27 December 2019
In Her Majesty’s Christmas message she spoke of 2019 as a ‘bumpy’ year. It is true the UK has had its ups and downs over various public and social issues. Here in the South Atlantic the past year has been bumpy too, though for different reasons. On St Helena the year has had its share of uncertainty with its economy and personal prosperity. The weather has not blessed the Island with sufficient rain and the need to move away from the unsustainable losses in the fishing business is unsettling to all affected.
On Ascension, the community has had to live with a continuing delay in progressing the repairs at Wideawake. This has made planning for the future difficult. One high point, which deservedly received international acclaim, was the designation of a 100% Marine Protected Area around the Island. The bumps in the road for Tristan da Cunha were equally large. Two storms led to destruction of buildings on a scale not seen for decades.
Her Majesty also mentioned that changes and improvements, no matter how small or seemingly unconnected, can build better prospects for the future. We should take this advice to heart in the year ahead. On our Islands there are many changes and improvements starting to emerge that one hopes should see new opportunities for people in 2020 and beyond.
This year not one flight into St Helena Airport has been cancelled or unduly delayed. We can enter 2020 looking to maintain this level of reliability. Tourist numbers are rising. A trend upwards no matter how modest provides encouragement that St Helena is appealing to more travellers looking for adventure. This week a contract was signed with Equiano cementing the arrangements for the arrival of the fibre optic cable and another for a major rockfall protection project at Rupert’s Valley and around the hospital will start in January. More land is earmarked for new housing. Various building developments are in preparation and separately, an overseas investment has been announced. The much awaited PASH renewable energy scheme is reportedly, barring last minute hitches, only a short time away from being agreed too. All of these bring prospects of job and business opportunities during the coming year. Politically, the governance review will be completed early in 2020 and then islanders will be asked if they want to change the method of government and public accountability or retain the current one.
Ascension awaits better news next year. The signs are looking much brighter for a resurfacing contract to be agreed. Whilst the work will be lengthy and complex it should give clarity on when the Falkland flights could resume and correspondingly prosperity in the local economy restored. A recent capital programme to tackle some of the infrastructure backlog was also a welcome commitment to maintaining the quality of life on the territory. Progress in updating the outdated employment laws will be a priority for the Island Government.
The community on Tristan da Cunha has pulled together wonderfully, with outside help and funds from the UK, to get back on its feet. Next year should see repairs completed to its school and a project at the harbour started. A final decision on designating protected areas in the seas around the Island will complement the arrangements in place for St Helena and Ascension. On Gough Island too, intensive work to eradicate mice will dominate the entire year and offers the only prospect of saving endangered birds.
I encourage us all to put the bumps of 2019 behind us. Wherever you are treasure the time you have this Christmas with family and friends. Spare a thought for those who may be working or alone. Extend your goodwill whenever you can. And above all, we should resolve to enter 2020 with a refreshed view on the changes and opportunities on the horizon. By working together, building skills and being positive about our abilities we can find better, smoother futures for our Islands.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Dr Philip Rushbrook
Governor of St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha
25 December 2019