Random Thoughts

Random Thoughts
Simply whatever comes to mind. Probably about St. Helena but not always . . .

Thursday, 2 July 2020

St Helena: No Votes


The UK Government frequently criticises countries like China for denying their citizens Democracy and Human Rights.  This is not inaccurate – China does deny its citizens Democracy and Human Rights.  And yet the UK Government is itself doing precisely that – denying the citizens of the British Overseas Territories such as St Helena the basic Human Right of self-determination – Democracy.

Let’s focus on St Helena, but what follows applies equally in many other “OT”s. 

The residents of St Helena (“Saints”) are not allowed to vote in British parliamentary elections for the government that will dictate their fate.  London appoints a Governor, selected by the government for which the Saints cannot vote, and this person has ultimate power over the island, reporting only to the UK Government.  St Helena does have a local democratically-elected Council, but it really has little power – no more than a UK District Council.  The people of St Helena do not have the right of self-determination which, according to the UN is one of the most basic Human Rights.  Saints were not, to give a recent example, allowed to vote on BREXIT; whether Britain remained in or left the EU was decided with no input from the island.

It has been argued that St Helena cannot have Democracy while it is still financially dependent on the UK.  This is a ridiculous argument.  Since when were Human Rights only granted to people who turn in a profit?  If Manchester was running at a loss would its residents lose their right to vote?  What about the isolated Scottish Islands, who are financially dependent – should they lose their democratic rights?  Anyone who suggests that being financially dependent means you lose your right of self-determination has fundamentally misunderstood the basic concept of Human Rights.

Surely before Britain lectures other countries about Democracy and Human Rights it should get its own house in order?  People who live in glass houses ...

So two things need to happen; sooner rather than later.

Firstly Britain needs to find a way to allow the citizens of its overseas territories to vote in UK parliamentary elections and national referendums.  It can’t be that hard – France and Holland both manage it.

Secondly Britain needs to reduce the role of its Governors to a purely ceremonial one, with no political power over their Territories whatsoever, and set up a meaningful legislature with genuine power of self-determination in each of its Overseas Territories.

Only then will Britain’s protests about the behaviour of China, etc. carry any credibility.  Only then will Britain be actually compliant with the United Nations policies it claims to uphold.  Only then will Britain join the 21st Century, instead of remaining as it is today: a 19th Century colonial power.

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

St Helena Explained! - a fantasy?


St Helena Explained!

Sit back and imagine what the answer might be.  Consider this fantasy.....

Why is the FCO so determined that St Helena should not make £millions by becoming a tax haven?  It would be perfectly possible if they’d let us.

Why was any hope of our earning a living by legally growing and legally exporting Cannabis shot down before it could get started?  That could so easily have worked too.

Why was the number of tourists wanting to come here reduced by forcing them to go via Johannesburg – one of the planets more dangerous cities, rather than Cape Town or direct from Europe?

The answer is simple: despite what it says, the FCO does not actually want St Helena to have a viable economy.

Surely, you may think, the FCO would prefer not to have to subsidise the island to the tune of £25m each year?  Surely the FCO would prefer that we did not consume UK taxpayers’ money in this way?  Well actually, no.  The FCO wants us to remain dependent on Britain.

As long as St Helena depends on Britain for our living we cannot act independently.  We cannot decide things for ourselves because we still need the subsidy and if we do something the FCO doesn’t like they simply cut off the money.

Fantasy?  Why would the FCO spend so much on controlling just 4,600 people?  Well there is an answer to that too....

Why did the Tory (led) Government in 2011 decide to build St Helena an airport?  Spending £300m on ‘foreigners’ is not a very Tory thing to do.  There was nothing in it for the British companies that donate money to the Tory Party.  Even the construction wasn’t awarded to a British company.  So why do it?  The official answer – to “help us develop an economy so we can get out of dependency” – was so clearly a lie it’s surprising everybody managed to keep a straight face while trotting it out.

There is only one reason why the Tories would spend £300m without any chance of economic kickbacks – the military.

It has been officially denied (frequently) that the UK Government wants to use our airport for military purposes.  In fact it has been said so frequently that the denial must be untrue.  Everybody knows that during the Falklands War the Americans would not allow the airbase on Ascension to be used by the RAF in fighting the war.  Although Ascension is British Territory, the airbase there was built by the Americans using American money, so they own it and they get to say who uses it and for what. 

Back in 2011 there was a real possibility that usable quantities of oil were about to be discovered in the sea around the Falklands.  That would have caused the Argentinean Government to redouble its efforts to reclaim what they maintain is their territory.  The possibility of a “Falklands War II” was looming and Britain could not rely on another sea-based task force to beat off a renewed Argentinean attack (it only just worked in 1982).  An airbase within operational range of the Falklands was needed as quickly as possible. 

Ascension was out – two airbases on one tiny island was unthinkable.  Tristan da Cunha couldn’t support an airport and, in any case, would be out of range for aircraft coming from the UK.  It had to be St Helena.

Of course the UK Government did not want to show its hand so the story about helping our economy was made up and put out.  Some people believed it.  St Helena wasn’t going to say “hey, wait a minute...” because, whatever the secret reasons, we were going to get an airport which meant easier travel and faster medical evacuations.  It was not in St Helena’s interest to question the motives.  The British Labour Party was in disarray; the Liberal Democrats were supporting the Tories.  Nobody questioned it.

Was our airport deliberately mis-designed so that the type of planes we would need to actually develop an economy would not be able to land here?  This is possible, though doing so would require rather more skill that is usually evidenced in UK Government planning.  That may just have been what they call a “happy accident”.

Britain needs to keep St Helena dependent on London so that we don’t take their airbase away from them.  If we became economically independent, then maybe we’d seek to become more politically independent too.  Maybe if oil was actually discovered somewhere near the Falklands and Britain needed our airbase to defend against another Argentinean invasion, St Helena might say “no”.  Better not risk it.

The £25m a year it costs the UK Taxpayer to maintain us is tiny in proportion to the revenues British Tory-supporting companies would make from exploiting Falklands oil, so it can be written off like the premium on an insurance policy.  It’s also probably far less than the UK Government wastes through incompetence and mismanagement in a single week.

All we have to wait for now is for someone in London to “have the idea” of using our airport for military purposes.

So there it is: St Helena explained.  A nice little fantasy.  Maybe it’s even true....

Monday, 22 June 2020

Trees and Progress

Image from http://sainthelenaisland.info/dofe.htm 


There are quite a few trees in Jamestown, improving the appearance of town. We don’t get pronounced seasons, as do places further from the Equator, so there isn’t really an Autumn (“Fall”) when the trees shed all their leaves in preparation for Winter.  Trees lose leaves as and when they need replacing, throughout the year, so they are dropping leaves continually at all times.

Fallen leaves are fine in a forest – they fertilise the ground – but in town they are a nuisance, building up into piles of rotting foliage and blocking pathways, roads and drains.  So the job of leaf-sweeper here is not a seasonal one – it must be done throughout the year at intervals of just a few weeks.

“In the before days” (that’s the Saint way of saying “in the past”), a couple of chaps would turn up with brooms.  They would merrily chat with each other and with passers-by, and sometimes even sang as they worked, accompanied by the gently swish of stiff broom on concrete.  It took a couple of hours to do an area and was not an intrusive process.  But now it has been modernised.

Today a single chap does the job, equipped with a “leaf blower”.  In case you haven’t seen one, this is a petrol-powered engine driving a fan, and the idea is that you use the stream of air generated by the fan to blow the fallen leaves into a pile so that they are easier to shovel onto the cart for disposal.

There are, however, some issues with this.

Firstly a petrol-powered device is inherently more damaging to the environment than a couple of chaps with brooms, consuming scarce natural resources and generating various pollutants.

Secondly the process seems to take a great deal longer than the manual method – at least four and maybe up to six hours to clear a patch previously cleared in two.

Thirdly the machine makers a great deal of noise.  When the leaf-blower is operating in the Duke of Edinburg Playground it is actually necessary in my adjacent home to turn up the radio, television or whatever to hear it over the noise, which seems to run almost continuously for the whole morning, starting at 7am.

Lastly I feel sorry for the poor operator.  Because of the noise he (it’s always a he) is required to wear ear-defenders and because the direction the leaves may take is somewhat unpredictable he must wear a face-protecting visor too.  This makes interacting with anybody else impossible.  So instead of friendly companionship and maybe a cheery song he must operate isolated in a screened bubble, entirely alone.

Clearly, this is progress.  What puzzles me is who benefits from it?

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

DOCKIES

Because SURE can't figure out how to re-connect to the BBC World Service, we now get the BBC TV News - audio only - on the SAMS Radio 2 channel.
Apart from the fact that much of the time the programmes - designed, of course, for a visual medium - make no sense in sound-only mode, we also get the South African adverts, which introduced me to this new word.
I'm assuming that a "dockie" (I've only heard it said so I'm guessing at the spelling) is what normal sane and literate people call a "documentary". Apparently five syllables is too much for the millennium generation so it had to be abbreviated and "dockie" was the result.
Properly produced documentaries (by which I exclude almost all those produced by American television) require concentration and considered thought and it strikes me that anyone illiterate enough to refer to a documentary as a "dockie" is probably not capable of actually understanding one anyway, so the word is redundant.

Monday, 15 June 2020

Doing myself out of a job



Someone asked me via social media “If you were made Governor of St Helena, what would you do?

Interesting question!

There is, of course, rather less likelihood of this happening than on my becoming the next President of the United States or the first human to land on Mars, but it is entertaining to consider the answer.

Except that it took me fewer than ten seconds to come up with my response:

Abolish the role and replace it with a leader democratically elected by the people of St Helena.

In general, the post of Governor dates back to the 17th Century.  A colonial power invaded someone else’s land and set up a Governor to rule over the newly-subjugated people.  The latter had no say in the matter and if they tried to express a contrary view they were treated as rebels and executed by the military.  There was no self-determination, no democracy and no freedom of speech.

Taking a pertinent example, St Helena’s first Governor was John Dutton who was sent out in 1659 with a bunch of colonists and a small military contingent to “settle” the island.  There were no inhabitants to subdue, so the colonists – who presumably volunteered – seem to have happily accepted Dutton’s near-feudal rule over them.  But this did not last.  Only two Governors later, Richard Coney (March 1671 - August 1672) was “Seized by rebellious members of the island’s council and shipped back to England”[1].  Sadly this minor revolution did not establish a democracy and a new Governor arrived in the next ship from England.

In fact, St Helena did not get any form of democracy whatsoever until ---- can you guess?  The 1800s?  Wrong!  The 1920s?  Wrong!  The late 1940s in the social reforms after World War 2?  Wrong again.  St Helenians were not allowed to vote on anything at all until as late as 1963, and this was only to appoint members of an “Advisory Council”, which could express an opinion to the Governor but which he could choose to completely ignore.

It was not until the 2009 Constitution that the role of the Governor was pared back so that he was obliged both to listen to and act in accordance with the wishes of a democratically elected council, and even then there were so many caveats and special circumstances, some quite loosely worded, that the Governor can still, to this day, do more or less as s/he pleases.  He also controls the Police.

This is a complete nonsense in the 20th year of the 21st century.  It ranks the effectiveness of St Helenian democracy in line with how it is practiced in China and North Korea, and somewhat behind Iran.

Now we are going to get a new Constitution and our current Governor seems to think it is solely up to him to decide what’s in it.  He has himself picked (with no published criteria) a group of people to advise him, but there is no indication that the people of St Helena as a whole will be involved in the process and it is not even clear that the island will get to vote on whether the resulting Constitution is implemented.

A Constitution should be “an agreement between a people and their Government about how they want to be governed”, but apparently even in 2020 this does not apply to St Helena.

So, yes, in the once-in-a-sky-blue-pink-with-purple-dots-moon chance that I am made Governor of St Helena, I would almost immediately make myself redundant, to be replaced with a democratically elected leader, supported by a democratically elected council.

“Almost immediately”?

Well before I sacked myself I’d also bring in effective Freedom of Information legislation and a workable Data Protection Ordinance to secure the new democracy I was about to establish.

If anyone from the Foreign and Colonial (sorry, ‘Commonwealth’) Office wants to interview me for the post they can find my contact detail on this blog.  I won’t hold my breath ....

Friday, 5 June 2020

Twelve becomes six, becomes one?

There should be a General Election here next year. I'm wondering - how many seats will we be voting for? Now that ExCo has granted itself power to ignore what the other seven councillors think (yesterday's Sentinel, p9 and also see Cyril Leo's letter p2) maybe we will be voting for ExCo members only with LegCo being disbanded? What now is the point of LegCo? The committee system that has been bypassed was slow and tedious, and certainly doing away with LegCo would speed up the process of getting decisions made and Ordinances passed, if speed and efficiency is the primary objective. But if so, why stop there? To further increase speed and efficiency why have elected representatives at all? The fastest and most efficient way to take decisions is to vest all power in a single individual – the Governor – and stop all this slow and tedious Democracy all together. Think of the money we would save! Imagine how speedy and efficient decision making would be! And the $64bn question is: how much difference would that actually make? Frighteningly little, I suspect. Already our Governor apparently has ExCo doing his bidding. I can’t remember the last time I heard of the Governor proposing something that ExCo rejected. Allow dubious investors to buy up vast tracts of St Helena for their doubtful projects? OK. Destroy fisheries and sell off the fishing rights to people overseas with local groups being officially excluded from the process? Also OK. So if LegCo has been muted and ExCo is no longer challenging what the Governor demands, we really don’t have a democracy here already. Recognising that (and saving a whole ton of money in the process and also improving speed and efficiency) has got to be the obvious next step. St Helena managed without democracy for over 300 years, from colonisation in 1659 until 1963. Should we declare the democratic experiment a waste of resources and consign it to history? I’m sure our councillors can find other jobs. Maybe they could start fishing .....

Thursday, 4 June 2020

ERODING OUR DEMOCRACY


ERODING OUR DEMOCRACY

Remember the “ExCo Report”?  Instigated by Governor Gurr to improve democracy, after every ExCo meeting he gave a report of what was discussed and what was decided.

Anybody want to guess when we last had an ExCo Report?

This year there has been not one single ExCo report.  Zero.  The last was after the meeting on 12th November 2019, and that was only seven paragraphs. Gov. Gurr’s reports sometimes filled two pages of the newspaper.

All we get now is a brief press release summarising the open agenda.  There is no official report of what was agreed.

Given the ExCo recently gave itself the power to make decisions alone, completely bypassing the LegCo Committee Stage, it is now more important than ever that we are told what ExCo is deciding.

Clearly telling the people what their governing body has been up to is no longer a priority.