St Helena Online

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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?

Governor and politicians top ‘not trusted’ list

Looking the other way: a government report leaves out criticisms of officials
Looking the other way: a government report leaves out criticisms of officials. Picture by Vince Thompson

Politicians have been named as the least trusted people on St Helena, along with journalists.

But the governor has come second in a list of the most distrusted people on the island – and that fact was left out of a summary of the findings that was issued to media by the government.

Governor Mark Capes is not named in the report on the first-ever survey of ethics at work, and it is possible the distrust relates to governors in general.

Only 74 people said they trusted the governor, despite the fact that 70 people who responded described themselves as senior managers or leaders, and 320 (73%) worked for the government.

Councillors were “not trusted” by a massive 60% of respondents. The governor was distrusted by 39%, closely followed by journalists (38%), police (35%), doctors (33%) and business leaders (32%).

Another 32% said they did trust doctors – and 36% offered no opinion.

But the summary issued to the media only mentioned a different set of findings –showing the people who came bottom of a list of “trusted” people.

It said only 9% of people trusted councillors, followed by journalists (14%) and business leaders (18%).

It failed to mention that the governor – the unelected representative of Her Majesty the Queen, appointed by Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office – came fourth from the bottom, trusted by only 19% of respondents.

The survey was conducted by the Institute of Business Ethics, a UK charity. It pointed out that journalists and politicians also rank low in British surveys of trusted figures.

St Helena Government has been asked to explain why the findings for the governor were not included in the summary issued to the media – especially as it says that “honesty is defined as… speaking the truth”.

In response, it said only: “Both reports are openly available in the public domain. We have nothing to add.”

The initial press release did say that the full report had been published on the government website. The list of trusted figures is on page 33 of the document.

It shows the most trusted people are teachers (54%), followed by technical professionals and skilled labourers (42% each) and religious leaders (41%).

The summary says: “Councillors, business leaders and journalists were shown to be the least trusted professions.

“This could partly be due to the fact that these professions are linked to key decisions made for the island at this time of change and are relatively high profile figures.

“Of course, it could be that a particular councillor, business leader or journalist is not trusted.”

The distrust of the governor may also be historic, relating to various governors who have served in recent years.

However, the St Helena Freedom of Information Campaign has argued that the excessive secrecy practised within The Castle has caused deep distrust of the island’s government.

And the dealings of the main decision-making body, the executive council, have become more secretive under Governor Mark Capes.

His reports of ExCo meetings are also far less revealing than those of his predecessor, Andrew Gurr, who made sure parts of ExCo meetings were routinely open to the public.

Governor Capes has challenged the island’s new legislative council “to improve the reputation and worth of councillors in the eyes of the people of this island”.

Newly-elected executive councillors are working on ways to improve openness – and increase trust. But it is expected to take time to change a deep-rooted culture of secretiveness in The Castle.

A team from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, led by Lord Shutt of Greenock, arrived on St Helena on Tuesday 31 July 2013 to help councillors be more effective.

An unofficial briefing seen by St Helena Online says that councillors have been over-reliant on advice from senior officials in the past, because of a lack of support systems enjoyed by politicians in larger democracies.

Public servants were trusted by only 25% of people in the ethics survey, and distrusted by 24%. However, 73% of those surveyed were… public servants.

LINKS:
Full report on St Helena Ethics at Work survey, by the Institute of Business Ethics
St Helena Government summary of the Ethics At Work survey

SEE ALSO:
New leaders vow to end ‘embarrassment’ of secrecy

58 jobs under threat in shake-up at the Castle

Fifty eight St Helena Government finance staff have been told their jobs are “under review” in a reorganisation.

A spokesman said the number of jobs to be lost would not be known until early 2013, but it was expected some staff would be made redundant.

News that jobs were being “reviewed” came a week after it was announced that David Thomson, the government’s director of infrastructure, had been “released from his contract” in another reorganisation.

The St Helena Independent reported that other expatriate officials had “spent hours reading the small-print in their employment contracts” in the wake of the surprise news.

It said: “The quite spectacular sacking of David Thomson last Friday has made many officers nervous that they might be next in turn to be ‘restructured’.”

It appeared the reorganisation of government departments had also taken councillors unawares.

Acting governor Owen O’Sullivan said the restructuring was already agreed under the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that secured UK airport funding.

His executive council report said: “I made it clear that the plans provided to ExCo last week were to inform elected members, as we already have a clear mandate under the MoU to take this work forward.”

The report suggested councillors had not been directly involved in the reorganisation and did not know what was proposed until it had been decided.

Yet a press release issued on 19 November 2012 said restructuring would “more clearly link policy with political oversight,” as well as improving efficiency and value for money.

Another press release, issued on 27 November, announced that the Finance Directorate would become part of a slimmer Corporate Services section from 1 January 2013.

It said: “These changes will involved the removal of a number of posts, and staff affected by this have been informed. Some of these staff will either retire, be made redundant or be transferred to another role within SHG.”

A spokesman told St Helena Online: “At this stage there is nothing further to add to the information already given, as discussions with staff are ongoing and the details of numbers affected are not yet available.

“Further details will be provided in the New Year when the reorganisation has been completed.

“At the moment there are 58 staff in the directorate. All staff, including any ‘expat’ staff, are included in the review.”

Alfreda lands a first in live internet ‘exam’

Alfreda Yon achieved something of a world first when she secured her degree-level qualification in management.

Completing her final assessment was a feat of management in itself.

It was meant to involve a face-to-face interview with her examiners – in the UK. It evidently took some effort to persuade the Chartered Management Institute that she really couldn’t travel thousands of miles by sea and air, just to have a chat.

In the end, she was allowed to undergo her final professional interview via an “intercall”, by computer.

An SHG spokesman said: “The Chartered Management Institute do not normally hold the professional interview until they have more than three candidates, and they were hoping Alfreda could make the trip to the UK for this.

“After much explanation about St Helena’s isolation, CMI agreed to do an intercall session, which was conducted in April 2012 in SHG’s server room. This initially proved difficult as it was the first time something like this was held.”

“The intercall session is similar to a video conference or tele conference, but via a computer instead.  An invitation was sent, which provided passwords to give Alfreda access to a conference room in UK.

“Alfreda uploaded her presentation on the screen and they were able to follow, and speak through headphones and mic.”

In the end, Alfreda got the news she was hoping for: that she had earned a Level 5 Diploma in project and programme management, equivalent to a university degree.

Tutor Charlene Farley congratulated her, saying: “Alfreda should be exceptionally pleased with her achievement.

“An astonishing number of delegates who start their studies do not actually finish, due to the sheer amount of work involved.”

The course involved completing 13 units of study, on top of a busy job as a manager in SHG’s corporate procurement unit.

Most units involved writing a submission of at least 5,000 words.

Alfreda said: “I am very pleased with the result. Even though my assignments were completed over six months ago, the wait has been worth it.”

Her boss, Dr Corinda Essex, said: “She deserves to feel very proud of her achievement. Her success is a shining example to other young professionals on St Helena.”

COMMENT:

Another proof that the Saints have great potential! Congratulations Alfreda!

– Doreen Gatien, USA

‘We honour the spirit of freedom act’ says The Castle

St Helena Government says it is committed to open government, even though it has not adopted the UK’s Freedom of Information laws.

It said: “We do honour the spirit and intent of the Act, but without adopting its cumbersome formality. This is simply a practical reality particular to the island.

“Within our limited resources we issue a huge amount of material: for example, close to two hundred news items in the last four months,  plus a host of other publications, such as the Sustainable Development Plan (St Helena’s 10-year vision), the Sustainable Economic Development Plan, and a Draft National Environmental Management Plan Framework.

“Publications such as the Land Development Control Plan (including the Housing Strategy and Land Disposal Policy) were the subject of exhaustive public consultation, as are many other initiatives.

“You will also have seen numerous newsletters from ourselves: for instance, the fortnightly Airport Update, the Enterprise St Helena newsletter and a variety of public notices in newsprint and on air.

“Other examples include publication of the Memorandum of Agreement with Shelco, the fact that our financial performance will now regularly be updated on the SHG website,  plus high level meetings being open to the public: for instance, the recent ExCo session and first Enterprise St Helena board meeting.”

A spokesman defended the fact that many ExCo discussions take place in private – unlike top-level local authority meetings in the UK. “As ExCo is the highest executive body in SHG, it is effectively our Cabinet (in UK terms). One would not expect UK Cabinet meetings to be open or public. And ExCos in other territories are also mostly held in private.”

St Helena Online has received detailed information on a number of stories – including on treatment for sex offenders and the future of St Helena’s prison.

It has also made use of material in reports on the SHG website, including candid concerns about the standard of education on the island, in the draft sustainable development plan.

It was also able to report frank statements by the director of education at a public meeting on maths teaching.

There have been other times when information has been requested, but not made available.

A message from SHG has pointed out that it “may have to disappoint” if too many time-consuming queries are made. However, the St Helena Freedom of Information campaign has begun by asking only for agendas, minutes and accompanying reports to be made public – and this is information that has already been compiled for councillors.

SEE ALSO:
‘Transparency and scrutiny lead to public trust’ – White Paper

LINKS:
St Helena Government – key information
St Helena Government – news
St Helena Freedom of Information – campaign website

Falling rock puts defences to the test

the wire fence sags under the weight of the boulder it caughtworkmen with the rock, and a house by The Run just belowA large rock has been caught in the rockfall fencing above upper Jamestown.

Dave Malpas, St Helena Government’s roads manager, said it could have continued down the hill and hit property below – as happened when the Baptist Chapel was badly damaged in 2009.

“It was good to see that the fence had stopped the rock by absorbing the impact,” said Dave.

“Although it was sagging under the weight of the rock, it has not been damaged.”

The discovery was made on Monday. The next day, roads staff broke the rock into smaller pieces that could safely be left on the hillside.

COMMENT:

Exciting stuff. Maybe it’s a meteorite? 😉

Bill Hodgson, via Comments

SEE ALSO:
Thieves damage rockfall defences in Jamestown

Kedell addresses MPs and Peers at Jubilee reception

Kedell Worboys, the UK representative for St Helena Government, has given a speech at a reception in London to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. It dealt with issues facing the UK overseas territories and various Members of Parliament and Peers were present at the Speaker’s house to hear what she had to say.

A number of St Helenian students were invited to the event but only one – Casey Gough, who’s doing a university access course – was able to attend.

We’ll help island teachers end years of failings, says director

St Helena’s own teachers must be properly trained and rewarded if severe problems in the island’s schools are to be resolved, according to its new director of education.

Colin Moore spoke candidly at a public meeting about a litany of problems with the way the island’s education system had been run, stretching back many years.

But he said a year-long shortage qualified maths teachers was not a crisis – despite a “creative” appeal for members of the community to help teach the subject in their spare time.

That help will have come too late for students sitting GCSE exams in June 2012.

Mr Moore said it would take most of his three-year contract to fix deeply-entrenched failings in the education service.

He revealed that one specialist maths teacher had now been recruited, to start work in September – but only after the salary for the job was significantly raised. He hoped to announce a second appointment shortly.

He paid tribute to “talented” Prince Andrew School staff from other subject areas who had tried to cover maths lessons when the island’s only specialist teacher fell ill.

“I know I have been very reliant on the goodwill, the high levels of professionalism, to keep things on track,” he said at the 13 July meeting. “We would not have got through without the help of those staff.”

He said highly paid teachers from overseas had a duty to serve the full term of their contracts. One maths teacher failed to return from overseas leave at the start of the school year, before Mr Moore came to the island.

A speaker from the floor said: “We have had highly qualified teachers in maths. None of these have stayed their time and given the time to our children that should have been given to them.”

The director said: “That will not happen on my watch. When I was appointed I said those of us who come with high levels of remuneration have a duty to stay.

“We are not going to recruit anybody who is going to let us down.”

Parents complained that students in all year groups at Prince Andrew School had suffered from the shortage of maths teachers.

He said extra help would be given to current Year 10 students, though parents expressed doubts about whether that would make up for a year’s lost teaching in time for next year’s GCSE exams.

He also said pupils whose exam grades were lower than expected would not be penalised when applying for sixth form places.

Adult education also had to be improved to make up for years of inadequacies in the education service that were not the fault of island teachers.

“We just haven’t got the broad spread of local teachers, trained sufficiently to meet the island’s demands. Sadly, it is not a new phenomenon.

“There are already a number of young adults who are very talented, who are very bright, who haven’t got the level of qualification you would expect them to have.

“There are already a range of courses I need to put in place for young adults. I am determined we will do that, not just in maths but in areas the economy of the island needs.

“Marine technology is part of that. You can’t do marine technology without mathematics.

“We will be doing all we can to ensure they get the courses they need as they move into the next stage of training or employment.”

Sixth form courses might also be opened up to people who have already left school. “Rodney [Buckley] and I and other members of the education committee have been working on changed sixth form access so we are more flexible about how people access education on the island.”

The new specialist maths teachers will help colleagues in both primary and secondary school, as well as teaching students.

“We have to look to our own community to solve the issues,” said Mr Moore. “It is about ensuring we have a good supply of staff we are recruiting from within the island. That is the only way of getting over the attrition.

“The two teachers from overseas will have a major job in developing staff we recruit from within the community.

“I don’t think that it’s been helped over the years by the number of teachers that have been trained on the island in specialist subjects. There have only been a small number trained.

“Maths isn’t the only subject that gives me cause for concern.”

He also suggested he was willing to be tough on teachers who did not pull their weight.

“Poor teaching leads to negativity and destroys self esteem. The vast majority of your teachers do a first-class, sterling job. It is contaminated, it is destroyed, by one or two who let the situation down. That is why I acted in one situation to alleviate that.”

A lack of male teachers was also a concern. “Our young people need a balance of genders in the classroom.  We have a big job to do making teaching attractive to young men.

“There is a training plan for the island. Somebody mentioned overseas training and the disruption that causes for youngsters. We have teachers who go away for months. I don’t want to see that in future.”

Improvements were needed in several areas – not just individual subjects, said the director.

“I am talking about the art and craft of teaching itself. Teaching as a profession moves on. There is quite a lot of work to do to help our teachers with a range of teaching styles.

“This is a remarkable island. We have children who are very gifted, and children with quite severe difficulties. That requires a massive range of teaching skills. They’re not there at the moment.

“Our levels of achievement need to improve.

“One of the keys is giving youngsters belief and ambition. Some of pour boys don’t have ambitions that are high enough or meet what ought to be their level of aspiration.

“They have the ability but they don’t recognise it. For some boys it is sometimes not cool to be seen as a learner. It is cool to hang around and look as if you’re not doing your homework.

“That has to be turned round. I know it can be turned round because I have done it.”

Father Dale Bowers, who chaired the public meeting, said: “We have major crisis, don’t we?”

Mr Moore disagreed. “We have significant challenges and difficulties,” he said. “A crisis is where you don’t know what to do. We have plans. Crisis is an emotive word and it doesn’t help the community.”

In response to a criticism from the floor, he agreed that St Helena Government (“a very slow beast”) took too long to bring people to the island once they had been recruited.

He said: “It took six months, believe it or not, for me to get here. I have already speeded things up.

“Maths is a shortage area all around the world. We start from a more disadvantaged position than other states looking to recruit.

“If you are trying to recruit in an international market where there are shortages, if you wait, they are going.”

Mr Moore said his contract ran for three years. “People have come in for very short spaces of time to do a job that takes longer. I was very clear this was a three-year job at the very least.

“I have been a deputy director for two places in the UK for about 16 years, one in London and one in the far West of England. I applied for this job because I knew it was a really big challenge but, I am convinced it is do-able.”

“It would be very wrong of me to stand here tonight and say it will all be okay. It is going to be a difficult job.”

“Poor teaching leads to negativitiy and destroys self esteem. That’s why we’re recrui9ting advisers – raising attainment advisers – to work with our teachers.

“The vast majority of your teachers do a first class sterling job. It is contaminated, it is destroyed, by one or two who let the situation down.

“That is why I acted in one situation to alleviate that.”

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