Executive Council met on Tuesday 6 August with four items on the agenda.
This was our first meeting as an Executive Council. The Governor had previously suggested to ExCo Members that the ExCo report could in future be made by an elected member of Executive Council, and this was agreed.
The first item was a request for the introduction of an Extra Statutory Concession for Charities in respect of Withholding Tax, under the Income Tax Ordinance and Income Tax Regulations.
This simplifies the administration of the accounts for Charities as the Withholding tax will not be deducted from interest paid by the Bank of St Helena. There is no loss or gain to SHG but this will benefit all charities.
Items 2 and 3 related to two applications for dispensation under the Immigration Control Ordinance 2011 and these matters are private to the individuals concerned.
Item 4 was the application for Development Permission for the Proposed Conversion of Sundale House into a Prison. This was an open agenda item and the public were invited to attend. It was pleasing to see that there were at least 12 people in the public gallery.
The matter before Executive Council was to advise whether development permission should be granted following a recommendation from the Land Development Control Board to proceed with redevelopment of Sundale.
All of those involved knew that this was a very difficult and controversial item. We had previously discussed this with the other elected members at three separate meetings and it was impossible to reach a unanimous decision. As was confirmed at these elected members meetings, Executive Council must be the final decision makers.
Each member had an opportunity to speak in an open and frank manner. Considerable concern was raised about the original decision making process, the limited detailed information available and the lack of engagement with the local community.
It was highlighted that a new prison would cost at least £2.5 million compared to the cost of converting Sundale, which is estimated in the region of £750,000. There is not enough money in the St Helena Capital Programme budget for all proposed projects. Council will shortly be prioritising the capital spend for this year which has a budget of approximately £5 million. Additional money that would be spent on a new prison is money that cannot be spent on other essential projects.
The decision was made to advise the Governor to proceed with the conversion of Sundale House, as it is the only viable, affordable option. It was a close vote, with 3 in favour and 2 against.
Members of Executive Council recognise the sensitivity of this decision for the residents of Half Tree Hollow and the recommendation was made that a senior officer is appointed to be community liaison officer both during construction and then when the prison is in operation. Furthermore the Prison Service needs to adopt a good neighbour policy in relation to local residents.
It was also recommended that following completion of the construction, that an Open Day be held so that all members of the public have an opportunity to view the prison before it is taken into use.
The elected members of Executive council will arrange a meeting in HTH this week to explain our decision. The location, date and time will be announced once arranged.
6 August 2013