18 August 2020
The independent Governance Commission, which met between May and July, today issued their report and a summary presentation of its findings. The report and summary presentation are available on the Public Information, Reports, and Policies page of the SHG website: https://www.sainthelena.gov.sh/government/public-information/
The purpose of the Commission was to take a pragmatic view on how the governance options suggested in the reports by Professor Sarkin could work on St Helena. The report is designed to aid an understanding of the differences they identified between the current Committee system and the alternative governance systems suggested after the visits by Professor Sarkin, i.e. a Revised Committee system; or a Ministerial system.
The Commission comprised seven members drawn from across the community and included two youth representatives. No serving Elected Members or senior St Helena Government (SHG) officials were members of the Commission. Legal and secretariat support was provided respectively by the AG’s Chambers and Governor’s Office.
The main focus of the Commission’s report was on the two alternative governance systems. The members of the Commission also gave their opinions on other government matters such as the electoral registration arrangements, reorganisation of the SHG administration, example poll question, representation of constituents’ issues, ministerial/committee chairs and public service codes of practice, remuneration and the reserved powers of the Governor.
The Commission worked intensively over six weeks to prepare a set of practical views on how the alternative governance options may operate. They focussed on assessing each governance option against the three principal concerns with the existing system raised by the public to Professor Sarkin. St Helena residents said better governance had to show:
- Clarity on who is politically responsible for the policies and decisions made on each topic
- Clarity on who is politically accountable for the delivery and performance of services
- Swifter decision making and delivery of services.
The Commission members did not agree on all issues and where differences of opinion arose these are reflected in the text of the report. Also, some of the operational details suggested in the report on the alternative governance systems can only be finalised after feedback from public consultation has been taken into account.
The report does not make any recommendation on a preferred new governance arrangement. This is a matter for public consultation, potentially followed by a formal poll or formal and final consultation over the next two months or so. This is known as seeking an ‘expression of public will’. The report does list out the pros and cons, as identified by the Commission members, on the two alternative governance systems compared to the present one. In doing so, they drew upon their knowledge of the St Helena community, the functioning of the Present Committee system and experience from other overseas territories.
If a future public decision is to adopt a revised Committee system, this could be implemented through amending existing rules and regulations.
If a future public decision is to adopt a Ministerial system, similar to the arrangements described in the report, then an amendment to the Constitution would need to go to the Privy Council for acceptance.
Should the public agree to a change to the present governance system, it is envisaged a new arrangement could commence following the general election scheduled for mid-2021.
Last Friday (14 August) on behalf of the Commission, the Governor presented their report to Legislative Council members for discussion. This was an opportunity for Elected Members to raise questions on the report and subsequent timetable for public debate and consultation. The meeting was the precursor to debating a motion at a formal Legislative Council meeting (scheduled to be held on 28 August) on a resolution to give political backing for the public consultation to begin in September. The meeting also expressed a wish for the Commission’s report to be published as soon as possible and for the forthcoming public engagement to be led by people from the community, including members of the Commission, and not Elected Members.
If the formal Legislative Council meeting on 28August endorses moving to public consultation, preparations are being made for a wide-ranging programme of public engagement. This is likely to take place in September and potentially, a final formal consultation exercise or poll in October.
Governor’s Office, St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha
18 August 2020