Transparency Saint Helena

Arguing for improved access to the way government takes decisions. In short, the creation of a Freedom of Information Ordinance for St. Helena.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Progress on Freedom of Information

There's lots of news and progress on Freedom of Information on St Helena Online and in this week's Independent:  The island's Human Rights Coordinator steps in to support our campaign a letter to every island councillor, requesting their views on Freedom of Information

Both these stories also feature in this week's St. Helena Independent

Thursday, September 6, 2012

UK Government promotes openness in Local Councils

This quote is from UK Government guidance issued to UK Local Councils:
There are recent stories about people being ejected from council meetings for blogging, tweeting or filming. This potentially is at odds with the fundamentals of democracy and I want to encourage all councils to take a welcoming approach to those who want to bring local news stories to a wider audience. The public should rightly expect that elected representatives who have put themselves up for public office be prepared for their decisions to be as transparent as possible and welcome a direct line of communication to their electorate. I do hope that you and your colleagues will do your utmost to maximise the transparency and openness of your council.

Oh, that they had written that to the St. Helena Government!

The quote comes from an interesting story about a journalist being arrested in Wales for filming local council proceedings.  Read the entire report here:

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Not in the spirit of Freedom of Information

I recently made a request to the government Press Office for some information.  I was actually after a few facts regarding the funding of the St. Helena Broadcasting (Guarantee) Corporation, the SHGBC.  Politically sensitive, maybe, but not exactly a matter of national security.  Under the UK Freedom of Information Act this information would have been readily available.  Indeed, I wouldn’t have needed to request it as it would have been published.

I was denied the information.  When I asked why, I was told: “In response to your below enquiry, having taken legal advice, the substance of which is privileged and will not be disclosed. I must advise you that the material sought will not be disclosed. Refusal of disclosure is consistent with applying the principles of the UK legislation, modified to reflect local circumstances.

From this it is plain that the government Pres Office does not act in the spirit of Freedom of Information.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

SATs Results: give us the detail and we'll judge for ourselves

There is some concern that the SATs results, published with such a flourish earlier this week, may not have been as good as they were presented.  (See here for an explanation.)
I did ask the Chief Public Relations Officer for the detailed figure, but apparently “the Director of Education first wishes to report the detailed figures to the Education and Employment Committee”.  That will be weeks away and I guess they hope we’ll have forgotten about it by then.
If the information is available to issue a press release then the information is available.  No ifs and buts.  It should be in the public domain.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Letter to The Editor in today's Independent

The following 'Letter to The Editor' will appear in today's Independent;

Esteemed Editor,

Various routine press releases were issued on Wednesday by SHG under the insulting title, "Open Government".  None of the content is about open government.  It's just called that, sort-of like calling my dog "King".

Is this SHG's idea of how to respond to the Freedom of Information campaign?

FOI isn't about what SHG feels like revealing to the people.  FOI creates a real system of open government based on everything being open to the public.  If SHG believes the public interest wouldn't be served by revealing the requested document, they must justify this using a set of agreed rules.  These are not the Middle Ages and we are not peasants or serfs to gratefully accept whatever bones of improvement are cast our way!

I wonder if, from now on, every time they reveal a minor road accident or that some dog barked three times, they will create a press release bragging about how open they are.  Then, if later some MP asks questions about open government in St. Helena, they'll be able to say they issued 73 such press releases in August, that Saints are impressed with this new openness ("See the happy natives!") and we of the FOI campaign are just a tiny fringe group of radical expats who are insensitive to the native culture and its fine tradition of arrogant and secret government.

It's like passing an ordinance that eliminates the Auditor General and Public Solicitor and calling it "An Ordinance to Eliminate Waste and Streamline the Budget".  They must think Saints are terribly stupid.

London Reader

Friday, July 20, 2012

UK group backs campaign to end secrecy in The Castle

(Reproduced - with permission - from St Helena Online)

A call for more open government on St Helena has been backed by a leading group in the UK.
In a message of support, Katherine Gundersen of the London-based Campaign for Freedom of Information says open, honest debate leads to better decision-making.
It could also help to reduce public distrust of government.
Graphic showing rubber stamps saying "restricted" etc, crossed out
The logo of the Campaign for Freedom of Information
An increasing number of documents are now published on the St Helena Government website, though one executive councillor has told St Helena Online that some departments are less open than others.
But the St Helena Freedom of Information campaign argues that there is a vital gap in the information made available to islanders – and British taxpayers, who provide the bulk of St Helena Government funding.
It says papers going before the island’s executive council should be made public in advance of meetings. In England, that’s required by law. It also wants minutes of meetings made public – not just reports by Governor Mark Capes.
If agendas and reports are published in good time, individuals can scrutinise the information being presented by officials, and make sure that councillors are aware of public opinion before meetings take place.
It also means Saints overseas can keep track of what is happening at home. And it would remove a barrier to reporting by journalists and internet bloggers, which is acknowledged in the recent White Paper on overseas territories as a vital part of maintaining democracy.
The Campaign for Freedom of Information says: “We support efforts to improve public rights to information in St Helena.
“Freedom of information has many important benefits. It strengthens individuals in their dealings with the state. It increases the opportunity to participate in decision-making and enables more informed public discussion.
“The knowledge that the public may be able to see the documents on which decisions are taken helps to deter malpractice and to encourage politicians and officials to be more rigorous in their analysis, improving the quality of decision making.
“It helps to promote more honesty in government, by making it more difficult for public bodies to say they are doing one thing while doing something else.
“Moving towards a more open regime gives government the opportunity to show that it is genuinely acting on behalf of the public; is willing and able to justify what it does; that it tells the truth and deserves the public’s trust.”
Katherine Gunderson has also lent advice to the island campaign, which was initiated by John Turner and backed by the St Helena Independent and St Helena Online.
She advises highlighting examples of unnecessary secrecy and the damage done by it, and also explaining how the rights of the public – not just the media – would be improved by greater access to information.
She points out that very few “serious democratic governments” still reject the freedom of information ideal.
St Helena Online and the St Helena Independent have evidence that some officials resist the case for open government, but there are strong indications that some councillors are very supportive.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


If we get Freedom of Information, do we not also need Data Protection ('DP') as well?

The answer is, probably, Yes.

A Freedom of Information Ordinance would define government data that is to be released to the general public.  A Data Protection Ordinance would control private data and ensure that it is not released to the general public.

So the government, under Freedom of Information, would release ExCo agendas, papers and minutes, but would not - under Data Protection - release personal details like whether or not I am up to date with my electricity bill.

Similarly, a government department - for example, the Bank of St. Helena - would release information about their general lending, but would not release any information about individuals or their loans.

The UK has Freedom of Information and Data protection legislation.  This is largely historical - DP came into force long before FoI.  Here we should maybe have a single Ordinance, covering both.  Discuss.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Vince writes about Freedom of Information

What Are They Doing?
By Vince Thompson, published in today's St. Helena Independent

In the course of countless conversations among Saints the subject under discussion is about something the government is doing or thought to be doing or may be they have given up thinking about doing it or could it be they have forgotten all about it. On similar countless occasions there are instances mentioned of this or that government department not replying to a letter or to an email from someone who is making an enquiry about something. Sometimes there is not even an acknowledgement that a letter has been received. One way to put a stop to this is to have a Freedom of Information Act which puts into law exactly what anybody who wants some information on what the government is doing is entitled to know. As I think we all know, the St Helena Government does not want to bring in any legislation of this kind. There would be far too many enquiries to deal with, too much work involved and it would cost too much.

These seem to be the reasons for their reluctance. It is not at all clear how they arrived at this conclusion. There is evidence to suggest that the government view is an over reaction.

How can we get some indication about work and cost involved? Checking out how similar legislation works in other countries is the most obvious way to start. We could look at how it works in the UK but I don’t think that gives a reliable indication. The UK is too big, Brits are far more politically active and its people can be far more obstinate and determined than many Saints. Some [maybe more than some] say the Brits are a funny bunch. A more suitable place to look is the Cayman Islands. It is a British Overseas Territory, it has an island population spread over three islands which, taken together are three times larger than St Helena. The population of the three islands is about 54,500. That’s at least 13 times more than our own population. The Cayman Islands has an Information Commissioner’s Office. The Information Commissioner is independent of the Cayman government. If a member of the public asks the government for information the law entitles anybody to have and the information is not provided, that person can ask the Information Commissioner to help get the information.

So, how many cases does the Information Commissioner’s Office in the Caymans deal with? In brief, it’s in single figures. Every three months the Cayman Commissioner publishes figures to show what has being dealt with by his Office. The most recent set of statistics tells us that the 54,500 population had given the Commissioners Office the princely total of five cases to deal with during the three months covered by the report. Some work was still going ahead on cases received in the previous months but in no instance were there any more than seven cases being worked on.

Seven cases, from a population of 54,500 is not a staggeringly high number; far from it. I think it is very reasonable to assume that a St Helena Commissioner for Information would have less work to do from a population which is 13 times less than the Caymans. So why does the St Helena Government think that an Information Commissioner here would be swamped with cases to deal with and have to employ loads of people to help deal with the work?

In this week’s Exco Report we are told, ‘Councillors directed that more information should be made available, especially on the projects of most concern to the public, such as the roads programme.’ Can we rely on councillors to get an answer to why our government is so unenthusiastic about introducing freedom of information legislation?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

We have our own website!

The campaign (yes, it's now a campaign!) now has its own website, at - please check it out!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Two items you MUST see!

There are two postings on Simon Pipe's "St Helena Online" blog that you must read:

These will (I assume) also be published in this week's St. Helena Independent, as will a longer piece by Vince.

This campaign also now has it's own email address (website coming soon): - PLEASE email us your comment, concerns, criticisms and messages of support.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

New name - same agenda

This blog has been renamed.  The new name better describes what we are about - getting a Freedom of information Ordinance for St. Helena.  We've also renamed our Facebook page.

And, coming soon: a website !!!!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Who are they trying to kid?

The St. Helena Government says we don’t need a Freedom of Information Ordinance because it “keeps to the spirit” of the UK legislation.

What utter nonsense is that?

If they were intending to publish everything, then having the Ordinance wouldn’t be a problem for them, would it?  The fact that they won’t give us an Ordinance shows that “keeping to the spirit” is just a smokescreen.  They publish what they decide to publish – what it’s in their interests to publish – and everything else remains a secret.

Here’s a test.  Next time you’re reading or listening to an ExCo report, listen/read between the lines.  What aren’t they telling us.  For example, “it was agreed that”.  By whom?  Unanimously?  Were there dissenting voices?  Who were they?  What were their arguments?  But all we get is “it was agreed that”, or – sometimes – “after discussion it was agreed that”.   Oh, wow!

This is definitely not even in the spirit of openness!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

That means more transparency, folks!

From Henry Bellingham MP, Minister for the Overseas Territories, Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s statement accompanying today’s White Paper “The UK and the overseas territories - a vision for security, success and sustainability”:

And there are certain standards which we must all uphold, in particular in maintaining the rule of law, respecting human rights, and integrity in public life. We are committed to taking strong action to combat corruption in the UK and we expect the Territories to do likewise.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What can YOU do?

In a posting on our Facebook page, councillor Tony Green wrote: “John, I am personally very much in favour of having freedom of information legislation but to get something kickstarted I'd need to get some of my colleagues on board. Tony

So what can we do to gain support?  I can see three things:

1) encourage your friends to ‘like’ our Facebook page .  The more ‘like’s we have the more people will listen to what we have to say;

2) write to your councillor(s) and/or the newspapers and tell them you support having Freedom of Information legislation here;

3) consider standing as a councillor yourself  – the general election is only a year away!

Friday, June 22, 2012

So too does The Education & Employment Directorate

From this week's Independent:

The Education & Employment Directorate advises that the formal monthly meeting of the Education & Employment Committee will be held on Monday, 25th June at the Education Learning Centre @7pm.

This meeting will be broadcast live via radio St Helena. The public is invited to attend for the open agenda which is:
· Three minute deposition
· Report from the Director on Maths Teaching
· 3. Matters arising from last minutes No.683:-
07.2.2 Paper on apprenticeship
07.3.1 Paper on Training Programme
07.4 Paper on Pupil Referral Unit
07.6 Availability Labour Shortage OL
· 4. Draft Exco Papers on Minimum Wage

Enterprise St. Helena embraces transparency

From the ESH newsletter:


To promote increased transparency, future meetings with ESH’s Board of Directors will include an open-part Agenda session to which members of the Public and the Press can observe Board proceedings concerning the operational affairs of ESH.

The Board will generally meet on the last Wednesday of each quarter end. The first meeting with an open-part session will be held on Wednesday 27th June 2012 at the Education Learning Centre commencing at 1:00pm.

You can contact ESH using or on tel 2920.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

St. Helena's Constitution denies us our right to information

Freedom of Information is a human right, according to the United Nations.  In its very first session in 1946, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 59(I), stating:

Freedom of information is a fundamental human right and ... the touchstone of all the freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated.

Last year by the United Nations' Human Rights Committee reconfirmed this, saying:

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights embraces a right of access to information held by public bodies. Such information includes records held by a public body, regardless of the form in which the information is stored, its source and the date of production. ... the right of access to information includes a right whereby the media has access to information on public affairs  and the right of the general public to receive media output.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights has been extended to St Helena so that means it covers us.

And yet the Constitution of St. Helena is entirely silent on this human right.

Feedback from one of the 80% . . .

Feedback is welcome, and I just received the following email (which I'm publishing anonymously, though it was signed):

Dear Mr. Turner,

I was pleased to read your letter in this week's Independent regarding the poor turnout in the recent By-election. I agree entirely with your comments regarding the lack of openness and transparency within the St. Helena Government. Right or wrong, must confess that I was one of those who did not bother to vote.  I thank and admire you for publicly speaking out and wish that more of us would have the courage to do so.

Sincerely yours,

The story so far . . .

25th May: In his interview with Simon Pipe, broadcast this week on SaintFM, DfID Secretary of State Andrew Mitchell sang the praises of Transparency in public life. But when asked why none of the British Overseas Territories has Freedom of Information Legislation in place he said it was a matter for the territories’ local administrations, not for him. I believe St. H...elena would benefit from more transparency. I’ve set out a few ideas below and would like to set up an informal discussion group – open to everyone including those within government – to discuss how this could be achieved. Details below.
Transparency benefits everyone. If you see a government decision and you ask yourself “how on earth did they come to that conclusion?” transparency tells you the answer. It benefits you – you understand – and, importantly, it benefits government, as I will now explain.
Imagine that a decision has been taken that disadvantages you or your friends, family or business interests. If you don’t know how the decision was reached, you might think that you have been deliberately victimised. Maybe someone who dislikes you has had influence over the decision? But if the decision-making process is transparent you know that didn’t happen. Moreover, because it’s a transparent process you know that couldn’t have happened. Everybody benefits from knowing the decision was objective, not personal.
Imagine a decision is announced and widely criticised. If government explains how it took the decision, everyone can understand. And if there is information the government didn’t have, or ways of approaching the issue they didn’t think of, someone else can spot it and fill in the gaps. If a government (any government) hides behind secrecy, people usually assume the worst – malice or incompetence – neither of which is a healthy view of a government’s decisions.
Should everything be transparent? No. Some things must remain confidential. But what changes with transparency is how the decision to publish is taken. At present, everything is secret unless government decides to publish it. In a transparent government, everything is public unless there is a good reason to make it a secret. By applying the secrecy test that way around much more gets published.
Could I use it to find out stuff about my neighbours? No. Freedom of Information only covers government information and always specifically excludes personal and private information.
Do we need a full Freedom of Information act like the UK or USA? I don’t think so. Life here is much less complex and I’m sure local legislation could meet our need without adding any significant expense. We don’t need to create a new bureaucracy! Something simple that implements the “it’s published unless there’s a reason not to” test would do.
Finally, people will naturally trust an open government much more than a secretive one. If we can’t trust our government to make fair and sensible decisions, we are in a pretty dire situation. Anything that helps us gain that trust has to be worth considering.
I could fill this newspaper with arguments but in the end, what I think isn’t that important. I hope this is a shared view that others will support. This is not an anti-government campaign – it’s not an anti-anyone campaign. I believe improving transparency here benefits everyone. If you do too, please contact me – call me at Moonbeams on 2944; at Burgh House on 3235; email or see the campaign page “Transparency Saint Helena” on Facebook.

"...the public are our ultimate paymaster and we should therefore be open with them, unless there is a very good reason not to
be" - Guidance issued to UK Civil Servants.

I (JT) also posted my views on the by-election turnout, and how this relates to Transparency, on my Random Thoughts blog.


The great question!  Well, actually, two questions:  “Why Transparency Saint Helena?" and “Why this blog?”

The second is the quicker one to answer: Transparency Saint Helena has a Facebook page, but not everybody uses Facebook.  This blog is visible to anyone with Internet access.  It will contain the same material, so you don’t need to read both.

Now for the first question: “Why Transparency Saint Helena?"

Transparency Saint Helena argues for improved access to the way government takes decisions. In short, the creation of a Freedom of Information Ordinance for St. Helena.

The arguments for this will become apparent in the postings that will follow.

Comments are welcome.  They will be moderated to prevent spam but otherwise all opinions will be published, whether supportive or not.  That’s Transparency in action.