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St Helena : St Helena CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM: A CHIEF COUNCILLOR?
Submitted by Saint Helena Herald (Public Relations Information Office) 19.01.2013 (Article Archived on 02.02.2013)

In 2009 a new Constitution was adopted for St Helena (and for Ascension and Tristan da Cunha). It brought many changes, which seem generally to be thought to have been improvements upon the previous systems, which dated from 1988.

CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM:


A CHIEF COUNCILLOR?


 


In 2009 a new Constitution was adopted for St Helena (and for Ascension and Tristan da Cunha). It brought many changes, which seem generally to be thought to have been improvements upon the previous systems, which dated from 1988.


 


However some of the changes have been thought to be less successful and led to questions of democratic accountability.


 


Amendments to the Constitution have therefore been put forward for public consultation. These include the appointment of a Chief Councillor.


 


CURRENT STRUCTURE


 


There is no Chief Councillor. The people of St Helena elect 12 Legislative Councillors, the Councillors elect five of their own number to be members of the Executive Council. Although all of these five can be called upon to answer questions in the Legislative Council, no one person is accountable for the performance of the Government as a whole. Members of the public have often asked ‘Who do I talk to when I am dissatisfied?’. Often, the answer should be ‘the relevant official’ or ‘the Committee Chairman’ but, sometimes, the subject will be ExCo Business or some other cross- Governmental issue.


 


NEED FOR CHANGE


 


The consultation Constitution document, ‘Improving Democracy and Accountability’ (which can be viewed on the SHG website on the homepage www.sainthelena.gov.sh), explains that experience of operating this system has encountered practical problems. The problems described in the document can be partially resolved by restoring the direct lines of accountability between Committee Chairmen and Executive Council (as described in a separate Press Release), reverting to the situation which existed before 2009. But did anyone think that system was perfect?


 


The idea of appointing a Chief Councillor is not new. It was first proposed by the St. Helena Constitutional Commission which was established in 1999 to review the 1988 Constitution. That Commission recommended that:-


 


“A Chief Councillor should be elected by the elected members of the Legislative Council and, on appointment should be required to nominate the required number of further elected members to serve with him/her as Chairpersons/Executive Councillors”.


 


PROPOSAL


 


What is now proposed is exactly what the Commission recommended. The Legislative Council, and the public, will be able to identify one Councillor and say to him or her: ‘The buck stops with you’.


 


He or she would be elected by the 12 Councillors, from amongst themselves, and would thus have a mandate to provide leadership. He or she would, as the Commission recommended, choose the other members of the Executive Council, forming a team to work together in providing leadership to Government as a whole.


 


Neither he nor she, individually, nor the Executive Council as a whole, could dictate the direction of Government Business; they would need to lead in such a way as to carry with them the support of the Legislative Council. In order to get any item of business passed by the Legislative Council, they would need to secure the support of at least two non-ExCo Members (thus achieving a 7:5 vote to support the motion).


 


He or she, and they, would be liable to be removed, at any time, by a Vote of No Confidence; so they would be (individually and collectively) accountable to the Legislative Council (and, through the Council, to the public).


 


Collective responsibility


 


The possibility of the Government as a whole being defeated, places on ExCo Councillors the compelling political necessity of working as a team, accepting collective responsibility for its policies and decisions, and collaborating with the non-ExCo Members to ensure a majority in the Legislative Council.


 


At first sight, the concept of collective responsibility might appear to force agreement to something with which a Member in fact disagrees, and thus to be anti-democratic. In practice, thought, it reinforces the need for team-working and compromise. If a Member feels forced to resign, or is removed, he or she is likely to become a vocal opponent as a non-ExCo member of the Legislative Council. A significant ‘thorn in the flesh’ of the Chief Councillor and other remaining Executive Council members.


 


Members of the public are invited to make their views made in the following ways:


Written (or emailed) comments must arrive by Friday 25 January, 2013 and may be sent to:


 


Miss Cilla Isaac,


Secretary to the Home, Civil Society, and International Committee,


The Castle,


Jamestown


 


Email: pa.lawofficers@sainthelena.gov.sh.


Alternatively, you can attend one of the following public meetings:


 


· Silver Hill Bar- Tuesday 15 Jan


· Longwood Community Centre- Wednesday 16 Jan


· Kingshurst Community Centre- Thursday 17 Jan


· Jamestown Community Centre- Monday 21 Jan


· Half Tree Hollow Community Centre- Tuesday 22 Jan


 


 


Further, Councillor Derek Thomas will also be available for one-to-one meetings between the hours of 10am-12 noon on Thursday 17 January, at Jamestown Community Centre


 


 


SHG


15 January 2013

 

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