The Future of the Falkland Islands and Its People/St Helena
St Helena: Political Development, Current Constitutional Review And The Human Relationship With The Falkland Islands
Government of St Helena
ST HELENA’S POLITICAL DEVELOPMENT
AND THE CURRENT CONSTITUTIONAL REVIEW
1. The Current System of Government
St Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha, are three British Overseas Territories, which together form a single territorial group under British sovereignty known as St Helena and its Dependencies. St Helena has a well-established political system. In accordance with the St Helena Constitution Order 1988, executive authority of St Helena is vested in Her Majesty but exercised on behalf of Her Majesty by the Governor and Commander in Chief, either directly or through officers subordinate to him.
The Governor has special responsibilities for: public service matters, defence, external affairs, internal security including the Police, the administration of justice, finance and shipping. The Constitution also provides for a Legislative Council and an Executive Council. The Legislative Council comprises a Speaker, three ex-officio members i.e. the Chief Secretary, the Financial Secretary and the Attorney General, and twelve elected members. The Executive Council comprises the three aforementioned ex-officio members and five elected members who, by votes of majority of the elected members of Legislative Council are nominated and subsequently appointed by His Excellency the Governor as Chairmen of the five Council Committees. The Governor presides at meetings of Executive Council.
The five Council Committees are: Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee, Education Committee, Employment and Social Security Committee, Public Health and Social Services Committee and Public Works and Services Committee.
St Helena is divided into eight electoral areas: four of the areas elect two councillors because of the size of the constituency and the other four elect one. Members serve for a term of four years but the rules allow them to be re-elected at the expiry of their office.
The Legislative Council meets three or four times a year with a full agenda of legislation, to discuss a number of issues affecting the Island. Meetings of Executive Council are far more regular, normally once every two weeks.
2. A Proposed Ministerial System
Agreement has been reached with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to move to a Ministerial form of Government by mid – 2005.
Elected Members originally wanted a three-tier system comprising a Cabinet, Executive Council and a Legislative Assembly, which would have removed the Governor from the decision-making process. However, UK Ministers ruled out a three-tier system and Elected Members have accepted the principle of a two-tier system comprising a Ministerial Executive Council presided over by the Governor and a Legislative Council. A draft Heads of Agreement reflecting the two-tier system has been presented to Elected Members for consideration and further public consultation on St Helena.
It is hoped that an agreement can be reached to enable a draft Constitution to be prepared and agreed this year with a view to having a new Constitution in place in time for the next General Election in July 2005.
As is the case on the Falkland Islands, no political parties exist on St Helena, Ascension Island or Tristan da Cunha. Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha have democratically elected Island Councils chaired by the Governor or in his absence the islands’ respective Administrators.
THE HUMAN RELATIONSHIPWITH THE FALKLAND ISLANDS
A special relationship exists between St Helena and the Falkland Islands, one that has mainly been built on St Helena’s need for offshore employment opportunities and the Falkland Islands’ need for labour. That said, the seeds of this relationship were sown several years before when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands and St Helena provided some assistance when the RMS St Helena was commissioned to serve towards the end of the Falklands war. The relationship is relatively new, but it has stood the test of time for some 20 years.
1. Involvement in the Falklands War
In 1982, The RMS St Helena (St Helena’s only physical means of contact with the outside world) was requisitioned for service with the British Tank Force in the Falkland Islands. The decision was taken on 20 May, a day before St Helena celebrated her 480th birthday. 19 St Helenians volunteered for service with the RMS during her Navy charter.
The RMS was refitted and altered in the Portsmouth Naval Dockyard and in her absence, St Helena received necessary goods via charter ships. Even after the war, the RMS remained in the Falklands as a support vessel for minesweepers. Despite being missed by to the people of St Helena, it was recognised, and accepted that this ship was playing a vital role. It is important to note that at this time, no St Helenians were working on the Falkland Islands. This was not to happen for another four years so St Helena did not have any vested interests, only that the people of the Island cared for those who were living on another of the remote territories of the South Atlantic.
At the time however, many St Helenians were working on Ascension Island and they too were involved in the war by assisting the Task Force.
St Helena’s involvement in the war drew the Islands closer together and the people of St Helena targeted raising two thousand pounds for the dependants of those who had died or were badly injured. This was part of the South Atlantic Fund which had received royal patronage with Prince Charles as the Patron.
A few days before the RMS returned home, the Governor received a telegram from the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office thanking the people of St Helena and Ascension Island for their loyal support. The RMS returned to St Helena on 24 August 1982.
2. Employment Opportunities
With a population of 5000 in the early 1980s, St Helena faced similar economic problems to those experienced in other countries including high levels of unemployment. Today unemployment figures have dropped to around 130, and this is largely due to employment opportunities on the Falkland Islands, as well as Ascension and the United Kingdom
The first group of St Helenians left the Island to take up employment on the Falkland Islands in 1986. This absorbed 28 persons and statistics show that within two years this figure had increased to 99 St Helenians who were living and working on the Falkland Islands. The number steadily increased, reaching 449 (estimated) in December 2000. This represented 30 per cent of St Helena’s contract workers who were employed overseas. Salaries on the Falkland Islands were considerably higher that those paid in St Helena and this allowed for many people to return home to build a house without a housing loan, and to support family members. In some cases the unemployed were successful in getting jobs and in other cases people also resigned from their jobs in St Helena to take up employment in the Falklands. This was still good for the Island’s economy because local posts were vacated hence reducing unemployment levels.
The process of leaving St Helena for the Falklands continues to date and despite the restoration of British Citizenship on 21 May 2002 St Helenians are still living and working on the Falkland Islands. British Citizenship gives St Helenians the right of abode in the United Kingdom but many have made their home in the capital Stanley, some marrying Falkland Islanders.
The type of works undertaken varies although there are many St Helenians who perform domestic services such as cleaning. A number have taken up employment with the military and others work in clerical posts with some taking on managerial roles.
3. Population Statistics
The number of St Helenians on the Falklands at the end of December 2001 totalled 458 (estimated). In July 2001, the Falkland Island’s population stood at 2,895 so 15.82 per cent of the Falkland Island population was St Helenian. If employment opportunities continue to arise on the Falkland Islands this figure could increase with time.
4. The age profile of St Helenians on the Falkland Islands
It is mainly the young who are going to work on the Falkland Islands although the age group is varied. This is because some left at a young age and have made the Falkland Islands their home. In several cases couples have left St Helena to work there and after settling into the new lifestyle they secure jobs for friends and family members.
5. Communication between the Islands
Before the introduction of Internet to St Helena, communication with the Falkland Islands was expensive. At one time telephone calls were charged at £7.25 for the first minute then £1.45 for each additional minute. Telephone calls to the Falkland Islands are today charged at £1 per minute. Despite the cost, calls were frequent, and today it is tradition for the Falkland Islands to prepare a special Christmas video which is aired on St Helena television each year. This production allows the St Helenians on the Falklands to send Christmas greetings to friends and family. St Helena does likewise.
Internet access now means that emails can be sent to and from the Falklands on a daily basis for a few pence.
Via the Internet, St Helena’s local newspaper can be downloaded (but not printed) in full colour and persons can also read the Radio News. St Helena is also able to read about what is happening on the Falklands via their websites. For the past year, the St Helena Government has been sending news items to the South Atlantic Remote Territories Association so that persons on the Falklands are kept up to date with what is happening within the St Helena Government. Persons can also read this information via the St Helena News Media’s website.
6. Current Relationship
For the past 17 years, the communities of St Helena and the Falklands have been close. Some have married and started families and several Falkland Islanders have visited St Helena. On occasions the two have joined forces to fundraise for worthy projects on St Helena, particularly relating to hospital services.
Gill, Robin and Teale, Percy. St Helena 500 A Chronological History of the Island, 1999.
Government of St Helena. St Helena News Reviews. 1982.
The World Factbook 2003. March 2003.