Ascension : Public Meeting on proposed new Constitution - Ascension Island 18-08-04
Submitted by The Islander (Nathan Prince) 09.09.2004 (Article Archived on 23.09.2004)
Cllr Drabble and Cllr Hopkins would like to thank the Ag Administrator for arranging a Public Meeting for them.
Cllr Drabble and Cllr Hopkins would like to thank the Ag Administrator for arranging a Public Meeting for them. We are en route from St Helena to the UK to attend the UKOTCC [UK Overseas Territories Consultative Council] in September and it would have been very silly not to take advantage of being here to discuss the proposed new Constitution for St Helena, Ascension & Tristan da Cunha, with Saints living here.
Using a flow diagram of the proposed ministerial system of government planned for St Helena Cllr Hopkins talked about the changes this would bring. Cllr Drabble added some further important points before inviting questions from the floor.
12 people were present and questions included the following-
How do you get the right people- it will be the responsibility of the voters to find and then vote for the right people. Getting the environment right to attract people out of well paid jobs in either Private or Public Sector jobs would need to be done or you could end up with councillors who were not up to managing the ministerial system.
A similar question was raised about getting the right person as Chief Minister – again it will be down to the electors. It isn’t too soon to start thinking about who could perform this role. Nor is it too soon to be thinking about making sure you’re on the Electoral Role so you can use your votes!
Does the proposed Constitution strengthen the ties between St Helena and Ascension? Cllr Hopkins said that she hoped it would strengthen ties but that perhaps the Ascension Island Government would want to look closely at this and if necessary suggest a provision which would emphasise the need for co-operation between the two islands to their mutual benefit.
Could all the elected members be Freemasons or members of the Chamber of Commerce? Again this would depend on the voters – Cllr Hopkins reminded everyone that you get the government you vote for! With every voter having the right to vote for all 12 members under the new system they had an increased responsibility to think very carefully about who they put up as candidates and who they vote in. She also said that there would be a Register of Interests which all members would have to complete – and a Code of Conduct for members.
Should the voting age be dropped to 16yrs? This question sparked off some lively debate with various thoughts coming forward - the young are responsible enough to decide on who should be on council; some young people are immature at 16; it might encourage some young people to stay on island as they’d feel their views are being taken seriously. It is something being debated on St Helena too. This and other issues relating to who can vote – Saints on Ascension and Falklands as well as on the RMS; who can stand as a candidate; all these things would need looking at before the new system came in. So it’s now you should be making your views known.
A lawyer was being recruited to carry out a review of all the legislation, Standing Orders, Register of Interests etc to get ready for the new system.
Will the new system cost more? Initially yes – the set up costs are being funded by DFID outwith the budget agreed for the next three years [well, only 1 yr is definite at the moment but we hope DFID will sign up to the 2nd & 3rd yrs soon!] But eventually the recurrent costs will fall to St Helena – what we have to remember is that if you want more efficient and effective government it has to be funded. If you expect more responsible & accountable elected members & Ministers then you’ve got to reward them somehow – currently a Chairman of Committee earns less than half a Head of Department! Small wonder that few people in Public Service or the better paid private sector jobs will stand for council when they would take a big drop in salary.
Although the Ag Administrator felt that the number of people attending the meeting was disappointing the two councillors were happy to have met with those people who came and felt that it had been worthwhile. Cllr Hopkins will return to Ascension on 24 September and will be happy to meet with individuals or hold a further meeting. Do we stay with something which hasn’t worked particularly well for the past 16yrs or do we change and move forward?
There will be debate on the motion introduced to LegCo in the July meeting when LegCo meets again in October. What the motion asks for is that the British Government prepare a new Constitution basically to introduce Ministerial Government on St Helena.
If you’ve not done so already –then please read the summary in last week’s Islander and if you want to, find a copy of the whole document - all 70+ pages; of course it will change as comments are taken on board.
Meanwhile - we need to be able to show FCO what the Saints want. Several people attending the meeting said that they supported the change. What about you?
To change or not to change – that is the question.
NB. Copies of the Summary Document and Flow Diagram are available from the Clerk of Councils, AIG – Tel no 7000 x 102.