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.
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.
Nor 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.
The 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.
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.
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.
Government House in the Falkland Islands has signed up to the internet messaging service, Twitter – widely regarded as the most effective way to reach people with special interests. The governors of Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos Islands have already built up a following on the news-sharing site, as has Dr Paula McLeod, of St Helena’s Statistics Office. Is it time for The Castle to follow their example and join the global conversation?
Leading island politicians have publicly condemned the actions of Governor Mark Capes in dissolving St Helena’s Legislative Council without warning – and without calling an election.
Mr Capes gave the 12 elected councillors an hour’s notice of his announcement, which appeared to have been timed to fit in with his holiday. He removed them from their positions on Friday 19 April 2013, and left on annual leave the following Monday.
Councillor Derek Thomas told Saint FM listeners the announcement had come as “a terrible shock.”
He then read from a prepared statement, saying: “Whilst acknowledging that the St Helena Constitution permits the governor to dissolve the council at any time, one would think there should be good reasons for doing so.
“One would expect that the governor should have discussed his intention with his council, rather than acting so abruptly in making his decision, particularly in view of the fact that DFID [the Department for International Development] has expressed confidence in the manner in which the council is managing the reforms.
“There are issues that could have been satisfactorily concluded for the benefit of the people, whereas now they are left undone and could not be considered until after a new election in July. That is many weeks away.”
An identical statement was read out on the rival station, SAMS Radio 1.
A suspicion that the governor had grown weary of some councillors was endorsed by Cyril “Ferdie” Gunnell in another Saint FM interview.
He said: “I believe that yes, the governor was fed up with some members of the old council and I think some people were being a bit too forceful, coming up with too many things, and the governor has the power to say that’s the end of that.
“I wouldn’t say there were problems, but what I will say is to have a good council it is important for councillors to work together as a team, and they need the support of the administration.
“If there were issues, then those issues could have been addressed.”
When he announced the dissolution of the council, Mr Capes said he hoped more women and young people would stand in the election when it was called – a statement now being taken to imply that he hoped some of the recently-removed councillors would not be voted back in.
Voting must take place by 19 July 2013. Mr Capes said a long lead-in would give people time to consider standing, and to encourage more people to sign the electoral register – though that could have been done without dissolving the council.
An investigation has highlighted “legal neglect” of biodiversity in the UK’s overseas territories – but not on St Helena.
The territory, which formally includes Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha, is one of only three to have been singled out for praise in a report by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
Gibraltar is the Overseas Territory that best demonstrates good practice across the board
The British Virgin Islands have notable good practice in its site protections
St Helena has notable good practice in its development control mechanisms
The RSPB also praised the island while giving evidence to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee in London. It also acknowledged the careful stewardship of the marine environment and fisheries around Tristan da Cunha.
However, it also had criticism for the lack of government transparency in territories – a problem that has been highlighted in St Helena.
The Ascension Island Conservation organisation has been highly active in projects to monitor turtles and land crabs, and improve habitat for frigate birds by eradicating wild cats.
St Helena’s environment department has begun identifying marine life around the island, and is working on a new protection plan for The Peaks.
A Member of Parliament has reacted with dismay to allegations about the British government’s performance on protecting the environment of UK overseas territories.
Caroline Lucas, the country’s only Green Party MP, said the government’s systems were “constitutionally not working.”
She said: “The more I hear, the more shocking the situation seems to be.”
She expressed her concern during a hearing of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, which is investigating the sustainability of the territories.
There was praise for environmental protection on St Helena and Tristan da Cunha – including for island students who have gained qualifications in the UK – but much of the 90-minute hearing was taken up with criticisms and concerns.
The small group of MPs also heard that lack of government transparency in most territories meant it was difficult to know why decisions were made.
It also exposed islands to risks of corruption – as seen on the Turks and Caicos Islands – said Clare Stringer, giving evidence for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).
Strong criticisms also came from the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum (UKOTCF)
St Helena Online published a live feed of reports via the micro-blogging service, Twitter. Tweets included:
UK overseas territories biodiversity group ‘barely functions’, lacks authority, doesn’t report to ministers, UKOTCF told Parly envir cttee
Tristan da Cunha praised for exemplary fisheries management in RSPB evidence to MPs’ environment committee.
Decisions in most overseas territories are made behind closed doors and hard to understand, RSPB told MPs. Creates risk of corruption.
Overseas territories citizens in UK buy lottery tickets so their home islands should benefit from funding, UKOTCF tells Select Committee
UK overseas territories lack access to big EU funds while French outlying islands can apply, thanks to constitutional differences RSPB tells MPs.
DfID ‘has supported’ eco protection alongside St Helena airport ‘and that’s good to see’, RSPB told Parly’s environment audit cttee
An edited version of the full stream of reports can be seen here.
A “great injustice” Margaret Thatcher perpetrated on the people of St Helena has been largely overlooked in coverage of her death.
Saints were denied their right of free access to the UK for nearly two decades, along with people of Tristan da Cunha, Ascension and most other British overseas territories.
A Falklands councillor, Mike Summers, has praised Baroness thatcher for transforming the fortunes of his islands after the 1982 invasion by Argentina.
He notes that she restored the Falkland islanders’ British citizenship, without mentioning that her government had taken it away in the first place – or that St Helena, with at least as good a claim to be British, was overlooked.
When full UK nationality was finally restored by the Labour government on 21 May 2002, on the 500th anniversary of St Helena’s discovery, Governor David Hollamby did not hold back.
Wearing full ceremonial rig for a speech at the annual St Helena’s Day celebrations, he declared: “St Helenians suffered a great injustice when the British Nationality Act of 1981 effectively reduced all the British dependent territories to second-class citizens.”
The legislation was passed to protect Britain from a wave of immigrants before the handover of Hong Kong to China, said the Daily Telegraph in 2002.
But “the baby was thrown out with the bath water,” said Mr Hollamby. Many Saints were all-but imprisoned on their own island, unable to lift themselves out of poverty.
Ironically, one of the few places they were able to travel to freely was the Falkland Islands. Many parents left their children behind to work at RAF Mount Pleasant in menial jobs.
Saints faced obstacles whenever they travelled to other countries because immigration officials were often reluctant to recognise the crude passports issued in St Helena.
In the 1990s, The Bishop of St Helena’s Commission on Citizenship was set up to campaign for an end to islanders’ status as British Overseas Territory Citizens. It was co-chaired by Nicholas Turner, the vicar of Ascension, and Cathy Hopkins – now the Speaker of St Helena’s legislature.
Leading figures on the islands and in the UK were involved, including Dorothy Evans, Lawson Henry, John Clifford, Earl Henry, Owen George, and Trevor Hearl. Tristan da Cunha was included in the case for restitution.
After disruption caused by the breakdown of the RMS St Helena in 1994, the Commission produced a campaign pamphlet with the title, St Helena: The Lost County of England.
It argued that St Helena had been mistakenly classified as a British Colony in an Act of 1833, meaning that it was wrongly caught in the British Nationality Act 150 years later.
“In 1673 King Charles II confirmed by Royal Charter that the Island was to be regarded in perpetuity as a detached part of England, and its inhabitants as among its citizens,” it said. “The Island of St Helena is an outpost of Great Britain. It’s citizens are British, and always have been.”
The introduction to the pamphlet spoke of the “frustration and despair of all islanders at the erosion of their historic rights”.
It went on: “An injustice has occurred. Most notably, Saint Helenians now require entry permits to visit part of their own country.
“A wrong has been done, and the moral demand for justice is common to all who are British, irrespective of colour, sex or creed.”
The paper argued that the loss of citizenship was not just immoral, but was also a religious wrong. And it hinted that the Conservative government itself – by this time headed by John Major – was immoral.
It asked: “Is there or is there not a moral basis to British government? The treatment of the British subjects of St Helena will answer that.”
The document even broached a taboo subject: “Is it racism? This is the nagging fear and shame that never leaves the stage…
“It does sometimes seem to be the case that Saint Helenians have been penalized for the colour of their skin. In particular it is true that Saint Helenians have as good as, or even better, a claim to be British as do the Falkland Islanders, with this one exception, that all the latter are white.”
The fear was dismissed: the British Government would not have used colour as the basis for denying nationality, said the pamphlet; the real factors were more subtle.
Nor was the slave heritage of many Saints a reason to withdraw British status, as some had suggested to the Commission – “often quite forcibly”.
The situation had come about simply because of an “ad hoc” law to deal with Hong Kong, said the pamphlet. “Its political bankruptcy will one day have to be acknowledged, and corrected.”
That acknowledgement came after Tony Blair’s Labour government promised to put matters right in its 1999 White Paper on overseas territories.
But the following year, campaigners took their case to the United Nations to try and force the British government to deliver on its promise.
The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights declared that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality” – but that was precisely what had happened to the Saints and the people of Tristan da Cunha, and most of Britain’s other overseas territories.
The Saints’ case was put to the UN Committee on Decolonisation by Professor Hudson Janisch, a Canadian academic who was a direct descendant of St Helena’s only island-born governor, who had the same name.
A spokesman for the Foreign Office said the promise of British passports would be kept: “It will happen. It’s just a matter of time.”
Two years later, on 22 May 2002, the Telegraph reported:
St Helena’s 5,000-strong population on the remote Atlantic island staged a noisy double celebration yesterday marking 500 years since the island was discovered, and the restoration to the islanders of full British citizenship.
A Salvation Army brass band and the bugles and drums of the local Scouts played as Governor David Hollamby, in full ceremonial rig, represented the Queen at a march past.
As church bells rang out and a sun-drenched drizzle broke the heat, Saints – as the islanders call themselves – broke into applause at the news that the Princess Royal would visit in November. Islanders welcomed the news as recognition of their restored status.
Ironically, it was another Labour government that later “betrayed” St Helena, as many saw it, by defaulting on its promise to fund an airport for the island.
And it was a Conservative cabinet minister, Andrew Mitchell, who finally pushed through the airport plan, bringing about the possibility of the kind of prosperity enjoyed by the Falkland islanders.
Baroness Thatcher died on 8 April 2013, at the age of 87.
A story went round that the Falklands capital, “Port Stanley” (as it is incorrectly known to the British media) was to be renamed “Port Margaret” in her honour. It was quickly dismissed by the Falkland Islands Government.
At the Castle in Jamestown, the people of St Helena – British once again, and famously loyal – were invited to sign a Book of Condolence.
“Flags were flown at Malf Mast on Tuesday 9 April,” said a St Helena Government statement, “and will be flown at Half Mast again on Wednesday 17 April, when the funeral ceremony, with full military honours, will take place at London’s St Paul’s Cathedral, following a procession from Westminster. The Queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, will attend the service.”
An outbreak of illness that has kept cruise ships away from the Turks and Caicos Islands has prompted a St Helena Online reader to ask why people in Jamestown are not also taking sick – especially visiting yachties.
Caribbean News Now reports that the islands – a British overseas territoriy – have lost millions of pounds because ships have steered clear of the Grand Turk cruise port, following an outbreak of gastroenteritis.
The news site says it may have been caused by problems with the port’s sewage system, where excavation work had recently begun. “Security guards are posted, keeping locals from coming close to the site,” it says.
London Reader, who regularly comments on overseas territories issues, says:
“There’s a sewer in Jamestown that empties at West Rocks in James Bay and depends on ocean current for the [material] to leave the area. It’s near the new yacht mooring area.
“Why Saints and others aren’t dying like flies is unclear.
“Is this good for biodiversity? I mean of animals and fish, not bacteria.”
Clergy who want to hear God’s voice more clearly should consider moving to Tristan da Cunha, according to islander Lorna Lavarello-Smith.
Lorna is leading the search for a new vicar for the world’s most remote inhabited island, which has been without an Anglican minister for nearly three years – the longest gap since 1922.
“If you are looking for a ministry where you want to be close to God and close to nature, then Tristan da Cunha is the place for you,” she has told a UK national newspaper.
“There is something about being in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean, reliant on a community of people with whom you live. You hear the sound of God’s voice much more clearly.”
Island-born Lorna be able to take up the job of vicar herself one day. She moved to the UK to train as a priest and is due to be ordained in the Northern Hemisphere summer, reports The Independent.
A curacy is lined up in Northamptonshire, but she hopes to return to live on Tristan da Cunha “one day”, the paper says.
One previous minister did not share her love for the island: the Reverend Edwin H Dodgson, younger brother of the Alice in Wonderland writer Lewis Carroll, grew to dislike the isolation, declaring: “It has been my daily prayer that God would open up some way for us all to leave.”
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.”