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Time to end low opinion of councillors, says Governor

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Governor Mark Capes
Governor Mark Capes

Governor Mark Capes has called on St Helena’s new councillors to provide strong leadership and break down past distrust of the island’s government.

In what could be seen as a criticism of former councillors, he told the island’s new leaders they must take responsibility in public for the decisions they made, instead of blaming officials.

He challenged them “to improve the reputation and worth of councillors in the eyes of the people of this island.”

Mike Olsson, editor of the St Helena Independent and husband of veteran councillor Bernice Olsson, said the blame for the government’s poor reputation lay with officials, not councillors.

The Governor’s speech hinted at frustration with ineffectiveness of the previous legislative council, and provided a possible clue to his motive for dissolving it unexpectedly in April 2013.

He told the new councillors that with the coming of air access, it was their job to prepare St Helena to enter a new era without fear.

“The people of St Helena have put their trust in you to guide the island,” he said.

“I believe that they want you to deliver greater opportunity and prosperity, ensuring that all who live here can share in that prosperity, ensuring that those who need extra help and care will receive it and ensuring that the environment and cultural heritage is properly safeguarded.

“The people look to you for leadership. They want to see leadership.  I urge you to provide that leadership and the accountability that must accompany it.

“That involves being prepared to explain and stand by your decisions. When the going gets tough, it is important to resist taking the ignoble route of looking to officials or others to provide cover for your decisions.

“You make the decisions, you own them, you explain and justify them.

“Encourage good communication and trust between each other and with public servants. Avoid being labelled as one of those that constantly criticise and find fault.

“How idle it is, how utterly unhelpful and negative it is, to just criticise and blame others.

“How much more constructive, how much more intelligent, to work together to find a remedy.

“An absolutely vital and continuous part of your job must be to make the time to explain fully to the people where we are heading and why; and crucially, what that will mean for them.

“I offer these thoughts for you to consider as you prepare to take on the heavy responsibility of government.  You may choose to disregard them of course, but if you were to heed them I believe that you would soon improve the historically poor image that many people have of councillors, and by extension of government.

“My challenge to you, starting from today, is to improve the reputation and worth of councillors in the eyes of the people of this island.

“For my part, as governor and head of the government, I commit to working with you and with officials to help meet the challenges ahead to serve the best interests of all the people of St Helena.   Let us work together, in partnership, to build a stronger St Helena, to deliver the full potential of this wonderfully special and much loved island.”

Read Governor Capes’s speech in full here.

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