A Report for BBC World Service "Calling the Falklands" by Jenny Hargreaves (JH) and Louise Swan (LS) 12/12/03
Earlier this week, the Overseas Territories Minister, Bill Rammell, welcomed Chief Ministers and Senior Politicians from the Territories to London for their annual meeting. And, for the first time ever, the Territories Governors were in attendance. Topics discussed included Constitutional Reform, and the role of Governors. The meeting also marked the launch of a new £3 Million environment programme for the territories to be jointly funded by the FCO and DFID. Amongst those present was the Governor of St. Helena, David Hollamby. Heís been working overtime this year on plans to build an airport on the Island Ė a development, which is vital for the future of the local economy. The project was finally put out to tender in April this year. Louise Swan went to meet David Hollamby (DH) and began by asking him how the Overseas Territories Meeting had gone.
DH: I think it went very well. I found it very constructive. It was a meeting of minds. I think Mr. Rammell was quite right to want Governors to be present for this one-off occasion because the real issue was, after reviewing the 1999 White Paper, the issue was one of governance, of which Governors have a major role to play. And, also taking forward various Constitutional Reviews that are taking place at a different pace in different territories. And, I think what he wanted to achieve was to tell the politicians and at the same time tell the Governors what they have always expected of their Governors. And also what they will continue to expect of their Governors in terms of their role to protect the international commitments that Britain signed up to which are extended to the Overseas Territories and to avoid contingent liabilities. And all these responsibilities had to be re-emphasised. And, I think it was a good tactic to have the Governors and the Politicians sitting in the same room. Although all the dialogue was with the Politicians, it wasnít with the Governors who are not normally at this event and I think it worked.
LS: Last time I was speaking with you, you had just put out the tenders for proposals for the new airport complex. How did it go?
DH: We were successful, I am pleased to say. By the 25th of July the bids were in and that was the closing date. We had four companies come in. There was Shelco, Basil-Oui, which is part of the French conglomerate, Oui, Largen Holdings and John Liang, the big constructors. And, in August, we appointed W. S. Atkins to do an evaluation and, as Gareth Thomas, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at DFID announced about 10 days ago, we will be receiving a report from W. S. Atkins on the 17th of December, which will point the way forward.
LS: And you said they are a company. Are they some sore of consultancy company?
DH: WS Atkins are a very bug consultative company Ė one of the biggest in the country. And, we needed someone with their skills, particularly skills of a chartered surveyor to do a full assessment Ė a full technical assessment of the four bids that came in and they have been carrying out this. One of their team, in fact, their project manager, Barry Patterson, has been to St. Helena so he knows the feelings of the people on the ground and we are looking forward to their report on the 17th.
LS: Do you have any sense of the kind of factors that will be guiding their evaluation?
DH: I think that was the main point of Barry Pattersonís visit Ė so that he could get to talk with people. He had public meetings and saw all the stake-holders. He talked to the Media and he has a good feel of what the Island would like and why they would like an airport and what are the constraints in terms of areas which they really wouldnít want to give up for the sake of having an airport.
LS: And you are hoping for the negotiations to be done early in 2004?
DH: We hope so, yes. We have obviously to wait and see how the recommendation is first and then we have to take our views from St. Helena Government. DFID will have their views and we are telly-conferencing with the Island every week and we will come to a conclusion as to how we see it.
LS: Talking of DFID, you are expecting an aid package.
DH: Yes. We need to negotiate a new three-year aid agreement. We negotiated the last one at the end of 1999 to cover the next three financial years. We then were asked by DFID to roll over the aid package for a fourth year and that came to about £10.7 Million. We need to negotiate the new aid package before the end of this financial year for the following three financial years.
LS: April 2004.
DH: April 2004, so itís pretty tight at the moment.
LS: What is the prognosis?
DH: They say they are coming in the early spring. Itís going to be difficult because I take the ship off to Tristan da Cunha from the 9th of January to the 7th of February. Thereís a week down there and then it goes to Cape Town for dry-docking, so its missing for another month, so it will be March before we come up so thatís pretty much before the end of the Financial year.
LS: Letís hope they can make it last.
DH: So do I. We do have a mechanism whereby we can extend it for a few months. But itís not an ideal situation. We really want to get on with everything we have in mind for the Island and take it forward.
LS: Has it been a good year for St. Helena?
DH: Yes and no. The down side is that since the 21st of May 2002, when British Citizenship was restored, we have lost a quarter of the population.
LS: Wow. Was that expected?
DH: I think we all knew that there would be an exodus. Itís quite a sizeable one. Some people are beginning to drift back because itís not working out quite as they planned. They thought perhaps the pavements over here were lined with gold. And, they find living here very expensive. The only jobs that really work are those that include accommodation with them. Yes. Itís a big loss of population Ė about 1200 people. Some are coming back, some have faith in this air access process.
LS: So, the story of the proposed new airport is very much intertwined with the future of the Island, isnít it?
DH: Absolutely. I donít really think the Island has a future without air access.
(100X Transcription Service)