‘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

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