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12 April 2012
St Helena, A Fantastic Tourism Product
Comment Feature published in 12 April 2012 Sentinel
Queen Mary II visiting St Helena in 2010 - photo copyright, Darrin Henry
Queen Mary II visiting St Helena in 2010

Michael Benjamin

It has been several weeks since I resigned from the islands Legislative Council.  Some of you might be expecting me to criticize the eleven elected members that I have left behind.  I am not prepared to do that. 

Being a councillor is an extremely difficult and complicated job – you must balance the immediate needs of your constituents whilst trying to establish strategies and policies that will benefit the island as a whole both now and in the future.  They do this with limited funds and a paymaster that is continuously looking over their shoulders. 

I know many Saints will think that the new policies on land reform, tax and immigration will not benefit them directly but they are most certainly needed for the overall good of the island.  We need to protect what is beautiful about St. Helena.  We need to encourage investors (local and inward) with tax incentives so that they will put their money into our island, and we need a better immigration system that will allow investors to bring in their skilled workers in a more timely and efficient manner.  Regardless of what you may think, we are desperate for investment and I firmly believe it is the only thing that will turn our fortunes around.  Some might argue that we already have sufficient businesses on the island.  If you do, then why is it that so many of our people have to leave their homeland for better employment prospects.  

Think of the many mums and dads who have been forced to leave their children in the care of grandparents whilst they work overseas, why can’t we create better opportunities for them at home?  I believe we can, and it will come through investment.  Just look at the positive changes since the arrival of Basil Read.  They are employing a significant amount of Saints and using the services of many local businesses.  Employees of government and local companies are switching to Basil Read for higher salaries.  This can be considered good news as it is one of the sure ways that the island will finally see a hike in its wage structure.  The only way to keep your employee is the pay him or her a wage that equals or exceeds the one offered to them by Basil Read.  Basil Read is also teaching our Saints new skills and are even sending some away for training. 

Now imagine a number of investors doing this and you will soon see the positive impact it will have on our economy. 

We need our island home to have an economy that is vibrant and sustainable and this can only be accomplished if we are all pulling in the same direction.  We are all allowed to have our own individual views and opinions, but we simply cannot afford to let them become an obstacle to the overall success of this island. 

Some of you wanted an airport, whilst others did not, regardless of your position we are now going to get air access and we should all work together to ensure that it benefits this island and its people.  Please don’t tell me that we have nothing to offer.  I have personally been to destinations where they accomplish a lot more with a lot less.  Yes, we are isolated, but we have a beautiful island that is steeped in heritage, history and tradition and a people that is kind and friendly. 

It is a fantastic tourism product and we should all be proud of it. 

Let us not follow the DOOM and GLOOM agents down their path of destruction.  I was just reading an article from the UK Independent in which a contributor stated that we do not know how to run a business and take the initiative.  I take that as an insult to all Saint operated businesses and we can most certainly do without that type of remark as we try to put our island on a path to securing a vibrant and sustainable economy.  We can handle constructive criticism but not statements that are not supported by evidence.  If there is anything to gain by such a statement it would be to let Saints know that we really do need to have a change of mindset. 

The airport is coming and when completed, it will have a positive impact on our economy.  It will bring changes – both socially and financially.  This is our island, and we must prepare ourselves to become a part of this exciting new economy, to reap the financial rewards of such an economy whilst protecting the social fabric of our society.  This will not be easy, and there will be many challenges, but our isolation has turned us into a resilient race of people that are more than capable of overcoming any obstacle placed in our way. 

I am hoping to write a regular column for the new Sentinel Newspaper.  I have failed in my attempt to complete the full term as an elected member of the islands council so now I will try to honour my commitment to the people by dedicating a fair amount of my time to encouraging and motivating all islanders to work together to secure a prosperous future for St. Helena thus reducing its dependency on foreign financial handouts.



This article was published as a Comment Feature in 12 April 2012 issue of The Sentinel




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