Ascension : An Interview with His Excellency Mark Capes
Submitted by The Islander (Islander Editors) 17.05.2012 (Article Archived on 31.05.2012)
I began the interview by asking how His Excellency and Mrs Capes were settling into life on St Helena.
An Interview with His Excellency Mark Capes Governor of Saint Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha
Interviewed By Lorna Cook
I began the interview by asking how His Excellency and Mrs Capes were settling into life on St Helena. He was quick to tell me what a wonderful place St Helena is and how beautiful the Island is with lovely friendly people. He went on to explain how it is an exciting time to be there with the airport development, and this will set the direction in which both St Helena and Ascension are going, and how each Island will have to adjust to the changes and opportunities the airport will bring.
He spoke of how his first official visit toAscension will give him the opportunity to get a feel for what is important to people, and to get an idea about the Islanders’ aspirations and hopes. It also gives him a chance to work with Ascension Administrator Colin Wells on the issues which they will need to tackle in the coming months and years. “My job is to help guide the way” he states. While on the Island he will be working together with the Administrator and Councillors, and visiting stakeholders, local businesses and AIG departments.
Governor Capes is particularly interested in the British Government’s White Paper for UK Overseas Territories which will set the scene for guiding the relationship with them. There will be an emphasis on the protection, preservation and sustainability of endemic flora and Fauna in the unique environment of Ascension. The idea is also to draw up a plan to guide Overseas Territories in the management of marine resources, which theUK Coalition Government places much importance on.
The airport development will bring opportunities for St Helena, and it will have a knock-on effect on Saint Helenians on Ascension. It will change how people get to St Helena and how the Island operates. There are plans to grow the private sector on St Helena, and there is already a ripple effect on Ascension. The main airport contractor Basil Read is employing St Helenians, and will obviously look for more workers as the airport construction develops. They will be prepared to pay more than other employers on St Helena and this may attract Ascension workers to return.
But he warns that although the pay for these jobs may be attractive the terms of employment are likely to be less attractive, offering short term contracts and longer hours including shift work. Ultimately, for Saints here on Ascension it will be their choice as to whether they decide to go back to work on St Helena. Governor Capes went on to say that working on Ascension has a lot of advantages for people, depending on their family circumstances, with easy access to the UK. For the Island of St Helena, the return to the Island of a workforce of mainly 25-45 year olds would be positive too; it would strengthen society and also the existing family links.
The Governor stressed there will be change and we have to manage it so that it is change for the better. When the British government decided to fund the airport, it was not on the basis of having an airport and maintaining the status quo. The airport will be the vehicle to promote change for St Helena and to give the Islanders the opportunity to grow, create more jobs and careers and a prosperous future. When asked about plans for the RMS on completion of the airport, Governor Capes replied that the RMS will be phased out once the airport is operating. The government will enter into a commercial contract for a cargo supply ship, but there are plans to introduce an air link between St Helena and Ascension.
Governor Capes went on to say “my objective is to ensure that Ascension is well managed with a good quality of life for residents. It is also important that the Forces including the American Base and other stakeholders remain, in order to make sure the Island functions as efficiently as possible to give people a fair quality of life.”
Another issue for the government will be to try and make the democratic process function better. Although the right to abode is not currently on radar, “we cannot say there will never be a right of abode on Ascension.”
Finally I asked Governor Capes about his life in Plantation House. He replied by telling me that the house and its history really makes you think about the great leaders of the past, in particular the Duke of Wellington and Nelson, and of course Napoleon. Along with these great leaders the Governor also admires Churchill.
Having lived in the Caribbean, Bermuda and New Zealand,in his spare time the Governor enjoys fishing. He hopes to do some fishing while here on Ascension, his favourite food being tuna. A family man Governor Capes and his wife have enjoyed bringing up his two daughters - now aged 24 and 27 - who both live in London, but who are constantly in touch. His interests include travelling, reading and history, and living in Plantation House has particularly awakened his interest in the Napoleonic era. He loves Plantation House and speaks fondly of the lovely people who work there too. As he says “St Helena is gorgeous!”