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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.

DFID sets aside £19.4 million – including child abuse cash

The UK’s Department for International Development is giving St Helena £1.2m of new money for safeguarding of children and adults.

The announcement came as a team from the UK neared the end of two weeks on the island, investigating alleged failures to deal with widespread child abuse.

The safeguarding money will be used for training, and raising awareness in the community. ​

DFID has set aside a total of £19.43m for St Helena in the coming year. The core budget aid settlement is to be maintained at the same level as last year, at £13.55m.

The planned running deficit of the RMS St Helena is £2.68m. Use of the ship has increased but fuel costs have fallen.

DFID has further confirmed a contingency fund of £1.2m to cover unexpected costs, from legal cases, fuel price rises, and unplanned airport spending.

South African firm is first choice as St Helena airline

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 15.54.14A South African airline operator has been named the favourite to provide an air service for St Helena when its first airport opens early in 2016.

But Comair, which also operates budget flights as kulula.com, will only offer flights to Johannesburg in South Africa – despite strong calls for a direct service to Europe.

Potential tourism operators, including SHELCO, the company behind a planned eco resort on the island, had warned that flights from the UK were vital to their plans.

A rival bidder, Atlantic Star, also said that time-pressured tourists would be likely to holiday in resorts they could reach in a single flight, such as Barbados, rather than change planes to reach St Helena.

St Helena Government has said only that Comair is the preferred bidder. It did not say whether the firm was expected to operate the island route under the kulula brand.

kulula.com was named Best Low Cost Airline in international Airline Excellence Awards run by the website AirLineRatings.com in December 2014.

The site’s editor in chief, Geoffrey Thomas, said: “kulula is a breath of fresh air in the African market, combining safety, technology and humour. That airline brings fun to travel whilst delivering outstanding value.”

The announcement of Comair as preferred bidder was made by St Helena Government and the UK’s Department for International Development in a statement on 16 March 2015.

It said: “Comair is a South African aviation and travel company offering scheduled and non-scheduled airline services within South Africa, sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands.

“Managed and owned by South Africans through its listing on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, Comair has been operating successfully in South Africa since 1946.

“The company operates under its low-fare airline brand, kulula.com, as well as under the British Airways livery as part of its licence agreement with British Airways.

“Comair is proposing a weekly flight between Johannesburg (O.R. Tambo International Airport, formerly known as Johannesburg International Airport) and St Helena, using a Boeing 737-800 aircraft.

“The flight time from Johannesburg to St Helena will be about four and a half hours.

“Through Comair’s partnerships with numerous international airlines, the St Helena air service will offer connections to the international route network, via Johannesburg, to destinations such as London, Amsterdam, Paris, Sydney and Hong Kong.

“SHG and DFID will be holding detailed discussions with Comair over the next few weeks and will make a formal and more detailed announcement once these have been concluded.

“This marks a very positive step for St Helena in working with an airline that has such a long track record of successful operations, and which provides an excellent gateway to the rest of the world, including the UK.”

SEE ALSO:
No flights from London? Woah, I’m going to Barbados…
Which comes first: the airline, or the eco resort?

Judge offers comfort over tales of power and abuse – but says No to London jobs hearing for whistle-blowers

A judge has spoken of “disturbing” claims made about sex abuse on St Helena and the way the island is governed – after ruling he could not hear a case brought by social workers.

Claire Gannon and Martin Warsama claimed they suffered unfair treatment because they were whistle-blowers who exposed failures to investigate abuse properly.

They have now been told they cannot bring a case for unfair dismissal in London, rather than on St Helena.

But their allegations of a cover-up and failures to investigate abuse cases had already prompted the UK Government to set up an independent inquiry under Sasha Wass QC.

Judge Anthony Snelson ruled that the London Employment Tribunal did not have jurisdiction in the case because the pair were employed by the government of St Helena.

But at the end of an 18-page ruling, he said: “… nothing in these reasons should be taken as diminishing the concerns which the claimants have voiced about the welfare of children on St Helena and governance generally on the island.

“I hope that is some comfort to them to know that, given the announcement of an inquiry to be conducted by Sasha Wass QC, a notable member of the criminal Bar, there is now a real prospect of light being shed on the disturbing tale which they have told.”

The pair had argued that although they signed contracts with St Helena Government, their real employers were either the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) or the Department for International Development (DFID), or both.

They said that DFID funded their jobs and FCO officials directed their work.

In written evidence, they also referred to the extent of the power exercised by Governor Mark Capes.

Mr Warsama’s deposition said: “The St Helena Government is simply a front for the FCO and DFID… It does exactly what the governor instructs it to do. Effectively the governor is the local government and he himself is merely an employee and agent of the FCO.”

As an example, they referred to Mr Capes’s decision to dissolve the island’s legislative council in 2013 at an hour’s notice, several weeks before calling an election – an action for which he has never given any explanation.

Claire Gannon’s written evidence said: “When I arrived at St Helena and the chief secretary told me that nothing happens on the island without the governor’s knowledge or permission, what seemed to be an extreme statement proved to be true.”

The two social workers claimed that Mark Capes dealt with them under instruction from officials in London, but the judge accepted evidence that he simply consulted and took soundings – not orders. There was “no evidence” they were employed by FCO or DFID.

Crucially, the claimants said that when they warned the FCO about police and officials on St Helena, their concerns were passed to the governor – in breach of their right to confidentiality.

Sasha Wass has been commissioned to investigate the handling of sex abuse cases on St Helena and allegations of a cover-up, made by Martin Warsama and Claire Gannon as part of their case.

When he announced the inquiry, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the claims related to “child abuse in the territory, police corruption and incompetence, and a conspiracy by the St Helena Government, the FCO and DFID to cover these up.”

The FCO had already acted on anonymous allegations made in 2012 about cases not being properly investigated.

Ms Wass has been given scope to look at a range of issues, including:

  • SHG response to independent reports on abuse, and on the police
  • the role of FCO and DFID
  • response to specific incidents involving children
  • the relationship between social services the police – in the past and now
  • treatment of people who raise concerns, including whistle-blowers
  • how SHG handles abuse cases in general

It can also review other matters that arise during the investigation – and consider whether criminal investigation is needed.

It is not known how far the inquiry panel will investigate the issues raised by the social workers about the way the governor’s powers are exercised.

The allegations of a cover-up of abuse – also raised by Claire Gannon and Martin Warsama – are likely to be of far greater concern.

St Helena Government has made child safeguarding a top priority and now has a number of measures in place to protect children.

An outline of the Wass inquiry panel’s work is due in March 2015, with a final report by the UK summer of 2015.

Read the full aid mission report for St Helena

The aide memoire signed at the end of the annual visit of advisers from the UK serves as a state-of-the-island report for St Helena. The Development Aid Planning Mission 2014 report covers key aspects of life such as health, education, social services and shipping, as well as progress on the economic transformation of the island. Read the full text here.

SEE ALSO: Hospital and child safety highlighted as aid talks end

Aid mission talks begin on 11 January 2014

Annual talks to agree St Helena’s settlement of aid from Britain are scheduled for 11 to 18 January 2014 – though an economist will arrive a week early for preliminary discussions. The Development Aid Planning Mission, usually referred to as “Dap’m” in speech, is the most critical event of the year for the island. Governor Mark Capes chose to call the 2013 general election for July, rather than waiting until November, to give time for new councillors to prepare for the talks. In the past, the visiting officials have offered public criticisms and advice on the conduct of island affairs.

Read the full press release here

Siting of a dock in the bay…

Rupert's wharf impression 640Work could start in early 2014 on building of a new, permanent wharf in Rupert’s Bay, allowing ships to come alongside a dock to discharge cargo and passengers for the first time in St Helena’s history. Click here to see a gallery of plans and artists’ impressions.

Wharf plan prompts conservation worries

Concerns are being voiced privately by conservationists as work moves ahead on a proposed wharf in Rupert’s Bay.

There are fears that the project might harm undiscovered relics from St Helena’s maritime history, as well as natural life – including rare insects in a little-known cave.

Approval has been given for work on final designs for the wharf – with a decision to move it to a different part of the bay. Planning permission will be needed for the change.

The £15 million project will be financed through the European Development Fund and the Department for International Development (DfID).

Orders for heavy equipment will be placed over the next four months, though final clearance for the project has yet to be given.

At a press conference on the visit of advisers and project directors from the UK,  reporters were told that divers had made no new archaeological finds in the proposed wharf area.

That has drawn a sharp retort in an email from one expert island-watcher, who said: “Marine archaeology doesn’t sit on top of shifting sand, waiting to be discovered by casual drivers.”

Captured slave running ships are known to have been broken up in the bay.

And a sonar survey in neighbouring James Bay – for a jetty project that has since been put on hold – found anchors dating back to the 16th Century, suggesting similar finds could be made in Rupert’s Bay.

An anchor was pulled up there in 2012.

Historic finds would not be likely to prevent the proposed wharf being built, but there is expected to be pressure to ensure that a scientific survey is undertaken with any finds properly recorded.

Some island divers are thought to have been trained to carry out such work.

Environmental adviser Bryony Walmsley spent a week on St Helena alongside Nigel Kirby of DfID and Basil Read project director Jimmy Johnston.

She has been made aware of concerns over the existence of insects in a cave that might be affected by blasting for the new wharf. They have not been found in any other part of the island.

Conservation measures protect eco hotspots

The most recent airport project newsletter, dated 30 August 2013, highlights a number of measures to reduce impact on St Helena’s highly sensitive environment.

It says the amount of land taken up within the central basin of Prosperous Bay Plain has been reduced by 40 per cent during design work.

And the new haul road from the coast was moved to avoid important wirebird habitat near the Millennium Forest and Tungi Flats.

A number of conservation areas have been marked on the ground to prevent construction vehicles straying into them.

Work is also to take place in coming months to restore sites no longer needed for construction works.

“One of the first areas we will be looking at is immediately adjacent to one of only a few known habitat areas of the endemic mole spider,” says the newsletter.

“We aim to rehabilitate this area and will be working with specialists to develop a suitable approach.”

SEE ALSO: Docking procedures complete: wharf plan moves ahead

UK sends message on need for open government

The British government says it will be looking for transparency in the way St Helena spends millions of pounds it receives in aid funding.

Its latest update on British overseas territories says: “More than ever, in the current financial climate, we have a duty to show that we are achieving value for money in everything we do.

“Results, transparency and accountability will be our watchwords and we are determined to get value for money for every hard-earned taxpayer pound spent on development.”

The UK’s 2012 White Paper said that if overseas territories like St Helena wanted to remain linked to Britain, they must meet British standards of government and openness.

That was not reinforced by Andrew Mitchell MP – the International Development Secretary at the time – when he was asked later whether Britain would act to end government secrecy on St Helena – especially behind-closed-door meetings of the executive council.

He said transparency made for better government – but it was for the island’s councillors to introduce it.

In its June 2013 update on the overseas territories, the British government says it will ensure its own actions are transparent.

It says: “DfID regards transparency as fundamental to improving its accountability to both the UK and OTs citizens.

“We will publish clear, concise information about our programmes, providing the opportunity for those affected by our projects to provide feedback.”

It does not say what it will do to encourage similar transparency in St Helena and other territories – or how it can be open with British taxpayers and OT citizens if the territories are not transparent.

SEE ALSO: St Helena transparency archive

DfID sets out to tackle St Helena diabetes and cut aid

The diabetes crisis on St Helena has been picked out as one of the main targets for action by the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID).

It also wants to reduce the island’s dependence on British aid.

The incidence of the killer disease is five times higher on St Helena than the global average – and rising, according to The Castle. It said one in seven people on the island had been diagnosed with the condition in the early months of 2013.

The latest DfID update on its work in the UK’s overseas territories identifies several key targets – including the building of St Helena’s airport.

It says its main objectives for the 14 overseas territories are to:

  • Reduce DFID’s contribution to total overseas territory government revenues.
  • Increase the number of students passing GCSE English and Maths by 17% in Montserrat. 
  • Increase the proportion of diabetes patients in St Helena with blood glucose levels under control from 56% to 70%.
  • Construct an airport on St Helena to improve air access.
  • Agree a way forward for the construction of a new town and port in Montserrat to improve sea access and generate tourism.

It wants to see British contribution to St Helena’s government revenues fall from 58% to 50% by 2014/15, and from 60% to a yet-to-be agreed figure for Montserrat.

Only St Helena, Montserratt and the Turks and Caicos Islands have long-term dependency on British aid.

SEE ALSO:St Helena’s diabetes crisis – story archive

LINK: Summary of DfID’s work in overseas territories, June 2013

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