Falklands : FIRS THROWS THE SPOTLIGHT ON JAN CHEEK AND DICK SAWLE
Submitted by Falkland Islands News Network (Juanita Brock) 10.01.2012 (Article Archived on 24.01.2012)
Members of the Legislative Assembly, Jan Cheek and Dick Sawle, towards the end of last year attended the Overseas Territories Consultative Council forum in London and followed that by visiting Brussels for further discussions.
FIRS THROWS THE SPOTLIGHT ON JAN CHEEK AND DICK SAWLE
A Report for FIRS by Stacey Bragger (SB)
Members of the Legislative Assembly, Jan Cheek and Dick Sawle, towards the end of last year attended the Overseas Territories Consultative Council forum in London and followed that by visiting Brussels for further discussions. On the programme today (02 Jan 2012) they will be reporting on the discussions they held. To begin with, MLA, Cheek described what the purpose of the OTCC is.
JC: The forum is to enable the representatives – in most cases the prime and premiers of the various Overseas Territories – much larger jurisdictions than ours on the whole - and it’s their opportunity to put their concerns to Ministers in the Foreign Office but more importantly this time around they wheeled out various other Ministers of departments who had some responsibilities or interests in what’s happening in the various territories. So it’s very useful on that formal level but that is a very formal level and conducted under Chatham House Rules. So we can’t go into details of what others have said but of course we can talk about some of the issues that we raised in the formal part. But more importantly, in the social events surrounding it and at lunch breaks and at coffee breaks you get to talk and compare notes with politicians from – not necessarily similar territories – but territories that have problems created like ours has – those of distance, remoteness, size of population, lack of economies to scale, constitutional development – although – our constitution is somewhat in advance of constitutions of some of the other territories. We seem to have more internal independence – if you like – than some of the other territories. But it was a very worthwhile time and probably, as I said, there was as much work done in the margins as in the formal meetings.
SB: The Overseas Territories’ relationship with Britain is currently being assessed with the White Paper coming out next year (2012). Was that quite central to the discussions?
JC: Yes. Obviously they have consulted the territories in advance for some ideas on issues that are going to be included in the White Paper. They are very clear – as I think Dick has said in other places – that they see the territories as an asset as opposed to a liability – although they do talk about contingent liability when we want to do anything that they find difficult. But generally we found the attitudes very friendly and helpful. But I have to say I went to several such meetings under the previous Labour government and they were also extremely helpful.
DS: I believe the big change that I’ve noticed is that the UK Coalition Government is very disposed towards the Falklands and towards its OTs, more so than, I think the previous government in the UK but there has never been any lack of political support. It’s just how that translates into actions. For example, just take the £250Million airport development in St Helena. That shows how this current Government in the UK is looking very favourably on its OTs and its out to support them and is supporting us in terms of foreign affairs. Obviously they support us heavily in terms of Defence and they are very keen to try and make sure the UK resources that are within various departments in Whitehall, for example, that we are able to take full advantage of those and that’s all about how they can make Westminster – Whitehall – if you like – work more closely with OTs in order to assist us.
SB: William Hague has been quite strong with the Falklands?
JC: Everywhere he has appeared. And he briefly attended these meetings at the end of the first day. And he was extremely supportive of the Islands and has been from way back when we used to meet at Party Conferences when he was a very young up and coming MP.
SB: What other issues aside from that were considered?
We talked about civil Aviation; we talked about the regulatory regime which is ASSI. We signed an agreement with ASSI while we were there, which basically means that we will continue to use ASSI as part of our regulation of Civil Aviation here. And I think that deal was quite a beneficial one for the Falklands because we do have the alternative of looking for other means to regulate but they could end up far more expensive than the one we went for. We also talked about pensions. There are many UK people who move abroad to OTs and their pensions are frozen at the level when they left the UK, which means, in some cases, there are people here in the Falkland Islands – not many perhaps but nevertheless it is an important issue for them – whose pensions are at a level as when they first left the UK. This is a serious matter for them and there was quite a bit of lobbying from the OTs to the UK Government to try and see if we can perhaps relax the rules for OTs.
JC: It doesn’t just apply to UK citizens, of course; it applies to citizens from the OTs who spend their working life in the UK and then retire home to their Overseas Territory and in the same way their pensions are frozen. I don’t know the numbers world-wide but it’s a significant number of people and it just seems grossly unfair when they made the same contribution as others who stay in the UK.
SB: Did you discuss issues with other South Atlantic OTs such as St Helena and Ascension?
DS: Yes we did. We had a pre-OTCC meeting as well in which all the OTs get together and talk about what they might put forward as common agenda items. Those may be the ones we have already discussed but during the course of the year there are also telephone conferences that are held between the Falklands, St Helena, Pitcairn, Tristan da Cunha and Ascension Island. And the five of us get together. We have an agenda and work our way through that, which includes things like succession planning and the Falklands lead on that and also renewable energy and other matters of mutual benefit and concern.
JC: We did have the opportunity on the second day to hear from various Ministers and that was a double edged sword in one respect in that being Ministers, they talked at great length so there wasn’t an awful lot of time left for questioning them at the end. But that was useful and we’ve now got contacts in those various departments, which will be very helpful in the future because very often we are learning something from scratch that they have been doing for years and can hack through a lot of wasted time for us.
DS: We did discuss also the OTs wish to have access to lottery funds. How can this impact on the Falklands? Well, for example with the current plan to locate the Falklands Museum to the Dockyard site. If we could have access to lottery funds, this is exactly the kind of thing these lottery funds are for in the UK. As Overseas Territories we are pushing for that. And I have to say also the Ministers involved are equally keen to see that happen. Having said that - they were equally as keen last year - so let’s hope that over the next twelve months they might be able to progress this for us.
JC: You will have seen Henry Bellingham, who is the Minister for the other Overseas Territories, although we have Jeremy Browne as our Minister. Henry Bellingham raised that on his visit to Bermuda. You probably saw the press coverage of that a few months ago.
Another issue that was raised around the edges was the potential for funding for sport development in the OTs. With the lead up to the Olympics and all the excitement that that’s causing in the UK it would be very nice if a little bit of that assistance came the way of the Overseas Territories who are up against it in terms of sport – not just in developing their people but in finding suitable competition for them to hone their skills against.
SB: I believe you also both went to Brussels to hold discussions there. Was that a useful trip?
JC: it was extremely useful. I have to say that Brussels is not my favourite place but I could see the point so although it was an extraordinarily busy time in Brussels because they were expecting the leaders there imminently to look at the massive financial crisis that Europe’s going through at the moment. We were very fortunate to meet with the UK Labour spokesman on the MEP – Richard Howatt – Unfortunately, the Conservative spokesman had gone down with flu that day but we did meet his advisor and were able to give him a detailed briefing, which would not only have gone to Charles Tanner, the MEP who was unwell but would have gone to a number of other MEPs. It just happened that that advisor was also on one of the major fisheries committees so we were able to make him aware of quite a lot of the issues relating to management of fisheries in the South Atlantic, which is sadly lacking. And that’s a point we made also in our visit to a number of the other officials. Not only were we making them aware of the economic blockade that Argentina is trying to create around the Islands but we were also making them aware that the South-West Atlantic is really the only major fishing region that doesn’t have a proper management set-up. This is solely because Argentina will not work with its neighbours on that.
DS: and we met with other EU officials as well. We talked with the Head of Unit Trade Relations with Latin America and we gave the same messages basically to all of them. We also met with various people with the OTC Task Force as well. And the very clear message that I got back was they were very, very pleased that we had taken the time to go and see them, which they found quite unusual and I think they were generally pleased to see us and whilst they had obviously been briefed on the situation in the Falklands, I don’t think they understood the intricacies and the detail of what’s happening here at the moment. And the third message, which I found certainly very reassuring was that they were in absolutely no doubt at all of our status as an associated territory of the EU was not under any threat whatsoever. And any attempts to try and widen the gap between the EU and the Falklands would simply fail. So I think it was very supportive and well worth going despite the fact that I totally concur with Jan that I can’t stand Brussels.
SB: I also believe that you did some work with Stanley Services while you were there as well is there any update on fuel prices?
DS: Every time we meet we obviously discuss the fuel prices and the hope always is that prices that we pay for the fuel will come down. They haven’t done. The prices have been increasing. Whilst the price of crude oil may be dropping so far that has not resulted in any price drop at the pump and I think that is a world-wide issue – not just the Falklands are affected by that.
One of the things we did look at was the price of Kerosene, which has been held low because we had asked for it to be held low since May of this year. So over the winter period the price remained at 73 pence a litre. Maintaining that price at a low level has resulted in the fuel formula owing the Company a large amount of money. So obviously the only way we can get that money back is to try and buy cheaper fuel, which we are actively pursuing at the moment and there has been a slight increase of 2p a litre on Kerosene and we hope that by June of next year that we will have equalised the balance in favour of the Company and brought the domestic formula for that particular product down to zero, which we have to do.
(100X Transcription Service)