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.