Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Written Evidence

Submission from the Citizenship Commission of the Island of St Helena


  1.  The Citizenship Commission is a non-government charitable organisation set up by the Anglican Church in 1992 with a mandate to restore citizenship rights and seek the establishment of the Island of St Helena as a British Island of the United Kingdom. St Helena is Britain's second oldest colony. Britain established a settlement in the uninhabited island in 1659 with its own people, their English citizenship status, in perpetuity, clearly set out by Royal Charter in 1673 "to all intents and purposes as if they had been abiding and born within this our Kingdom of England" (Ref 1). The setting up of the Citizenship Commission in 1992 was to address the erosion of citizenship rights as result of the British Nationality Act of 1981.

  2.  The Commission has wide local recognition and public support. In its campaign to restore citizenship rights it has also gained recognition overseas, including that of the British Government. Special mention is made in the March 1999 White Paper on the Overseas Territories, which shows that

    St Helenians feel a strong sense of British identity by birth, language, history and culture. They have never known any other sovereignty. They consider that modern immigration and nationality legislation has cut them off from the UK and has added to their isolation.

    Such was the strength of local sentiment that the Bishop of St Helena set up the "Bishop's Commission on Citizenship," in 1992... to support restoration of the full rights of citizenship to those British subjects who are St Helenians. (Ref 2)

  3.  Help and support came from various people, groups, organisations, politicians both here and overseas, particularly British people and MP's. It included Canadian lawyers from Toronto University putting St Helena's case to the UN in July 200U. (Ref 3) In the event, full citizenship rights were given by Britain to citizens in all the British Overseas Territories, the law bringing this into effect on the 21 May 2002, the timing being the most significant contribution to St Helena's $00 anniversary celebrations for the discovery of the Island and the important role it played for Britain in the early days of trade with the Far East.

  4.  The evolving role of the Commission changed to it now being the Citizenship Commission as a voice for ordinary citizens, taking up issues of public concern on their behalf.


  5.  St Helena was settled to be a vital staging post for the British during the early days of trade with the Far East and played an important part in establishing Britain as a great trading nation. From early settlement in 1659 to the present day St Helena has never been self-financing. When the English East India Company pulled out in 1834 and the Crown took over, the Island became very poor. From this time to the present day because of lack of employment, there has been a history of Islanders immigrating or seeking work offshore. It reached a stage several years ago before British citizenship was restored, and is still current today, when about half the working population work offshore on contract, many not being accompanied by their families. Remittances sent home directly and indirectly, mostly to build family homes, are one of the main sources of the island economy. The other is British Aid. Though income from Islanders working offshore supports the economy it also has severe social consequences. As an example currently there is almost a quarter of the total school population that has at least one parent working offshore. The large number of the working population working offshore impacts on the running of essential services.

  6.  The British and St Helena Governments are attempting to address the situation through improved access by providing an air service. At the moment access to the Island is by ship, the purpose-built RMS St Helena that carries passengers and provisions. In the whole process of development and change, with an economy to be mainly based on tourism and moving to a free market economy, the Commission is concerned that basic needs for Islanders are being neglected. Housing in one example. The Commission put its concerns to an informal meeting of the Island's Legislative Council in November 2005. A copy of the paper dated October 2005 presented to Council is attached. (Appendix A ref 4)[6]

  7.  The same month, November 2005, the Chairman of the Commission, Councillor Stedson George, expressing the concerns in the Commission paper, put the following motion to a formal session of Legislative Council:

    That this House requests that government put in place a bridging strategy and plan to take the Island from its present economic situation to anticipated improvements stemming from air access taking account of the need to upgrade infrastructure particularly to cater for housing demands for Islanders.

  The motion, put up on the 14 November 2005, was given unanimous support.

  8.  The Commission is concerned in the far-reaching developments that are taking place in preparation for air access and changes in the economy towards a free market economy, that it is creating a divide in Island society particularly when it comes to housing. In March this year the St Helena Government issued a Land Disposal Policy (Ref 5) setting out policies and prices for commercial and social housing for Government land. Social housing in local terms means the St Helena Government scheme whereby Islanders buy a plot of Government land to build their own family homes. The St Helena Government over the last decade has itself built few council houses. It should be noted that the St Helena Government and Solomon and Company Plc in which the St Helena Government is the majority shareholder, own most of the land on the Island. What the Land Disposal Policy has done overnight is to increase the price of land for social housing by some 2,000% putting it out of reach of the majority of Islanders earning a living on St Helena. With the St Helena Government over the last decade building few council houses, changes in development are depriving Islanders from basic affordable housing, a basic human right.

  9.  The Land Disposal Policy was not put out for public consultation, The Commission is concerned about important policies for changes that are being driven by a Government Administration disproportionately weighted with FCO/DFID appointees. One such body is the Corporate Management Group (CMG). This group is comprised of the Governor, an FCO appointee; the staff officer, another FCO appointee; a DFID representative and appointee; the Chief Secretary; the Financial Secretary; and the Attorney General. The public has not seen any terms of reference for the CMG and yet, as far as can be ascertained, this body prepares most of the papers for Executive Council. Four of the members, ie Governor, Chief Secretary, Financial Secretary and Attorney General, of the CMG are then present when these papers are presented to the five elected members of Executive Council. The way the CMG functions in government policies and decisions affecting the lives of ordinary people on St Helena calls into question the whole democratic process and transparency of government.

  10.  The public is questioning for example why the post of Chief Secretary has not been substantively filled for most of the three year term of office of the present governor which expires this month. They want to know why in an interview with the Independent and the DFID representative on the matter, that although other posts can be advertised and filled, that of the Chief Secretary was delayed. (ref 6 and 14) The filling of this key post substantively is essential at a time when there are critical developments taking place in connection with air access and the need for the government administration to effectively manage that change. As the Chief Secretary is the head of the civil service, the public is questioning whether the lack of such an appointment in part has contributed to the crisis with staffing and conditions of service in major services particularly the health service. There is currently a crisis in the health service especially for caring for the elderly (ref 7). It is recommended that an enquiry should be made into the whole question of staffing and conditions of service for essential services on St Helena.

  11.  The fact that the public has not seen any terms of reference for the Corporate Management Group, nor how this body is constitutionally represented in matters of—government, leads to public distrust and questions as to whether the central government administration is safeguarding the interests of the people on the Island. Nothing has been done for example about foreign vessels poaching fish in St Helena's territorial waters even though it has been reported to the local authorities for several years. (Ref 8) The fishing industry is a vital part of the Island economy, so too is the marine environment generally for tourism. The public also questions why the local authorities have accepted that the Dutch Government can lay claim to an early 17 century wreck in James Bay, the main harbour of the Island and port of Jamestown (ref 9) and whether there was any involvement by the CMG with the Attorney General both on the CMG and Executive Council. The public also questions why the accounts of the running and management of the RMS St Helena are not made available to elected members of council or the public. Lack of transparency in this core sector of government administration raises public concerns and speculation.

  12.  The influence of important government matters being presented from the top down, is shown in the ongoing debate on constitutional reform, the details of which appeared in the St Helena Independent in July 2007 (Ref 10) Paragraph 6 on Fundamental Rights and Freedoms shows:

    Councillors have already begun work on reviewing this chapter, which HMG has indicated that it would welcome being put into an Order in Council. This would mean that the freedoms could not be overturned by any local Ordinance passed by Leg Co

  What concerns the Commission is that the list of Human Rights that was put forward by the Government Administration for discussion did not include the right to nationality. (Appendix B)[7] It only included the right to have St Helena Status. This contravenes a basic human right in the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights, article 15 what states:

    (i)  Everyone has the right to a nationality; and

    (ii)  No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

  If Councillors were persuaded to agree to the inclusion of what the Government Administration proposed to put in our constitution it would deprive Islanders of a basic human right. This is another matter, which adds to public suspicion about where the interests of certain sectors of central administration lie.

  13.  In a supplementary memorandum by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office given in the Foreign Affairs Committee report of January 1998 on the then Dependent Territories, governors were asked to seek the views of Government and onposition parties renresented in local legislature on future constitutional arrangements and links with HMG. Governors were given discretion to consult more widely than members of legislatures. (Ref 11)

  14.  On the question of constitution status of the four options put forward by the British Government for people of the overseas territories to consider was

    (iii)  Crown Dependency status along the lines of the Channel Islands.

  The Citizenship Commission was invited to give its view, which it did so on 27 October 1997. It favoured St Helena becoming a British Island under terms similar to those of the Crown Dependencies. It recommended that specific constitutional change would need to account for St Helena's unique situation and that some aspects of the French Republic's arrangement with its territorial collectives could be a model. The Commission felt a different title would naturally follow change in its constitutional status. Though the Commission had made its views known, it stated that the views of the people of St Helena should also be sought. (Ref 12) The Response to the White Paper was sent under cover of a letter reference SHLC/CC/1/99 of the 30 June 1999 from the Speaker of the St Helena Legislature (Appendix C).[8]

  15.  It should be noted that elected members of the Island's Legislature who are not members of the Executive Council were not consulted and not asked to give their views. They constitute the majority of elected members in the Island's Legislature. It means that the supplementary memorandum by the Foreign and Commononwealth Office supplied to the Foreign Affairs Committee on 27 October 1997 and contained in the report did not fully reflect the wishes of the democratically elected members of the Legislature. The report states, "apart from some limited interest in Crown Dependency status there is no interest in a change in the status quo". It is submitted that from the outset the wishes of the people of St Helena through their elected councillors had not been properly represented. (Ref ii) The Commission requests that the option to change the status of St Helena to a Crown Dependency should be put forward for consultation with the people of St Helena.

  16.  On the 21 July 1995. an elected member of Legislative Council put forward the following motion:

    "that this Government initiate legislation for the establishment of the office of an Ombudsman". (Ref 13)

  Though the motion was carried in a formal session of the. Island Legislature, after 12 years it has never been implemented. Had this office been established, it would be a means by which there would locally have been a channel to examine matters of public concern.

  17.  The public feels disillusioned with the present governance of the Island reflected in poor attendance at constituency meetings. (Ref 15)


  18.  It is recommended that an enquiry should be set up to look at the governance of St Helena taking account of the critical period of transition though which the Island is presently going with a view to improve the political, social and economic situation for Islanders taking account of the matters raised in this submission. The matters raised relate in the focus of the enquiry to (a) the role of Governors and other office holders appointed by or on the recommendation of the United Kingdom Government (b) transparency arid accountability (c) human rights, and also other matters of importance concerning the lives of people on St Helena.

12 October 2007

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