St Helena Online

Tag: FCO

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.

London dismisses election protest against Governor Capes

A formal protest has been sent to Foreign Secretary William Hague over the “unpleasant” way that Governor Mark Capes dismissed elected councillors without warning.

But a response from overseas territories chief Peter Hayes has claimed that Mr Capes gave “justified reasons” for removing councillors from office.

In fact, those reasons only explained the decision to hold a general election earlier than expected, on 17 July 2013; no clear reason has ever been given for dissolving the elected council three months before a new election. 

Letter to Mr Hague - extract 1a stunned 550Nor has a satisfactory explanation been given for imposing tight pre-election “purdah” restrictions on government, bringing major business to a halt, so far ahead of polling day. 

As councillors pointed out in their protest to Mr Hague, purdah lasts only three weeks before UK general elections – six weeks for English local authorities.

Dr Hayes also repeated the governor’s inference that he had followed normal democratic practice by dissolving the council and imposing the pre-election rules when in fact, he had not legally called an election.

Peter Hayes extract 550The councillors had already said they could find no other example overseas of dissolution and purdah being enacted without an election being called.

Professor George Jones of the London School of Economics said Mr Capes had “cocked it up” by disbanding the council prematurely. 

The protest letter, signed by 11 of the 12 deposed councillors, made it clear that the governor’s objectives could have been achieved without dissolving the council.

It also protested that the governor dismissed the speaker and deputy speaker with less than an hour’s notice.

And it said that by leaving the island so quickly after making the announcement – three days later – Mr Capes had denied councillors the chance to recover from their shock and challenge him on his decision.

Letter to Mr Hague - extract 3 speaker 550 The ex-councillors wrote: “The people of St Helena have commented on how this was handled and it does nothing to inspire public confidence.”

It went on: “The process could have been conducted in a more courteous way…. it infers a lack of respect for politicians, the people’s representatives.

“During this extended purdah, democracy suffers.”

Rodney Buckley, who is not seeking re-election, was the only member of the former legislative council not to sign the letter to Mr Hague. 

It was dated 29 May 2013 but its existence was only made public three weeks later, when it was referred to at an election meeting. Dr Hayes’s response, addressed to ex-councillor Tony Green, was dated 14 June 2013.

Further representation has now been made to Westminster, challenging the accuracy of statements in the letter from Dr Hayes – who is director of overseas territories at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. 

He made his first visit to St Helena only the month before the council was dissolved.

His letter also stated that the island’s executive council was “still functioning normally”, when it fact most major decisions had been put on hold – including on the contentious plan to move the island’s “unfit” prison to Half Tree Hollow.

He also quoted Mr Capes’s concern that new councillors needed time to prepare for the visit of UK aid negotiators at the end of the year.

“In dissolving the council when he did,” Dr Hayes wrote, “the governor has ensured that the new government will have full control of the important budgetary process.”

In fact, Mr Capes had cited the negotiations as a reason for holding the election in July -not as a reason for dissolving the council, which made no difference to the time new councillors would have to prepare.

Letter to Mr Hague - extract 2 reasons 550 The only “reasons” that appeared to have been given for the early dissolution were that it would prompt people to join the electoral register, and give them time to think about standing for election. 

But as the ex-councillors have pointed out in their letter to Mr Hague, the governor could have achieved those aims simply by announcing the likely election date.

The council was dissolved on Friday 19 April 2013. Governor Capes left the island on 22 April and returned on 13 June. The election will take place on 17 July 2013 – only just within the maximum three-month period allowed after dissolution.

Click to read: Dr Peter Hayes’ letter to ex councillors

Click on the thumbnails to read the letter from ex-councillors:

SEE ALSO:
Ninety days in a wilderness: election delayed until last moment
Sacked councillors round on His Absency the Governor
Governor ‘cocked it up’ by dissolving LegCo, says professor

Head of overseas territories sets course for Jamestown

The man in charge of Britain’s overseas islands will be arriving on St Helena on Monday 4 March 2013.

Dr Peter Hayes, director for the overseas territories at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, is making a three-day familiarisation trip.

He said: “I am delighted to be able to visit St Helena so early in my time in this role, and very much look forward to hearing and learning more from the people of St Helena about their hopes and aspirations for the future of this unique community.”

Island ensures memories of the fallen live forever

William Hague’s wreath features flowers from UK territories

A cutting from one of St Helena’s endemic plants formed part of a wreath that stood out among the hundreds laid at the base of The Cenotaph in London on Remembrance Sunday, 2012.

Old Man Live Forever was one of the plants used in the wreath laid by Foreign Secretary William Hague, in honour of those from the UK’s overseas territories who gave their lives in conflict. St Helena ebony and boxwood was also used, along with scrubwood from the “St Helena dependencies”.

The green wreath of the overseas territories, now a traditional feature of the ceremony in Whitehall, is only one of the major wreaths not to feature bright red poppies – the symbol of Remembrance.

A different arrangements of plants is used each year

Eighteen flowers from Gibraltar and British islands around the world are used in the wreath.

They are cut from the collections at Kew Gardens by horticulturalist Carlos Magdalena. He has used a different arrangement every year for the past decade.

He actually makes two identical wreaths. One is transported to the Foreign Office in King Charles Street on the morning before the ceremony.

The second acts as a reserve in case the first gets damaged or if any of the flowers wilt. If not required, the spare wreath is laid at the war memorial at Kew Gardens.

Governor Capes laid the Colony’s Wreath

While Mr Hague was paying his respects in London, watched on television by millions, a large crowd was doing the same at St Helena’s own Cenotaph, on the seafront.

Governor Mark Capes laid the first wreath of white flowers – “the Colony’s Wreath”. Others were laid for the French Republic, the Royal Navy, the Army, the Royal Air Force, the Merchant Navy, the St Helena Police Force and the St Helena Fire Service.

Members of the public laid their own floral tributes.

The Service concluded with the traditional March Past outside the Supreme Court.

St Helena is ‘lucky’ to have Governor Capes, says top official

Dr Martin Longden

St Helena’s governor, Mark Capes, has been given public praise by his boss at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London.

Dr Martin Longden also described islanders as “industrious, intelligent and innovative people”, at the end of an eight-day visit.

He visited the island in his roles a Deputy Director at the FCO, and the senior figure with direct responsibility for the UK’s overseas territories in the South Atlantic.

A statement issued after his departure for Cape Town on the RMS St Helena said he met people from all walks of life to find out what made the island tick, and what mattered to Saints.

In the statement, he said:  “I am genuinely sorry to be leaving St Helena.  Though it has been a busy week of calls, I have had such a warm welcome from everyone I have met; it has been a pleasure from start to finish.

“I leave the island with the strong conviction that St Helena has a great future ahead of it.

“There will be big changes ahead, and with that will come big challenges.   No one should take success for granted:  it will at times be tough.

“But Saints are an industrious, intelligent and innovative people and they are well-placed to capitalise on the opportunities coming their way – if we pull together in the right direction and start preparing now.

“I am particularly glad that, as we face the most exciting period in St Helena’s long history, we have a governor on island of the calibre of Mark Capes.  He is an energetic advocate for the people of St Helena, and both we in London and you here are very lucky to have him.”

COMMENT:
In public, the Foreign Office will always back their man.  They really have no alternative. London Reader

Islands minister leaves job to fight local burning issue

Henry Bellingham MP has lost his job as Foreign Office minister responsible for Britain’s overseas territories, including St Helena. His replacement was not immediately named.

An email to St Helena Online says: “The annoying ‘London Reader’ revealed in a world exclusive to The St Helena Independent several weeks ago that Bellingham would soon be replaced. London Reader thought at the time that even Bellingham himself was unaware of this inside news.”

It evidently caught one media outlet off-guard in the Caribbean territories. Its story was headlined: Bellingham survives UK cabinet shake-up.

‎The MP told his regional newspaper, The Eastern Daily Press, that he would now be able to spend time fighting against a proposed waste incinerator in Norfolk.

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

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