Falklands : Governor says Farewell to Councillors
Submitted by Falkland Islands News Network (Juanita Brock) 29.07.2006 (Article Archived on 12.08.2006)
H. E. the Governor Mr Pearce has bid adieu to Falkland Islands' Councillors.
GOVERNOR'S SPEECH AT LEGCO FAREWELL DINNER,
27 JULY 2006
Mr Speaker, Councillors, Chief of Staff, Ladies and Gentlemen,
How can three and a half years go so quickly? I still sometimes feel as though I have only just arrived. Yet these years have been packed with incident and activity.
It has been a privilege, both professionally and personally, to be Governor of the Falkland Islands. For a Diplomatic Service officer, this job is unusual, to put it mildly – indeed, it is unique. It would not be to the taste of many of my colleagues to live and work in these remote South Atlantic islands, or to replace the title of Ambassador and the collegiality of the diplomatic corps with the lonely responsibilities of Governor. Indeed, some considered it a little odd that I wished to come here. But that just shows how little they know. I knew better.
I have been fascinated by the Falkland Islands ever since I visited here in the 1970s, and I jumped at the chance of returning. Professionally, it has proved to be all I hoped for and more – immensely varied, never less than interesting, and for much of the time demanding and challenging. Very few people have the opportunity to be a head of government. I have had that privilege. And make no mistake, government in the Falkland Islands does everything that government does elsewhere. It may do so on a much smaller scale, but the challenges and the problems are often surprisingly similar.
Let me thank all of you here this evening for helping to make my job so rewarding. Working with Councillors and FIG officials has been – most of the time! – a pleasure, and always stimulating and rewarding. I am glad to say that we have not always agreed, but we have always been able to resolve our differences of view in a civilised way.
And personally …. well, the Falkland Islands has changed my life. Meeting my wife, getting married, and acquiring a daughter were not on my agenda when I came here. But what a privilege it has been. I must say a special word of thanks to Caroline, who came innocently to the Falkland Islands on holiday as a backpacker, for taking on the role of Governor's wife and carrying it out so wonderfully. She has added so much in so many ways to my life here, and has made her own very special contribution to the Falklands community. As for little Suzanna, I can already see that she is a natural diplomat and succeeds in charming everybody she meets.
I should like to use this occasion to offer three final thoughts about the Falkland Islands and the future. I shall be frank, but I shall be speaking out of high regard and respect for the Falklands community and its future well being.
This is a society of self-reliant individualists. It is one of the community's greatest strengths. It has enabled you to survive and overcome the difficulties of life in these remote islands and to achieve success in this challenging environment. It gave you the strength to recover from the tremendous shock of 1982. But these qualities have their downside. Individualists often find it difficult to work with others. Before 1982, when the Falkland Islands were solely dependent on a wool, produced by some 30-odd separate sheep ranching communities, that was not much of an issue. But now the Falklands has a cosmopolitan society and a prosperous and complex economy. It is engaged much more closely than it was at the time of the sheepocracy with the outside world. In such a society the ability to work together cooperatively and effectively is much more important. In key areas of the economy - and I cite agriculture, tourism and the fishing industry as examples which I have had the opportunity to observe – effective cooperation still has a long way to go. But it is an essential pre-requisite for future development. By working together, you have the opportunity to expand the size of the cake so that everybody's slice becomes larger. While local competition is healthy, it should not be reduced to a zero sum game. The Falkland Islands' real competitors are overseas, not at home. Your focus needs to be on identifying your markets and persuading them to choose the Falklands product rather than the alternative. You will have a better chance of success if you learn to work with rather than against each other.
Secondly, a few words about politics. Historically, this was largely the business of the local elite. But in the last couple of decades the Falkland Islands have become an immensely more democratic society. This has to be a good thing. But I still detect a reluctance on many people's part to get involved in open debate. Several members of the new Council advocated in their election campaigns greater openness and transparency in decision making – quite rightly. But there is still a certain sensitivity to criticism, and discomfort when Government policies come under attack. I can understand the reasons for that – it is no small thing to stand up for one's views in public and invite the public ire of those who disagree. But, as long as the debate remains within a civilised framework, I think we need more of it. There were some good discussions on controversial issues during Farmers' Week. That was encouraging. It would be good, too, to see more letters to the Penguin News from a wider range of correspondents. It would be good if new faces were seen at the monthly public meetings, in addition to the regular attenders. Let us get rid of the instinct to keep one's head down, bring in new participants, and improve the quality and the quantity of our public debate.
This society has transformed itself since I first knew it in the 1970s. It is much less hierarchical, much more cosmopolitan, and knows a great deal more about the world outside. The Islands have always thrived on incomers, and welcomed new blood. I continue to be astonished by the number of people I meet who came here for six months, twenty years ago, and somehow never got around to leaving. But this brings me to my third point. I still detect a certain "us and them" attitude and a degree of disapproval of those who come for a few years and leave. One manifestation of this is the current correspondence in the Penguin News about contract officers. Lurking behind that may be the view, which I encounter from time to time, that self-sufficiency is the ultimate and desirable aim.
I am astonished at the range and quality of skills to be found in this community. FIGAS is of course the classic example – it is indeed remarkable that the local air service should be flown, maintained and managed entirely by Falkland Islanders. In government and the private sector, in the medical, veterinary and legal professions, Falkland Islanders have made great strides. I doubt whether any English community of similar size could boast such a range of talent and skills.
Nevertheless, I venture the view that self-sufficiency in a community of this size is not only unachievable but also highly undesirable. I fear the result would be an inward looking and parochial society which would rapidly cease to thrive and would flounder in complacency. Falkland Islanders should welcome those who come to work here, whether on contract for two years, or as long-term members of the community. The Islands need their fresh ideas, their experience, and their knowledge of the world outside. But they must of course bring the skills and qualities which the Islands need, and avoid the patronising or know-it-all attitudes which have occasionally (but only occasionally) brought contract officers a bad name.
But that is enough moralising from me. Let me say in closing that I am a great optimist about the Falkland Islands' future. In the years to come there will be plenty of challenges and difficulties – your neighbours will see to that – but in some ways that may be no bad thing. It will help to keep you on your toes. What I see here is a vibrant, dynamic and self- confident society. There are plenty of problems, especially for the Camp community. But there is entrepreneurial talent and energy, in both Camp and Stanley. Even in the few years I have been here there has been remarkable change and a readiness to embrace new ideas – again, both in Camp and Stanley. The new fisheries policy, the shift to meat production, the radical review still underway of transport policy, and the potential development of aquaculture are just a few examples. Government could sometimes make decisions more quickly, and perhaps should be prepared to take more risks, but in the new set of Councillors I see a readiness to do just that. I hope you will not give way to caution too soon.
Finally, I should like to thank you on behalf of Caroline, Suzanna and myself for all your warmth and kindness. It has been fun working with you. Especially I thank Councillors for your generosity tonight. We have had a wonderful welcome in the Islands and enjoyed unrivalled hospitality. We thank you for that, and wish you well.