St Helena Online

UK overseas territories

£46,000 a year to make island finances more transparent

An adviser is being recruited to help deal with weaknesses in St Helena’s public services. The job will include making the island’s budget system more transparent.

The £46,000-a-year role is to guide the modernising of public service on the island – in an affordable way. It includes developing a new approach to budgeting, looking to the medium term future.

The advertisement says the job includes “improving transparency” and “addressing existing gaps and weaknesses”. It will also involve testing the soundness of financial systems, and educating senior staff.

It says St Helena Government seeks someone experienced in public service reform, ideally in a small island setting, with “a confident and pleasant demeanour”.

SEE ALSO:

‘Transparency and scrutiny lead to public trust’ – White Paper
St Helena Online joins a campaign for transparency

LINK:
Modernisation adviser – job advert

St Helena Online joins a campaign for transparency

Ignorance may be bliss, but it’s not good for democracy.

St Helena’s elected councillors are making decisions that will set the course of the island’s future, but we are rarely told what they will talk about in advance.

That means people cannot voice their own concerns, and possibly raise problems that the officials in The Castle didn’t know about.

In England, councils must tell the public what they will discuss at meetings, without anyone having to ask. It’s the law.

That also means publishing all the background reports, which provide the media with the facts they need to tell the public what’s going on.

It doesn’t happen on St Helena.

It is also a requirement under the Freedom of Information Act that English local authorities publish the minutes of their most important meetings.

At the moment, all we get is a report by Governor Capes. It might tell you something was discussed, but not necessarily what was said or decided. It hardly counts as public scrutiny.

St Helena does not have a law on open government. The government in Jamestown says it observes the spirit of UK freedom of information laws.

But when it comes to ExCo and LegCo meetings, it really, really doesn’t.

Making such information public is called transparency, and the senior UK politician who is bankrolling St Helena’s airport says it is vital to a healthy democracy.

Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development, told St Helena Online in May: “It matters because it allows people to be accountable for what they are doing. Sunlight is a brilliant disinfectant.

“Openness and transparency, explaining things to people, makes a better government, and that’s why we support it so strongly.”

But Mr Mitchell also said he would not want the UK to impose a freedom of information law on St Helena. It was for the island’s elected councillors, he said, to decide how to make SHG more transparent.

After he made his comments, island blogger John Turner launched a Facebook page called Transparency St Helena. Its supporters included former bishop John Salt. It was a start.

Today, the St Helena Independent and St Helena Online join forces with John under a new campaign banner: St Helena Freedom of Information.

We know we have a good case, because only last week, further indirect support came in the UK government’s White Paper on its overseas territories, which spoke of the importance of having proper scrutiny of public affairs in Britain’s far-flung islands.

It said: “This important work helps strengthen the people’s trust in government, and encourages greater public participation in decision making.”

It also quoted the Seven Principles of Public Life that some other territories have adopted, including one on openness:

“Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.”

St Helena Government says the UK’s Freedom of Information Act would be too cumbersome for a small island administration. Maybe. So let’s have a debate about what would be reasonable.

Councillors, you heard Mr Mitchell. It is time to lead St Helena into the sunlight.

SEE ALSO:
‘Transparency and scrutiny lead to public trust’ – White Paper
AUDIO: International Development secretary on transparency
LINK:
St Helena Independent
St Helena Freedom of Information – blog

Island works to end heartache caused by sex offenders

Special efforts are being made to help sex offenders on St Helena avoid committing further crimes when they are released from prison.

A sex offenders register could also be set up as part of changes to the criminal code, according to the island’s human rights plan.

Last week the British government offered to help its overseas territories provide the treatment that such criminals need.

That news has been welcomed by prison visitor and human rights facilitator Catherine Turner.

She said: “I get to see the heartache of the survivors and their families, frustration of the prison staff and police who do not want to release a prisoner who is likely to re-offend, and the fear of prisoners who know that they will probably re-offend if not treated.

“The rehabilitation of sex offenders is a high priority in the St Helena Human Rights Action Plan.”

Two convicted sex offenders are currently serving prison terms at HMP Jamestown. There were four when the human rights plan was revised in late 2011. Three of them had been convicted of offences against children, and one of them was serving his third sentence.

The police directorate is working with health and social welfare colleagues to develop treatment options for sex criminals.

A statement said: “We are receiving expert advice from the UK and we will be discussing the specifics of our options with the FCO prisons advisor when he visits in September 2012.

“Clearly we would be looking to offer suitable treatment to reduce the likelihood of  any prisoner re-offending, but this is a complicated and expensive area that requires careful management and care, including a duty of care for those staff delivering the treatment.”

As Catherine Turner says in a separate article for St Helena Online, UK prison staff who spend time with sex offenders have to be given counselling themselves, to help them cope with distressing stories.

The UK government White Paper released at the end of June 2012 acknowledged the extra challenges of dealing with prisoners with high needs in small island prisons.

“Facilities to promote rehabilitation and treat offenders who require specialist treatment, such as those convicted of sexual offences, are often not available,” it said. It promised to support moves to a prison system that helps prisoners overcome such problems, by sharing expertise.

St Helena Government is already completely rewriting the island’s Criminal Procedure Ordinance, which sets out how offenders are dealt with. Policy is still being formulated and a draft bill is not ready to be made public.

SEE ALSO:
UK offers to help reduce offenders’ risk to island society
No place to hide: why tackling sex crimes is more challenging on a small island
The lifelong cost of child abuse – and a plan of action

LINK:
St Helena Police Directorate
Criminal Procedure Ordinance (.pdf file)
Childline – UK charity offering young people support by phone and email

UK offers to help reduce offenders’ risk to island society

St Helena’s prison: coping with criminals is expensive for small islands, says UK government (Picture: John Grimshaw)

St Helena and other Overseas Territories are being offered help to deal with criminals who need specialist treatment to manage their behaviour – including sex offenders.

The UK government’s White Paper says smaller territories often lack facilities to treat people who need such help, though it does not say whether this is the case for St Helena.

St Helena Online has been told there is disturbing anecdotal evidence of domestic violence on the island – one of the issues being raised by a new group on the island called Women In St Helena (WISH).

No current figures are available, but former governor David Smallman wrote about the problems in his 2002 book, Quincentenary:

“There is no overt racism, there are no muggings, or murders, no hard drugs or organised crime…. Nonetheless, drink-related crimes, battered wives and domestic violence, even incest, are not uncommon. The local jail customarily has a majority of its inmates (an average of between 4 – 6 convicted prisoners) serving sentences for sex offences.”

Weekly police reports often give details of low-level offences involving drink or violence, and the rate for drink-driving arrests appears far higher than in the UK.

The White Paper speaks of the benefits to finding alternatives to sending criminals to prison – for some crimes.

“For small islands with relatively small prison populations, custody is an expensive, and sometimes impractical way to deal with offenders,” it says.

“Non-custodial sentences can offer an alternative and can have dramatic effects on reducing reoffending rates, when compared to prison for certain types of offenders.

“Building effective probation services to support offenders in the community is a key aspect to this work. Several Territories now have probation services in place and some  good results are being achieved.”

St Helena Government has been asked what work it is doing in this area for a possible article in the near future.

SEE ALSO:

Prime Minister David Cameron: we’re ambitious for you
White Paper sets out need for openness in government
‘Transparency and scrutiny lead to public trust’ – White Paper

LINK:
Overseas Territories White Paper

‘What’s being done to raise standards?’ asks White Paper critic

The UK’s White Paper on Overseas Territories has failed to set out how the British government will help St Helena reach higher standards, according to one critic.

In a letter to the St Helena Independent, “London Reader” says: “The White Paper shows that the UK Government is not interested in helping St Helena introduce cost-effective, practical or efficient measures designed to encourage good governance, transparency or accountability.

“It would have cost nothing to promise that we would be encouraged to introduce… the various watchdog institutions that are missing from our system.

“This entire paper consists of nothing else than FCO officials patting themselves on the back, quite undeservedly if I may say so.”

See the St Helena Independent to read the letter in full.

SEE ALSO:

UK White Paper seeks stronger bond with Overseas Territories
Prime Minister David Cameron: we’re ambitious for you
White Paper sets out need for openness in government
‘Transparency and scrutiny lead to public trust’

LINK:
Overseas Territories White Paper

‘Transparency and scrutiny lead to public trust’ – White Paper

Proper scrutiny is vital to good government, says the UK’s 2012 White Paper on the country’s Overseas Territories.

“This important work helps strengthen the people’s trust in government,” it says, “and encourages greater public participation in decision making.”

It also sets out a list of seven principles of public life that are now followed in some Overseas Territories. They form part of the code of practice for legislative councillors on St Helena.

Both official and independent bodies have a part to play “to ensure openness and
transparency and to hold public bodies to account, including auditors and complaints
commissions.

“The UK Government is supporting the development of these organisations.”

SHG has been asked to set out how its work is scrutinised and made public. It has not responded.

Part of the work of scrutiny is done by the media. The White Paper notes: “The Territories have a free and open press that serves to inform the public and foster debate on issues of policy.

“In recent years there has been an explosion of colourful internet debate and political blogs.”

The Seven Principles of Public Life – from the White Paper

The UK Committee on Standards in Public Life has set out these principles for the benefit of all who serve the public in any way. They have been adopted by many
public bodies in the UK and the Territories.

SELFLESSNESS
Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.

INTEGRITY
Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.

OBJECTIVITY
In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.

ACCOUNTABILITY
Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.

OPENNESS
Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.

HONESTY
Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.

LEADERSHIP
Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.

SEE ALSO:

Prime Minister David Cameron: we’re ambitious for you
White Paper sets out need for openness in government

LINK:
Overseas Territories White Paper

White Paper sets out need for openness in government

St Helena and other far-flung British islands may “have proud traditions of democracy,” but the UK government says it will keep a close watch on standards of governance.

“Public concerns about capacity, transparency and corruption need to be addressed,” says the 2012 White Paper on Overseas Territories.

This comment refers mainly to problems in the Caribbean – especially in the Turks and Caicos Islands, where the democratic government was removed from power – but there are also concerns on St Helena.

A campaign has been started in Jamestown to introduce freedom of information legislation on St Helena. Its supporters include former bishop John Salt.

At the moment, for example, agendas and reports for executive council meetings are not made public in advance. In the UK, local council decisions would have no legal force if that happened.

Councillor Cyril Gunnell attended a conference in London in 2011 on government, accountability and the role of elected representatives. His report is available via the St Helena Government website, here.

The strategy paper gives no detail about how the UK government will ensure the Territories maintain UK standards of governance. It does not say whether it would be willing to intervene.

Andrew Mitchell, the Secretary of State for Overseas Development, said in interview in Swindon in May that it would be desirable for island government to have the same level of openness as UK departments of state, but he said it was for elected councillors to bring that about.

The White Paper also says: “The populated Territories have vibrant democratic traditions.” However, commentators blamed a very low turn-out in St Helena’s last by-election on a lack of public engagement.

“The UK Government has a responsibility for the overall good government of the Territories,” says the White Paper, “and takes a close interest in how territory governments discharge the functions devolved to them.

“Those Territories which choose to remain British should abide by the same basic standards of good government as in the UK.

“The Territories have proud traditions of democracy and respect for human rights. Territory Governments have used their devolved responsibilities to make significant improvements to the quality of life of their people, outperforming comparable independent states.

“But small Territories face particular challenges. It is difficult to maintain all the skills needed to regulate modern economies and meet public expectations for specialist services. It is sometimes difficult to procure good value services.

“The UK Government has a vision of making government work better.

“We want to increase efficiency and effectiveness, ensure public funds are spent wisely, and foster a fairer, more open and mobile society.

“We believe in giving power to people and communities across the UK and the Territories to drive reform. This means strengthening accountability including by making the performance of public bodies and services more transparent.

“We will work with the people, communities and governments of the Territories to realise this vision.”

LINK:
Overseas Territories White Paper

Prime Minister David Cameron: we’re ambitious for you

The 2012 White Paper on Britain’s overseas territories includes the following message from Prime Minister David Cameron.

The United Kingdom’s 14 Overseas Territories are an integral part of Britain’s life and history. Today they include one of the world’s richest communities (Bermuda) and the most remote community (Tristan da Cunha).

They include thousands of small islands, vast areas of ocean, but also, in Antarctica, land six times the size of the United Kingdom.

Most of the people of the Territories are British and where they choose to remain British we will respect and welcome that choice. The relationship entails a balance of benefits and responsibilities which everyone must respect.

This Government is ambitious for our Territories as we are ambitious for the United Kingdom. We want to see our communities flourish in partnership, with strong and sustainable local economies.

We see an important opportunity to set world standards in our stewardship of the extraordinary natural environments we have inherited.

This White Paper sets out our commitment to work with the Territories to address the challenges we face together. This is a commitment from across the UK Government.

The White Paper also celebrates the diversity, successes and opportunities in the Territories.

2012 is the Centenary of Scott’s heroic journey to the South Pole. It is the 30th Anniversary of the Falklands conflict when so many gave their lives to protect the islanders’ right to choose their own future. It is also Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The Territories are a valued part of the Realm and recently joined in this celebration. It is an ideal time to publish this White Paper and I hope it will raise awareness in the United Kingdom of these British communities, lands and seas around the world.

David Cameron
Prime Minister

UK White Paper seeks stronger bond with Overseas Territories

The UK government says a new strategy paper “renews and strengthens Britain’s relationship with the Overseas Territories.”

 

However, much of the material in the paper – which runs to over 100 pages, and was due out last month – will already be familiar to people who follow affairs in Britain’s far-flung islands.

For instance, the need to protect the environment is a well-worn theme on St Helena and Saints will have little to learn from the White Paper.

The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said the policy document “demonstrates the importance the Coalition Government attaches to the Overseas Territories.

“We want the Territories to be vibrant, flourishing communities that proudly retain aspects of their British identity.

“This White Paper is designed to meet these challenges, to set out ways we can support the Territories and strengthen our engagement with them.

“It is another major milestone in our long and shared history, and I hope it will mark a new era of engagement between Britain and the Overseas Territories.”

COMMENT:

The paper is 128 pages. I am not alone in finding it extremely disappointing. In my opinion, it provides platitudes instead of leadership.

– London Reader, UK
 

SEE ALSO:
Prime Minister David Cameron: we’re ambitious for you
White Paper sets out need for openness in government

‘Transparency and scrutiny lead to public trust’ – White Paper
‘What’s being done to raise standards?’ asks White Paper critic
UK offers to help reduce offenders’ risk to island society

LINK:
Overseas Territories White Paper

What the nurse said to the governor: Andrew Gurr looks back

When Andrew Gurr arrived on St Helena in 2007 as the first governor to be appointed through open competition, he found an island civil service that was financially adrift. It needed to undergo surgery – and so, later on, did Mr Gurr himself. In the fourth and final extract of an address to the Friends of St Helena, he reflects on changes made in his four years living in the governor’s mansion, and on some of the possibilities for the future – including a boarding school for rich South Africans, and even a space station. 

See also parts one, two and three.

On government accounting

During my time we made some important changes. The accounting system was really pretty awful: good, old-fashioned Victorian accounting. Cash accounting – penny in, penny out. No concept of time in the management of money throughout the whole civil service.

And over the last four years we put in accrual accounting.

[St Helena Online note: cash accounting records transactions only when money actually comes in or goes out. But many deals – including DfID funding – involve payments in the future. Accrual accounting includes these future payments (in and out) to give a better picture of finances. It is complex and costly to set up, but is used by nearly all but the smallest businesses].

The Foreign Office said it was not worth doing, but then, they said that in the Falklands but we did it in the Falklands and it undoubtedly was worth doing. It improves your management of funds and it means people begin to develop an awareness of the value of money over time, which is very very significant if you are going to manage it.

On media

We put in place a plan for re-aligning the media. That’s still going on, isn’t it?

The silly situation was we had two media organisations and the government was funding both, and it really wasn’t necessary.

Okay, we weren’t funding the Independent to the same extent we were funding the Herald, but councillors were getting increasingly restless, as indeed DfID was, about the fact that the two papers were so similar – and the two radio stations were so similar.

So that, I think, has been dealt with.

[St Helena Online note: Mike Olsson, who oversees both the St Helena Independent and Saint FM radio station, insists that the newspaper received no subsidy, though some content was directly funded. The St Helena Herald closed in March and was replaced in the same month by the government-funded Sentinel, which – unlike the Herald – was allowed to compete with the privately-owned Independent for advertising. Since Mr Gurr gave his talk, Mike Olsson has applied to run further radio stations in competition with three being set up by the St Helena Broadcasting Corporation, which publishes The Sentinel].

On advisers’ reports

Reports are difficult, because a consultant can come and make recommendations and then we will say to DfID, “Okay, let’s have the money to put this into practice.” “Oh, we haven’t got the money.”

About half of them, I would say, you cannot take forward because you haven’t got the resources to take forward what the consultant might be recommending, or you have to wait to do it.

And as I said when I talked about consultants, some are excellent, some aren’t. The ones who succeed are normally the ones you work with, so they leave behind people who have inculcated what they are saying and carry it forward. We don’t do enough about that: it’s a kind of, “the report is for DfID, not for St Helena” type of attitude.

It’s not a perfect situation, by any means.

On new economic opportunities

There are some very good ideas that have been around.

One, I think, is education: boarding schools for South African kids. A lot of people would like an English education for their children – people who live in South Africa. It would bring in staff, it would bring in activies, and that would be very good.

[There could be] all sorts of academic things – a marine laboratory, like what the Norwegians did with Spitzbergen, a coal mining island in the Arctic. It has become such a centre of excellence that it pays for itself.

On everyone knowing everyone… and what the nurse said to Mr Gurr

There are many things that St Helena is a good research environment for.

Not least is this non-anonymity thing. It astonishes me. People, when my grandfather was alive, if they had been to the next village they would stand in the village hall and tell everbody about it. It would be a big deal. It’s like that in St Helena still.

That lack of anonymity impacts on the police service, on the medical service. The nurse tending your bed when you’re sitting there in pain: you know her and you know her children and you know her way of life, and she knows you.

I went in for a rather nasty exploratory operation and the nurse said to me: “Don’t you worry, I see everything and I see nothing.” [laughter] I thought, that’s nice.

On Ascension as a space centre

An idea I touted round is Ascension as a space centre. If you are going to take off from a runway to get into space, which will happen, you have got to be near the equator because you have a better launch speed and it’s cheaper to get into orbit from the equator. And you have got to be somewhere that’s secure.

It seemed to me [Ascension is] the place where the West has the longest runway in the Southern Hemisphere, and it’s near the equator.

On exploiting isolation

St Helena has always paid its way when its isolation and position is worth something to somebody. Unless you major on that isolation as being the thing that is going to deliver, you are copying somewhere else that can do it cheaper. So you are looking for things that have that special characteristic.

On Plantation House

It’s iconic, isn’t it, Plantation?

I was looking at a country house and thought, “I wish I lived in a house like that – and I did! I had so much junk I could fill every room. I would say, “Do I mind living all by myself in a big house?” And I didn’t: it was really quite easy.

Having staff was a new experience for us. It’s not that easy. Suddenly the house isn’t just yours: there are people who think it’s theirs too. It’s their workplace and you have to take that into account every day.

The kitchen was a disgrace in my view – a health risk – and we had it refurbished into a modern kitchen.

On the late Bobby Robertson, councillor and fund-raiser

One of the great privileges of being governor is the entertaining. We had a dinner for Bobby Robertson and Dulcie on their 60th wedding anniversary and do you know, Bobby never said a word against me in council after that. It was one of the shrewdest dinners I ever gave.

On the late Sharon Wainwright
[Sharon was air access co-ordinator for St Helena; she died suddenly while in London, helping press the case for an airport, in August 2011]

She was a wonderful person to work with. I had a weekly chat with her: she was a great communicator and a very good man manager. She ran what she did well, she got things done – a priceless individual, sadly missed.

On the Friends of St Helena

Those people need the support here that you give them. They are very grateful for that. It’s very much in the interest of St Helena that this organisation, the Friends, exists.

On the future

We were trying, in our time, to move the island towards self-sufficiency and maintain the balance of interest. And it is about balance.

The situation is that the airport [contract] is signed, the ship’s capacity is being increased, there’s a sensible political structure, there’s better systems in the civil service. I think the private sector is getting increasingly engaged and people are getting excited about the airport.

Whether the future is bright or not I don’t know. I think it’s better, however you look at it, than the past; it’s better than it would have been but it’s still up to the Saints to grasp the opportunities that are there.

And they are there now, real opportunities, with – how many? – 170 people working on the airport or airport-related things. That will increase over the next few years.

Shelco are going to take a lot of people into that hotel and housing complex, so all that is going to be brighter, without any question.

On being remembered

Part of me says I would love people to say, “Well, he did a good job”, and part of me says, does it matter in the long run? I will just be a name on a wall or a fading photograph.

I enjoyed it. It was a tremendously enriching exerience and very colourful, and I will always have fond memories of it. But how people remember me depends on what people remember, and who’s telling them to remember it.

I loved the place, I love the people, but your time comes, you do your four years and you leave it. You have fond memories and life moves on.

(One or two of Andrew Gurr’s reflections from his talk to the Friends of St Helena in May 2012 have been kept back as stories in their own right, and will appear shortly. A gallery of his photographs may also appear soon).

SEE ALSO:

The inside story on St Helena, by former governor Andrew Gurr
Experts, expats and what England expects: a governor’s view, part 2
Civil service versus the can-do culture: a governor’s view

Media
Slavery
Foreign Secretary ‘wants hands-on help for islands’ – report

LINK:
Friends of St Helena

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