Ascension : Democracy or Dictatorship – The Other Side of the Coin
Submitted by The Islander (Ascension Island Government) 01.03.2012 (Article Archived on 15.03.2012)
Cyril Leo’s article in the Islander of 16 February (Issue 2086) titled “Democracy or Dictatorship” reflected a personal view on governance issues in Ascension Island.
Democracy or Dictatorship – The Other Side of the Coin
Cyril Leo’s article in the Islander of 16 February (Issue 2086) titled “Democracy or Dictatorship” reflected a personal view on governance issues in Ascension Island. Let me stress that I welcome commentary on Government policies but Mr Leo’s article contained some inaccuracies which I would like to address to ensure that we all have a balanced summary of the issues.
Mr Leo refers to new arrangements for the four London-based major employers (Cable and Wireless, MOD, CSO and BBC) to make their large contributions to Ascension’s budget. These arrangements bring much needed security to the island following a long period of financial uncertainty which was threatening Ascension’s stability. It is also important to note the backdrop against which these new arrangements have been introduced. The world is coping with a serious financial crisis – Ascension is not immune. Europe and the United States have been making drastic financial decisions to save their economies from economic recession and even bankruptcy. Most UK Government Ministries’ budgets have been cut by up to 20% and more. As a result, the major employing organisations here – including the US Air Force Base - are under significant budgetary pressures from their capitals or headquarters. They have less money for their Ascension operations and must find urgent efficiencies and savings. Ascension Island Government, like many other Governments around the world, must do more with less.
The new arrangements were introduced following a thorough review during which the Island Council was fully consulted. Councillors concluded that it was the right way forward. The alternative would have meant serious financial crisis with the threat of further budget deficit. The Council demonstrated strong leadership in taking these tough decisions in the long-term interests of the Island. The decision to agree a process for a 7% year-on-year reduction until 2015 in the contributions of the Employing Organisations reflects the need for AIG budgets to reduce. There is no doubt that this represents a challenge to your Councillors, particularly given the good work already done by the previous Council in delivering efficiencies. But that is the real world we and the Island exist within.
Mr Leo stated the FCO had instructed the Council “to find ways of burdening the people of Ascension Island with additional taxes”. This is not true. No such instruction has been issued, and no new taxes or increases in existing ones have occurred. I have tasked the Director of Resources to look at a number of options for revenue raising if efficiencies do not achieve the savings required to make a balanced budget later this year. These include charges for prescriptions, entry permits, driving licences and the introduction of a higher rate income tax band for the highest paid on the Island. Such proposals will be subject to public consultation and will not be rushed into. AIG and the Council are all aware of the impact of the financial constraints and the increases in utility costs. They impact us too. We will work to ensure that any additional measures have as small an impact as possible on incomes – particularly for the lowest paid.
And, of course, huge grants were made to AIG by the FCO in recognition of the need to ensure a sustainable future for Ascension Island to help the transition to these new arrangements. The new harbour crane – essential to all on Ascension – was purchased with an exceptional £1m grant from the FCO. Our reserves have also been boosted by a further grant of £1m.
Mr Leo asserts Islanders get no long-term returns for their income tax. We must all remember that income tax is to contribute to the cost of running Government. All Islanders benefit from the running of the port (for the import of food stuffs, cars, fuel, personal belongings and for access to sailing services to St Helena), a fire and inshore rescue service, a quality school, roads (a major improvement programme will be undertaken this year), a police service, courts, refuse collection and the protection of the Island’s Conservation. These are all provided by the Ascension Island Government funded by income taxes and contributions from BBC, CSO, MOD and Cable and Wireless. So, in fact, we do all get benefits.
Mr Leo briefly referred to the lack of provisions for our 16-18 year olds and access for children to bars/nightclubs.
On education of 16-18 year olds, I am delighted that on 23 February the Council approved a scheme for financial support for the tuition and/or accommodation costs for children 16-18 year olds wishing to pursue further education options in the United Kingdom. The Council took this decision after a consultation exercise with parents. It does not meet the full costs but in the current financial climate it represents a significant contribution to the continued education of the Island’s older children. It also compliments the Youth Training Scheme which gives children in the same age bracket invaluable work experience within AIG and Babcock.
Thinking and consultation on restricting access for children to nightclubs and bars is still at an early stage. I had a very helpful meeting with the managements of the Saints Club and Two Boats Club recently. I will set out the issues in more detail soon – in a separate article in the Islander. But, in short, the aim is to protect children from environments where – like in any drinking establishments around the world – there can be violence, sexual behaviour, and serious health issues (i.e smoking and noise pollution). We must bring Ascension Island in line with St Helena, UK (and all other Overseas Territories) and the United States – the territories from which most of us originate. The Volcano Club and Travellers Hill already have restrictions. I still hope to do this in co-operation with the managements of the Saints Club and Two Boats Club without the need for legislation. I am sure no-one supports the principle of children in clubs after 10pm, 11pm, midnight or beyond. They should be safely protected at home, asleep. But, we also want families to be able to enjoy time together in members clubs and restaurants. I am confident a sensible way forward can be found.
27 February 2012