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Public gets a vote as chief councillor plan is put on hold

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The idea of electing a chief councillor for St Helena has been put on hold after a vigorous debate by the island’s Legislative Council.

It will now be put to a public ballot, to be held before LegCo’s next meeting towards the end of March.

The proposal would have seen one member elected to lead the Executive Council (ExCo) and choose its other four members.

Concerns about the idea – one of three suggested changes to the island’s 2009 Constitution – were expressed at public meetings across the island.

It was felt that people had too little time to understand the implications.

Local authorities in the UK all have a chief councillor – usually known as the Leader, and elected from the political group in control of the council. However, the leaders of opposition groups are entitled to attend and speak at meetings of the council’s ruling cabinet – the equivalent of ExCo.

With no political parties on St Helena, that safeguard would not exist. Concern has also been expressed to St Helena Online that the system could see non-executive councillors forming an unofficial opposition.

That could lead to them using their vote in LegCo to block initiatives by the executive, creating the kind of difficulties seen in the United States, where the President’s wishes can be blocked by policital opponents in Congress.

Rodney Buckley, who put forward the idea of a chief councillor, amended his proposal to allow a secret ballot among the public, with new efforts to explain the proposal.

He told St Helena Online: “The motion received a really good debate – likely the best ever seen in the Chamber.

“It was clear there was considerable difference of opinion, with no evidence-based mandate from the people, so I moved for an adjournment until the next meeting, to take it back to the people with a view to seeking their mandate through a consultative poll.”

Two other proposals were voted through: to reduce the number of government committees, and change the constitution to prevent executive councillors serving on the island’s main scrutiny body, the Public Accounts Committee.

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