Random Thoughts

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

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

Sabotage!

 

Anyone who knows me will be aware that I despise violence.  I’ve also always felt that vandalism and sabotage are regretfully negative ways to approach any problem.  But I’m beginning to understand why people might resort to destroying things when they feel they have no alternative.

Take the island’s fishing community.  They have just been told that they have been earning too much money from fishing (yes, really!) and that they should be happy to pay more than twenty five times as much to get their fish processed for market by the new fish processing business.  They may no longer be able to make a living.

However patently ridiculous this may be, what can they do about it?

They can’t just give up fishing.  Apart from the money they have invested in their businesses, our economy (if that’s the right word) is such that jobs for Saints are few and far between.  Unless you are one of the privileged few you face what we all face – prices keep going up (including, it would appear, the price of fish, on which so many families depend) and incomes do not.  You cannot simply find another career.

The Governor certainly isn’t going to do anything to fix it because he is the one who concocted this great fishing sell-off in the first place.

Most of our current councillors are not interested in the problems of the fishing community.  Some of them are behind the outrageous arrangement that has created this problem; most of the rest are too busy sucking up to the Governor so that they will get their BEMs and OBEs; the few who might speak out are in the minority and get ignored.

The staff at the FCDO in London don’t care what happens here.  As long as the Governor keeps telling them everything is under control (which he doubtless does, even if it isn’t) they are happy to ignore what’s actually going on down here.

Complaining in the local media does no good.  People read it; people agree it’s wrong; but nobody actually does anything about it.  Protesting on Social Media has exactly the same lack-of-effect.  The UK press is too focussed on Covid-19, Brexit and who’s going to win Come Dancing to care what happens in a place that half their punters couldn’t find on a world map.

Someone could organise a protest march, but we all know from recent experience that such events generate a lot of noise but no actual change.

We know a petition is useless.  1,191 signatures for the last one was deemed “not a significant number” (although, apparently, 336 votes was enough to implement the new governance system).

What else can you do?

I can neither advocate nor support anyone resorting to vandalism or sabotage, but if somebody does now do something destructive it would not surprise me in the least.  The saboteurs might argue “What else can we do?” – a question I would find hard to answer.  Looking at what makes news in the second decade of the 21st century it could certainly be concluded that the only way to get anybody’s attention is to destroy things.

I hope it doesn’t happen but I can’t be certain that it won’t.  I’m saddened that St Helena has been brought to this.

Friday, 16 April 2021

Mad Kings

 

Thinking about this week’s Governor-stopping-Saints-installing-solar-panels debacle got me wondering.  Maybe we should not blame our Governor personally for his abuses of power.

 

I have only met the man for about ten seconds when he first arrived so I have no idea what he was like personally at that time, and indeed whether he remains the same now.  But there’s an old saying: “power corrupts” to which is usually added “... and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

 

Give anyone the amount of power that our Governors have and trouble will inevitably result.  Even Boris Johnson and Joe Biden cannot arbitrarily decide to implement a new rule just because they want to; they both have to follow a parliamentary process which, while far from perfect, is designed to stop “Mad King Syndrome” from setting in.

 

“Mad King Syndrome”?

 

It’s where someone in charge has unlimited and unquestioned power and it goes to their head.  King Cnut (“Canute”) trying to stop the tide; Roman Emperor Caligula arbitrarily executing people because they didn’t laugh at his jokes; King Henry VIII making the whole country Protestant because the Pope wouldn’t give him a divorce; and just about every Dictator everywhere throughout history. 

 

If you give people absolute power, a lot of them go nuts.  Not all, but far too many.

 

So perhaps the problem is not Dr. Philip Rushbrook personally.  For all I know, if you get to know him you find him a nice, kind and caring man.  I strongly suspect the problem is the role of Governor.  It just has far too much unfettered power.

 

As I have said many times before:

St Helena needs three things:

 

1) The role of Governor should become purely ceremonial with no power (and, probably, the silly hat should be re-instated for the benefit of the tourists);

 

2) All power and decision-making should be vested in our democratically elected representatives, operating in an open and transparent way; and

 

3) Saints should be able to vote for an MP to represent their interests in the UK Parliament (possibly in conjunction with the other Overseas Territories).


Monday, 22 March 2021

The way forward

 

So it seems we are going to get a “Ministerial form of Government”.  There is no point now in arguing that the poll was invalid and the result spurious because the FCDO has decided and what they say in the Colony of St Helena is final.

 

But what is a “Ministerial form of Government”?  I don’t think any of us is really clear, but from what I can gather it means that some of the people we elect as Councillors in August get to be called Ministers, get large pay rises (at a time when most of us are lucky to keep up with inflation) and get “more responsibility”.  And this is the bit that interests me.

 

Some of our current Councillors do not seem to care much for the people of St Helena.  ExCo, particularly, keeps making decisions that are not in the best interests of Saints, presumably blindly following what the Governor, representing the FCDO, tells them to do.

 

Do we want to give these people a pay rise and “more responsibility”?  I suggest not.

 

If we are going to have a new system of Government, I suggest we also need some new councillors to make it work.  In fact, quite a lot of new councillors.  People capable of understanding the complexities of the decisions they are required to take, not just blindly following what the seconded advisors tell them.  People who, in short, put the interests of Saints first.

 

I hope at the August election we will see lots of new names on the ballot paper.  People with the skills to actually do the new jobs they will be given.  People who will stand up for the interests of the island as a whole, not just their own.  And I, for one, will be delighted to vote for them.

 

I cannot see myself voting for ANY of the current ExCo, who have – in my opinion – consistently sold out the rest of us for the proverbial 30 pieces of silver.

Monday, 15 March 2021

John Turner: no votes

 

After careful consideration I have decided that I will not be voting in the sham “Consultative Poll” on 17th March.

 

This is a subject on which everyone must follow their own judgement, but my reasons are:

 

1) obody’s vote will make any difference to the outcome.  The Civil Service has already reorganised itself around the “Ministerial Form of Government”.  If people don’t vote for that, do they expect us to believe they are going to un-reorganise?  However people vote, we are clearly going to get the Ministerial Form of Government.  If the conclusion has already been decided why should I bother turning out to vote?

2.       The Ministerial Form of Government is what the FCDO wants.  They have wanted it since 2004 (it was rejected in 2005 by a completely valid poll).  The FCDO funds St Helena and expects to get what it wants, so has charged the Governor with the task to “make it happen”, whatever Saints want.  This is why the whole process to date has been undemocratic and maybe even unconstitutional: selecting Professor Sarkin, a friend of the Governor, to “study Governance” and recommend the required solution; ignoring the inconvenient recommendations of the Sarkin Report; the governor’s personally selected “Governance Commission”; failure to answer any questions about costs during the “consultations”; and now a “poll” with no stated process for deciding if the verdict is meaningful.  The whole process has been fixed from start to finish to deliver the desired result.

3.       SHG only accepts public opinion when it suits it.  As quoted in yesterday’s Sentinel (p8), SHG accepted fewer than 100 positive views expressed in the Governance Consultations as “public opinion”, but ignored the fishing petition (1,191 signatures).  They clearly don’t actually care what the public thinks.

4.       When they declare that the Ministerial Form of Government is the “will of the people” (which they will, whatever the results of the poll), a few Saints will get richer and the ordinary Saints will either see no change, or will lose their jobs to pay for the new system, the costs of which have not been disclosed (it has been asked many times; it hasn’t answered).  I will not be party to this travesty of democracy.

If you do intend to vote I’d be interested to read your reasoning below.

Monday, 8 March 2021

 

So I turned the radio on a bit early for the 7pm World Service news (http://sainthelenaisland.info/samsr2.htm) and caught the end of "Sports Orgy" - or whatever they call the programme that takes over the BBC for the whole of Sunday afternoon.  There was a chap - a footballist I understand - explaining that his team - a leading one, it seems - had lost because "we couldn't find the goal".

 

Now I know rather less about football than could be inscribed on a postage stamp with a marker pen, but I vaguely remember a few things from school days.  Maybe things have changed, but I remember the goal was a big thing with white posts and a net at the back.  Unless you are very severely sight impaired I can't imagine how you could fail to find it?  And surely the other team would give you a clue - if you're going in the right direction they'll try to stop you and if you're not they won't, so even if you can't see this substantial white-painted structure you could at least work out roughly in which direction it is and proceed in the hope that it will eventually come into view.

 


I thought they paid footballists a lot of money and I would have expected that, to earn this bountiful income, the ability to locate the goal would be rather expected.

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Call me "negative" if you wish.....

 

During his term Governor Mark Capes adopted a novel way to deal with dissent about his policies.  He dismissed the people who pointed out the obvious flaws by saying they were “just being negative”.

 

It was a moderately successful tactic.  Nobody wants to be thought of as negative.  It did succeed in silencing a few people.  The problem was that what the people were saying WASN’T negative.  They were actually being positive, but their positive vision for the future of St Helena was simply different from his.

 

Donald Trump, while he was still allowed onto Twitter, often did the same.  Anybody who said his policies were racist, divisive, xenophobic, irrational or downright stupid (and sometimes all of these) was “just being negative”.

 

I’ve noticed that this has now spread to groups on Facebook.  Anyone who posts something criticising a policy adopted by the St Helena Government, saying for example that the policy is unlikely to work, or is not factually based, finds comments on their post accusing them of negativity.  It’s almost at the point where everything the St Helena Government does is automatically classed by these people as positive and any suggestion that it might not be 100% correct is “being negative”.

 

It would be nice to believe that the St Helena Government is perfect, and that everything it does is the best possible thing it could have done in the circumstances.  A government that cares for its people and always seeks solutions that provide the maximum benefit for all of its people sounds wonderful.  Perhaps at some point in history such a government did exist for a time, though I must say I can’t remember ever having heard about it.  But I believe you could fit all the people who think that is true of the current St Helena Government into a very small room – possibly a telephone box.

 

I will not dispute that St Helena Government strives to do its best.  The people that work for St Helena Government mostly try hard to do their jobs well.  But somehow it appears that the whole is often less than the sum of the parts.  Put simply – St Helena Government sometimes mucks it up.  Not always.  Maybe not even the majority of the time, but sometimes.  I do not need to give examples because anybody who has lived here for more than a few months will know this to be true.

 

What is wrong with pointing this out?

 

If you go to a business and receive poor service you should complain.  You owe it to the business to do so.  If nobody complains, how can they know they’re not doing it right?  A well-made complaint tells the business what it did wrong and how it should have done it better.  It helps them to improve.

 

Similarly, if nobody points out a flaw in what the St Helena Government is doing, how can it know it isn’t meeting the needs of all its people?  It certainly won’t find out from an occasional Survey Monkey with carefully constructed questions that make it impossible to point out any real problems.

 

Complaint is good.  Complaint is POSITIVE.  Silencing complaint is the prerogative of despots and repressive regimes.  Complaint should be encouraged.

 

So when the St Helena Government proudly announces that it has received “100 doses” of Covid-19 vaccine – enough for about 1% of the population – and when somebody points out that this will have very little effect in protecting the island from the virus (herd immunity requires vaccination for more than 70%) there is a POSITIVE point being made.  The point is that it is not yet time to weaken our quarantine arrangements, and this is a point that needs to be made.

 

Speaking personally it doesn’t bother me when people accuse me of “being negative”.  Mark Capes said it of me too, and look what happened to him[1].  I have the hide of a rhinoceros and have no intention of bursting into tears because somebody wasn’t nice to me.  Maybe it’s a very-much scaled down variation of what journalists often say: “If someone isn’t trying to kill you, you really aren’t doing your job.”

 

Call me "negative" if you wish.  All it tells me is that you can’t think of an argument to refute what I’m saying, and I’m totally happy with that.

 



[1] For the avoidance of doubt, I’m not taking credit for his downfall.  He achieved that all on his own with almost no help from me.

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Open letter to ExCo/IEG: Please cancel the January flight

I beg you to call off the January 11th flight. The risks are too high and there are no rewards.

If you consult the BBC or any other reliable source it can be clearly seen that Covid-19 is out-of-control in the UK.  The new more-dangerous variant is causing a spike in infections and deaths.  The NHS is struggling to cope.  But at least UK residents have experience of operating social distancing and lockdowns.  On St Helena we have no such experience, and a social distanced environment is completely alien to island culture.  If Covid-19 reaches the island we will not have time to learn.  The virus it will spread even more rapidly than it is doing in the UK.  Our high proportion of vulnerable people will be at risk.

Everybody knows the island’s medical provisions are limited and if Covid-19 spreads here our health service would struggle to cope.  Everybody involved would make heroic efforts to contain it and reduce the death-toll, but they are under-resourced and would quickly be overwhelmed.

And our defences against Covid-19 have been reduced.   The chances that somebody arriving with the virus will be successfully detected and isolated from the community are lower now than they were.

Given all of the above, to justify the extreme risk of running the January flight there would need to be an overwhelming good reason to do so.  What is that reason?  There is nobody on that flight who is essential to island life.  Yes, cancelling the flight would be inconvenient for the people scheduled to be on it, but not as inconvenient as it would be for the island to introduce Covid-19 here.

The costs are great; the benefits are negligible.  I beg you: please cancel the January flight.