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Government on St Helena

For the people, by the people?

Democracy: The substitution of election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few.{e}

St Helena is nearly a democracy…

Council Chamber, 2018
Council Chamber, 2018{f}

This page refers to the situation on St Helena only. The situations on our sister islands Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha are very different.

Government is like a baby. An alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no responsibility at the other.{g}

Question: What is the difference between Democracy and Feudalism? Answer below.

Government Today

Below: British Overseas TerritoryGovernorLegislative CouncilExecutive Council‘Civil Service’But who really decides?‘SHG’SHG Services - what SHG controlsLaws of St Helena‘Consultants’UK OfficeComplaints

British Overseas Territory

St Helena as a British Overseas Territory, with all that entails.

The Governor

Executive power on St Helena rests with the Governor, appointed by, reporting to and answerable only to the Crown{4}.

However, under the current Constitution, the Governor is, with some exceptions, bound to seek and act in accordance with the advice of the Executive Council. Formally, therefore, decisions are taken by the ‘Governor-In-Council’.

The Governor is selected by, and salaried from, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. You can learn more about our Governors, past and present.

Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.{h}

Governor statistics{5}: East India Company Governors 32; Dutch Occupation Governors 2; British Crown Governors 36
The longest serving Governor was John Skottowe, The East India Company, 1764-1782 (19 years)
The shortest serving Governor was Jacob de Geus, Dutch Occupation, 1673-1673 (1 years)
The average term for a Governor is 5.9 years

Legislative Council

Effectively the island’s parliament, Legislative Council comprises twelve members elected by the people of St Helena by secret ballot, together with three Ex Officio Members, The Attorney General, Speaker and Deputy Speaker, none of whom has a vote.

It debates and agrees the island’s laws (‘Ordinances’), which are then signed into law, on behalf of the Crown, by the Governor{6}. Only three or four formal meetings are held each year, depending on the volume of legislation to be processed. Informal meetings (‘Info Legislative Council’) are also held where no Ordinances are discussed, for sharing of information.

Legislative Council meetings are open to the public. Formal meetings are also broadcast live on SAMS Radio 1{7}.

Election Posters

Legislative Council also elects from with its elected members (i.e. excluding the Ex Officio members) a Chief Minister, who then selects other Legislative Council members to form Executive Council.

The elected members of Legislative Council are usually referred to as ‘Councillors’ and the term ‘Council’ usually (but not always) refers to Legislative Council.

The seven non-Executive Council members of Legislative Council are each allocated a constituency and are the first point of contact for any queries relating to that area (there are seven non-Executive Council members of Legislative Council but there are eight Districts so one member covers the two least-populated districts: Blue Hill and Sandy Bay).

A General Election, where all Councillors must stand down and - if they choose - seek re-election, is held every four years. By-Elections are held if an elected member resigns{8}. Voter turnout has recently been in the order of 50% for General Elections{9} and sometimes below 25% for By-Elections (at the November 2019 by-election it was 21.7%; the successful candidate was elected by 9.5% of the electorate). Currently anyone aged 17 and over with Saint Status can register to vote (you cannot vote if you do not register).

A politician is a statesman who approaches every question with an open mouth.{i}

Executive Council

Effectively the island’s cabinet, the members of the Legislative Council appoint a ‘Chief Minister’ who then appoints four other Legislative Council members as Ministers. The five Ministers{10} head the five Portfolios (Health & Social Care; Education, Skills & Employment; Environment, Natural Resources & Planning; Safety, Security & Home Affairs; and Treasury, Infrastructure & Sustainable Development). These five are the Executive Council, together with the Attorney General, who does not have a vote. Executive Council is Chaired by the Governor, who has ultimate executive power over St Helena.

How ExCo was seen
How ExCo was seen{3}

The five Ministers set out their vision and policies for their Portfolios, subject to financial aid constraints. Ministers have direct responsibility and accountability for all policies and services delivered by their Ministry. They also have to justify to Legislative Council the effective use of public funds spent in their Ministry. The Chief Minister has oversight over the performance of Ministers and their Ministries and can remove any Minister the Chief Minister decides is not performing. Legislative Council can vote at any time to dismiss the Chief Minister; the incoming Chief Minister can then replace any or all of the other four Ministers.

All the day-to-day decisions necessary to the running of St Helena are taken by the Executive Council. It is also the ultimate authority for planning applications. Its decisions must be taken in accordance with the Constitution and within the Ordinances created by the Legislative Council. It reviews potential legislation and passes it to Legislative Council for formal approval.

Executive Council meets frequently - usually at least once every month. Parts of the meeting are open to the public; the rest is held in secret and minutes also remain secret. Although minutes have always been kept confidential, in 2007 Governor Gurr started a system of publishing a report of the non-sensitive business that had been conducted. Initially these reports were quite comprehensive (two newspaper pages) but successive governors reduced the content level until Governor Rushbrook stopped them altogether. You can see an example below, from March 2017.

Incidentally, the large glass-framed Royal Standard at the head of the Council Chamber (photo, above) was presented on the occasion of the Royal visit in 1947.

‘Politics’: ‘Poli’ Latin, meaning ‘Many’ + ‘tics’ blood-sucking creatures{j}

‘Civil Service’

As in all other Governments, the elected and non-elected members are supported by a ‘Civil Service’ which enacts the day-to-day operation of Government business, headed by the Chief Secretary. This body is divided into ‘Portfolios’, corresponding to the five Ministries (Health & Social Care; Education, Skills & Employment; Environment, Natural Resources & Planning; Safety, Security & Home Affairs; and Treasury, Infrastructure & Sustainable Development), each headed by a Portfolio Director. All of these positions are salaried posts that do not change with the appointment of new Councillors.

Curiously, although a Minister has responsibility for the performance of their Portfolio, they cannot actually dismiss the Portfolio Director or any of the other staff, because these people are appointed by the Civil Service.

But who really decides?

Currently St Helena is not financially self-sufficient. In 2017 £28.7m was needed in grant aid from DFID{11} to balance the island’s books (this does not include the estimated £285m to finance construction of our Airport). So in practice, what the Legislative Council/Executive Council can spend is limited by what FCDO will provide, and the latter is governed by UK politics, over which St Helena has no control{12}. So it can fairly be argued that the ‘Governor-in-Council’ only has final authority to decide for St Helena as long as the UK Government is willing to fund that decision.

Coat of Arms used as the SHG logo
Coat of Arms used as the SHG logo


It is entirely unclear whether references to ‘SHG’ (i.e. the Government of St Helena) should be taken as referring to the Governor, Executive Council, Legislative Council, the Civil Service or some variable combination of them all, possibly even including the UK Government. So when something is blamed on ‘SHG’ it could be that the proponent is targeting any or all of the above. A bit like when ‘they’ do, or don’t do this or that… If this is not clear to you, try reading the Government Website and see if it helps.

To be strictly correct, the ‘SHG’ is the Civil Service, which implements policy made by the Elected Members (Legislative Council/Executive Council); but people do not consistently use the term this way.

SHG Services - what SHG controls

An incomplete list of the services provided by the SHG is as follows:

SHG dominates economic and employment life on St Helena. Around 30%{36} of people employed are directly employed by SHG. If you include households where one or more people are employed by the SHG it is estimated that around 80% of households are wholly or partly dependent on the SHG for their income.

Some facilities are sometimes referred to as ‘Private Sector’ but are actually SHG. Examples include Bank of St Helena and Connect Saint Helena Ltd., both of which are formulated as Limited Companies, but with 100% of the shares owned by SHG. SHG also has a controlling interest (63%) in Solomons.

Laws of St Helena

You can read all our current laws (‘Ordinances’) at www.sainthelena.gov.sh/‌legislation-of-st-helena-ascension-tristan-da-cunha.


Too many reports

The SHG is constantly accused of spending too much time considering action and too little time actually taking action. In all fairness, that criticism is frequently applied to just about every government in the free world{14} so it can hardly be considered remarkable.

One particular criticism is that, before any decision is taken, they first have to get out a ‘Consultant’, usually from the UK, to review the problem and recommend an approach. In many cases it is felt by the critics that the way forward is pretty-much obvious and the time taken to find a Consultant, wait for them to arrive, assist them in their work and wait for their report causes unnecessary delay and may be just an excuse to defer a decision.

Some say this has grown a lot better in recent years. The change to the Ministerial form of Government may have improved this, because in this system responsibility for taking a decision is much better located and the general competence of the people making the decision is higher.

UK Office

The SHG maintains a UK office, staffed by the SHG UK Representative. The office is located at Alliance House, 12 Caxton Street, London, SW1H 0QS, telephone 020 3818 7610, email shgukrep@sthelenagov.com. Opening hours are 09:00 to 17:00, Monday to Friday.


The SHG Complaints Procedure can be found here: www.sainthelena.gov.sh/‌government/‌complaints-procedure.


The island possesses a Governor, but the government is really administered from Downing Street, the people having no voice whatever in the management of their own affairs.{k}

Below: No DemocracyLimited DemocracyNear DemocracyGovernance Reform 2019-21

No Democracy

From the founding of the ‘Colony’ in 1659 St Helena has always had a Governor, appointed by The East India Company from 1659 to 1834 and thereafter by the Crown (the Monarch of Great Britain). The Governor has always carried ultimate executive authority over the island, reporting to and answerable only to The East India Company/Crown{15}.

From 1659 the Governor was supported by an Advisory Council (usually referred to in the Records as simply ‘The Council’). In the early days this was a body of men (though later including women) appointed by the Governor to be his{16} advisors. In 1880 Council consisted of four men: HE Governor Janisch; The Bishop, Rev. Welby; the Garrison Commander, Col. George Phillips; and George Moss, one of the major landowners. Council members did carry out duties and wielded some power but ultimate authority remained with the Governor. Right up to the mid 20th Century appointment to the Advisory Council was reserved for wealthy landowners who were the heads of respected society families.

From the 1940s small steps towards democracy were taken. The Constitution introduced on 15th February 1940 moved from a unitary Advisory Council to a two-tier system:

The Executive Council still took all the decisions with the Governor still having the power to overrule, and the Advisory Council was supposed to represent to Executive Council the views of ordinary citizens though given its composition this seems unlikely. A big celebration marked the opening of the 1st Advisory Council on 12th June 1940.

Only minor modifications were made over the next twenty years. From 1st June 1956 Executive Council was increased to seven members and Advisory Council to ten, then in the late 1950s discussions began about having an elected Advisory Council (see the article below). At some point around this time there was a protest march - a fairly rare occurrence on St Helena - demanding democracy.

I have tasted command, and I cannot give it up.{l}

Limited Democracy

In 1963 there was significant change: for the first time, elections were held for some of the seats on the Advisory Council. This was made possible by the St Helena Advisory Council (Elections) Ordinance 1963. Now the population of St Helena could elect people to represent their interests, and several of the 1963 editions of the St Helena Wirebird{34} devoted much space to explaining how to register to vote, how to nominate candidates, who was eligible to be nominated and how the forthcoming election would take place. Turnout was high: 100% in Sandy Bay, and even the lowest turnout (in Longwood) was 76%; in total 686 people voted. The right to vote was made permanent in the 1966 Constitution.

The 1966 Constitution formalised that from 1st January 1967 the Advisory Council was re-named the Legislative Council and comprised twelve persons elected by secret ballot of the people, plus two appointed members - the Government Secretary and the Government Treasurer - 14 voting members in all. The minimum age for voting was set at 21 and both men and women could vote. The first ever meeting of the new Legislative Council started on 17th January 1967 at 10am in the Courthouse, Jamestown.

However this was still not true democracy, in any real sense, because the Executive Council (appointed by the Governor) still took all the decisions, with ultimate authority still vested in the Governor himself.

A political party was formed in 1973 - the St Helena Progressive Party. Its founders included eleven of the twelve members of Legislative Council elected in 1972. The creation of a political party followed an increase in the population’s political awareness after economic stringency measures were imposed as a consequence of increased international inflation. From 13th October 1974 it was joined by the St Helena Labour Party which, despite its name, proposed right-wing libertarian policies{18}. The Labour Party argued for better conditions for ordinary citizens and increased democracy with a bigger role for private enterprise but less public spending on health care and education. A leading light in the party was a South African by the name of Tony Thornton, who had previously been (with other South African investors) owner of Solomons. The party supported closer links with South Africa. In 1975 Governor Oates issued an Exclusion Order against Mr Thornton, largely because of his dealings with Solomons, forcing him to leave the island, a decision which caused turmoil on the island, dividing the island’s political life into pro- and anti-Thornton camps, with demonstrations, petitions, public meetings and court cases. It is not known how many people joined either party. The Saint Helena Progressive Party won eleven of the twelve Legislative Council seats in the September 1976 election but appears to have folded soon afterwards. The Labour Party won no seats and also folded towards the end of 1976. Since then all elections have been fought with candidates standing alone, not aligned with or supported by any party machinery.

Lack of public interest in politics in the following years is perhaps evidenced by the nominations for the October 1980 General Election. For three of the twelve seats there were no nominations and all the other nominees were elected unopposed. Faith in the political process was not improved when in November 1985 Governor Baker, under instruction from the UK Government, used his executive power to force through an Immigration Ordinance, against the clear wishes of Legislative Council.


Democracy was improved from 28th November 1988 when the new Constitution (which came into force on 1st January 1989) provided that the Legislative Council would nominate the members of the Executive Council, rather than them being appointed by the Governor. You can hear Governor Robert Stimson talking about the changes on Radio St Helena (right). Legislative Council elected from its members the Chair of the various administrative committees and these persons now formed (with the Governor and the two ex-officio members) the Executive Council, which as a result now had more elected voting members than appointed ones (5 elected; 2 appointed; plus the Governor). The Legislative Council was also now permitted to elect its own Speaker (who would not be one of the elected members). At the same time the voting age was lowered to 18. While a big step towards democracy, ultimate authority still remained with the Governor who could still overrule any decision taken by the Councils, answerable only to the Crown (a power Governor Smallman was forced to use).


A notice in the St Helena News Review, 22nd February 1980, announcing a forthcoming Legislative Council meeting, concluded:

The meeting will be opened to the public and as usual traffic will be diverted while Council is sitting.

This is no longer done these days.

Near Democracy

Democracy: where the lunatics get to decide who runs the assylum.{j}

The most recent improvement came with the 2009 (current) Constitution, where the powers of the Governor were somewhat limited, in that the Governor is now required to, save in a few reserved cases{19}, listen to and act in accordance with the decisions of the Executive Council. Thus decisions are now formally taken by the ‘Governor-in-Council(but see Who really decides?, above). However the definition of the circumstances under which the Governor, in agreement with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), can still override Executive Council is rather vague, so in effect the Governor/FCO still has the final say, if he/she/it chooses to use it. Maybe the next Constitution will allow St Helena true self-determination? The timeline below shows how St Helena has progressed towards democracy throughout its history. Notice that even our current ‘Near Democracy’ (    ) represents only a tiny proportion - 3% of the total or 4% since settlement:

Fascinating Fact: if the island’s elected representatives are unhappy with the actions of the island’s Governor they are able to file a complaint with the UK Foreign Office Minister but their complaint has to be sent via…The Governor!

The voting age was lowered to 17 with effect from 15th May 2017, in time for 17 year olds to vote in the 26th July 2017 General Election. Apparently fewer than 10 actually did so. 1,108 people voted; 49% of the electorate compared with 55% in 2013, 58% in 2009 and 47% in 2005. 2021 was rather higher at just over 60%. Here are election turnouts for General Elections since 2001{20}{n}:

On 2nd June 2020 Executive Council voted itself the power to bypass the Committee stage, thus effectively eliminating the other Legislative Council members from the decision-making process. Concern was expressed that this might be a move to centralise power in the ‘Governor-in-Council’, away from the whole of the elected members. This coincided with a police investigation into the Legislative Council councillors and various government officials for allegedly leaking a confidential document to SaintFM Community Radio. Also at this time the Governor decided that he himself would review the constitution changes proposed by the Sarkin Report, advised only by a small group of people he had selected himself, with no apparent democratic process. All of these events led to concern that St Helena’s fragile democracy was being dismantled, with some even suggesting that a return to Colonialism was in process. The implementation of Governance Reform in 2021 did away with Committees, and hence resolved the issue.

In a surprising move, at the Legislative Council meeting on 18th June 2021 the ‘Public Access to Information’ bill was passed with a remarkable procedure that would allow Executive Council to override the judiciary - unheard of in a modern democracy. The process defined in the bill is that, if a request for information is denied the applicant can appeal as far as the Chief Magistrate, but the bill also allows that of Executive Council does not agree with the Chief Magistrate’s decision it can overturn it. Some Legislative Council members voted against the bill, one saying I do not support the bill as it currently stands, primarily because of the appeals process. The process was described by one as authoritarianism.

Governance Reform 2019-21

The Sarkin Report into Governance on St Helena, published on 4th December 2019, concluded that: There are a number of problems and the system is not as effective as it could be. It does not promote transparency and accountability. Recommendations were scheduled to be discussed in 2020.

In early 2020 Governor Rushbrook formed a ‘Governance Commission’ to advise him on what would need to change, but it seems the people serving on this body were selected by him with no published criteria - they were not chosen by any democratic process and were widely considered un-representative of the people of St Helena. Nevertheless the group produced its own report, with selected recommendations from Professor Sarkin’s work, outlining two options for how Government might change:

  1. Revise the current ‘Committee System’

  2. Move to a ‘Ministerial form of Government

Details provided about the two options were very limited. Despite this, on 15th January 2021 Legislative Council decided to hold a ‘Consultative Poll’{21} in February asking two questions: (a) do you want to change or keep the current system? and (b), if you want change, which of the two options do you prefer? It was pointed out that a lot of information on the options would need to be released to the public before they could make an informed decision and, perhaps as a result of this, the FCDO decided that the poll date should be moved to 17th March. Although information was released before the poll date a lot of questions remained unanswered, especially relating to how much implementing the new system would cost. A statement that the cost of any new system of governance would be met from existing budgets was widely taken to mean that there would be cutbacks in services and redundancies to pay for the increased salaries and new posts.

On 10th March the island’s Equality & Human Rights Commission published an Open Letter to all the Councillors setting out its concerns about the entire process, saying inter alia that it had been undemocratic, not in accord with the island’s Constitution, and lacked openness and transparency. You can read the letter here.

The ‘Consultative Poll’ was held on 17th March. Only 17.3% of the electorate bothered to vote{22} and the result should have been declared inconclusive, with only 336 people voting for either proposed system (out of an electorate of roughly 2,150). Despite this, the SHG declared that the tiny majority (34 votes - about 1.5% of the electorate) in favour of Ministerial Government was sufficient to give a result{23} and that the Ministerial Government option had been selected by the electorate. It is explained (in brief) here.

The Civil Service, under the ‘Fit for the Future Programme’, re-organised itself in accordance with the new Ministerial system with effect from 1st April 2021{35}.

Legislative Council was dissolved on 2nd August with the General Election that would elect the new Ministers expected by the end of October. The SHG tried to keep the date a secret until the last possible moment but on 29th August SAMS Radio 1 reported that it probably would be on 13th October, based on information posted on the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s Twitter/X™ feed. This was confirmed in an official SHG press release on 1st September. A record-breaking number of candidates stood for election: 29. In October it was formally announced (though it had been known for some time) that the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association would oversee the General Election, the first time a St Helena Election had been independently observed.

First Ministerial Government Council

Legislative Council 2021
Legislative Council 2021

The first Council elected under the new system was: Julie Thomas (888 votes); Andrew Turner (834 votes); Corinda Essex (827 votes); Martin Henry (750 votes); Jeffrey Ellick (688 votes); Ronald Coleman (678 votes); Karl Thrower (611 votes); Gillian Brooks (561 votes); Mark Brooks (533 votes); Christine Scipio (532 votes); Robert Midwinter (485 votes); Rosemary Bargo (456 votes). 9/12 were new to Council and turnout, at over 60%, was the highest in an election so far this century - the counting took 8½ hours. 5/12 were women, one of the highest ratios in a legislature anywhere.

You can read the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s report on the 2021 General Election which makes 12 recommendations for future operation of elections on St Helena.

At the first formal Legislative Council meeting on 25th October Julie Thomas was unanimously elected as the island’s first Chief Minister. She announced her Ministers as follows: Mark Brooks - Treasury, Infrastructure, & Sustainable Development; Martin Henry - Health & Social Care; Jeffery Ellick - Safety Security and Home Affairs; Christine Scipio - Environment & Natural Resources; Julie Thomas - Chief Minister / Education, Skills and Employment.

The non-Ministers were allocated a District each{25} as follows:




Alarm Forest

Corinda Essex


Blue Hill and Sandy Bay

Andrew Turner


Half Tree Hollow

Ronald Coleman



Gillian Brooks



Karl Thrower



Rosemary Bargo


St Pauls

Robert Midwinter


You can follow the new Legislative Council on Facebook™ at www.facebook.com/‌St-Helena-Legislative-Council-102828375562309.

Incidentally, at the time of writing the Council Chamber (photo above) hasn’t been used since the 2021 election. The reason is that the 2021 Council elected a wheelchair-bound Deputy Speaker and there is no wheelchair access to the Chamber. Plans are being drawn up to provide wheelchair access to the Chamber but as The Castle is a Grade I listed building it’s taking time… In the meantime the Council meets in various other locations that do have wheelchair access.

I have always found that the less we speak of our intentions, the more chance there is of our realising them.{p}


On 17th November 1984 the United Nations General Assembly voted to urge the UK to bolster St Helena’s economy and raise the native awareness of the right to become independent. As far as we can ascertain this is the first time that Independence for St Helena has ever been mentioned, and possibly also the last (to date). The idea did not obtain any local support because St Helena does not see itself as potentially an independent nation. It is entirely happy - at least for the time being - to remain a British Overseas Territory. Whether this will change in the future, and whether St Helena could ever have an economy such that it is no longer dependent on financial assistance from the UK - argued by some to be an essential prerequisite for full independence - remains to be seen.

Youth Parliament


Youth Parliament 2019
Youth Parliament 2019

In early 2011 a voluntary worker here picked up an idea that had been floated since 2010, to set up a Youth Parliament - a body of under-18s that would meet to debate issues related to the future of St Helena and might also engage in joint debates with Legislative Council. This body did actually start, and held a joint debate with Legislative Council to mark the Centenary of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in September 2011. The St Helena Youth Parliament created a website, developed by one of its members, which can still be seen at shyp.burghhouse.com.

One proposal debated with Legislative Council was reducing the voting age from (then) 18 to 16. Although the Youth Parliament team won the debate, Legislative Council decided against making the change, though it did lower the voting age to 17 six years later in 2017.

Sadly afterwards the voluntary worker lost interest and the Youth Parliament folded, though discussion frequently occurs about reviving it.

The Youth Parliament was re-convened in November 2019 after a gap of seven years (picture, right). At its first meeting it debated the motion This House resolves that the lessons timetable at Prince Andrew School is restructured to meet the needs of all students to enable them to achieve their full potential which, after a tied vote was passed by The Speaker. Whether the new YP will go on to interest itself in actual island politics remains to be seen.

Do and Don’t Do

For amusement, here are some extracts from the ‘Standing Orders of the Legislative Council’ (19th March 2010):

If you get bored:

Rule 5.4: Members shall not read books, newspapers, letters or other papers in their place, except such books and papers as may be connected with the business under debate.

…it only says papers so playing Candy Crush on your iPhone would appear to be OK.

Vonnegut: True Terror
See/Hear/Speak no Evil

Questions may be put by Elected Members but (Order 8, Part 2):

(a) a question shall not contain arguments, inferences, opinions, imputations, epithets, or controversial, ironical or offensive expressions;

(h) A question may not … be based on a newspaper report.

In case it isn’t clear:

Order 11.3: If an amendment is passed, debate on the amended motion proceeds as if the motion (as amended) had been originally moved by the mover of the amendment.
Order 15.1. It shall be out of order to make a motion or move an amendment dealing with the subject matter of a motion or bill already appointed for consideration, or if it deals with the subject matter of a motion of which a notice has been given.

Who can you insult?

Order 14.(g) No Member shall impute improper motives or dishonesty on the part of any Member, except so far as may be necessary in the context of a motion of no confidence in the person concerned.
Order 14.(m) it shall be out of order to use offensive or insulting language about Members of the Council;
Order 14.(n) it shall be out of order to use expressions which are blasphemous or insulting to the religious beliefs of other Members;

…so no insults or religious aspersions aimed at other Elected Members, but everybody else is, presumably, fair game.

Now this is odd:

Order 22.1: No person shall use any camera, including any television or video camera, or any device for recording sound, during the proceedings of the Council or of the Committee of the Whole Council, without the prior consent of the President.

…it’s odd because Legislative Council is broadcast live over SAMS Radio 1, so it seems you can record it at home or in your office, but not in the Chamber itself.

And finally, behave yourself:

Rule 5.3: During a sitting Members shall enter or leave the Council Chamber with decorum.
Rule 5.5: Members shall not make unseemly interruptions while any Member is speaking.
Rule 6.4: The President may order a Member whose conduct is grossly disorderly, to withdraw immediately from the Council Chamber for the remainder of the sitting.


In the UK they have something called Hansard, which publishes details of Parliamentary business, including a verbatim transcript of every debate in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

St Helena has its own Hansard too, but it’s a little different. For example, last time we looked the most recent report was 15 months out of date…

Try it yourself: www.sainthelena.gov.sh/‌hansards.

Democracy is the power of equal votes for unequal minds.{q}

Does UK Legislation apply to St Helena?

You might imagine the answer would be simple, but then if you know anything about St Helena and how it is organised{26} you will probably have guessed that it isn’t simple at all.

Firstly, all the following only applies to English Law. Scottish, Northern Irish and (presumably, since devolution) Welsh Laws automatically don’t apply here.

The central piece of (St Helena) legislation is the English Law (Application) Ordinance, 2005, and if you are capable of reading and understanding such a document we recommend you do so. If not, this is what we think it says…{27}

And if that wasn’t complicated enough, in a court case in the early 2020s the prosecution successfully argued that the defendent could be prosecuted under a part of an English Law, even though the Law in its entirity does not apply here because St Helena has its own Ordinance on the same subject. Their argument, accepted by the Court, was that the specific action prohibited by the English Law was not mentioned by our Ordinance, and so the English Law could be applied. Many felt that this demolished the entire premise under which the English Law (Application) Ordinance operated, but the Court accepted it and it wasn’t overturned on Appeal, so the precedent has now been set and could be used again in the future.

So, are you any clearer?

Answer to What is the difference between Democracy and Feudalism?

In Democracy it’s your Vote that Counts. In Feudalism it’s your Count that Votes.

Freedom of Information

Government officer at home

It has long been suggested that the SHG would benefit from adopting Freedom of Information (FoI).

A Freedom of Information Ordinance for St Helena would bring two things that would improve how Government works and how its decisions are made:

  1. It would give members of the public the right to ask for Government information that is currently held as secret. The argument made by FoI proponents is that Government acts on behalf of the people, and can only operate with their consent, and hence it is inappropriate that Government holds secrets from the people{29} .

  2. It would require Government to publish information on how the decisions it takes were made. Thus if a decision is controversial, all parties can see the evidence that was considered and understand the process through which this evidence was evaluated to reach the decision. Fairness is therefore assured.

At present there is little transparency in Government actions. Things are announced but the general public often has no idea how a decision was reached. This causes people to become disconnected from their Government, and can (and frequently does) also lead to allegations of improper decision making, and even corruption.

The UK has the Freedom of Information Act 2000, but this was formally ‘dis-applied’ by St Helena’s then Attorney General. He claimed this was because the SHG could not afford to comply with the requirements of the UK Act. While this claim is probably correct (the UK Act is complicated and very detailed, in keeping with the UK’s more complex democracy), the appropriate thing to have done would have been to introduce a St Helena Freedom of Information Ordinance, providing the public with same rights and freedoms as the UK Act but with a lighter bureaucracy. This was promised, but despite some attempts in the intervening years, has not happened.

Public Access Code of Practice

At the time of writing the SHG is following a Public Access Code of Practice, but this falls far short of FoI. A commentator wrote that it is a committment to disclose only what we want to tell you which, in FoI terms, is useless, and cannot achieve either of the benefits listed above.

The island has an informal Freedom of Information Campaign but with so many other pressing issues affecting the lives of the island’s people it is not particularly active. The editor of this website supports this campaign and if you want to know more or get involved please contact us.

Read More

Below: WikipediaArticle: A peep into St Helena’s evolving systems of governmentArticle: Executive Council Report, 7th March 2017Article: The reconstitution of the Advisory CouncilOpinion: Democracy in the British Overseas Territories


You can learn more about the politics of St Helena on the Wikipedia.

Article: A peep into St Helena’s evolving systems of government

Featured in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association magazine ‘The Parliamentarian’, March 2022{30}

St Helena now has a Ministerial form of Government and there have been many changes since 1834 when administration of the Island was transferred from the East India Company to His Majesty’s Government.

The British Overseas Territory of St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha have a well-established political and legal system and a Governor who is appointed by Her Majesty’s Government.

St Helena operated within a Committee system of governance for a number of years and previous attempts to move forward to a new system had failed. But in October 2021, resulting from a consultative poll, history was made when the General Electorate decided{31} the new government would be Ministerial.

It has indeed been good for St Helena politics. Not only did the population decide it was time to move on to a new level of governance but, more women than ever before were proposed as candidates for election resulting in 41.6% of the required 12 Members being female. And also, at the inaugural meeting of the new Legislative Council, the first ever female Deputy Speaker, who is disabled, was also elected to the St Helena Legislature. The first Speaker to be elected under the new system was Hon. Cyril Gunnell, MLC.

Operating within a Ministerial system, the St Helena Legislature comprises of a Speaker, Deputy Speaker, 5 Ministers which includes the Chief Minister, seven Legislators who each represent a geographical area (i.e. constituencies) in formal Legislative Council meetings, and the Attorney-General who is a non-elected ex-officio Member.

The Chief Minister and four Ministers, together with the Governor and Attorney-General form the Executive Council (ExCo) - the highest decision-making body within the St Helena Government. Formal ExCo meetings continue to be chaired by the Governor as a neutral Chair. The Chief Secretary and Financial Secretary are no longer members of ExCo but are likely to be invited to ExCo whenever necessary.

The role of the Legislative Council remains the same under the new system but there are no longer Council Committees.

So how did it used to work?

A number of governance changes have taken place since the Island of St Helena was transferred from the East India Company to His Majesty’s Government on 22 April 1834. The East India Company undertook to administer the Government for one year from this date in the name of the Crown, and all laws etc were to remain the same. I think it is worth recording some the changes here.

A public meeting in August 1884 amongst other things put forward a proposal that a council of Elected Members (five) should advise on revenue expenditure. In June 1929 an Executive Council was established by ‘The St Helena Order in Council’, to include the Senior Military Officer and Government Secretary as ex-officio Members. A new Constitution was introduced in February 1940, which included provision for an Advisory Council consisting of six persons not holding any office under the Crown. It also set up an Executive Council comprising of the Governor, the Officer commanding the troops, the Government Secretary, the Colonial Treasurer and, such other persons holding office under the Crown, whom the Crown shall appoint.

In June 1956, three unofficial Members were added to four Members of the Executive Council. The Advisory Council increased from six to ten, and provision was made for representation by all the districts of St Helena. The Advisory Council was elevated to Legislative Council in January 1967 to be fully elected plus two ex-officio Members (Government Secretary and Treasurer) and Elected Member numbers were increased from eight to 12.

There are no political parties in St Helena.

In 1987, Mr Walter Wallace from the UK Government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) reviewed the Constitution, and his report was published in December the same year. A change in the Constitution, in November 1988, allowed the Legislative Council to nominate those to sit on the Executive Council by making them Chairmen of Council Committees and also, to elect a Speaker to the exclusion of the Governor. The voting age for Islanders was lowered from aged 21 to 18.

In 1994, because the public felt that St Helena’s Constitution was out of date, a request was made to the FCO for a complete review. This request was agreed but it would take ten years before there was widespread consultation in St Helena, and for proposals to be drawn up for a new Constitution.

However, in 2005, the proposal was rejected by the majority of people who participated in a consultative poll, and this mainly was due to the proposal calling for the establishment of Ministerial form of government. With the exception of introducing a Ministerial system, the core values that had been proposed were reworked into a new Constitution, which came into force on 1 September 2009.

Prior to the 2021 general election, the most recent election was held on 26 July 2017. The 12 Elected Members represented one constituency. Previous to this, there were two constituencies - the East and the West, and each constituency had six Elected Members. Before that there were eight constituencies. The four most populated districts were Half Tree Hollow, Jamestown, Longwood and St Paul’s. They sent two representatives to the Legislative Council. The remaining districts were Alarm Forest, Blue Hill, Levelwood and Sandy Bay and they sent one representative each.

The force of law comes with assent by the Governor (section 74 of the constitution). The Executive Council, presided over by the Governor (the ‘Governor-in-Council’), is responsible for formulation of government policy. The Governor must obtain, and act in accordance with, the advice of the Executive Council. The matters listed in section 44 of the Constitution are those where the Governor has special responsibilities.

Hon. Cyril Gunnell, MLC

About the author

Hon. Cyril Gunnell, MLC is the first Speaker of the St Helena Legislative Council to be elected under the new Ministerial system of Government in October 2021. He was first elected to the Legislative Council in 1991 and as a Member of the Executive Council for two four-year terms under the Committee system, chaired the Health and Social Welfare Committee and the Employment and Social Security Committee. He represented the Legislative Council overseas at various conferences including the Overseas Territories Consultative Council and EU Overseas Countries and Territories Forum. He also held the position of Chairman of the St Helena Public Accounts Committee for five years prior to his election as Speaker.

Article: Executive Council Report, 7th March 2017

SHG 8th March 2017 - provided as a randomly-selected example.{30}{32}

In today’s Executive Council meeting, two issues were considered on the Open Agenda.

The Income Tax (Amendment) Bill 2017 makes provision to amend the application of Investment Tax Credit (ITC). It was recognised that there had been significant local investment amounting to over £3.5 million, but the current policy meant significant under recovery in revenue which will have consequences for the sustainability of SHG revenue streams in the current and future financial years. The proposal would replace the current ITC with an Investment Tax Deduction scheme. Council approved the draft Bill to be published and presented as Government Business at the formal Legislative Council meeting on 24th March 2017.

Council then considered the Elections (Amendment) Bill 2017. Following a significant period of consultation, Council agreed that the following provisions should go forward to Legislative Council on 24th March 2017:

However, persons who are already on the Register of Electors who do not have Saint Status will be allowed to remain on the Register until 2020, by which time it was expected that the individuals will acquire Saint Status.

Councillors were generally in favour of compulsory registration to vote, but not if it meant that the register of voters would be used to select people for jury service.

They were in favour of compulsory jury service however but wished to de-link voting and jury service by using an alternative list. It was agreed that further work will need to be undertaken on this matter.

The Governor informed Members that she is planning to leave the Island on 21st March for a period of overseas leave and business. The Governor will return to the Island on 16th May 2017, via Ascension Island.

The meeting ended at 12:30pm.

Article: The reconstitution of the Advisory Council

Wirebird cover July 1959

Editorial published in the St Helena Wirebird{34} July 1959{30}

The reconstitution of the Advisory Council was discussed at an important meeting held in the Council Chamber on July 1st over which the Governor presided. Invitations, together with a note of suggested changes in the constitution, had been sent to members of the Executive and Advisory Councils, the District Associations, the Friendly Societies, and the General Workers’ Union, and all these bodies sent representatives, a total of 32 being present.

The discussions lasted for three hours, and the main points covered were the qualifications for voters and candidates, the allocation of candidates to Districts, and the composition of the Council.

As in other countries, it was understood that anyone wishing to vote must be registered on an Electoral Roll. The meeting agreed that to be eligible for registration, a person must:

(1) Be at least 21 years of age.

(2) Be of British nationality.

(3) Have been born in St Helena or Ascension, or have resided continuously in St Helena or Ascension for one year immediately before the day of registration.

In order to become a candidate, a person must:

(a) Be qualified to be registered as an elector.

(b) Have lived continuously for one year in the District for which they wish to stand as a candidate.

(c) Have reached the age of 25 years.

The meeting also agreed that there should be one member for each Country District, and two for Jamestown, all being elected by secret ballot. The meeting felt that both Longwood and St Pauls Districts should be split to make two more districts, Levelwood and Half Tree Hollow. This, of course, would only be done if the people of those Districts agreed after they had had every chance to give their opinions. If they were to agree, there would be eight elected members. The original suggestion had provided for six elected members, four official members, and three nominated unofficial members. Mr. Walsh, supported by Mr. Ward, put the view that the Council should consist entirely of elected members, except two senior government officers, and after a lengthy discussion, the representatives agreed with this.

It was also agreed that all meetings should be held in public, and that they should be open to any reporter.

The Governor concluded by thanking those present for their attendance at the meeting, and by saying that the points raised would now be submitted to the Secretary of State for the Colonies for his consideration.

Opinion: Democracy in the British Overseas Territories

We found this on Social Media and feel it represents an interesting point of view. Our publication of it here is merely as a starting point for discussion; Saint Helena Island Info neither agrees nor disagrees with the views expressed. We do not think it appropriate to reveal the source, but if you want to know maybe a Google™ search will reveal it.

The UK Government frequently criticises countries like China for denying their citizens Democracy and Human Rights. This is not inaccurate - China does deny its citizens Democracy and Human Rights. And yet the UK Government is itself doing precisely that - denying the citizens of the British Overseas Territories such as St Helena the basic Human Right of self-determination - Democracy.

Let’s focus on St Helena, but what follows applies equally in many other British Overseas Territorys. The residents of St Helena (Saints) are not allowed to vote in British parliamentary elections for the government that will dictate their fate. London appoints a Governor, selected by the UK government for whom the Saints cannot vote, and this person has ultimate power over the island, reporting only to the UK Government. St Helena does have a local democratically-elected Council, but it really has little power - no more than a UK District Council. The people of St Helena do not have the right of self-determination which, according to the UN is one of the most basic Human Rights. Saints were not, to give a recent example, allowed to vote on BREXIT; whether Britain remained in or left the EU was decided with no input from the island.

It has been argued that St Helena cannot have Democracy while it is still financially dependent on the UK. This is a ridiculous argument. Since when were Human Rights only granted to people who turn in a profit? If Manchester was running at a loss would its residents lose their right to vote? What about the isolated Scottish Islands, who are financially dependent on London - should they lose their democratic rights? Anyone who suggests that being financially dependent means you lose your right of self-determination has fundamentally misunderstood the basic concept of Human Rights.

Surely before Britain lectures other countries about Democracy and Human Rights shouldn’t it get its own house in order? People who live in glass houses ...

So two things need to happen; sooner rather than later. Firstly Britain needs to find a way to allow the citizens of the British Overseas Territories to vote in UK parliamentary elections and national referendums. It can’t be that hard - France and The Netherlands both manage it. Secondly Britain needs to reduce the role of its Governors to a purely ceremonial one, with no political power over their Territories whatsoever, and set up a meaningful legislature with genuine power of self-determination in each of the British Overseas Territories. Only then will Britain’s protests about the behaviour of China, etc. carry any credibility. Only then will Britain be actually compliant with the United Nations policies it claims to uphold. Only then will Britain join the 21st Century, instead of remaining as it is today: a 19th Century colonial power.


{a} The ‘Blue Book’, 1887{30}{b} The ‘Blue Book’, 1888{30}{c} Copyright © South Atlantic Media Services Ltd. (SAMS), used with permission.{d} Governor Lisa Phillips{e} George Bernard Shaw{f} SHG{g} Ronald Reagan{33}{h} Dwight D. Eisenhower{i} Adlai Stevenson{j} Anon{k} ‘Nature’s Neglected Citadel’, W. Straker, 1891{l} Napoleon{m} Radio St Helena/Museum of St Helena, digitised by Burgh House Media Productions{n} St Helena Statistics Office & SAMS Radio 1 (2021){o} 2021 Census, taken 7th February 2021.{p} John Ruskin{q} King Charles I


{1} This photograph is captioned with 1888 and Governor Grey-Wilson, but William Grey-Wilson was not actually appointed Governor until 18th July 1890. He was administering the Government{a} in 1888 and 1889{b} but whether the photograph is incorrectly dated or Mr Grey-Wilson is inaccurately titled we do not know.{2} The Jamestown Community Centre is still the Jamestown polling station today.{3} 2001 Penzils cartoon by Johnny Drummond, published in the St Helena News, 2001.{4} Strictly speaking, Executive Authority is vested formally in the Monarch, and exercised on their behalf by the Governor.{5} Note that where a Governor served twice, on separate occasions, this is counted as two Governors.{6} Note, however, that if the Governor considers that a bill is incompatible with the Constitution they can refuse to authorise it.{7} As are meetings of the Public Accounts Committee, which monitors government finances, Questions to the Ministers, where Legislative Council members ask questions to the Ministers about a specific aspect of government, and the counting of votes after Elections.{8} It is not clear if it is possible to remove an elected member. In a recent case, where an elected member was convicted of a serious offence and imprisoned, he chose to resign rather than argue to retain his seat.{9} 2001: 44%; 2005: 47%; 2009: 58%; 2013: 55%; 2017: 49%.{10} That is: the Chief Minister, who performs a dual role, plus four others.{11} Now FCDO.{12} Saints are British Citizens but are not automatically entitled to vote in UK Elections. They can only do so if they have lived in the UK within the last fifteen years and registered to vote while there.{13} So excluding Bank of St Helena, Connect Saint Helena Ltd. and parastatals like (the former) Enterprise St Helena (ESH).{14} And to a few in the un-free world, but saying so there can get you ‘disappeared’…{15} How some past Governors used/abused this power is noted on our pages The Governor of St Helena and Characters of St Helena.{16} Exclusively male until Governor Lisa Phillips was appointed in 2016.{17} The four ‘Wirebird’ publications should not be confused.{18} In the UK the Labour Party adopts a left-of-centre position.{19} Read the Constitution for details.{20} By-election turnouts are normally about half these values, but have been as low as 15% (in 2015).{21} A ‘Consultative Poll’ was taken to mean that Executive Council/The Governor can ignore the result.{22} See the detailed results.{23} It should be noted that when the Fisherman’s Association presented its petition opposing the sell-off of fishing to PQ Trading it was told that 1,191 signatures was not a significant number of people.{24} If you accept that it did…{25} One Councillor having two Districts because there are eight Districts and only seven non-Ministers.{26} Some would dispute that it IS organised.{27} Please remember, we are not lawyers and have no legal training so our opinion on what it says is just that - a Layman’s Opinion. You should seek professional advice and should not act only on what we have written here.{28} You must draw your own conclusions as to why these were dis-applied, though in the case of Human Rights we did get our own Ordinance five years later.{29} It is, of course, appropriate that personal information held by Government, e.g. benefit claims assessments; staff salaries; etc. are not disclosed.{30} @@RepDis@@{31} We do not usually comment on the content of articles, but we didn’t feel we could let this one slide. The General Electorate did no such thing. Only 336 people voted out of an electorate of roughly 2,150 - an approximately 15% turnout. The decision was not made by the General Electorate it was made by the roughly ⅐ who supported the completely undemocratic process that had been followed enough to turn up. End of rant!{32} As this is now years old it might, by now, have made it onto St Helena’s ‘Hansard’…{33} 40th US President (1981-89).{34} The Government newspaper{17}.{35} It was noted that this re-organisation began long before the ‘Consultative Poll’ had actually approved the change{24} and indeed was nearly complete by the time the poll actually took place.{36} This figure comes from The Sentinel 6th August 2020, page 5, showing full-time workers directly employed by the SHG{13} only. Many people have multiple jobs - a ‘day job’ with SHG and other paid work done in the evening or at weekends. In addition it depends on whether the people working for Connect Saint Helena Ltd. and Bank of St Helena are included as Government or Private Sector.