St Helena Online

Tag: Legislative Council

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.”

Fishing directors ‘declined council talks’ as vessel lay idle

MFV Extractor, by Bruce Salt. Click to see full gallery
MFV Extractor, by Bruce Salt. Click to see full gallery

A lack of public information about the future of St Helena’s first offshore fishing vessel has been called “extremely disturbing” by a councillor – after months without a single fish being caught.

Public funds helped to pay for the MFV Extractor, which began landing large catches from the sea mounts around the island soon after arriving in James Bay in April 2014. But fishing  ceased in late 2014, with no formal explanation.

The Hon Corinda Essex raised a question about the future use of the Extractor at the March 2015 meeting of Legislative Council. But she was told it was a matter for the private company set up to run it.

Extractor's crew got a hero's welcome. Picture: Bruce Salt
Extractor’s crew got a hero’s welcome (Bruce Salt)

She said the directors at Saint Marine Resources Limited (SMRL) had declined to meet councillors to say what was happening.

The company issued a statement in February 2015 saying they hoped to use the vessel for maritime training and off-shore fishing within three months, eventually building up crews who could operate the vessel in rotation.

It said: “It was hoped that the MFV Extractor would return to operation in January 2015.

“Sadly, following the tragic death of skipper Trevor Thomas and subsequent notification from other crew members that they no longer wish to continue their involvement in this venture, the company is now in the process of exploring alternative options.

“The Directors of SMRL recognise the significant contributions to the fishing industry in general made by skipper Trevor Thomas along with other crew members.”

Early catches were healthy. Picture by Bruce Salt
Early catches were healthy. Picture by Bruce Salt

Trevor’s daughter, Tammy Williams, has written a letter to island newspapers after Dr Niall O’Keefe, head of Enterprise St Helena, made no mention of their achievements in a speech on island successes.

“I suppose the Extractor saga does leave a bitter taste in one’s mouth,” she says. “I thought at the very least the fish landed by the Extractor, amounting to some 60-plus tonnes of prime tuna exported last year, was worth mentioning.”

SMRL director Rob Midwinter said he was unable to comment on concerns raised at LegCo because he had been travelling back to the island on the RMS St Helena at the time.

Dr Essex had asked the chairman of the economic development committee, the Hon Lawson Henry, when the vessel would be operational again.

He explained it was a matter for the private company, but she said that “elected members requested the board of SMRL to meet with them but the invitation was declined.”

Attorney general Nicola Moore said: “Regrettably, it’s a matter for private company law. There is no requirement to provide information to members of the public.”

Dr Essex returned to the issue of government funding for the vessel in her adjournment debate speech.

“It is extremely disturbing that we as elected members are unable to obtain basic information regarding progress relating to that investment,” she said.

“Members who sit on Enterprise St Helena and Fisheries Corporation boards have been provided with some confidential information but this is not accessible to all members.

“We all have a responsibility to monitor the outcomes of public expenditure.”

She suggested there might be “a need to strengthen the company’s public accountability… perhaps there should be a change in the structure of SMRL’s board.”

Tammy Williams’s letter notes that the crew of the Extractor were presented with a St Helenian flag when the vessel arrived in James Bay on 19 April 2014, after overseeing the refit in South Africa.

“After some considerable time and sacrifice away from home and family for three months, the Extractor crew sailed into James Bay with all the hopes and dreams of building a fishing industry.

“The crew of the Extractor were a perfect example of local people making it work and helping to turn the island into a viable and prosperous place to live.”

She notes that Extractor left her moorings “after six months of lying idle” on Friday 27 March – the day Dr Essex was pressing for information in the council chamber.

Terry Richards, director of SMRL, has subsequently given this statement: “The company is currently pursuing a publically advertised commercial exercise, and is unable to comment further at this time, however the company has maintained that it will endeavour to keep the public informed via press releases as and when it is in a position to do so.”

SEE ALSO:
Trevor O Thomas: a tribute from a friend
Island crews hailed for ten-hour rescue operation
St Helena’s very own offshore fishing vessel – in pictures

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

LegCo win is a cakewalk for Friends ex-chairman Pamela

Pamela Ward Pearce and husband Andy fund-raising at the 2012 St Helena Sports
Pamela Ward Pearce and husband Andy fund-raising at the 2012 St Helena Sports

Pamela Ward Pearce, a long-standing chairman of the Friends of St Helena, has been elected to the island’s Legislative Council only months after leaving the UK.

She secured 222 of the 448 valid votes cast in the 4 March 2015 by-election, caused by the resignation of Ian Rummery.

Pamela and Andy said farewells at the 2014 sports
Pamela and Andy said their farewells at the 2014 sports

She was 46 votes ahead of her nearest rival, Anthony Green, but three short of an outright majority in the four-way contest.

Pamela, who worked in the UK health service for more than 30 years, was an energetic and sometimes forthright chairman of the Friends organisation for eight years.

At one recent annual meeting in Oxford, she spoke of her discomfort at the increasing “South Africanisation” of the island, and the attitudes she encountered on a holiday visit – especially while travelling on the RMS St Helena.

She liaised with organisations such as the All Party Parliamentary Group for St Helena at Westminster, and lobbied Prime Minister Tony Blair for Saints who served on the RMS St Helena in the Falklands War to be awarded the South Atlantic Medal. She was also a member of the St Helenian Diocesan Committee.

She regularly attended the St Helena Sports day near Reading, sometimes running a fund-raising cake stall. Coconut fingers were a speciality.

She called in at the 2014 event to make her farewells before returning home to live on the island with husband Andy – whom she had married at St James’s Church in Jamestown on a previous visit home.

She told St Helena Online at the time that she was toying with the idea of opening a tea garden.

It is possible to make cake without breaking a few eggs, but not necessarily desirable. We know Pamela can crack egg shells; now we’ll find out if she can walk on them. 

Visit the Friends of St Helena website

From Facebook

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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

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