St Helena Online

Tag: politics

Time to end low opinion of councillors, says Governor

Governor Mark Capes
Governor Mark Capes

Governor Mark Capes has called on St Helena’s new councillors to provide strong leadership and break down past distrust of the island’s government.

In what could be seen as a criticism of former councillors, he told the island’s new leaders they must take responsibility in public for the decisions they made, instead of blaming officials.

He challenged them “to improve the reputation and worth of councillors in the eyes of the people of this island.”

Mike Olsson, editor of the St Helena Independent and husband of veteran councillor Bernice Olsson, said the blame for the government’s poor reputation lay with officials, not councillors.

The Governor’s speech hinted at frustration with ineffectiveness of the previous legislative council, and provided a possible clue to his motive for dissolving it unexpectedly in April 2013.

He told the new councillors that with the coming of air access, it was their job to prepare St Helena to enter a new era without fear.

“The people of St Helena have put their trust in you to guide the island,” he said.

“I believe that they want you to deliver greater opportunity and prosperity, ensuring that all who live here can share in that prosperity, ensuring that those who need extra help and care will receive it and ensuring that the environment and cultural heritage is properly safeguarded.

“The people look to you for leadership. They want to see leadership.  I urge you to provide that leadership and the accountability that must accompany it.

“That involves being prepared to explain and stand by your decisions. When the going gets tough, it is important to resist taking the ignoble route of looking to officials or others to provide cover for your decisions.

“You make the decisions, you own them, you explain and justify them.

“Encourage good communication and trust between each other and with public servants. Avoid being labelled as one of those that constantly criticise and find fault.

“How idle it is, how utterly unhelpful and negative it is, to just criticise and blame others.

“How much more constructive, how much more intelligent, to work together to find a remedy.

“An absolutely vital and continuous part of your job must be to make the time to explain fully to the people where we are heading and why; and crucially, what that will mean for them.

“I offer these thoughts for you to consider as you prepare to take on the heavy responsibility of government.  You may choose to disregard them of course, but if you were to heed them I believe that you would soon improve the historically poor image that many people have of councillors, and by extension of government.

“My challenge to you, starting from today, is to improve the reputation and worth of councillors in the eyes of the people of this island.

“For my part, as governor and head of the government, I commit to working with you and with officials to help meet the challenges ahead to serve the best interests of all the people of St Helena.   Let us work together, in partnership, to build a stronger St Helena, to deliver the full potential of this wonderfully special and much loved island.”

Read Governor Capes’s speech in full here.

Cathy is elected Deputy Speaker

Cathy Hopkins has been elected as Deputy Speaker of St Helena’s new Legislative Council.

She immediately took over the conduct of the inaugural meeting of the new council in the absence of the Speaker, Eric Benjamin, who had been receiving medical treatment in Cape Town.

She told councillors: “Being a member of legislative council brings huge responsiblities. The next few years are going to be tough for you.” She said the way the island moved forward with the building of its first airport was in their hands.

She said they should constantly ask themselves: “Am I listening? Am I hearing? Am I responding to what I hear? Am I offering the island the leadership it needs to bring change for the good?”

She also said there aim should not be to add to the abundance of those who had plenty,  but ensure everyone on the island had all they needed in order to live.

Cathy had served as Speaker of the previous legislative council, losing her post when the council was abruptly dissolved without explanation by Governor Capes in April 2013.

She told new councillors she was resigning as chairman of the island’s Human Rights Capacity Building Committee, which came under the responsibilities of the new Speaker.

She said the committee was in the second year of working towards the introduction of human rights legislation for the island.

A number of human rights failings have been identified, including substandard conditions for prisoners, and inadequate right to freedom of expression – which includes the right to receive information that is currently kept secret by The Castle.

2013 election: older men dominate once again

The list of candidates standing in the 2013 general election on St Helena may be a disappointment for Governor Mark Capes.

While the line-up of 20 candidates is healthy enough, only four of them are women and even fewer of them could be called young.

Mr Capes dissolved the island’s legislative council in April 2013, nearly three months before the election date.

He said at the time: “By allowing quite a long period between the announcement today and the general election in July, I hope we may see more people coming forward to stand for election, especially those who would be doing so for the first time.

“I hope too that more women and younger people will stand, so that LegCo has a fresher, more balanced and representative membership at this exciting time in St Helena’s history.”

That prompted a protest to the UK’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, signed by 11 of the 12 councillors who lost their seats in the surprise dissolution.

They wrote: “The governor’s statements appear to infringe our human rights as it could imply that older people make poor decisions.

“As a consequence some of our members’ chances for re-election, and indeed the election hopes of new candidates of a mature age, could be seriously jeopardised.”

As it turns out, nearly all the candidates are over 50, with some in their late sixties or early seventies.

And the former members of LegCo – the island’s parliament – have refused to take the governor’s apparent hint about wanting the next council to have a “fresher” membership: nine of the 12 are standing for election again.

Only Rodney Buckley, John Cranfield and Stedson Francis have decided not to enter the fray. Mr Buckley had already made his decision before the election was announced.

More than half of the candidates have served on LegCo at some time in the past.

The 20 candidates include three who were not born St Helenian: Les Baldwin, Ian Rummery and Nigel Dollery.

Bernice Olsson and Christine Scipio o’Dean, the only two female members of the last LegCo at the point when it was dissolved, are standing again despite murmurs of a chauvinistic culture among some councillors.

The other two female candidates are Audrey Constantine and Brenda Moors.

Three would-be councillors are members of the Citizenship Commission, which has continued to keep a critical watch on island affairs since winning its fight for Saints to be given back their British status after it was removed by Margaret Thatcher.

The commission has since supported the St Helena Freedom of Information Campaign.

The initial announcement of the candidates’ names did not make it clear how many had joined Stedson George in his newly-launched St Helena Democratic Socialist Party – an attempt to give government clearer political direction.

St Helena Online asked Vince Thompson, columnist on the St Helena Independent, for an assessment of the candidates.

His comments – with no names attached – included:

  • hopeless – plenty of questions but no answers” 
  • “hard working, intelligent”
  • “lightweight”
  • intelligent, alert and independent minded”
  • rebellious”
  • energetic but not as focused as is desirable”  
  •  “has an eye for detail – can keep his teeth into an issue”
  •  “normally quiet – unknown quantity”
  • amusing personality but political acumen needs to be demonstrated”

Readers might like to try to guess which comments apply to which candidates.

(The candidates described here are not named because some of their rivals attracted no comment, and so to pick out individuals would be unfair).

READ MORE: St Helena election stories

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.

Ninety days in a wilderness: election delayed until last moment

The restoration of democratically-elected government on St Helena is to be delayed until the last possible week.

A general election is to take place on St Helena on 17 July 2013 – two days short of the 13-week deadline allowed under the island’s constitution. 

Governor Mark Capes dissolved the island’s Legislative Council without warning on Friday, 19 April 2013. He said at the time that the election would take place in July. 

He also said he wanted it to be held well in advance of the latest possible date in November 2013, in order to allow a new council to settle in before dealing with major business, such as the annual visit of UK aid negotiators.

No explanation has been given for the subsequent decision to delay for as long as possible.

Allowing time for votes to be counted, that means a gap of 90 days between dissolution and the naming of 12 new councillors.

There would then be several days’ further delay for training and formation of committees before they would be ready to start work – taking the hiatus close to 100 days.

Displaced councillors have publicly protested over the governor’s decision to exercise his right to dissolve the council without consulting anyone on the island.

Former councillor Derek Thomas told radio listeners he acknowledged the governor’s right to dissolve the council, but added: “One would think there should be good reasons for doing so.”

Professor George Jones, of the London School of Economics, said the governor had “cocked it up” by dissolving the council before he was ready to call an election. The announcement of the polling date came 24 days after the council was dissolved.

It said:  

“The Acting Governor Owen’ O’Sullivan has now agreed a date for the general election 2013, which will take place on Wednesday 17 July 2013.

“In order to vote, or stand as a candidate, your name must be on the register of electors.

“The provisional register of electors was published on Wednesday 8 May 2013, and during a two-week period it will be available for inspection and amendment by contacting the assistant registration officer, Gina Benjamin, at 1 Main Street.

“Copies will also be available at the customer service centre, library and the rural sub post offices.  The provisional register will be available for inspection and amendment until Friday, 24 May 2013.” 

SEE ALSO: Sacked councillors round on His Absency the Governor

I’m stepping down from politics, says Rodney the reformer

One of St Helena’s leading politicians has announced that he will not fight to keep his seat as a councillor in the next election, due to take place before the end of July 2013. 

Rodney Buckley suffered a disappointment when he failed to persuade people to vote in favour of having a chief councillor – but that did not appear to be the reason for stepping down.

He delivered his news after Governor Mark Capes dissolved the island’s legislative council in readiness for the election, several weeks earlier than expected.

The law required an election to take place by the end of November 2013, but Mr Capes said waiting until then would mean new councillors could not adequately prepare for budget making and the annual visit of UK aid advisers.

He also said the last legislative council was dominated by older men, and he hoped to see more women and younger people standing for election. There were only two female councillors at the start of April 2013.

Rodney Buckley has overseen major improvements in teaching standards during his time as education chairman, as well as having to cope with a crisis when the island was left without enough maths teachers in the run-up to GCSE exams.

He spoke candidly about the sub-standard conditions of buildings in the island’s three primary schools, which were the subject of a public review.

He campaigned without success in early 2013 for the island to have a chief councillor. Legislative councillors voted to put the idea to a public referendum because of doubts expressed at public meetings.

In the end, he was unable to overcome a lack of public understanding about the idea, though two other changes to the St Helena constitution were approved by LegCo.

Only a chief councillor, he said later, would be able to do “great things” as a councillor.

In an interview with Saint FM Community Radio, he said: “I have decided with my family before Christmas that I would not stand for re-election and with my family we are going to take a new direction.”

“What I have learnt is that to govern an island you most certainly need to work in partnership. You cannot go to war with the government. You have to use strategy. 

“No words written on a piece of paper will run a system. No matter how good it sounds on paper, there will always be grey areas. The crux of the matter is, you have to work in partnership with what you have got.

“What we have got is a small island, a small bunch of people, and very complex issues.

“What I have learnt is the value of life is working together.”

SEE ALSO:
Public gets a vote as chief councillor plan is put on hold
Vote on future of schools is treated with caution
Transparency campaign prompts fear of island tensions

‘Tangled’ political system hinders democracy, says Mr Capes

St Helena’s “over-complicated” system of government has been blamed by Governor Mark Capes for a lack of public confidence in decision-makers.

Now the people of St Helena are being asked their views on re-writing part of the island’s constitution, to put right flaws.

Proposals include appointing a chief councillor, who would effectively choose the other executive councillors – just as Britain’s leader appoints government ministers. They could be removed through a no-confidence vote.

A consultation document has been published under the title, Improving Democracy and Accountability.

It says the constitution “creates a political system which is not conducive to collective leadership and responsibility, clear lines of authority, or transparent accountability.”

Changes are proposed is to make it clear who is responsible for decisions, and improve scrutiny of government.

Governor Capes says explaining and justifying decisions is “an essential element of good government.”

But the proposals make no mention of the government’s refusal to allow access to meetings of the executive council, or its agendas, reports and minutes.

Mr Capes also says councillors must be prepared to stand by their decisions. But there is no reference to recent complaints by councillors that they were not consulted on the details of a contentious re-structuring of government departments.

In an introduction to the consultation document, Mr Capes refers to “what appeared to be blurred lines of responsibility and accountability within government.”

He said: “I have no doubt that the current arrangements contributed in part to the low turnouts we have seen at recent by-elections.

“For my part, after one year of trying to make the over complicated and clunky system work, I too have concluded that the system could be improved, especially now that St Helena has entered an era of unprecedented change linked to air access.

“The electorate must be able to see, clearly, where responsibility rests for the decisions taken on their behalf by their elected members.

“It is an essential element of good government that those elected to represent the interests of the people should operate within a structure in which they are readily accountable to the people: to explain, to justify, and to stand by decisions taken by them on behalf of the people.”

Changes to the island constitution can only be made by the Queen. The UK government would only approve amendments that had wide public support.

People have until 25 January 2013 to express their views. Comments can be emailed to pa.lawofficers@sainthelena.gov.sh or submitted in writing to Cilla Isaac at The Castle in Jamestown.

SEE ALSO: Constitution flaw left leaders challenging themselves

LINK: Improving Democracy and Accountability – consultation paper

It’s time to write to MPs about St Helena, says island-watcher

The low turn-out in St Helena’s October 2012 by-election has prompted speculation about the cause of voter apathy. Here, one of St Helena Online’s readers, ROBERT THOMSON, offers a view from another island.  

It is always very disappointing when an electorate does not engage with the election process. Many people literally laid down their lives to allow us this freedom: we do them a great disservice by not exercising it.

Watching from afar, it appears that the actions (or inactions) of the St Helena Government have a significant part to play. The serious lack of transparent modern local government and an apparent wish to control the press are very worrying.

Governor Capes, while receiving plaudits from his boss, does not appear to be making progress in modernising SHG, but would apparently like to see it operate as in the days of the empire! I may of course be doing him a great disservice, but that it is the way it appears to an interested observer.

As SHG is funded both by the UK Government and the European Union, I am quite surprised that they are allowed to operate in many of the ways that they do. EU competition rules should have prevented the setting up of a state-sponsored media organisation as being anti-competitive.

The lack of transparency is another issue which would not be tolerated in the UK, so why should it be tolerated in St Helena?

Local government where I live, in the Shetland Islands, has to come up to the same standard as expected nationally. We are a smallish community of around 22,000, spread over a number of islands. We have very similar issues of conflicts of interest and family differences that supposedly are a barrier to transparency in St Helena. They are not.

If people, as they must, adopt an adult and forward-thinking attitude, there is no reason that St Helena cannot operate to the same or higher standards than the UK.

Maybe it is time that myself and other UK taxpayers took the time to write to our MPs, asking them to take a greater interest in the governance of St Helena as well as the other Overseas Territories.

(St Helena Online has also received an informal comment suggesting that the poor turnout may also indicate that Saints saw councillors as being too-easily manipulated by St Helena Government).

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