Ascension : Ascension Island Council Meeting - 4th July 2014
Submitted by The Islander (Ascension Island Government) 10.07.2014 (Article Archived on 31.07.2014)
The Island Council met on 4 July with His Excellency The Governor present by telephone.
Ascension Island Council Meeting
4th July 2014
The Island Council met on 4 July with His Excellency The Governor present by telephone. This was the first formal meeting since March, but Councillors had been very busy in the interim preparing the legislation for this meeting.
Dr Milenko Gradinski
First of all, I should report that the Governor and Councillors spoke of the loss of Dr Milenko Gradinski. The Governor described him as a friend and dedicated professional. Councillors and the Governor welcomed the decision taken by Dr Bill Hardy to revoke his earlier decision to leave Ascension. He has been appointed Senior Medical Officer and provides the continuity of senior leadership at the hospital that we all want and need. Losing both Milenko and Bill would have been difficult for us all. Separately Councillors asked if a review of the hospital building could be undertaken to enhance privacy. Catherine Leo, Director of Resources, assured Councillors that she and Bill would see what might be possible.
National Protected Areas and other Conservation Issues
The Island Council approved legislation to create the following protected areas:
· Green Mountain National Park (with slightly amended boundaries)
· Long Beach Nature Reserve
· Pan-Am Beach Nature Reserve
· Mars Bay Nature Reserve
· Waterside Fair Nature Reserve
· Letterbox Nature Reserve
· North-East Bay Nature Reserve
· Boatswain Bird Island Sanctuary
In addition, the Turtle Ponds have been made a Site of Historical Interest.
This was a highly significant decision by the Island Council, and I praise them for it. 20% of the Island will now be subject to special rules designed to protect our biodiversity. The Island Council, through its Biodiversity Committee (Caz Yon, Samantha Arms-Lawrence, Kitty George and AIG’s Sam Weber) consulted you at public meetings and set out what it all means. Ascension’s residents are, of course, well aware of the courtesies we should give the wildlife that shares this Island with us. I will ask the Conservation Department to send out a note to all residents reminding them of what this legislation means, but more importantly we will develop guidance to be handed to every visitor arriving at Ascension.
Before the meeting I withdrew a piece of draft legislation to ban turtle riding and to outlaw the catch of nine types of sharks through an amendment to the Wildlife Protection Ordinance. The banning of turtle riding is, of course, very important. Many of you will remember the dreadful Facebook photographs of two short-term residents riding turtles while drinking from beer bottles. That is not what we do on Ascension. But, those individuals could not be prosecuted. So, I judge it is right to ask Councillors to approve the criminalisation of such irresponsible behaviour. However, following earlier consultations with Councillors I wanted more consultation on the inclusion of the sharks.
One Councillor mentioned a local dish “shark mince” during an earlier informal meeting, and asked if those who enjoyed the dish could be given consideration. As a population we have a responsibility to protect endangered species in our waters but, we must get the balance right and seek your support when it impacts local culture or tradition. I have asked the Conservation Team the Biodiversity and Fisheries Protection Committee to consult with Island residents on this issue over the coming months. However, I plan to ask Councillors, to pass legislation at the end of July, when we next meet with the Governor, banning turtle riding and the catching of Hammerhead sharks, which have been declared by international bodies as critically endangered and subject to restrictions on international trade.
Ascension’s Private Sector
Private sector on Ascension means those companies and enterprises like Glamour, Solomons, JAMS, the Movie Shack, Ascension Island Fishing Charters and the many individuals who run businesses from their home like Dalia Everden (hair and beauty) and Shannon Duncan (cakes). These individuals, as well as the many others who have not been mentioned, take on a lot of risk with their own money. Of course, they want to make a profit and personal gain – and quite rightly so. But in doing so they provide us with a service, making life here a bit easier, as well as occasionally creating employment opportunities. Ascension Island Fishing Charters, Solomons and Obsidian all provide additional employment opportunities on Ascension.
The Island Council is looking at a policy approach to better support those individuals who make the brave risk to establish and run businesses. At the end of July, I will ask them to approve a Small Business Policy, including the reduction in rent for business premises. At this meeting, the Island Council agreed to slice 16.6% off the property tax bills for small businesses. It is right and proper that those who take the risk involved in establishing businesses get more back from their investment, sweat and toil.
The Island Council approved important legislation and measures that may not appear to be important but are, nevertheless, key to ensure good governance processes. At this meeting they approved the following:
· Minerals Vesting (Amendment) Ordinance 2014 – this provides that minerals in Ascension’s 200-mile Economic Exclusion Zone belongs to Ascension.
· Permit fees for business visitors using Ascension for 0-7 days will rise by £15.00 while their income tax liability will be waived. This saves on considerable administrative costs for both AIG and the business contractors.
Roads and other Operations Issues
Ed Haynes briefed councillors on a range of issues, many flagged up by Councillor Kitty George. He briefed Councillors that road marking on the road between One Boat and Two Boats would start after the MOD boat has departed this week. The safety of an informal path linking Chinatown with the plateau containing the hospital and Sure buildings would be looked at after it suffered rain damage. The required work to make it good did not seem to be too complicated.
There was a short but inconclusive discussion over what to do with the charcoal retort that was purchased last year without a business plan for its use. Councillors, with Government officials, would consider the options in more depth before a decision could be made.
Joint Ministerial Council, December, 2014
Councillors appointed Caz Yon as their Representative, and Samantha Arms-Lawrence as Deputy Representative to the Joint Ministerial Council – an annual gathering of elected leaders from all of UK’s Overseas Territories, as well as Governors and Administrators. The Governor and the next Administrator will also attend. It is an important forum for developing all OTs, including Ascension.
Youth Training Scheme
There was a discussion of the decision taken by AIG, Sure and Babcock to close down the Youth Training Scheme. This followed an assessment by all three of their ability to offer places to all the applicants. Councillors regretted but understood the decision. The three employers will work together to establish a two-year apprentice type course from 2015. This will provide a solid training platform for successful course members to secure employment with Ascension employers or elsewhere. AIG is looking at offering a number of work experience options for those affected by this decision from the current group of 16-year olds departing Two Boats School.
Post-2016 Air Links
Councillor Poultney, Chair of the Post-2016 Committee, briefed Councillors on a presentation by Toni Bendall, AIG’s lead officer on establishing airlinks in 2016 with St Helena. A copy of that presentation will be made available to Councillors. Members of the public can contact Toni at the Conservation Building to obtain copies too.
Toni will pull together an update for the whole community which we will circulate to you. The Governor and AIG remain committed to establishing air-links between St Helena and Ascension when the RMS St Helena decommissions in 2016.
Two Boats School
I told Councillors that the pre-inspection of Two Boats School by the Independent Schools Inspectorate between 23-27 June had gone well. The school was well prepared for a full inspection in December, though there were areas for the Head Teacher and teachers to address, as well as for myself as the school “owner” on annual safeguarding children checks. The Governor instructed that the report, when issued, should be made public and available to those who want to see it.
The next meeting will take place at the end of July and will, I hope, deal with a number of proposals for the funding by the MOD, BBC, Sure and CSO of AIG and roads works between 2014-2018, Pier Head repairs and the building of a brand new, modern waste site at One Boat.
7 July 2014