Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Written Evidence

Submission from Mr Cyril Leo, Member of the Ascension Island Advisory Group

  With reference to the Foreign Affairs Committee's press notice on the 5 July 2007, with details on a new enquiry relating to the Overseas Territories, please can I submit the following evidence for the Committee's consideration.

  I have been employed on Ascension since July 1968. I am married with three children; our three sons, recruited on Ascension, serve in the British Armed Forces. One of our sons has already served twice in Iraq; he is due to return there for further duty. One of our children has been informed that he must prepare for duty in Afghanistan. Each time our sons return home to Ascension they are required to pay an entry fee. This ridiculous policy is just one indication of the FCO's overpowering stand towards the people of Ascension; the Administrator reinforces the policy by declaring that "no-one can be seen as belonging to the island". Human rights and freedoms, and real development for progress on Ascension, is constantly opposed by the FCO; there is an obsessive determination to block off all avenues that FCO officials suspect could ultimately lead to any form of permanent settlement on Ascension. This FCO approach simply ignores the fundamental needs and wishes of the taxpayers of Ascension, and seriously undermines the UK Government's 1999 White Paper, Britain and the Overseas Territories, in which it states:

    "The people of the Overseas Territories must exercise the greatest possible control over their own lives. We are proud that our Overseas Territories are beacons of democracy. We applaud their achievements, and want them to have the autonomy they need to continue to flourish."

  I am currently employed on Ascension as a transmitter technician with VT Communications. Over many years I was a member of the Administrator's Forum. On 16 November 2005 I was democratically elected to serve on the Island Council.

  As the peoples' elected representatives strived for democratic principles and meaningful progress and development on Ascension, the FCO consistently opposed their efforts in the name of Her Majesty's Government. The endless exploitation and manipulation of elected members forced a mass resignation from councillors, and democracy on Ascension, still in its weakest stage, was dismantled. The Island Council was dissolved on 2 April 2007. The disturbing political climate and uncertainty that had been created by the FCO made it very difficult for members of the electorate to be willing to stand for new elections. This despondent response from the residents of Ascension to consistent FCO dominance in local affairs is understandable, and it will remain so unless there is a willingness by the FCO to stop imposing unnecessary restrictions and limitations within policies that affects the people of Ascension. As the UK Government prides itself on democratic principles by advocating liberty and freedoms for humanity from high world stages, it should also ensure that the FCO makes an honourable commitment to the development of democracy and freedoms for progress for the residents of Ascension Island.

  On 4 May 2007 I was invited by the Governor to serve on the Ascension Island Advisory Group. In serving on the AIAG, albeit an undemocratic process with many limitations, I believe it allows me to continue questioning and focusing attention on some of the issues that concerns the taxpayers of Ascension. My prime concern is that the new Governor, without further delay, should set a date for new elections and permit the taxpayers' to have democratically elected representation. Our incomes are taxed, and there is no justification for taxation without representation on Ascension.

  The UK Government is against the development of right of abode and property ownership on Ascension because of contingent liability concerns that could impact the British taxpayer. In keeping with the 1999 White Paper—Partnership for Progress and Prosperity—Britain and the Overseas Territories, I would appreciate if the Foreign Affairs Committee recommend that the UK Government ensures that the FCO is constructive in dealing with the residents of Ascension, allows democracy on Ascension to resume and mature, and encourages elected representatives to bring about development for real progress with the aim of lowering, and eventually removing, the UK Government's contingent liability concerns.

19 October 2007

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