St Helena Online

Economy

saintel

Saintel the ISP on St Helena post fibre optic cable delivery

saintel

‘Saintel’ St Helena’s new potential internet service and communication provider announced this week that they are launching their new business venture as an Island wide Internet service provider tailored for the future needs of St Helena.

The Wireless thinking provider has promised that everyone from residential to business users on St Helena will benefit from the 21st century capability that is due for rollout in 2023 providing they can get the government’s approval to deliver the service.

The question you might ask as a local internet user or visitor returning to St Helena in the future is what is going to be different about Saintel.

Forward thinking and long-time campaigner of internet connectivity to St Helena Christian von der Ropp together with Karl Thrower, a local business owner here on St Helena, who is behind the Saintel venture have set up the provider to operate as a non-profit organisation.

Saintel’s vision is to offer eighty percent of the Islands population the option to connect to the Saintel wireless high speed network within the first 12 months, they are also keen to share their network capability with international tech companies who want to trial and develop other technologies within the industry.

Some of Saintel’s published business objectives once the fibre optic cable is connected to St Helena are:

  • To provide affordable, reliable, high speed access to residential and businesses users on St Helena through a non-profit entity.
  • Support the Island community, embracing the digital transformation.
  • Help to mitigate the issues arising from St Helena‘s remoteness through the many new possibilities offered by the Internet.
  • Increase digital literacy and develop local skill sets through the correct training in digital technology.
  • Stop capital outflow (a key economic problem here on St Helena) caused by monopolist‘s dividend payments to its overseas parent. Instead, help to create more local circulation of money
  • Support the global Information and Communications Technology industry to trial new technologies, applications and products.
  • Collaborate with potential satellite earth station operators (infrastructure sharing) to unlock synergies and make St Helena more attractive to earth station operators.

Saintel will be incorporated under the laws of St Helena as a non-profit Private Limited Company by Guarantee. Saintel’s vision is to enable one of the most isolated communities in the world to join the global Information Society and to leapfrog into the broadband age and contribute to closing St Helena‘s digital divide.

Saintel’s plan or the market entry  of any another communications service provider on St Helena will only be possible if SHG allow competition by removing the exclusivity clause provided in Sure’s current license

Note the current exclusive public telecommunications licence with Sure SA Ltd will expire at the end on 31 December 2022, so no new provider could start operation before 2023

St Helena Government is in the process of a tender process to determine the next Public Electronic Communication Networks and Services provider/s for the Island.

St Helena online welcome any thoughts on expectations as a customers post fibre optic cable delivery on St Helena.  

Conflict claims ‘unfair’ to Dax Richards, says chief secretary

Allegations that St Helena’s financial secretary is tied up in conflicts of interest are “grossly unfair”, legislative councillors have been told.

Chief secretary Roy Burke defended Dax Richards after concerns were raised by the island’s public accounts committee.

They resurfaced during yesterday’s debate over whether St Helena Government should underwrite a £500,000 bank loan to its own hotel company.

Mr Richards – one of the highest-ranking Saints in the history of St Helena – sat on the boards of both the hotel and the bank, as well as being in charge of the government’s finances.

Mr Burke said he and Governor Lisa Phillips were reviewing the finance chief’s many roles.

The Hon. Cruyff Buckley told fellow councillors: “Questions have to be asked about our financial secretary and his position on various boards which play vital roles in St Helena’s development – namely the Bank of St Helena, the St Helena Hotel, and also Connect St Helena.

“This council has to ask if this is conducive to public perception of neutrality.

“Moreover, the capacity of the human being to deliver enough focus in one’s primary role, which is attending to the finances of the St Helena Government.”

Mr Burke told councillors: “It’s important to ensure wherever possible we protect members of staff from those perceptions and allegations of conflict of interest, which in all cases are grossly unfair.

“So we are reviewing those posts.

“We are fishing in a very small pond here and when we have individuals who shine it’s inevitable that those individuals get put forward for those posts.”

He said ways would be found to offer such roles to other members of St Helena Government.

He also admitted a need to “make sure we look after our state-controlled entitites in a much better way than we have in the past.”

The Hon. Lawson Henry said the public had “legitimate concerns”, but the government should “allay rumours” surrounding the hotel and its directors.

“In the spirit of openness and transparency and to protect those directors… there should be a full independent audit of the processes and the management of the hotel so far.”

DFID accused as ‘broken spending promise’ leaves island unable to heal ‘weeping sores’ and end dependence on aid

St Helena’s paymasters in Britain have been accused by councillors of breaking their funding promises in the wake of the airport opening. Dr Corinda Essex said that with no investment agreed for the island from January 2018, its failing facilities were becoming “weeping sores”.

Another scandal could blow up after the British government insisted on building a wharf in Rupert’s Bay that could not be used, she warned.

And money was needed for a new prison to end human rights failures, she said. Councillor Derek Thomas called the Jamestown prison “a disaster waiting to happen”.

He reported that Andrew Mitchell, who had signed off the contract to build the airport when he was international development secretary, was “livid” to see the island held back by unkept funding pledges.

The Hon. Lawson Henry said ministers were more interested in protecting officials whose blunders left the island without an air service for more than a year.

The accusations were made during a legislative council debate initiated by Dr Essex on Tuesday.

Councillors unanimously agreed to record their “grave concerns relating to the continuing absence of an agreed capital investment programme to address the essential development needs of St Helena after 1 January 2018.”

Several said they would spell out the island’s “critical” situation in a video conference due to take place later in the week with a minister at the Department for International Development (DFID).

Councillors referred several times to promises that DFID would continue to fund investment after the airport was built, to enable the island to build a tourism-based economy.

But more than one councillor said DFID now appeared to be reluctant to keep its promise – possibly because of damaging media coverage of the airport failures.

Opening the debate, Dr Essex said the situation was unacceptable. “How can St Helena be expected to develop and move forward without the capital injection to do so?

“As we look around us, the urgent need for such investment is blindingly obvious.

“We know we have a prison that is not human rights compliant. Yet when it comes to obtaining funding to build a new prison our hands are tied.”

She also cited the jetty at Rupert’s Bay – funded by DFID – which needs to be protected from rock falls before it can be fully used.

“There is a real risk the British press will be able to call the jetty a white elephant with a lot more justification than underpinned their condemnation of the airport, which caused such a sharp reaction in high places in the British government.”

Other councillors said DFID had pressured St Helena Government (SHG) into dropping its plans to improve the wharf at Jamestown, despite being warned of the problems.

St Helena facilities across the island were “inadequate and crumbling”, Dr Essex said.

Deteriorating roads could not cope with the growing traffic, and there were “critical issues” with sewerage, including the Jamestown outfall. House building was being held up because there was not enough money to put in services at the development areas.

DFID had previously advocated a “spend now to save later” policy, said Dr Essex.”It appears there is now a u-turn in their thinking.

“A number of Saints have made significant investments on which they are waiting to receive some return.

“The British government is always urging us to reduce our dependence but how can they expect us to do so without the required resources to address key issues that are becoming weeping sores, undermining sustainable development?”

The Hon. Derek Thomas said a 32-page economic strategy issued by DFID talked about global challenges but made no mention of UK overseas territories, “so you can see we are being left out.”

“Now we are being set up to fail.”

The Hon. Lawson Henry said attitudes changed when “the airport did not deliver on time” because officials did not follow consultants’ advice to conduct test flights to check the alignment of the runway.

“What DFID has done throughout the last 18 months is to protect those who were responsible for making the decisions that were not in keeping with the feasibility study,” he said.

“Everything about St Helena now has to pass what civil servants call the Daily Mail test. The publicity the Daily Mail has given to the St Helena airport has caused huge reputational damage.

“The British public is clearly upset by the publicity. They don’t want foreign aid to be spent on St Helena any more.”

He said a former minister had admitted he preferred to see money spent on his own constituents.

“We did not create this situation,” he said. “We are the victims in this case.”

He said he was convinced from his recent visit to Westminster that “the minister responsible for St Helena is not fully aware of the issues or serious infrastructure requirements that are needed on the island.”

The minister needed to visit to see for himself, he said.

  • Councillors’ video conference with DFID minister Lord Bates took place on Thursday morning. SHG said it was a private meeting and it would not be releasing details of the discussion.

Higher taxes for the highest earners: tough budget makes unpopular decisions ‘for the many, not the few’

A higher rate of income tax has been introduced on St Helena as part of a tough Budget that has caused “disquiet” for some.

But Financial Secretary Colin Owen said it was a Budget for the benefit of the many, not the wealthiest few.

The highest earners will pay 31% tax on all income over £25,000. The basic rate of income tax rises by 1%, to 26%, on income over £7,000.

As one councillor observed, the tax bill for a person earning more than £75,000 will rise by more than the total annual income of Saints living on the Basic Island Pension.

A new disability benefit is being introduced, and rules are changing so that work over the age of 65 can count towards final pension settlement – helping to end an injustice that meant former Ascension workers were not entitled to a full pension on St Helena.

Mr Owen told Legislative Council: “It seems clear to me that the vulnerable and less well off need to be supported during this time more than ever before.

“If that means that taxes have to rise to pay for a better funded benefits system, improved services at the hospital and to support safeguarding of all people on the island, then this government believes this is the right approach to take.”

He quoted the mantra that “the broadest shoulders in society should be the ones that carry the heaviest loads.

“This equally applies to St Helena and only those with minds not broad enough to think beyond their own interests would disagree.”

Mr Owen said the island was entering “the most important year in St Helena’s history” with commercial flights from February 2016.

But the government faced massive spending pressures in order to meet the requirements for the airport, including accreditation. The police and fire service are being given extra money in readiness.

He said three councillors had served on a committee that considered “a raft of ideas for reforms” to tax.

The Financial Secretary said the island’s UK aid funding had been set for only a single year because of the path of its future economy, post-airport, “is difficult to forecast”.

He said: “We still have uncertainties around airport-related expenditure for airport certification and operational readiness.”

Rises in taxes on alcohol, tobacco and sweetened fizzy drinks are intended to improve health on the island – which has one of the highest levels of type-2 diabetes in the world.

Further duties and incentives could be introduced during the financial year to support the green agenda.

“More work is required to define what support can be provided to commercial farmers on the island,” said Mr Owen.

He said some people had urged waiting until 2016 to bring in the higher rate tax.

But he said: “St Helena can no longer put off change and delay decisions, especially ones which deep down we all know are right for the good of the nation and not just the individual. To say otherwise is to turn the other cheek and not address the issues we face on St Helena.”

Some changes “will not please everyone”, he said. “In fact, it has caused some disquiet in certain areas of our community.

“But I have been reminded by many people of late that the budget must not be for the benefit of the few but for the benefit of the majority of St Helena’s people.”

St Helena’s Budget – in figures

New higher rate of 31% tax on all income over £25,000 from 1 April 2015.

Basic income tax rate rises by 1% to 26%, from 1 April.

Personal tax allowance stays at £7,000.

Companies’ income tax paid remains at 25%.

Tobacco: 5% increase in duty (about 16p extra on a packet of 20 – total about £3.20 duty on average cost of just over £5).

Alcohol: 3% increase (11p on a bottle of wine, 4p on a bottle of Castle, 46p on a litre of Captain Morgan). Cider over 4.5% strength now taxed at the same rate as beer – earlier than planned.

Liquor Duty (on locally-produced alcohol): 50p per litre increase to £4.

Diesel and petrol now both taxed at 39p per litre.

No changes to Customs Duty on Vehicles, or the customs duty rates of 5% and 20%.

Freight rates and passenger rates on the RMS St Helena: unchanged.

Plastic bags and Styrofoam take-away cartons: excise duty rises to 10p each.

Carbonated sweetened drinks: excise duty remains 75p per litre.

Stamp Duty remains 2.5%.

Businesses: investment tax credit, accelerated depreciation, rollover relief on capital gains, and unlimited carry-forward of losses remain in place for 2015.

Further duties and incentives will be reduced in coming months to support the green agenda – for instance, encouraging use of energy-efficient electrical goods.

Local tax and customs are forecast raise just over £10 million. Other revenue sources, including rents and fines, are expected to raise £1.4m.

DFID’s budget aid settlement is unchanged at £13.55m. Other DFID aid includes £1.2m for safeguarding, £2.68m for the RMS St Helena and £1.2m contingency funded, as needed.

Benefits:

Income Related Benefits: basic level to rise from £41.64 to £54.90 per week for the first householder, and to £31.90 for other adults in the household.

Basic Island Pension to rise from £53.53 to £56.80 per week (for a full complement of years worked). Those receiving £40.15 will receive £42.60 and those receiving £26.77 will receive £28.40.

The new rates apply from 3 April 2015, to be paid from Thursday 9 April.

From this date, IRB recipients will receive an increase in their weekly benefit from £51.64 to £54.90 and

Two recommendations from the Sainsbury report become policy in 2015/16: £50,000 has been budgeted to fund a new disability benefit called the Better Life Allowance. And money people earn after the age of 65 will count towards their Basic Island Pension – a “fairer way” of assessing it.

Executive Council has also agreed to raise the island’s minimum hourly wage is also to rise from 1 July 2015, from £2.30 to £2.60 (from £1.45 to £1.65 for those aged 16 and 17).

Key spending:

St Helena Government plans to spend just over £32m on recurrent costs such as staffing (£14.8m) – an increase of some £2.3m. A total of £6.7m is set aside for employing people from overseas on technical co-operation contracts, and £872k for overseas medical referrals.

Health Service: an extra £252,000 of spending on top of last year’s increase of £692k – a rise of £944k over two years.

Police and Fire Service: an extra £326,000 of spending, including £110 for sea rescue.

The Police and Fire Service will see an extra £326k of funding, partly to prepare for the opening of the airport. This money includes £110k for a new Sea Rescue Service.

There is also continued support for civil bodies, including the Human Rights Office and the Community Grant Scheme.

Drinks tax does little for Dr Corinda Pepper…

St Helena’s councillors are sharing the pain when it comes to tax on alcohol.

“Everyone enjoys a good beer or a glass or wine and I declare my interest,” the Hon Brian Isaac told LegCo.

“Saints are known to enjoy socialising. If we put such commodities out of the range of Saints they will turn to other socialising activity which will impinge on the good of the island.”

New councillor Pamela Ward Pearce got an early lesson in making tough decisions.

“My husband has objected to me raising the price of beer,” she said, “but he understands that this is for the greater good.”

In fact, annual increases in tax on alcohol and tobacco have not led to a drop in consumption, said the Financial Secretary.

Excise duty has not gone up for fizzy drinks – a new tax that brought international attention when it was introduced last year.

That appears to have been some relief for the Hon Dr Corinda Essex.

“I am sure the drinkers and smokers may not be very happy with the increase in duties,” she said, “but I am personally very relieved the duty on Dr Pepper has remained the same, even if this does not in fact incentivise any improvement in my lifestyle.”

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

DFID sets aside £19.4 million – including child abuse cash

The UK’s Department for International Development is giving St Helena £1.2m of new money for safeguarding of children and adults.

The announcement came as a team from the UK neared the end of two weeks on the island, investigating alleged failures to deal with widespread child abuse.

The safeguarding money will be used for training, and raising awareness in the community. ​

DFID has set aside a total of £19.43m for St Helena in the coming year. The core budget aid settlement is to be maintained at the same level as last year, at £13.55m.

The planned running deficit of the RMS St Helena is £2.68m. Use of the ship has increased but fuel costs have fallen.

DFID has further confirmed a contingency fund of £1.2m to cover unexpected costs, from legal cases, fuel price rises, and unplanned airport spending.

‘Shameful’: workers left adrift by lack of Ascension flights

Saints working on Ascension could face a 15,000-mile trip to get home – just 700 miles away – if the fears of one St Helena councillor are realised.

The Hon Derek Thomas spoke in response to news that the newly announced air service for St Helena will not include flights to Ascension. The RMS St Helena is due to make its last voyage between the islands in mid-2016.

Chief secretary Roy Burke said efforts were still being made to find a replacement link – by air or sea.

Mr Thomas told fellow councillors: “Saints flying up to the UK from Ascension and the Falkland Islands [and then] to Johannesburg will simply not work.

“We need to have an agreement in place to take account of Saints working both on Ascension and [the Falklands] to enable them to continue their careers on these islands and be able to return to St Helena.”

The Hon Lawson Henry said it was “shameful” that flights to Ascension – connecting with the Royal Air Force service between the UK and the Falklands – had not been agreed in the contract with Comair.

He said: “Let us remember how it became possible for St Helena to have air access, as opposed to continuing with shipping, when the referendum was taken all those years ago.

“Saints living on Ascension and the Falklands took part in the referendum and it was only because of their vote we were able to get a majority in favour of air access. I was one of those Saints voting.

“We did so because we were told there would be a link to Ascension.

“This is something our government has failed to acknowledge, and it is shameful.

“All those announcements last week make no mention of those Saints on Ascension and the Falklands. They have simply been forgotten, even though they continue to make significant contributions to St Helena.

“They own property on St Helena and continue to pay taxes on this property where it is rented.

“This government and the British government need to acknowledge the contribution made by these Saints. By not doing so there is going to be a continual black cloud over air access and it will distract [from] what should be the most important time in our history.”

The Hon Corinda Essex said the lack of a link with Ascension was “the biggest elephant in the room”.

And she feared work opportunities on Ascension and the Falklands would be lost without a replacement for the RMS – just as job contracts end with the completion of St Helena’s airport.

“The loss of offshore jobs could spell disaster to economic growth on St Helena,” she said.

  • According to various websites, the distances are: Ascension to the UK, 3,559 miles; London to Johannesburg, 5,645 miles; Jo’burg to St Helena, 2,283 miles. Add 3,800 miles for those flying from the Falklands to Ascension, and a tricky 60-mile journey across southern England between RAF Brize Norton and London Heathrow – with no connecting flight. The total journey time would be well over 24 hours.

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

Facebook