25 December 2021
Another year has passed by too swiftly and one dominated once more by the international twists and turns of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst dramatic news stories abroad may seem a long way away, the continuing impact of uncertainties created by the pandemic still affect our communities. We have come to realise the physical isolation of our Islands is deceptive. Like everywhere else, we have had to prepare for when the illness eventually arrives. Managing the consequences of the pandemic has caused a strain on the resources available to the governments of St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha. I fear this will continue well into next year.
So, for the wellbeing of us all it is important to switch off, if only for a few days, from the emotive headlines, the barrage of medical statistics, the endless ‘might’ and ‘might not’ speculations, and enjoy some downtime. The Christmas and New Year church services, public celebrations and time with family and friends all characterise this important time of the year. A time when we can get ready to start the next one with a fresh and hopefully positive outlook.
In spite of the world situation, our Islands have continued to build for a brighter future. All three communities have achieved much more than could have been expected from a backdrop of disruptions to travel, supply shortages and increased organisational complexity simply to getting anything done. The first big success on St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha was the rapid and overwhelming response to the vaccination programmes. At 97% of the adult population on St Helena, and a similar figure for Ascension, being fully vaccinated in less than two months made the two Islands amongst the highest vaccinated places in the world. A remarkable show of community spirit and one I encourage us all to continue now that booster vaccines have arrived. Tristan da Cunha, through an amazing dash by military plane and navy ship, joined the fully vaccinated club a little later in the year.
Let us look at what else we have been able to achieve. On Ascension, the renewal of the runway is well underway. Soon into the New Year, the contractors should reach the halfway point. An impressive feat in under twelve months to rebuild from the foundations up almost a mile of runway. The Island is preparing a programme of
improvements and restorations to spruce up the residential areas ahead of the resumption of the Falklands Airbridge in a year or so.
Shortly too, Ascension will have two replacement sewage treatment plants up and running at Georgetown and Two Boats. Not a glamorous topic but something we all rely on in our daily lives. To underpin the designation of almost 445,000 sq km of Marine Protected Zone, a marine management plan was agreed and implemented. A huge achievement that balances the needs of various stakeholders on the Island. Lastly, after 95 years and following much consultation, Ascension enacted a new Employment Ordinance. One that better reflects employers and employees expectations in our modern times.
The biggest development on St Helena that touched everyone was the adoption this year of the new Ministerial System of Government. A tremendous accomplishment over the last two years, which culminated in October with the appointment of Julie Thomas as the first Chief Minister of St Helena. This gives the Island the prospect of a more decisive approach to Government. One that should be in a better position to take more effectively the difficult decisions necessary to build future success and prosperity. The general election brought many new faces into Government. Let us thank too those in the previous Council who gave their unstinting service to the St Helena community.
St Helena should also be proud of the infrastructure developments it has progressed throughout the year. At the very start of 2021, the rockfall protection works in James and Rupert’s valleys were completed in spectacular style with cliff edge helicopter flights and teams working high on the steepest slopes. New developments continued mid-year with the arrival of the marine cable. A tangible first step to connect the Island to the high-speed digital world. It is now important as many people on the Island as possible increase their IT skills to make use of the internet to improve their businesses and earn new sources of income. I look to all with an interest in IT, including the youth and young at heart on the Island, to assist your friends and families to become more internet ‘savvy’ in advance of the big ‘switch on’ in early 2023.
In the second half of this year, the large Rupert’s container port development broke ground and the Side Path Road widening made impressive progress. Even more improvements, finished (or almost finished) this year, have progressed in the background: a new Weather Station building at Bottom Woods was officially opened in December; a new Marine Laboratory on Jamestown Wharf has become a reality; new investment in the fish factory is well underway; a custody suite built to modern standards was opened at the Police Station; and a wide-ranging, three-year Cloud Forest Restoration Project has been set up by RSPB with St Helena National Trust and on-Island partners.
A crowning achievement this December for St Helena was the tour of the Island by the Queen’s Baton Relay ahead of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. The return of the Baton after many years brought people, young and old, together in true Commonwealth spirit.
Tristan da Cunha made world headlines when it announced in November 2020 the creation of a vast Marine Protected Zone around the four Islands of the archipelago. It has continued to develop ways to make the Zone as effective as possible, supported by legislation and a Marine Management Plan. This work has continued to attract richly deserved recognition by both UK ministers and top-level international environmental organisations. Tristan too, helped raise the profile of the Overseas Territories at the Glasgow COP26 climate conference last month. I congratulate the Island council and the community for taking the bold decision to protect their seas for the future. The Zone is underpinned by an innovative trust fund arrangement. It should bring tangible benefits to the Tristan residents in coming years. In spite of the continuing disruption to sea access from the loss of the Geo Searcher in 2020, the stoic spirit of the island community has persevered. In January next year the new MV Lance will make its first voyage to the Island and hopefully a new barge, communications facility, and waste collection vehicle will be put into service soon.
I also mention another RSPB project. This is the one to eradicate mice from Gough Island. A major exercise to safeguard the future of seabirds. The team there finished poison baiting in July and the initial signs of more bird chicks and no predation are welcomed.
To all who work for the public services on our unique Islands, I thank you for your service. You have the continuing commitment to deliver vital services to our communities as efficiently as possible. I thank all working in businesses who have had to be innovative to remain commercially viable in perhaps their most difficult times in living memory. I thank the voluntary organisations for without your support to the elderly, youth, sports, crafts and culture of the Islands our collective quality of life would be much poorer.
Congratulations too should go to Girlguiding for reaching this year their centenary of service to St Helena. I also extend too my warm appreciation to the French Honorary Consul for organising a dignified and memorable commemoration of the bicentenary of the death of Napoleon on 5 May. It is an ideal moment to thank Lord Ashcroft for his generous support to the British Napoleonic Bicentenary Trust to restore Jacob’s Ladder. Its much-needed renovation will begin imminently.
In all, I hope you will agree a busy year all round for our Islands.
So, today at Christmas, my wife and I wish everyone a peaceful and festive season.
Dr Philip Rushbrook
Governor of St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha
25 December 2021