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Government/Politics

‘We cannot allow it to fail’: councillors agree to underwrite £500,000 loan to government’s own hotel

After voicing misgivings about risk, unfairness and public distrust, St Helena’s councillors have agreed to underwrite a half-million pound loan to the government’s own hotel.

The money is needed partly to pay the contractor for converting run-down offices into four-star luxury accommodation at 1, 2 and 3 Main Street in Jamestown.

Councillor Cruyff Buckley said he would support the guarantee for the loan solely to save the jobs of 32 Saints.

The Hon. Tony Green said: “We cannot possibly allow the hotel to fail.”

The decision was taken by Legislative Council yesterday, after members were told that there was “no risk” that the government would have to pay the full half-million pounds if  St Helena Hotel Development Ltd defaulted on the loan.

Four councillors voted against the guarantee: Gavin Elliot, Brian Isaac, Kylie Hercules and Clint Beard. Others voiced their reluctant support.

The coffers in The Castle would only have to cover any instalment that was missed by the company – which is 100% owned by the government itself.

Councillors also heard that the Bank of St Helena had yet to decide whether to approve the loan.

The government decided to fund the hotel in May 2016 after failing to attract an investor willing to take a risk on a remote island with barely any established tourism.

It went over budget by 13.9 per cent because of international currency fluctuations, delays to RMS St Helena sailings, and the cost of bringing artisans to the island to finish the work.

The acting Financial Secretary, Nicholas Yon, said councillors had legitimate concerns about the risks of guaranteeing a loan to pay off the contractor – and keep the hotel running.

But there were “equally significant risks” to the viability of the hotel company without the loan. The hotel could close and jobs would be lost, along with all the investment already made.

“This would have significant economic implications for St Helena in building a sustainable economy and taking full advantage of air access.”

Revenue would be closely monitored to ensure payments were kept. And the government would firm up an “exit strategy” for selling the hotel when it could.

Councillor Tony Green said that if the hotel failed, it was unlikely that “anybody would then have confidence” in development on St Helena.

But he believed the hotel would be a success.

Dr Corinda Essex said she refused to call it the Mantis Hotel because it implied it was owned by the South African boutique hotel chain that runs it.

She said the level of public concern “should not be underestimated.”

“The current undesirable financial situation, however justified it may be, has only fanned the flames of public opinion once again.

“It cannot be denied that SHG should not usually be competing directly with the local private sector and this is a key reason why a clear exit strategy has been developed.”

But she said the island now had a valuable asset at 1, 2, 3 Main Street that enhanced the island’s reputation.

It had yet to bring much return but had great potential. “Those who point out there is considerable risk are correct in their view. We can only hope for the best.

“To effectively pull the plug on such a new venture… is convincingly not in the best interest of St Helena as a whole.”

The Hon. Cruyff Buckley said he supported the guarantee with reluctance.

“I feel I have no choice, bearing in mind the 32 people who work at the hotel,” he said.

“It has been perceived that the hotel is in direct competition with many accomodation providers here, but they have no safety net under their belts when they invest their hard earned cash, unlike the St Helena Hotel Development company.

He wanted Saints to be able to buy shares in the hotel and eventually take a controlling interest.

He expressed doubts about the high cost of loan repayments of at least £50,000 a year.

“On a place like St Helena that is a lot of money, so to downplay any repercussions of what we are about to do is not only misleading, it is unrealistic, and we have to be honest.”

He said people who stayed at the Mantis Hotel had told him they were unhappy to find themselves in a high-end hotel, on top of the high cost of reaching the island.

“Had they known there was other accommodation they would not have been in the Mantis,” he said.

The Hon. Christine Scipio O’Dean questioned the financial projections that had been made in 2016.

“Once more the business plan has turned out to be a dream without much practical realisation, and here we have once more to pick up the broken pieces.

“There is a huge risk the guarantee may crystalise into a liability for St Helena Government.”

Councillor Brian Isaac said he could not vote for the loan guarantee. “I must listen to the people,” he said.

The Hon. Cyril Leo quoted failures by the UK’s Department for International Development in supporting St Helena.

He said the island government’s decision to fund the hotel was made in good faith.

He supported the guarantee with “profound reservations” but called for “an urgent, thorough investigative review of the project oversight, the project spend and the running costs of the hotel”.

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.

Same-sex marriage approved for St Helena: opponent calls for society to embrace the result

Marriage between same-sex couples has been approved by St Helena’s legislative council by nine votes to two – meaning weddings could take place within weeks.

Rainbow island graphic by John Turner
Rainbow island graphic by John Turner

The Honourable Cyril Leo warned of a “deep divide” on the island and said he feared a negative reaction from “homophobic elements” in society.

But he said people should embrace the outcome of democratic debate. Councillors should “make love our greatest quest,” he said.

The Hon. Kylie Hercules, supporting the Marriage Bill, said: “We are dealing with people’s lives and emotions.”

And the Hon. Christine Scipio-o’Dean said: “We cannot discriminate. We must not, and we must strive to ensure equality.”

The Hon. Anthony Green explained that an attempt to present the same bill to the previous legislative council in 2016 had faltered.

A legal challenge to the existing marriage law – passed in 1851 – was due to be heard in the Supreme Court in January 2018 and could be appealed all the way to the Privy Council in London – a process that could take years.

“This law is silent on whether marriage between two persons of the same gender is permissible,” he said.

Barristers from the UK were on standby to represent various parties.

He said that denying same-sex couples the same marriage rights as other people would breach their human rights under the St Helena Constitution.

Cyril Leo and Brian Isaac were the only councillors to vote against the bill becoming law. Dr Corinda Essex abstained.

She said she knew her view would be controversial. “I have no objection to same-sex relationships and indeed I respect them,” she said. “I know a number of people who have entered into them. I am no way homophobic in any respect.

“However I believe that can be achieved through civil partnership.”

She added: “I believe very strongly that marriage was ordained not just in the Christian faith but in all the [main] faiths of the world… [as being] between a man and a woman.”

But she said the public had now had a proper chance to express their views and understand the issue – referring to a series of consultation meetings, and two petitions for and against same-sex marriage.

She said: “The number signing the two petitions was very similar. I had a lot of people lobbying me and saying we have serious concerns about this bill being passed. I do agree that the rights of minorities are important.

“But let us not deceive ourselves that the decision we make is going to be popular whichever way it goes because it is still an extremely emotive and sensitive topic on the island.

“We do need to be aware that worldwide, attitudes are changing and moving forward and we need to be more open minded. … and put our personal views aside and consider the bigger picture.

“As a result of that I will not be opposing the bill.”

The Hon. Brian Isaac said there other issues that caused distress to people on the island and deserved to be given higher priority.

The European Court of Human Rights had already declared that civil unions fully protected the rights of same-sex couples so there was no need for same-sex marriage, he said.

And he pointed out that members of the parliament on Bermuda, another UK overseas territory, had just voted to rescind a law allowing same-sex marriage. St Helena should look to the reasons they had done that, he said.

The Hon. Cruyff Buckley said he was a Christian but supported a change in the law. “This bill ushers in a new level of respect for minority groups,” he said.

The Hon. Derek Thomas said he was one of the councillors who blocked the progress of the bill a year ago because too few members of the public had expressed a view on it. The public had now had a fair say and he saw no justification for objecting.

The Hon. Lawson Henry said the St Helena Constitution – the supreme law of any country – guaranteed protection of equal rights.

“It is simply about equality,” he said “If this house cannot uphold the constitution then why are we here today, and why do we have a constitution? This bill has never been about religion, it is about equality and protection of minority groups.”

Many members sitting round the table had supported human rights legislation, “but some of them seem not to have supported equality,” he said.

He also warned St Helena Government would face heavy costs in the courts if the bill was rejected, and the island’s reputation would be damaged.

“We are a fledgling economy that has just gone into a new form of access,” he said, referring to the opening of the island’s airport.

“People who would like to visit this island will be looking at things like this. If they feel this is an island that can’t uphold its constitution [it] will cause more damage.”

The courts could nullify the existing marriage law and criticise the legislative council because members “can’t protect minority groups under our own constitution.”

Anthony Green, closing the debate, dismissed the reference to Bermuda. “We do not follow the Bermuda constitution,” he said. “We have our own constitution.” He praised Cyril Leo’s call for people to embrace the decision.

Governor Lisa Phillips will now be asked to ratify the bill and make it law, giving people on St Helena the same rights as same-sex couples on Ascension, Tristan da Cunha and most other UK overseas territories outside the Caribbean.

Speaking later in the traditional adjournment debate, Lawson Henry said it was a great day for St Helena.

St Helena’s 2017 Marriage Bill does not compel ministers to marry same-sex couples if it conflicts with religious doctrine. It also deals with other aspects of marriage law, including allowing weddings to take place outside places of worship.

Three sites to replace ‘unfit’ prison go before ExCo

Entrance to HMP Jamestown, stone building with blue-painted wooden balcony above barred door
HMP Jamestown dates back to the 1820s and cannot be brought up to modern standards. Picture: John Grimshaw

Three sites near Longwood are being considered for a new prison for St Helena, to replace the “totally unsatisfactory” one in Jamestown.

It comes after former governor Mark Capes was strongly condemned for trying to impose a new prison at Half Tree Hollow, disregarding protests about sex offenders being kept near young families.

The three sites are all at Bottom Woods and all within national conservation areas. The public will be consulted before any site is chosen.

One of the three, next to the meteorological station, is in part of the Millennium Forest where protected trees have been planted. A special licence would be needed to remove them.

Update: on 3 October 2017, executive councillors decided the Millennium Forest site was not suitable for the new prison because of its environmental importance. It agreed to put the two other proposed sites out to public consultation. 

Agricultural land further west of the met station offers more space for a level site, but water and sewage services would need improving. Part of the site is leased to a farmer.

The third site, at the goat pen area, is closer to homes but considered to be far enough away to be safe. Choosing this would mean building a road through precious farmland.

Legislative councillors visited the three sites in August and details were put before the prison project board and LegCo in mid-September.

Now the executive council is advised to approve all three for a public consultation at its meeting on Tuesday, 3 October. Both negative and positive views are expected, says the report to ExCo.

The new prison will need about three acres of land to meet international standards, including space for an outside recreation area. Other factors include security,  human rights, and providing for disable prisoners.

A prison farm could be established at a later stage.

All three sites are in the vicinity of the island’s new sport field, but “can be suitably far away.”

They are also all in the airport development area, but this should not be a problem if the building is no more than two storeys high.

The sites offer enough space to ensure Category B prisoners can be kept secure. A specialist from overseas would have to be brought in to install specialist security systems and doors.

They are close to wirebird and conservation sites, but this is not expected to present problems with planning approval.

The new prison would be close to the airport haul road, which would be used for the 35-minute drive from the police station and court house in Jamestown.

Three other possible prison sites have already been rejected, including one next to the batteries at Ladder Hill Fort, because there are still hopes of creating a five-star hotel there.

The island shooting range was dismissed because it is in a sensitive area for wirebirds, and another site at Bunker’s Hill, overlooking Rupert’s Valley, was ruled out because of cost.

The current building in Jamestown, dating from 1826, has repeatedly been declared unfit by visiting inspectors. Inmates’ human rights cannot be upheld in the cramped conditions.

Funding for a new prison at Sundale House, above Half Tree Hollow, was set aside in 2012. It was expected that inmates would move there by 2015.

When legislative councillors refused to endorse the plan in the face of vigorous public protests, Governor Capes disbanded the council and then waited the maximum three months to hold an election.

The reason for shutting down democracy was revealed in the 2015 Wass Report into governance on the island, which criticised him for disregarding concerns that convicted sex offenders would be allowed out of Sundale to exercise, close to homes.

But Mr Capes told Sasha Wass’s inquiry panel that he needed to address the human rights failings at HMP Jamestown.

He said councillors “had an attitude that prison is meant to be uncomfortable and unpleasant and there are other things to spend money on.”

In 2011, chief of police Peter Coll had repeated warnings about the “unsafe” pre-Victorian building. “Anyone who is under the impression that serving a prison sentence is a soft option is not aware of the conditions,” he said.

The prison had no fire exits, and arrested prisoners had to use toilets in full view of inmates and staff – male and female. Cells became very hot in summer, especially when there were three or four people in a cell – a regular problem.

The new proposals have been made public as part of St Helena Government’s new policy of openness. They are set out in the first set of Executive Council agenda reports ever to be made public, a major step in ending excessive secrecy.

However, the expected costs of the three sites have been blanked out. The report says the UK’s Department for Internation Development would be asked to pay for the new prison.

SEE ALSO: 
Democracy on St Helena: councillors opposed prison move – so ‘Enforcer’ Capes sacked them
Unfit prison ‘will move’ to Half Tree Hollow, says planning chief
‘Unfit’ prison to close by 2015 amid human rights failings

More action planned on illegal fishing – minister

The UK government is planning to step up efforts to investigate illegal fishing around St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, it has been revealed.

The House of Lords heard that short term patrols and satellite monitoring are already used to track fishing vessels around the islands.

But it appears the islands do not yet benefit from oversight by the UK’s National Maritime Information Centre – set up in 2011 to detect dangers such as sea-borne terrorist threats.

The centre does protect waters around two other overseas territories chosen as Marine Protected Zone – and a third such zone is planned for Ascension, suggesting it may get similar protection.

Lord West of Spithead
Lord West of Spithead

The information was disclosed by foreign minister Baroness Anelay in response to a question by Lord West of Spithead on 3 February 2016.

He asked whether the new agency “is providing comprehensive surface coverage of the exclusive economic zones of dependent territories to ensure wildlife and resource protection; and how those zones are policed, in particular around Tristan da Cunha, Ascension Island and St Helena.”

Baroness Anelay replied that the centre was helping to investigate illegal and unregulated fishing around the British Indian Ocean Territory – meaning the Chagos Islands – and Pitcairn, in the Pacific Ocean.

She said: “Overseas territories are policed in a variety of ways as marine management is a devolved responsibility.

“In St Helena, Ascension and Tristan de Cunha, a variety of surveillance and enforcement measures are deployed, including satellite monitoring, vessel tracking, short term patrols and observer coverage of fishing vessels.

“Potential enhancements to surveillance and enforcement requirements for the UK’s 14 overseas territories are being considered as part of the government’s commitment to create a Blue Belt around these territories.”

The planned Blue Belt of protected waters around all UK overseas territories was announced with great fanfare at a reception at the House of Commons in September 2015.

Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith declared it “the biggest conservation commitment by any government ever.”

 

It includes a plan to create a vast protected zone around Ascension, with only limited sustainable fishing allowed – similar to zones already established or announced round the Chagos and Pitcairn islands.

“Blue belt” marine conservation zones, with lesser protection, are promised for all other territories, including St Helena.

People at the launch event heard how satellite and radar data are being used to detect fishing vessels by tracking the pattern of their movements.

The technique is described in a news report on the website of the Blue and Green Tomorrow campaign group.

It says: “Analysts can track declared fishing vessels and monitor the behaviour of undeclared ones.

“Container ships and cruise liners tend to go in straight lines. Fishing vessels tend to hover where there are fish. If a ship exhibits suspicious behaviour the relevant authority can be notified.”

The site says: “Industrial fishing ships can stay at sea for months refuelling and offloading stock mid-ocean. A quarter of all fishing is illegal. But the world’s oceans are a notoriously difficult place to monitor and protect.”

Lord West is a former Royal Navy officer who rose to become First Sea Lord and later Chief of Defence Intelligence.

He is also chairman of Spearfish, a company the helps clients “manage physical security risks – both on land and at sea.”

His listed interests include defence and the environment, and overseas territories in the South Atlantic.

Read more:
Biggest ever conservation commitment: UK overseas territories’ Blue Belt

(Original image of Lord West from Wikimedia Commons)

St Helena gets first female governor – after 359 years

Lisa Phillips, by ILRI/Riccardo Gangale (under Creative Commons licence)
Lisa Phillips, by ILRI/Riccardo Gangale (under Creative Commons licence)

Lisa Phillips is to be the first female governor of St Helena since the job was first created more than 350 years ago, in 1657. She also becomes non-resident governor of Ascension and Tristan da Cunha.

Indy on Lisa Phillips front
The St Helena Independent hinted in October 2015 that Lisa Phillips could become governor

Her appointment will have come as no surprise to social media users or readers of the St Helena Independent.

The newspaper ran a teasing editorial on 2 October 2015, saying that it was time the island had a female governor – and “suggesting” Ms Phillips as an ideal choice.

It highlighted her forthright campaigning on women’s issues and AIDS in her role as head of Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) team in Kenya.

Six days before Christmas, she appeared to endorse the story by following a number of island-based users on the messaging website Twitter.

Shortly after the news was made official in London, she posted her own online announcement:

“So excited to share with my Twitter followers where my next job is. Such a privilege!”

A congratulatory message was quickly posted by Christina Scott, governor of Anguilla – another UK overseas territory in the Caribbean.

Twitter Lisa Phillips Anguilla

Lisa Phillips tweets and blogs regularly on issues such as open justice and ending female genital mutilation in Africa. She has promised to continue publishing her thoughts online in her new role.

Her emergence on Twitter as likely governor came just over a week after the Wass Inquiry report severely criticised the island government, and governor Mark Capes, for “inexcusably and repeatedly” repeatedly failing to act on warnings about child welfare.

Indy Phillips ragout
How the Indy hinted at Lisa Phillips’s future job

It also dismissed allegations of widespread sex abuse and official cover-ups.

The report found Governor Capes had not been adequately briefed on the existence of previous reports raising concerns about child safeguarding, and said his successor must be given stronger guidance.

The Independent editorial in October 2015 highlighted Ms Phillips’s work on issues similar to those found on St Helena.

As head of DFID Kenya, she describes her team’s work on “improving health, increasing the quality of education, reducing vulnerability among Kenya’s most disadvantaged, and catalysing private sector growth to create more jobs for young people.”

Twitter Lisa Phillips pic

She adds: “I’ve worked for DFID for more years than I care to mention in a variety of jobs, both in the UK and overseas.”

By 1984 she had worked with the Overseas Development Agency – fore-runner of DFID – in several countries in Southern Africa, before joining the ODA teams covering India, Barbados and South East Asia.

Managerial roles in the United Nations and Commonwealth Department were followed by work on migration. In 2011 she was made head of DFID’s department dealing with fragile states, and the following year, its lead on anti-corruption.

She became head of DFID Kenya in 2013.

Her appointment as governor of St Helena marks a break from the long-established tradition of appointing diplomats from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – a practice questioned in the Wass Report, which said the island needed a hands-on manager.

twitter Lisa Phillips congrats

Governor Andrew Gurr had also been recruited from outside the FCO, but he had served in a senior job on the Falklands.

When he left in 2011, the role was given to Mark Capes, an FCO man who will now take up another diplomatic posting. The location was not made public, but one Facebook user on St Helena undiplomatically wished him well in Antarctica.

The Independent’s October 2015 editorial suggested Mr Capes had focused his energies on the island’s airport project at the cost of addressing its pressing social needs – a view echoed by the Wass Report.

It said:

“Credit where it’s due: for Mr Capes, the airport has been the big job, and it’s been a success. But now we have some more human problems to address.

“So we’d like someone who knows about improving education, and has done something about it. We have an educated idea who that could be.

“We’re not all sex abusers, but there are too many victims of abuse. SHG’s style is to keep telling us how everything’s getting better, but we need someone who is actually willing to stand up and say, Yes, there’s a problem, because it was a failure to be open that allowed it to go on for so long.

“We want someone who is willing to stand up and say, out loud, “I want to end violence against women and girls.”

“Someone who’s willing to say, “Justice has to be seen to be done – and be done.” Someone who has actually spent time with the victims of sex crimes would be good, too.

“We know someone who’s said all that, and done all that.

“We never acknowledge there’s a problem with HIV on St Helena, but… there’s a problem with HIV. Too many people have the virus and for all we know, the number has gone up since work on the airport started.

“So we need someone who’s got experience of confronting that awful problem; someone who’s willing to admit it exists. Maybe someone who’s worked in Africa?”

Indy Phillips ragout end
The Independent in October 2015: one last attempt to make friends with Governor Capes?

Once the news of Ms Phillips’ appointment was out in the open, well-wishers in Kenya and around the world congratulated her.

She told one: “I will miss #magicalkenya so much, especially all the people I have met.”

  • Lisa Phillips is not merely the first woman to be chosen as head of state and representative of Her Majesty the Queen on St Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha: she will also be the first governor of the territory to have given birth. She has one son.

See more pictures at the Brits in Kenya website

 

‘No credible evidence’ as whistle-blowers are cleared again

warsama letterhead 640Experts have dismissed serious criticisms of the whistle-blowers who triggered investigations into sex abuse on St Helena.

Their professional body in London has declared there was “no credible evidence” that the two social workers were unfit to practise.

The finding renews questions about the way Claire Gannon and Martin Warsama had been publicly denounced in documents published by St Helena Government.

Attorney general Nicola Moore had issued a statement saying they had acted unprofessionally in an adoption case, without providing evidence for the claim. Later, SHG published a judge’s damning suspicions about their conduct – but two months after a criminal investigation cleared them.

Ms Moore also announced that evidence was being passed to their professional body – a matter that would normally be confidential.

The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) has now found they had acted in the best interests of a child in the adoption case, and followed recognised good practice.

warsama letter no evidence 640
Mr Warsama said: “It was clearly rubbish and our governing body have reviewed all the information, and believe me these people are not biased toward practitioners.”

He has repeatedly stated his belief that he and Ms Gannon were being “punished” for alleging the St Helena authorities had failed to investigate sex abuse cases – some involving child victims.

“Basically we whistle-blew and the whole establishment tried to destroy us,” said Mr Warsama.

He said he and Ms Gannon had been unable to take up secure jobs in UK social work while threats of criminal prosecution and a professional fitness hearing hung over them.

They told the UK’s Daily Telegraph of living under enormous strain.

In November 2014, the UK Foreign Secretary announced an independent inquiry into their allegations of cover-ups of abuse cases, and into the governance of the island. Sasha Wass QC was expected to publish her findings before the end of 2015.

The complaint to the HCPC was made after an eight-month investigation failed to secure clear evidence of criminal conduct by the two UK social workers in the adoption case, which was not related to the alleged sex abuse issues.

It was launched after Judge Charles Ekins said he suspected they had withheld case files. He urged a review of the papers by an independent lawyer to see whether anyone had committed perjury – a serious crime that can carry a long prison term.

The attorney general’s statement in February 2015 said evidence from a later police investigation was reviewed “by a second independent counsel, appointed as Public Prosecutor of St Helena specifically to undertake this task.

“Counsel concluded that some of the actions of the suspected persons were ill-advised, unprofessional and showed poor judgment but that there was insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction.”

But the HCPC’s letter to Mr Warsama says there is “no credible evidence to suggest your fitness to practise is impaired.

“We received no evidence to substantiate the allegations against you, and the criminal investigation concluded with no evidence being taken against you.

“On this basis, we will not be pursuing the concern further, and the case is closed.”

Claire Gannon has been advised not to share information with the media until the findings of the Wass inquiry are published. It is understood the HCPC’s letter to her went into more detail, because she had closer involvement in the adoption case.

St Helena Government has refused to reveal the name of the public prosecutor cited by Ms Moore, on the grounds that it would prejudice the administration of justice on the island – though it is not clear how.

Ms Moore offered no evidence to justify her criticism of the social workers – who were not named in her statement – but Judge Ekins later made the extraordinary move of publishing his ruling in the adoption case, even though family matters are normally kept confidential.

No reason was given for publishing the ruling, which voiced strong suspicions of wrongdoing by the social workers. Crucially, it was made public two months after they had been cleared.

The findings of the professional body directly contradicted criticisms made by Judge Ekins.

Ms Gannon and Mr Warsama are continuing to try to bring a case for unfair dismissal over the saga.

Ms Gannon resigned after being suspended from her post as St Helena’s senior social worker. Mr Warsama was told he had failed to pass his period of probation in his job, only weeks after being promoted.

Mr Warsama asked: “Will SHG now apologise, given everything thrown at us?”

St Helena Government said it had no comment to make.

SEE ALSO:
Criminal investigation clears sex abuse whistle-blowers
MP voices concerns as police investigate their accusers

After a ‘terrifying’ year, whistle-blower talks of retribution
Top barrister to investigate sex abuse ‘cover up’ claims
Judge goes public on adoption case accusations that led to investigation of social workers

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.”

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.”

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