St Helena Online

Legislative Council

‘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.

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

St Helena shows UK the way with fizzy drinks tax

St Helena appears to be showing Britain the way to tackle obesity, by introducing a sugar tax.

A levy on high-sugar drinks was announced in the island’s budget in the very month that England’s chief medical officer warned that the British government might have to consider such a measure.

But Dame Sally Davies said she hoped it would not be needed in the UK.

St Helena Government (SHG) is introducing the 75p-per-litre excise duty from May.

It is a move that some on the island have long campaigned for, including shop owner Nick Thorpe, who sees the vast scale of imports of sugary foods and drinks.

The island is reported to import nearly a million cans of fizzy drinks per year, for a population of just over 4,000 people.

The island’s incidence of type 2 diabetes, which is linked to obesity, is among the highest in the world. The government has warned that the cost of treating the condition has put a massive strain on the island’s health service, as well as damaging the lives of diabetics.

The new budget includes an additional £692,000 for the health service, and more than £1.5 million has been set aside to fund infrastructure improvements to the hospital, including the furnishing of a diagnostic suite.

Colin Owen, the island’s Financial Secretary, said: “The introduction of a new tax on high-sugar drinks and higher-than-inflation increases on tobacco form part of a raft of measures which demonstrate that SHG takes the health of St Helena seriously.”

He also announced the introduction of liquor duty at £3.50 per litre, and a new duty of £1 per litre for drinks with an alcoholic content of 3% or below.

Councillor Ian Rummery pointed out the timeliness of the move in an email to St Helena Online. He wrote:

“I see that a sugar/fat tax is being debated in the UK media with statements from Dame Sally Davies, the Medical Officer, and the BBC World Service Business Matters programme has a week-long special on obesity and discussions on a fat tax.

“While the world talks about it, here on St Helena we have just introduced a tax on sugary carbonated drinks.”

Dame Sally first raised the prospect of a sugar tax in comments to the UK Parliament’s Health Select Committee. She also suggested that sugar might be addictive – though some scientists disagreed.

In his budget speech, Mr Owen said: “On St Helena, over 300,000 litres of carbonated sugar sweetened beverages are imported per year.

“This equates to around 67 litres per year for each person currently on island, each of us drinking around 200 cans a year. Within this, some people will consume very little, while others may consume many more.

“Just to be clear on the figures, we import just under ONE MILLION cans of fizzy soft drinks each year. And each can on average contains over 35 grams of sugar.

“We currently have a very high rate of obesity, and type 2 diabetes. This has a very high cost to the St Helena health service and there is significant evidence to show direct links.

“Every additional regular can-sized, sugar-sweetened drink per day, increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 18%.

“A number of studies document a link between fizzy soft drink consumption and higher blood pressure.

“And dental health is negatively influenced by consumption. Studies have shown that consumption nearly doubles the risk of dental cavities in children.”

He added that healthier diet drinks were currently more expensive than high-sugar drinks, especially those from South Africa.

“Research has shown that increasing the price of fizzy soft drinks will lead to a fall in consumption, as consumers switch to alternatives.”

The island budget also included a range of tax increases for alcohol, and a 5% increase in tax on all tobacco goods, taking the cost of a packet of 20 cigarettes to just under £5.

Mr Owen said: “The rate of throat cancer on island is one and half times more than the UK, the highest risk factors for throat cancer being smoking and drinking alcohol to excess. This above-inflation increase supports the health service.”

In his speech to Legislative Council on Friday, 21 March 2014, Mr Owen said:

“Madam Speaker this budget is different. It seeks to support not just economic development, but to support SHG’s top priority, health – and not just the health of individuals but that of the nation.

“I do not believe it’s right anymore to sit on the sidelines. We need to grab every opportunity available to support our health and green objectives, and that includes using the tax system to provide appropriate financial incentives. We need to change our tax policies to address the growing number of concerns around diabetes and cancers.”

He said the budget had been compiled by councillors, not just officials, which had brought fresh ideas.

SEE ALSO: 
Killer diabetes puts island under strain, says the Castle
Diabetes cases soar as island struggles with cost of healthcare
My sadness and anger at diabetes crisis, by writer Doreen

Plastic bag tax aims to cut landfill waste

The budget included new taxes of 5p on plastic bags and 1p on styrofoam containers for takeaway foods – both excise taxes, imposed within the island, as opposed to customs duties.

Mr Owen said: “Both products are made from petroleum and are not degradable. St Helena does not have the facilities to dispose of them and they end up in the landfill.

“Roughly 500,000 bags and containers are used per year and this is only likely to increase as tourism grows. Similar policies to reduce use of plastic bags have been very successful in places such as Wales.”

Budget facts

In his budget speech, Mr Owen said:

Prices in island shops rose by only 1.5%, against a forecast of just over 5%. But it was expected to rise during 2014.

The resident population averaged 4,297 people through 2013, and is forecast to reach to nearly 4,500 people in 2014.

More than 360 Saints were working on the airport project and unemployment was at an all-time low, with vacancies in government and the private sector. In total, 550 people were working on the project.

Income tax was set to have raised £3.4 million, some £325k ahead of targets.

Saints are letting out more properties than ever before.

Earnings from customs duties on alcohol and tobacco exceeded targets by £115,000 and £10,000.

The offshore fishing vessel MFV Extractor had been purchased, partly with funds from Enterprise St Helena (ESH) and would soon be leaving Cape Town to fish St Helena’s seamounts.

ESH had assisted in 30 youth training schemes and five public-private partnerships. More than 40 people enrolled as apprentices.

A 30-year planned maintenance programme for government housing began with the rewiring of flats in Jamestown.

Planning permission was granted for 65 homes in Half Tree Hollow, featuring wheelchair access and rainwater harvesting.

Two new “chuck and chew” waste lorries had been procured, along with 1,500 new wheelie bins.

Four conservation and environmental projects, due to start in April 2014, attracted grants worth more than £260,000.

Significant advances were made in standards of education. Almost half of the young people who took GCSEs in 2013 achieved a C grade or better in English and maths.

Mr Owen also said that December 2013 saw the introduction of a Minimum Income Standard. “St Helena should be proud that it is leading the world in ensuring that our benefits system properly reflects the actual costs of living here,” he said.

“This will be reviewed at least annually, with benefits adjusted accordingly – a tangible demonstration of our commitment to protect the most vulnerable from the rising cost of living. But this is only a starting point and we all know that there is much more to do.”

Other recommendations in the Sainsbury Report, commissioned from York University, would be considered over a five-year period – including a child benefit allowance, which the government planned to introduce from April 2015.

But he added: “Bringing benefits up to the level that we all see as desirable will be expensive, and to introduce every proposed reform now would simply be unaffordable.”

A settlement of £13.55 million in UK aid was confirmed on 13 March 2014 – an increase of £150,000 – with a further £4.5 million to cover the running costs refurbishment of the RMS St Helena.

The amount set aside for overseas medical referrals rose to £947,000, more than double the previous year’s figure.

Mr Owen said the budget also reconfirmed the government’s funding for the National Trust, New Horizons, Heritage Society and South Atlantic Media Services, and saw increased funding to SHAPE and the Public Solicitors Office, along with new funding for the Human Rights Office.

European funding of around 21.5 million Euros was likely to be made available for infrastructure development on St Helena, Tristan da Cunha and Ascension Island over the period 2016-20. Specific projects had yet to be formally agreed.

Saint FM supporters win funding vote in LegCo

A vote to end “unfair” media funding on St Helena has been pushed though Legislative Council.

But it was not made clear whether this would put money into the coffers of Saint FM Community Radio – or if so, how soon.

Nor did the motion say whether the government should stop financing St Helena Media Services (SAMS), which has received more than a quarter of a million pounds since being set up by the government in competition with independent media.

Some councillors voted against the motion, 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.”

There were concerns that money spent establishing SAMS would be wasted if it was unable to continue operating for long enough to become viable as a business.

Councillor Ian Rummery said: “It is reasonable that all media are treated the same.

“How that is done is a matter for our budgeting system to work out. That might mean some lose money and others will gain money to bring them into balance.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be done like that. Maybe clever management of fees for advertising could be used to help bring this about.

“I could not support the ongoing system where there does appear to be a wide disparity of treatment of the two groups of media we have on this island.”

The motion was introduced by Brian Isaac, a strong support of Saint FM Community Radio, which was revived by its own listeners in early 2013.

The station had abruptly closed down at Christmas 2012, shortly before SAMS Radio 1 went live.

The debate faltered when it became clear that some councillors who wanted to support Saint FM warned that they felt obliged to vote against the motion because of the way it was worded.

Mr Isaac then put forward a new motion, simply calling for funding for Saint FM, and the debate was adjourned overnight.

But on Tuesday (15 October) the original motion was reinstated.

Although the vote was split, the Speaker, Eric Benjamin, declared: “The Ayes have it. The Ayes have it” – meaning the motion had succeeded.

Ironically, the debate was part of the first formal Legislative Council session to be broadcast on the internet – thanks to SAMS Radio 1.

A note from Simon Pipe, editor of St Helena Online: Reporting of this story has been delayed for personal reasons. This blog began as a degree project and continued while I began building up paid work as a very part-time university teacher. On Tuesday, as this debate was taking place, I was preparing for a successful job interview at Coventry University. I will shortly be taking up a humble but full-time role in the journalism department, which will enable me to qualify to teach in higher education. I hope to be able to continue running the website in a low-key way, possibly with the help of students; however, my St Helena activities will clearly have to be scaled down from now on. It’s been fun, and I thank the St Helena Independent and many individuals who have given great support, including staff in the government press office.

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

Ninety days in a wilderness: election delayed until last moment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It said:  

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

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

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

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

SEE ALSO: Sacked councillors round on His Absency the Governor

Sacked councillors round on His Absency the Governor

Leading island politicians have publicly condemned the actions of Governor Mark Capes in dissolving St Helena’s Legislative Council without warning – and without calling an election.

Mr Capes gave the 12 elected councillors an hour’s notice of his announcement, which appeared to have been timed to fit in with his holiday. He removed them from their positions on Friday 19 April 2013, and left on annual leave the following Monday.

Councillor Derek Thomas told Saint FM listeners the announcement had come as “a terrible shock.”

He then read from a prepared statement, saying: “Whilst acknowledging that the St Helena Constitution permits the governor to dissolve the council at any time, one would think there should be good reasons for doing so.

“One would expect that the governor should have discussed his intention with his council, rather than acting so abruptly in making his decision, particularly in view of the fact that DFID [the Department for International Development] has expressed confidence in the manner in which the council is managing the reforms.

“There are issues that could have been satisfactorily concluded for the benefit of the people, whereas now they are left undone and could not be considered until after a new election in July. That is many weeks away.”

An identical statement was read out on the rival station, SAMS Radio 1.

A suspicion that the governor had grown weary of some councillors was endorsed by Cyril “Ferdie” Gunnell in another Saint FM interview.

He said:  “I believe that yes, the governor was fed up with some members of the old council and I think some people were being a bit too forceful, coming up with too many things, and the governor has the power to say that’s the end of that.

“I wouldn’t say there were problems, but what I will say is to have a good council it is important for councillors to work together as a team, and they need the support of the administration.

“If there were issues, then those issues could have been addressed.”

When he announced the dissolution of the council, Mr Capes said he hoped more women and young people would stand in the election when it was called – a statement now being taken to imply that he hoped some of the recently-removed councillors would not be voted back in.

Voting must take place by 19 July 2013. Mr Capes said a long lead-in would give people time to consider standing, and to encourage more people to sign the electoral register – though that could have been done without dissolving the council.

SEE ALSO:Governor ‘cocked it up’ by dissolving LegCo, says professor

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