The very first Joint Ministerial Conference (JMC) was held over Tuesday 4th and Wednesday 5th December, this week in London. Representing St Helena was Councillor Derek Thomas, joined by Governor Mark Capes and St Helena Government's UK Representative, Kedell Worboys.
I spoke to our three delegates in London on Wednesday who all reported positively on the conference. Thomas said there was good discussion on increasing trade links between the Overseas Territories (OTs) and the UK, and on developing and supporting small businesses in the OTs. He told me: “In the intervention I was able to say, well that’s fine but it doesn’t say how the British Government is going about achieving that. So the Minister, Mark Simmons, suggested I write to him personally and he would put measures in place to see how best the British Government can support St Helena with these priority issues in terms of economic growth.”
Following the success of the Olympics and Paralympics in London this year, sport was also a key discussion topic. “We talked about safer communities and highlighted the area of sport development,” reported Thomas. “Whereas we have done quite a bit in terms of safer communities and raising civil societies as a high priority, I feel we have done very little in terms of promoting the development of sport at an early age where it actually features in the school curriculum and children being given the opportunity to be trained at a more professional level. Some of the OTs were able to take part in things like the Olympics and Commonwealth Games. We don’t have the infrastructure to even get there; we need to build at grass roots. We need to do some work ourselves on St Helena to recognise sport is part of a healthy lifestyle and in a sense builds a community. As such it should be properly recognised in the school curriculum.”
While the different Governors who attended did not speak at the conference, Thomas said it was “a real positive step for St Helena” for Governor Capes to be there supporting St Helena and seeing firsthand how we can take the White Paper forward.
Capes confirmed the conference was going well, mentioning Ascension Island Councillor, Cathy Cranfield was also attending as was Chris Bates from Tristan da Cunha.
I asked him how St Helena’s concerns differed to that of other OTs. “There are some that overlap,” replied Capes, “the Caribbean territories, their issues tend to be rather similar, for example, some of them have serious crime problems. But on other areas we all share like general governance issues and ensuring the environment is factored into decision making. It’s very good to have this networking opportunity and seeing how other people are dealing with things.”
The JMC replaces the Overseas Territories Consultative Councils and brings together political leaders and representatives of the UK and the Overseas Territories. Included in the goals of the Council is to lead work to review and implement the strategy and commitments in the June 2012 White Paper The Overseas Territories: Security, Success and Sustainability; agree priorities and develop plans for implementation; provide a forum for the exchange of views on political and constitutional issues between the governments of the Overseas Territories and the UK Government; and promote the security and good governance of the Territories and their sustainable economic and social development.
The Joint Ministerial Council will meet once a year in London.
This report in full can be read in The Sentinel for 6 December 2012