St Helena Online

Democracy

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

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 10.37.57

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 10.38.42

Candidates wanted to fill Tony’s seat… if not his shoes

A by-election is to be held on St Helena on 12 March 2014 to fill the Legislative Council seat left vacant by the resignation of Tony Green. Mr Green resigned with effect from 17 December 2013 in order to travel to the UK to support his family. He worked for many years in government, rising to the post of deputy secretary, before seeking election and serving for a period as an executive councillor.

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. 

Debate could change fortunes of media rivals

A debate on St Helena’s media could affect the future of the government-funded SAMS Radio 1 – and possibly boost the fortunes of “the people’s radio station”,  Saint FM.

SAMS Radio 1 and its sister newspaper, the Sentinel, have received at least £240,000 of taxpayers’ money since the paper launched in March 2012. Meanwhile, the relaunched Saint FM Community Radio has struggled to get by on donations and fund-raising events.

Now that imbalance is to be addressed in a debate by the island’s Legislative Council on Monday, 14 October 2013 – the first opportunity to confront the issue since the July general election.

Its sponsor, Brian Isaac, has called for creation of a “level playing field”.

No unfairness was intended when the idea of a new media organisation was first floated. It was formally set up by Attorney General Ken Baddon.

The plan, devised by consultant John Styles, was for it to replace the independent media as well as the government-funded St Helena Herald and Radio St Helena.

But discussions with Mike Olsson, then owner of both the St Helena Independent and Saint FM, broke down. He closed the paper but later relaunched it with outside support; and then closed the radio station at Christmas 2012.

The ethics of funding SAMS in competition with a private sector rival became further complicated when Saint FM was revived by its own listeners as a community enterprise.

Councillors applied pressure behind the scenes for the new Saint FM Community Radio to be given a broadcasting licence, despite previously voting to set up the rival South Atlantic Media Services (SAMS).

When SAMS was launched, initially as the St Helena Broadcasting Corporation, there was a promise that it too would be “community owned”.

But there has been little public evidence that it has been run in that spirit, and minimal transparency about its operations.

It is understood there is no intention to launch a third radio station that was promised in return for state funding, alongside SAMS Radio 1 and another channel that relays the BBC World Service.

Chief executive Darrin Henry has set out to demonstrate the organisation’s editorial independence, and St Helena Online has praised it for its achievements.

But there have also been serious errors of judgment – most recently when it failed to report the decision to move forward on building a permanent wharf in Rupert’s Bay, apparently in a fit of editorial pique.

Instead, in ran a front-page story about being refused an interview with DFID – and withheld key facts that would have presented a very different picture. The wharf was not even mentioned.

Its own story made it clear that its opening claim was untrue – that visiting officials from the UK’s Department for International Development “will no longer be allowed to be interviewed directly by the media”.

The closing quote clearly said they could go on the radio. On this occasion, an interview had been cancelled because of time pressures.

And the story did not mention that far from being denied the chance to interview officials, SAMS had been invited to a media briefing on the wharf plan – and failed to attend.

That failure meant one of the most important stories of the year was reported only by Saint FM and the St Helena Independent, despite the fact that SAMS had received tens of thousands of pounds to provide a news service for the island. The story was eventually covered by the Sentinel, a week late.

The paper also published a vitriolic attack on councillor Bernice Olsson, the wife of the Independent’s publisher – despite the fact that she was receiving stressful medical treatment at the time.

A few weeks later, she was re-elected to serve a record fifth term on the Legislative Council.

The Sentinel has also failed to cover significant community events, such as a high-profile fund-raising climb up Jacob’s Ladder by supporters of New Horizons – even though it saw a new record being set for the challenge.

At one point, it was observed on Facebook that without the island’s independent media there would be no coverage of New Horizons, a key civil society organisation on St Helena.

Despite its public funding, the Sentinel has also failed to send reporters to cover meetings of the island’s Executive Council since they were opened up to the public – abdicating the media’s role as a public watchdog.

Instead, it has relied on reports from councillors, who would not be expected to reveal details of any dissenting arguments in the council chamber.

The motion before Legislative Council does not call for funding of SAMS to be stopped, and nor does it say that Saint FM or the St Helena Independent should be funded – either directly or through advertising.

It says simply: “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.”

It is understood that advice is being sought about funding models for media elsewhere – and the ethical issues involved.

In a separate initiative by a private individual, all 12 members of Legislative Council have been sent a letter calling on them not to fund any media organisations.

Editorial note: SAMS has not been approached to respond to the points in this article, even though this is accepted good practice. This is because the article has been written only shortly before the deadline for re-publication in the St Helena Independent. However, SAMS has consistently failed to respond to emails from St Helena Online, despite the obligations that would normal hold for a publicly-funded body. SAMS is welcome to respond publicly or in confidence.

SEE ALSO:
St Helena media stories
Media funding must be fair, says John

LINKS:
The Sentinel (see front page of 12 September 2013 for wharf interview story)
Saint FM/St Helena Independent

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

Trick or treat? Ascension gets a Hallowe’en election

When folk speak of The Count come Hallowe’en night on Ascension, it may not be Count Dracula they have in mind.

An election for a new island council is to take place on the spookiest date in the calendar.

The decision has been announced by the aptly-named Governor Capes (no jokes about The Dark Mark, please), in an edict from his haunted castle on St Helena.

The good people of Georgetown and Two Boats can thus look forward to a double dose of ghoulish figures on 31 October 2013: vampires at night, and vote-seeking politicians in the day.

In fact, Mr Capes has praised the councillors who are to lose their seats after just two and a half years in office.

The current council will be dissolved 29 days before polling day, compared with nearly 13 weeks between dissolution and voting in the 2013 St Helena election.

In his announcement of the poll, Mr Capes thanked the five councillors for their hard work.

He said: “They have dealt with some difficult issues, including the financial crisis that beset Ascension prior to 2011.

“The island’s relative financial stability since then is largely a result of the difficult choices and decisions they made.

“Councillors provided effective scrutiny of the administrator and [government] policies and programmes.

“Councillors Kitty George, Cathy Cranfield, Toni Bendall, Neil Lawrence and Cyril Leo deserve our thanks.”

He added: “I am dissolving council at this point primarily because I judge it important that the process of developing the next annual budget for AIG should be taken forward and owned by a new council.”

A difficult trick; no treats guaranteed.

Anti-secrecy law ‘only months away’, predicts John

Work has begun in earnest on ending the entrenched culture of secrecy within St Helena Government – but one councillor has questioned whether it should be a priority.

Open government became a key issue in the island’s July 2013 general election, a year after the launch of a campaign on St Helena Online and the St Helena Independent.

Campaign member John Turner, who set up the St Helena Freedom of Information page on Facebook, says a planning meeting was “entirely positive.”

“I’m sure that Freedom of Information legislation for St Helena is only a few months away,” he writes.

Next steps are for the government’s social and community development committee to agree what should remain secret, how information should be presented, and how to settle disputes over whether information should be released.

“In the meantime, council continues to operate on the basis of openness: that data should be published unless there is a good reason not to. A welcome change!”

Seventeen councillors and FOI supporters attended the planning meeting on Monday 9 September 2013.

Afterwards, Councillor Ian Rummery told SAMS Radio: “This has to be fit for purpose for St Helena. We don’t want to put in a whole new bureaucracy which is not maintained or just becomes so overly bureaucratic that it just doesn’t work.”

Councillor Tony Green told the station he was concerned about spending time and money on drafting a new law.

He said: “The principle of freedom of information, I don’t have a problem with and actually, I think it’s very important.

But he went on: “I don’t actually believe that we should at this particular time be devoting resources to putting up freedom of information draft legislation and setting up a regime when there are more perhaps important things.

“I’m thinking about social policy, I’m thinking about benefits.

“I need to know how much it’s going to cost – also how it will affect other priorities.

COMMENT:

Many people will agree with Councillor Green when he says that issues such as benefits should be given higher importance that something that may seem idealistic.

He believes in open government, but he’s got legitimate, pragmatic concerns.

But without transparency, and open decision-making, how do we know councillors are really acting in the interests of the vulnerable, and everyone else?

Open government is better government, and some high-ranking people have said so. Secretive government is bad for democracy.

Is it any surprise that many Saints were disenchanted with past administrations, and that councillors were voted the least trusted people on the island in a recent survey?

The governor has complained about a lack of public engagement in democracy, and yet his government actively dis-engaged the people by hiding information from them, in clear breach of their human rights.

Why should anyone have trusted a government that operated in the shadows, and refused to trust its own people by letting them know what it was doing in their name? How could people be engaged in decision-making when it happened behind closed doors?

Members of the previous council nearly all declared themselves to be in favour of open government.

But when asked if open government should actually be practised – by holding Executive Council meetings in public – they nearly all said “No”.

The logic of that one is difficult to grasp. Maybe Governor Capes had good reasons for dissolving the last council early.

The present councillors have imposed a new policy of openness, with every sign that they mean it.

But there are strong grounds for fearing that a future legislature might revert to the bad old ways of the bad old days, unless there is legislation in place to prevent it.

Councillor Green is right: this is not the best time to be drafting laws that won’t put food on the plates of the poor.

The best time was a long time ago.

But the alternative is that we simply trust future governments, with the risk that they will go back to spending many millions of pounds of British taxpayers’ money with virtually no public scrutiny, and little to prevent them making bad decisions.

On the basis of past form… No.

New leaders vow to end ’embarrassment’ of secrecy

St Helena’s new political leaders have called for an early end to the “embarrassment” of excessive secrecy within the island’s government.

They also voiced strong objections to having to sign an oath of confidentiality, blocking them from sharing any information with the public without the governor’s consent.

The acting chief secretary, Gillian Francis, acknowledged calls for change but said it would need approval from the UK government.

Several councillors referred to the issue in speeches at the inaugural session of the island’s newly-elected Legislative Council.

Councillor Nigel Dollery said: “I feel strongly about what if consider the secretive and sometimes obstructive way [St Helena Government], in all its forms, has hidden information from the public.

“Like a lot of you I have had experience of it. One hears about things like, ‘Give no answer for three weeks and the members of the public will give up’.

“Her Majesty’s Government, the Commonwealth and the United Nations believe openness and transparency are a part of good government, so I am evidently in good company.

“This needs sorting promptly, not at some vague time in the future when the system thinks it can get round to it.

“Secret government is an embarrassment in the modern world.”

Lawson Henry said: “It is clear to me that there is a great hunger from all members to work as a team and show leadership and transparency.

“I look forward to bringing about changes needed to make our government more open and bring it closer to the people.

“I strongly oppose the oath of confidentiality that I was required to sign as an elected member today. No member in our mother country’s parliament is required to sign such an oath.

“I will work to remove this archaic oath from our constitution.

“Such an oath contravenes the right to freedom of expression. It is inconsistent with the partnership values enshrined in our Constitution, and it is in opposition to the Nolan principle of openness, which requires an elected member to be as open as possible about all the decisions that he takes.

“There is simply no place in a modern democracy for such an oath.”

He also said he and fellow councillor Ian Rummery would be working on freedom of information legislation over the next few months, “and I very much look forward to the support from all officials in doing this.”

Bernice Olsson pledged her support for removing the oath of confidentiality.

She said: “The oath is a strong contradiction to our constitutional aims. We must have an open and transparent government to get public support for our work.

“One of the main tasks of this new council is to bring St Helena into being a well-functioning democracy, fit for the 21st Century. Doing this will involve a lot of kicking and screaming from certain quarters, but we will overcome.”

She said the visit of Commonwealth advisers in late July 2013 would help to tackle “outdated rules”.

Councillor Ian Rummery, who topped the voting in the general election, said: “We have a constitution that upholds our fundamental human rights.

“This is important because it is within living memory that one of these rights, the right to nationality, was denied to many Saints.

“We owe a great deal to those who fought so hard to restore citizenship, and we must remain vigilant to ensure that other rights are not denied.

“This is why freedom of information is so important. It serves to protect the people from exploitation and holds the government and administration accountable.

“It fundamentally alters the relationship between government and the public, so that power is not handed over with an individual’s vote. The person elected to office is subject to scrutiny  as are all of those in the administration.

“In colonial times, the rulers did not have to listen to those they ruled. Today there should not be any rulers. There are leaders who make decisions on behalf of the community but they must make these decisions for the common good of the community.

“The oath of confidentiality does nothing for the common good. It promotes a culture of secrecy, it reinforces the divide the between the elected and those who elected them.

“It has no place in a constitution that otherwise protects the fundamental rights of Saints.”

In response, the Acting Chief Secretary, Gillian Francis, said: “There was much mention of freedom of information and over-confidentiality, all of which has been noted, and we look forward to further discussion – noting that any changes of constitution will have to have approval of Her Majesty’s Government.”

Named: the people who will guide St Helena’s future

Lawson Henry, Christine Scipio o’Dean, Cyril George, Ian Rummery and Nigel Dollery have been chosen as St Helena’s ruling Executive Council. They pledged to bring an end to the culture of secrecy in St Helena Government. Read more:

Secrecy critics form new Executive Council
New leaders vow to end ‘embarrassment’ of secrecy
Time to fix low opinion of councillors, says Governor
Eric Benjamin is elected new Speaker
Cathy is elected Deputy Speaker

Facebook