St Helena Online

Tag: Mark Capes

Three sites to replace ‘unfit’ prison go before ExCo

Entrance to HMP Jamestown, stone building with blue-painted wooden balcony above barred door
HMP Jamestown dates back to the 1820s and cannot be brought up to modern standards. Picture: John Grimshaw

Three sites near Longwood are being considered for a new prison for St Helena, to replace the “totally unsatisfactory” one in Jamestown.

It comes after former governor Mark Capes was strongly condemned for trying to impose a new prison at Half Tree Hollow, disregarding protests about sex offenders being kept near young families.

The three sites are all at Bottom Woods and all within national conservation areas. The public will be consulted before any site is chosen.

One of the three, next to the meteorological station, is in part of the Millennium Forest where protected trees have been planted. A special licence would be needed to remove them.

Update: on 3 October 2017, executive councillors decided the Millennium Forest site was not suitable for the new prison because of its environmental importance. It agreed to put the two other proposed sites out to public consultation. 

Agricultural land further west of the met station offers more space for a level site, but water and sewage services would need improving. Part of the site is leased to a farmer.

The third site, at the goat pen area, is closer to homes but considered to be far enough away to be safe. Choosing this would mean building a road through precious farmland.

Legislative councillors visited the three sites in August and details were put before the prison project board and LegCo in mid-September.

Now the executive council is advised to approve all three for a public consultation at its meeting on Tuesday, 3 October. Both negative and positive views are expected, says the report to ExCo.

The new prison will need about three acres of land to meet international standards, including space for an outside recreation area. Other factors include security,  human rights, and providing for disable prisoners.

A prison farm could be established at a later stage.

All three sites are in the vicinity of the island’s new sport field, but “can be suitably far away.”

They are also all in the airport development area, but this should not be a problem if the building is no more than two storeys high.

The sites offer enough space to ensure Category B prisoners can be kept secure. A specialist from overseas would have to be brought in to install specialist security systems and doors.

They are close to wirebird and conservation sites, but this is not expected to present problems with planning approval.

The new prison would be close to the airport haul road, which would be used for the 35-minute drive from the police station and court house in Jamestown.

Three other possible prison sites have already been rejected, including one next to the batteries at Ladder Hill Fort, because there are still hopes of creating a five-star hotel there.

The island shooting range was dismissed because it is in a sensitive area for wirebirds, and another site at Bunker’s Hill, overlooking Rupert’s Valley, was ruled out because of cost.

The current building in Jamestown, dating from 1826, has repeatedly been declared unfit by visiting inspectors. Inmates’ human rights cannot be upheld in the cramped conditions.

Funding for a new prison at Sundale House, above Half Tree Hollow, was set aside in 2012. It was expected that inmates would move there by 2015.

When legislative councillors refused to endorse the plan in the face of vigorous public protests, Governor Capes disbanded the council and then waited the maximum three months to hold an election.

The reason for shutting down democracy was revealed in the 2015 Wass Report into governance on the island, which criticised him for disregarding concerns that convicted sex offenders would be allowed out of Sundale to exercise, close to homes.

But Mr Capes told Sasha Wass’s inquiry panel that he needed to address the human rights failings at HMP Jamestown.

He said councillors “had an attitude that prison is meant to be uncomfortable and unpleasant and there are other things to spend money on.”

In 2011, chief of police Peter Coll had repeated warnings about the “unsafe” pre-Victorian building. “Anyone who is under the impression that serving a prison sentence is a soft option is not aware of the conditions,” he said.

The prison had no fire exits, and arrested prisoners had to use toilets in full view of inmates and staff – male and female. Cells became very hot in summer, especially when there were three or four people in a cell – a regular problem.

The new proposals have been made public as part of St Helena Government’s new policy of openness. They are set out in the first set of Executive Council agenda reports ever to be made public, a major step in ending excessive secrecy.

However, the expected costs of the three sites have been blanked out. The report says the UK’s Department for Internation Development would be asked to pay for the new prison.

Democracy on St Helena: councillors opposed prison move – so ‘Enforcer’ Capes sacked them
Unfit prison ‘will move’ to Half Tree Hollow, says planning chief
‘Unfit’ prison to close by 2015 amid human rights failings

Governor’s Cape seduction: tax breaks to lure investors

The lure of ten-year tax breaks is set to make St Helena a hot topic with investors in Cape Town, says a South African financial website.

The MoneyWeb report – ahead of a visit by Governor Mark Capes – says the opening of St Helena’s airport in 2016 “will open the island up for business.”

And it lists an array of incentives to pull in investors.

They include “early tax breaks, zero customs duty, corporate tax and capital gains tax for seven years on investments over £1million and below £5million.”

For even bigger investments, it goes on, the tax sweeteners would continue for ten years.

“Investments of more than £1million will attract a 50% discount on freight rates, and those bigger than £5million also qualify for a 50% discount on passenger rates,” says MoneyWeb.

It adds that St Helena has no off-putting sales or property taxes.

An event for would-be investors has been organised by Wesgro, the marketing agency for the Western Cape, to coincide with the governor’s stop-over en route to Tristan da Cunha.

The island party includes Julian Morris, who is leaving his job as the island’s head of economic development.

“The St Helena government is planning £24 million of infrastructure upgrades in the next few years in anticipation of air access,” says MoneyWeb.

“Opportunities are mainly focussed on tourism, fishing and services.

“Extensive research has shown opportunities in especially heritage and culture tours. The island’s link to Napoleon is a huge point of interest. Bird watching, gaming, fishing and diving, and to a lesser extent astronomy are other niche tourism markets targeted.

“On the fishing side, St. Helena has a 200-mile exclusive zone where it controls marine resources and tuna stocks are largely untouched.

“Fresh and frozen tuna provide opportunities as well as sports fishing, says Morris.”

The report does not mention efforts to bring a vessel to the island to enable local fishermen to exploit rich fishing around the island’s sea mounts.

But it does say that the island team will be “in serious talks with prospective hotel investors and parties interested in establishing a fish processing plant”.

The island team, including Enterprise St Helena director Rob Midwinter and councillor Lawson Henry, departed from Jamestown yesterday (7 November 2013).

Lawson will travel on to London with Dax Richards, the island’s Assistant Financial Secretary, to attend the annual Joint Ministerial Conference for overseas territories.

Read the MoneyWeb report:

Ninety days in a wilderness: election delayed until last moment

The restoration of democratically-elected government on St Helena is to be delayed until the last possible week.

A general election is to take place on St Helena on 17 July 2013 – two days short of the 13-week deadline allowed under the island’s constitution. 

Governor Mark Capes dissolved the island’s Legislative Council without warning on Friday, 19 April 2013. He said at the time that the election would take place in July. 

He also said he wanted it to be held well in advance of the latest possible date in November 2013, in order to allow a new council to settle in before dealing with major business, such as the annual visit of UK aid negotiators.

No explanation has been given for the subsequent decision to delay for as long as possible.

Allowing time for votes to be counted, that means a gap of 90 days between dissolution and the naming of 12 new councillors.

There would then be several days’ further delay for training and formation of committees before they would be ready to start work – taking the hiatus close to 100 days.

Displaced councillors have publicly protested over the governor’s decision to exercise his right to dissolve the council without consulting anyone on the island.

Former councillor Derek Thomas told radio listeners he acknowledged the governor’s right to dissolve the council, but added: “One would think there should be good reasons for doing so.”

Professor George Jones, of the London School of Economics, said the governor had “cocked it up” by dissolving the council before he was ready to call an election. The announcement of the polling date came 24 days after the council was dissolved.

It said:  

“The Acting Governor Owen’ O’Sullivan has now agreed a date for the general election 2013, which will take place on Wednesday 17 July 2013.

“In order to vote, or stand as a candidate, your name must be on the register of electors.

“The provisional register of electors was published on Wednesday 8 May 2013, and during a two-week period it will be available for inspection and amendment by contacting the assistant registration officer, Gina Benjamin, at 1 Main Street.

“Copies will also be available at the customer service centre, library and the rural sub post offices.  The provisional register will be available for inspection and amendment until Friday, 24 May 2013.” 

SEE ALSO: Sacked councillors round on His Absency the Governor

A great year and an exciting future – by Governor Capes

St Helena Online is happy to publish this Christmas message from His Excellency Mark Capes, Governor of St Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ and as another year draws to an end, many people will pause to reflect on the events of the past year. I see it as a year of progress and adjustment.  A year in which, at last, we have seen the airport project really get underway.  We should warmly congratulate all those working with Basil Read, Saints and non-Saints alike, including Halcrow and many others – on a year of impressive achievements.  Well done to all and may 2013 be another safe and productive year for you as you labour to deliver this massive and vital project on schedule.

As the work on the airport project has progressed, so everyone on St Helena, and Saints everywhere, have started to adjust to the reality that we will soon have air access. They have begun to consider how it may change their lives, their hopes and expectations, their way of doing things.  Exciting times indeed as we begin to adjust to the changes ahead.  But how we adjust is key to the way forward.  Let us not fear change, let us embrace it and the new opportunities it will bring.  Let us pull together as one to achieve the prosperity and the improved standard of living it will make possible – better social services, better infrastructure, better opportunities for our young people for rewarding careers on St Helena.

In addition to the tremendous progress on the airport project there have been so many other really positive developments this year at so many levels, big and small, that I can’t mention them all here, but I’ll note just a few. I recall the excitement as we bid Godspeed to our cricket team as they sailed away to compete in international cricket for the first time; and what pride there was in their success. In this Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee year we saw great strength and unity in our communities on St Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha, as together we marked this happy occasion.  A new community owned newspaper, The Sentinel, was born. Starting from scratch, with a young and talented all-Saint team, it has developed into an excellent media operation, providing crisp and refreshingly objective reporting, soon to be complemented by three new FM radio stations.  Just recently we were impressed at the skill and energy of the RMS crew who managed to undertake difficult repairs to the ship’s port engine, in what must have been record breaking time, so that the RMS could catch up with her schedule at this busy time of the year. I saw for myself on the ship what they had to do and I was mightily impressed that they managed it so quickly.  That’s just a few of the many positive events of 2012 that come to my mind as I write this Christmas message.

Some friends of mine in the community passed on in 2012 and I know that this can be a particularly emotional moment for those celebrating Christmas for the first time without loved ones who have recently passed away; let us remember them in our prayers.  And as we observe the grief and tragedy in some parts of the world  – here I think particularly of the devastated families of the young victims of the recent massacre in Connecticut and the terrible loss of life in Syria – let us also count our blessings that we live in safe and caring communities.  St Helena also marked, with customary dignity, the recent Remembrance Day commemoration.  My thanks go to the men and women of our emergency services for all that they do to keep us safe and let us give special thanks to those that will be on duty over the Christmas and New Year festivities.

Last year Tamara and I celebrated Christmas in St Helena, while this year we are in England with our daughters. We thank you all for giving us such a rewarding and happy 2012 and look forward to our return to St Helena early in January.  Our best wishes for a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year.

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.”

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

Jobs for island contractors after years of under-spending

Island businesses are being asked to help with a backlog of “challenging” work to improve infrastructure on St Helena – such as roads and buildings.

It follows a rebuke in early 2012 by aid advisers over delays in spending several million pounds that was meant to be used for vital work.

Executive councillors have accepted that “capacity constraints” were partly to blame, according to Governor Mark Capes.

In the past, it has been reported that projects could not move forward because St Helena Government could not find contractors able to take on work on the island, including from overseas.

In his report of the executive council meeting of Tuesday, 10 June, Mr Capes said: “Councillors welcomed advice that discussions were under way with private sector interests to address this.”

Island contractors are expected to help clear a backlog of maintenance of buildings and other major infrastructure that has built up after years of inadequate spending.

A spokesman told St Helena Online: “The private sector will be engaged in the building and construction work of course, but over and above that we have need for a range of specialist technical work, such as construction design for some of the energy projects.”

An off-shore company is expected to be brought in “soon” to help manage projects from planning to completion.

Mr Capes said aid advisers from the Department for International Development had “registered some concern that progress was behind schedule on some projects and cautioned that we must aim to do better.”

In fact, the aide memoire signed at the end of the aid team’s visit in February 2012 voiced “deep concerns” over performance.

There had since been “limited and insufficient” progress, resulting in £4 million of aid money being stored up – which could have been spent in other needy countries.

That sum was due to shrink to around £1 million after payment for work to upgrade the power station.

The aide memoire – agreed with St Helena Government – said: “A surplus of funds is not allowed to build up again. DFID funds will not be paid in advance of need and will only be released if and when needed.”

An infrastructure adviser and a programme manager spent a week on the island in February to draw up a “more realistic” plan for work on areas such as roads, water and power, along with “other needed activity” on visitor attractions, housing, IT and construction.

The aid report also found annual spending on maintenance had not been adequate. “Work to address the maintenance backlog for much of the island’s heavy infrastructure and SHG’s stock of buildings has been prioritised under the plan,” it said.

Executive councillors are to be given monitoring reports every three months. St Helena Online has been told that Tuesday’s report by the director of infrastructure and utilities, David Thompson, is confidential and will not be made public.

However, Mr Capes’ report of the meeting said: “Councillors directed that more information should be made available, especially on the projects of most concern to the public, such as the roads programme.”

£3 million enterprise body is vital for better future, says Paul
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St Helena Online joins a campaign for transparency

Executive Council report – 10 July 2012
Development Assistance Planning Mission (DAPM) – aide memoire, February 2012

‘Very high’ telecom charges prompt council debate

The “very high cost” of telephone and internet services in St Helena has been debated by its  executive council – as Cable & Wireless seeks to negotiate a new exclusive deal to provide telecoms on the island.

The unscheduled discussion among councillors reflects discontent among islanders over the company’s monopoly, and the fees it charges.

The company’s television charges are also due to rise, though that is because of an improvement in service prompted by an unavoidable technical upgrade.

Charges for overseas phone calls compare unfavourably with those on the sister island of Tristan da Cunha, where telephone numbers have a London 0203 code – meaning calls can be made to and from the UK at domestic rates.

Governor Mark Capes disclosed the later disquiet in his report from the Executive Council meeting of 12 June 2012. He said:

“Under Any Other Business we received an update from the Financial Secretary on the ongoing discussion with Cable & Wireless in relation to their proposals for a new ten-year exclusive licence with St Helena Government.

“A robust discussion of the issues followed in which councillors registered mounting concern about the present very high cost of telecoms and of broadband internet services in particular.”

A campaign to route an undersea cable via St Helena to provide a fast broadband service is said to have been taken up by officials in London, but it is thought it would not significantly affect the cost of internet services on the island.

Efforts continue on St Helena broadband

Computer Active
Connect St Helena

Health service for Sandy Bay yet to be made public

Councillors have been given a briefing on future health provision for Sandy Bay when the area’s clinic closes at the end of May 2012.

But a report by Governor Mark Capes does not say what new arrangements are likely to be put in place.

He said: “I asked for an update on the measures to be introduced to ensure that the people of Sandy Bay continued to have ready access to clinical services when the Sandy Bay clinic closes at the end of this month.

“Carol George, Director of Health, attended to provide details of the measures being proposed.”

St Helena Online has asked for details to be released because of strong public interest.

It was originally announced on 8 March that the clinic would close at the end of that month, along with a similar service at Head o’Wain.

Public protest secured a two-month reprieve for the Sandy Bay outpatient sessions when it was pointed out that some patients would have difficulty getting to alternative clinics in Half Tree Hollow or Levelwood.

A statement at the time said:  “The decision to close the clinics has been made as a result of low attendance and consequent inefficient use of medical and nursing staff time at these locations.

“With increasing pressure on financial resources, it is important that the Health and Social Welfare Directorate uses the resources it has in the most efficient and effective way possible.”

Cape hospital agrees deal to treat Saints
Secretary of State Andrew Mitchell on transparency (audio)

St Helena Government


Land deal drawn up for luxury hotel

Plans for a luxury hotel on St Helena have moved a step forward, with developer Shelco about to be given permission to buy land for the project.

A draft agreement has been approved by executive councillors, to be signed by Governor Mark Capes. The special consent is needed because a new law allowing non-islanders to buy land is not yet active. Conditions are attached, according to a report from the latest executive council meeting on January 24.

Electrical charges: Concerns have been voiced about rising costs of electricity and water. Exco members have considered way to soften the impact of increases for ‘those least able to afford them’.

Officials have briefed councillors on plans to keep electricity tariffs lower in future by increasing the number of wind turbines producing power. The Exco report does not make it clear whether this means erecting more turbines, or simply getting more work out of the existing ones.

Charges go up from April 2012.

Other items, as reported by Governor Capes:

Councillors also granted approval for Basil read to begin extracting rock, which would involve the use of explosives, from an open quarry in the Rupert’s Bay area. The rock would be used for constructing the temporary jetty at Rupert’s Bay.

Another major piece of work has produced draft Land Disposal and Housing Policies. Officials explained that the paper would be put out to extensive public consultation during January and February. The draft Land Disposal policy is designed to enable a speedier and more transparent process by which SHG may release land and housing assets to the open market. The Housing Policy is concerned to safeguard the interests of the people of St Helena by ensuring that they can access a range of affordable housing.