St Helena Online

White Paper

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UK group backs campaign to end secrecy in The Castle

St Helena Freedom of Information: screen grab of Facebook page
Support the St Helena Freedom of Information campaign by clicking ‘Like’ on its Facebook page (see Links, below)

A call for more open government on St Helena has been backed by a leading group in the UK.

In a message of support, Katherine Gundersen of the London-based Campaign for Freedom of Information says open, honest debate leads to better decision-making.

It could also help to reduce public distrust of government.

Graphic showing rubber stamps saying "restricted" etc, crossed out
The logo of the Campaign for Freedom of Information

An increasing number of documents are now published on the St Helena Government website, though one executive councillor has told St Helena Online that some departments are less open than others.

But the St Helena Freedom of Information campaign argues that there is a vital gap in the information made available to islanders – and British taxpayers, who provide the bulk of St Helena Government funding.

It says papers going before the island’s executive council should be made public in advance of meetings. In England, that’s required by law. It also wants minutes of meetings made public – not just reports by Governor Mark Capes.

If agendas and reports are published in good time, individuals can scrutinise the information being presented by officials, and make sure that councillors are aware of public opinion before meetings take place.

It also means Saints overseas can keep track of what is happening at home. And it would remove a barrier to reporting by journalists and internet bloggers, which is acknowledged in the recent White Paper on overseas territories as a vital part of maintaining democracy.

The Campaign for Freedom of Information says: “We support efforts to improve public rights to information in St Helena.

“Freedom of information has many important benefits. It strengthens individuals in their dealings with the state. It increases the opportunity to participate in decision-making and enables more informed public discussion.

“The knowledge that the public may be able to see the documents on which decisions are taken helps to deter malpractice and to encourage politicians and officials to be more rigorous in their analysis, improving the quality of decision making.

“It helps to promote more honesty in government, by making it more difficult for public bodies to say they are doing one thing while doing something else.

“Moving towards a more open regime gives government the opportunity to show that it is genuinely acting on behalf of the public; is willing and able to justify what it does; that it tells the truth and deserves the public’s trust.”

Katherine Gunderson has also lent advice to the island campaign, which was initiated by John Turner and backed by the St Helena Independent and St Helena Online.

She advises highlighting examples of unnecessary secrecy and the damage done by it, and also explaining how the rights of the public – not just the media – would be improved by greater access to information.

She points out that very few “serious democratic governments” still reject the freedom of information ideal.

St Helena Online and the St Helena Independent have evidence that some officials resist the case for open government, but there are strong indications that some councillors are very supportive.

SEE ALSO:
St Helena Online joins a campaign for transparency
£46,000 a year to make island finances more transparent
‘We honour the spirit of freedom act’ says The Castle
‘Transparency and scrutiny lead to public trust’ – White Paper

LINKS:
St Helena Freedom of Information – blog
St Helena Freedom of Information – Facebook page

£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

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