Falklands : Governor's Report on Exco (29/06/06)
Submitted by Falkland Islands News Network (Juanita Brock) 05.07.2006 (Article Archived on 19.07.2006)
H. E. the Governor Mr. Pearce updates us on what happened during this vital meeting.
GOVERNOR'S REPORT ON THE MEETING OF EXECUTIVE COUNCIL ON THURSDAY 29 JUNE 2006
The monthly meeting of Executive Council took place on Thursday 29 June 2006 at Government House. We had a particularly weighty and varied agenda this month.
Construction of Camp roads is nearing completion, but the programme still contains a couple of years' work. Executive Council considered and agreed proposals for the remaining programme, which is focused on reaching only those farms not yet connected to the road network on both East and West Falkland, completing the link from San Carlos to the North Camp road at Greenfield, and undertaking capping and culvert replacement for roads on the East.
While on the subject of roads, we also considered some 19 policy issues connected with the Road Traffic Bill which had been identified by the working group on the Bill. These are too numerous to set out in detail here, but the papers are available for inspection by the public. As an illustration, we covered such issues as prohibition of the use of hand-held mobile phones and radios whilst driving, the definition of a motor cycle to include three-wheeled and quad bikes, parking restrictions, introduction of a "MOT" type test (we decided against this), the licensing of taxis, the introduction of fixed penalties, and designation of roads in Camp. These and several other issues are now being put out to public consultation, and I hope that they will provoke a lively and constructive debate. Finally, on the subject of motoring, Executive Council agreed a new planning guidance note covering car parking in Stanley, designed to ensure that all new properties make adequate provision for off-street parking.
Shipping services are an essential lifeline for Camp. All of those interested will I think already be aware that the current contract with Island Shipping Limited expired on 30 June and that an extension, on revised terms, has been negotiated until 30 November this year. Meanwhile an invitation to tender was issued for the new contract. Some seven tenders have been received in response. Following discussion by the Tender Board, Executive Council decided that further discussions should now be held with two of the tenderers, Workboat Services Limited and Myles Lee, with a view to a final decision on the new operator being reached in due course.
Many people in Camp have benefited from the Rural Energy Grant Scheme, and now enjoy the convenience of wind turbines and 24-hour power. Executive Council decided to agree a recommendation from the FIDC that the scheme should be extended in order to allow non-farming commercial enterprises in Camp to benefit from it, irrespective of whether the applicant is a full-time Camp resident or not. We also considered the next steps in the Sand Bay wind farm project, which aims to supplement Stanley power station with electricity produced by 3 larger scale wind turbines. Executive Council decided to proceed with the next stage of this project, by releasing funding of some £2.3 million, approving the award of a contract to the suppliers of the turbines, the German company Enercon, and other preparatory steps essential to the implementation of the project. This is an exciting scheme, which promises at least a 20% reduction in the power station's annual fuel consumption. At the present fuel price, the capital costs should be paid back in just under 7 years, a very good rate of return. I should like to congratulate all concerned with bringing this imaginative project this far, and wish them every success in bringing the new turbines into operation.
One consequence of the scheme is the need to amend the Stanley Common Ordinance 1999 to permit the installation of wind turbines on the Common. A number of other recent decisions by Executive Council have also created the need to amend the Ordinance, in connection with the use of parts of Stanley Common for the rifle range and associated activities, and for training exercises by the FIDF and the fire and rescue services. Executive Council accordingly approved the Stanley Common (Amendment) Bill for publication in the Gazette and submission to Legislative Council in July.
Islanders who are frequent travellers will be familiar with the team who provide security services at Mount Pleasant International Airport. The current contract for these services has in fact expired, but Executive Council noted that the parallel contract for maritime security services does not expire until 30 September 2007. Executive Council concluded that it would make sense to re-tender the two contracts in parallel in 2007, and that the existing contract with Falklands Security Services for airport security should therefore be extended until 30 September 2007 in order to make that possible.
Following discussion at the May Executive Council of various issues related to pensions and provident funds, a recommendation was put to the June Executive Council in favour of an extra-statutory concession to exempt from tax interest received by the Falklands Landholdings and Falkland Islands Company provident funds. We agreed that this was reasonable, and noted that the amount of tax at stake was relatively small at around £7,000 per annum.
FIG receives some valuable income each year from the sale of commemorative coins. Executive Council agreed that a number of new commemorative coins should be minted in 2006 and 2007. These include a series of coins commemorating great Britons, together with coins commemorating the diamond wedding anniversary of Her Majesty The Queen and Prince Philip, the 25th anniversary of the liberation of the Falkland Islands, International Polar Year, and the 20th anniversary of the fishing industry in the Falkland Islands.
Many Falkland Islanders have benefitted from arrangements for medical treatment to be carried out overseas when, for one reason or another, such treatment has not been available at the King Edward Memorial Hospital. For a number of reasons the costs of such treatment have been rising rapidly, and the last financial year proved to be a particularly expensive one. A working group chaired by the Director of Health and Social Services, Nikki Osborne, has therefore been considering ways of keeping these costs under control. A wide range of measures was recommended, and a number of these require some further work. They include:
- measures to ensure, through the immigration and work permit process, that only entitled individuals have access to medical treatment overseas and that appropriate insurance is in place for non-entitled employees;
- a change in philosophy to the effect that overseas referrals should only take place if there would otherwise be serious detriment to the person's health, and all referrals should be considered before the event by FIG's Medical Officers as a group;
- a charge of £400 to be made towards the cost of elective medical treatment overseas;
- emergency treatment overseas to remain free;
- no funding for referrals for which a satisfactory treatment is available locally;
- certain treatments overseas to be restricted - the details are available for consultation by members of the public;
- certain limitations on the funding of accommodation while undertaking medical treatment overseas, and the rules for accommodation allowances in Santiago to be reviewed.
These decisions took effect on 1 July this year. The full details are, as I have said, available for public consultation. Members noted that the purpose of these new measures was in part to monitor their effect in regulating demand for medical treatment overseas and that if they failed to do so it might be necessary to revisit the subject.
While I am on medical issues, I should just note that Executive Council agreed that the post of Laboratory Assistant in the Health Services Department, which was phased out a couple of years ago, should be restored on a part-time basis.
Executive Council approved the temporary appointment of two police constables for a period of 6 months, but for up to one year if required, in order to fill gaps currently faced by the Royal Falkland Islands Police.
Executive Council has dealt with a number of issues in recent months in connection with the new fisheries legislation, under which eligible fishing companies will be granted ownership rights over Individual Transferable Quota (ITQ). The Taxes (Amendment) Bill 2006 provides for all future trading of ITQ to be subject to tax. However, this has begged the question of how ITQ should be valued for tax purposes. It was decided that FIG should draw on New Zealand experience, given the long history in New Zealand of such systems, and Executive Council considered a report produced by New Zealand consultants. Executive Council concluded that the recommendations in the report offered a good starting point and should be accepted, but also noted that as experience is gained in the Falkland Islands of operating the new system it should be possible to develop the method of valuation to increase its accuracy.
We were asked to consider some administrative issues concerning the Lands and Planning and Building Committees. Executive Council agreed a new set of terms of reference for the Lands Committee, which included the delegation by Executive Council of the authority to make certain decisions with regard to the allocation and management of Government land and the granting of licences to hold land. The details of the new terms of reference and the delegations are available for public inspection. Executive Council noted the delegation by the Planning and Building Committee to the Planning Officer of the power to approve minor planning applications, and approved the appointment of Mr Ian Berntsen as the new lay member of the Planning and Building Committee.
The Old Telephone Exchange has been available for some time now for use by young people, and is known as "The Place". Hitherto, "The Place" had been leasing the building from FIG at a rate of £100 per month. Executive Council decided that it would be fair to bring "The Place" into line with other similar youth organisations and to lease the premises at a nominal rent of £1 per annum. This took effect from 1 July. The licence to hold the building will continue to be considered annually.
Next, an item of interest to all fishermen. Executive Council advised me to approve the draft Murrell River Fishing Regulations, which I shall be signing shortly. These give effect to policy decisions taken when the Murrell area management plan was considered at the beginning of this year.
At the end of last year Executive Council agreed to notify the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that they wished the United Nations Conventions on Transnational Organised Crime and on Corruption to be extended to the Falkland Islands. In order to enable the Falkland Islands to comply with these two Conventions, certain changes have to be made to local law. Executive Council therefore approved two items of primary legislation and one of subsidiary legislation which will now be published in the Gazette. These are the Proceeds of Crime Bill and the Bribery and Corruption Overseas Bill, which will be remitted to Legislative Council in September, and the Criminal Justice (International Cooperation) Ordinance (Enforcement of Overseas Forfeiture Orders) Order, which is likely to be made in October. While the problems which these Conventions and the consequential ordinances address are not, fortunately, common occurrences in the Falkland Islands, it is nevertheless important that the Falkland Islands should comply with them in order to demonstrate that we maintain the highest international standards in these areas.
Most people will be aware that a census is planned for later this year. It will be held on Sunday 8 October, and every household will be required to fill in a census form. Executive Council considered and approved the census form. This has been carefully designed to make it clear and as easy as possible to complete. The information which Government will gather from this exercise is essential for the purposes of sensible policy planning over the next few years, not least in order to ensure that the services which the population requires are made available at an appropriate level.
I come next, and finally, to what I hope will be the last word on the Gordon Forbes case. Towards the end of last year the Chief Executive and the Principal Crown Counsel were asked to report to Executive Council on the lessons that could be learnt by FIG from this case, in order to inform decision-making in any similar future dispute relating to a construction contract. Chris Simpkins and Melanie Chilton brought their conclusions to last week's meeting of Executive Council, and these have now been published. Since the text of the conclusions is already available to the public, I do not intend to go into details here. Some useful lessons have been learnt. I would however like to address one particular aspect, concerning the calls from some members of the public for a full public inquiry. I have given this careful consideration, and I have discussed it in some detail with the Chief Executive. I have come to the conclusion that the benefits which might be gained from such an inquiry are outweighed by the costs involved. A public inquiry, properly held, is a quasi legal process. It must be chaired by a fully qualified and experienced lawyer, and hear evidence. Interested parties, and in particular those who might run the risk of being subject to criticism at such an inquiry, are entitled to have legal representation. The Gordon Forbes case was highly complex, and it is likely that such an inquiry would take several months. Legal expertise would have to be brought in from the UK. It has been estimated that the costs could be as high as £300,000 - perhaps higher. I do not believe that this would be a proper use of the taxpayer's money. I am satisfied that the Chief Executive and the Principal Crown Counsel have looked thoroughly and rigorously at the conduct of the case and that they have identified the key lessons to be learnt. I think it is now time to draw a line under the issue, while ensuring that these lessons are implemented in any future construction contract entered into by FIG.