dissent.

The Speaker, Mr Eric Benjamin, opened the formal session by thanking former councillors for helping to make St Helena a special place to live. He also gave recognition to the “excellent support” given by staff.

He added: “The future of our island is in my opinion dependant on every man and woman boy and girl playing a useful part in our island’s affairs.”

The LegCo meeting is being broadcast by SAMS Radio 1 at www.sams.sh – follow the link in the top right-hand corner of the web page. 

Questions in the House as erosion threatens homes

The plight of people whose homes are at risk from soil erosion is to be raised at the first full meeting of St Helena’s Legislative Council.

The problem is affecting a stream embankment in the lower parts of Sandy Bay, and could mean residents are unable to use a bridge that links their homes to the road up the steep valley.

Councillor Brian Isaac has raised the issue in a question to the Hon Cyril George, chairman of the government’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

He asks: “What is government’s policy for the prevention of soil erosion along the embankment of the stream in Lower Sandy Bay and the bridge access to residents’ homes in the affected area?”

In another question, he confronts the issue of unused equipment bought for work on the island’s roads.

Roads equipment was highlighted in the St Helena Independent
Roads equipment was highlighted in the St Helena Independent

It comes after the government issued a public apology over the loss of more than £100,000, spent on an asphalt machine that proved too dangerous to use.

The St Helena Independent published a double-page spread of pictures in June 2013, putting a price on vehicles and equipment at the roads depot.

The state of roads on the island has been acknowledged to be “terrible” in recent times, though that has been partly because of the immense difficulties of using modern techniques on a remote island.

They have also suffered under pressure from the increasing number of vehicles on the island – many of them heavier than in the past.

A programme of improvements is now in hand on main routes across the island.

But in an another question being put forward at the LegCo session, councillor Derek Thomas asks what is being done to secure funding for district and community roads.

It’s not just the roads themselves that will come under scrutiny by councillors, but also the vehicles that run on them.

The Hon Gavin Ellick has put forward a question, asking whether the island’s public transport system is geared up to meet both current and future demand, with the island’s population already growing as work progresses on its first airport.

Brian Isaac asks about the cost of solar lighting that was erected around the island, and what is being done to ensure the light all work.

SEE ALSO: Road to regret: Castle says ‘sorry’ over asphalt machine loss

 

LegCo set to debate health, housing and Lottery cash

The state of health care on St Helena is to be challenged at the first full meeting of the island’s Legislative Council since its inaugural session in July 2013.

Councillor Leslie Baldwin has called for members to debate the level of service when LegCo meets in the Court House in Jamestown on Monday, 14 October.

His motion says “that this Council believes that the current health service does not meet the needs of our community.”

The motion is one of nine put forward for debate.

A call for a “level playing field” for island media organisations could cause funding problems for the SAMS service set up by the government in early 2012.  – and bring state support for Saint FM Community Radio, which relies on fundraising and donations from listeners.

An other motion delivers on election promises to end the culture of secrecy within St Helena Government.

Ian Rummery’s motion calls for transparency in all government departments.

It says that “every reasonable effort will be made to make information available” except in cases of national security, legally sensitive material or personal information, or where commercial interests or criminal cases could be compromised.

Lawson Henry has called for continued support for an affordable housing scheme, and Councillor Baldwin has urged the reintroduction of a community work scheme for people claiming unemployment benefits.

Mr Baldwin also urges a lobbying campaign in London to enable British overseas territories to apply for funding from the UK National Lottery.

Derek Thomas has called for a review of the immigration law, to ensure it has the same effect on the government and the private sector when employing people from overseas.

Read more: LegCo Order Paper, 14 October 2013

Governor and politicians top ‘not trusted’ list

Looking the other way: a government report leaves out criticisms of officials
Looking the other way: a government report leaves out criticisms of officials. Picture by Vince Thompson

Politicians have been named as the least trusted people on St Helena, along with journalists.

But the governor has come second in a list of the most distrusted people on the island – and that fact was left out of a summary of the findings that was issued to media by the government.

Governor Mark Capes is not named in the report on the first-ever survey of ethics at work, and it is possible the distrust relates to governors in general.

Only 74 people said they trusted the governor, despite the fact that 70 people who responded described themselves as senior managers or leaders, and 320 (73%) worked for the government.

Councillors were “not trusted” by a massive 60% of respondents. The governor was distrusted by 39%, closely followed by journalists (38%), police (35%), doctors (33%) and business leaders (32%).

Another 32% said they did trust doctors – and 36% offered no opinion.

But the summary issued to the media only mentioned a different set of findings –showing the people who came bottom of a list of “trusted” people.

It said only 9% of people trusted councillors, followed by journalists (14%) and business leaders (18%).

It failed to mention that the governor – the unelected representative of Her Majesty the Queen, appointed by Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office – came fourth from the bottom, trusted by only 19% of respondents.

The survey was conducted by the Institute of Business Ethics, a UK charity. It pointed out that journalists and politicians also rank low in British surveys of trusted figures.

St Helena Government has been asked to explain why the findings for the governor were not included in the summary issued to the media – especially as it says that “honesty is defined as… speaking the truth”.

In response, it said only: “Both reports are openly available in the public domain. We have nothing to add.”

The initial press release did say that the full report had been published on the government website. The list of trusted figures is on page 33 of the document.

It shows the most trusted people are teachers (54%), followed by technical professionals and skilled labourers (42% each) and religious leaders (41%).

The summary says: “Councillors, business leaders and journalists were shown to be the least trusted professions.

“This could partly be due to the fact that these professions are linked to key decisions made for the island at this time of change and are relatively high profile figures.

“Of course, it could be that a particular councillor, business leader or journalist is not trusted.”

The distrust of the governor may also be historic, relating to various governors who have served in recent years.

However, the St Helena Freedom of Information Campaign has argued that the excessive secrecy practised within The Castle has caused deep distrust of the island’s government.

And the dealings of the main decision-making body, the executive council, have become more secretive under Governor Mark Capes.

His reports of ExCo meetings are also far less revealing than those of his predecessor, Andrew Gurr, who made sure parts of ExCo meetings were routinely open to the public.

Governor Capes has challenged the island’s new legislative council “to improve the reputation and worth of councillors in the eyes of the people of this island”.

Newly-elected executive councillors are working on ways to improve openness – and increase trust. But it is expected to take time to change a deep-rooted culture of secretiveness in The Castle.

A team from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, led by Lord Shutt of Greenock, arrived on St Helena on Tuesday 31 July 2013 to help councillors be more effective.

An unofficial briefing seen by St Helena Online says that councillors have been over-reliant on advice from senior officials in the past, because of a lack of support systems enjoyed by politicians in larger democracies.

Public servants were trusted by only 25% of people in the ethics survey, and distrusted by 24%. However, 73% of those surveyed were… public servants.

LINKS:
Full report on St Helena Ethics at Work survey, by the Institute of Business Ethics
St Helena Government summary of the Ethics At Work survey

SEE ALSO:
New leaders vow to end ‘embarrassment’ of secrecy

Care home residents ‘like prisoners’, says Derek

Elderly people have become like prisoners at care facilities on St Helena, Councillor Derek Thomas declared at the inaugural meeting of the island’s new Legislative Council.

He said they were trapped at the Community Care Home and other facilities because no transport was made provided to take them on trips – even though vehicles were available.

Other speakers also urged that the needs of elderly and vulnerable people on St Helena must be a top priority for the new government.

Councillor Christine Scipio o’Dean spoke on the importance of good education as a means to give Saints the key to their own destiny.

And two councillors praised the St Helena team at the Island Games in Bermuda for winning a gold and two silver medals.

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