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Submission to the Foreign Affairs Committee

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  • Bob Conrich
    The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee is taking written evidence on the relationship between HMG and the Overseas Territories. Below is the
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 12, 2008
      The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee is taking
      written evidence on the relationship between HMG and the Overseas
      Territories. Below is the uncorrected written submission of the Chief
      Islander. This is a public document.


      Submission from Mr Conrad Glass, Chief Islander, Tristan da Cunha, 30
      October 2007

      Dear Committee Member,

      An introduction: I'm Conrad Jack Glass, Chief Islander (Head
      Councillor) of Tristan da Cunha. I've been a Councillor 12 years, the
      last three as Deputy President. I work as Tristan's police inspector,
      the only full time officer on the island. I trained in St. Helena and
      the UK and have travelled to Britain several times for courses or
      leave. I'm a direct descendant of the pioneer Tristan settler, William
      Glass, so my family has lived on Tristan since 1816. In 2005 I wrote
      the book Rockhopper Copper about my life and work. It was the first
      book written by an islander.

      Tristan da Cunha is said by the Guinness Book of Records to be the
      most remote inhabited island on Earth. Our small British island is 37
      miles square, located in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean. It's
      a dependency of St Helena, 1300 miles to our north. Tristan was
      discovered in 1506 by the Portuguese, and served as a place for ships
      bound for the Far East to check their navigation and to collect fresh
      water. The British took control in 1816 at the time of Napoleon's
      exile to St. Helena, stationing a garrison on Tristan. The soldiers
      are long gone, but our speck on the map remains proudly British to
      this day.

      South Africa is the nearest landmass: 1500 miles distant, at least six
      days by ship. We have no airport or air service nor any prospect of
      one. All supplies and machinery must travel by ship from Cape Town.
      Our small harbour is our lifeline, too small for ocean going ships, so
      people and goods must transfer to small boats (or the helicopters of
      the SA Agulhas during her annual voyage to the meteorological station
      on Gough Island) to reach the island. There are but nine scheduled
      visits annually by fishing ships to Tristan. Each brings cargo and 12
      passengers. These are the MFV Edinburgh, and the MFV Kelso, belonging
      to the South African fishing company Ovenstones Agencies (Pty) which
      has a contract to catch crayfish around Tristan and the uninhabited
      Nightingale, Inaccessible and Stoltenhoff islands nearby. This is our
      main source of revenue; the only other is the sale of Tristan postage
      stamps to collectors.

      Ovenstones operate the only factory on Tristan, employing islanders to
      process fish which they catch in small boats. The company supplies
      24-hour electricity from diesel generators to the village and to
      United Nations scientific monitoring stations.

      All 269 Tristanians, the 12 expatiates and their families live in
      Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, the rather grand name of the only
      settlement on Tristan, located on the largest plateau, five miles long
      by a mile, facing north. Otherwise the island consists of a peak
      (6,760 feet high), forbidding cliffs dropping sheer into the Atlantic,
      gulches and volcanic deposits and boulders. The community includes the
      Administrator (from the UK), the Factory Manager and the Doctor (South
      Africa), the Church of England Minister (UK) and a UN employee. The
      Anglicans are the most numerous, co-existing happily with the thriving
      Catholic community. The local lifestyle resembles that of
      homesteaders, or crofters. Each family has their own sheep, cattle and
      poultry. Fish is in abundance around Tristan and is an important part
      of peoples' diet. The families have their own allotments, which they
      call The Patches (sited three miles from Edinburgh, along the one
      metalled road, upon which Tristan's only timetabled bus service
      operates). On these allotments they grow vegetables, principally
      potatoes. There are very few fruit trees on the island, although the
      climate is moderate: its extremes make cultivation difficult. Most
      people work for the Tristan Government, except on days when weather
      and sea conditions permit fishing. Then, half the work force is
      allowed to process the catch at the factory. To learn more about our
      way of life, visit our website www.tristandc.com which is run in
      conjunction with the Tristan da Cunha Association, an organisation for
      people interested in the island.


      Tristan's economy, its policies, ethics and its welfare, are issues
      which must be addressed if the island is to achieve good governance
      and move forward. I will list them in order of what I feel are the
      most important. The recently appointed Administrator, David Morley, is
      doing his best to get results, but needs the support of London and the
      community to succeed. He has been handed an administrative post when
      the economy is in decline, with an inexperienced local management in
      charge of a disillusioned workforce. At the same time, the community
      faces increasing health problems. My view is this is the legacy of
      previous administrations which have made premature decisions and
      sometimes given incorrect information to councillors and heads of
      departments. In turn, this has dissipated the island economy and
      disillusioned its workforce. While the leaders of the community soon
      realised what was happening and made numerous requests for these
      trends to be reversed, the administrators seemed unable to be able to
      do so. I feel strongly that such situations could be avoided with open
      and transparent communication between Tristanians, the Administrator
      and London.

      One way forward would be for Tristan to nominate someone to represent
      them in the UK as already happens with the Falkland Islands and St
      Helena. While the St. Helenan representative in London is also
      supposed to look after Tristan's interests, the reality is that person
      is far too busy with St. Helena business. This leads to a continuation
      of the age-old fact that the majority of resources go to St Helena,
      leaving Tristan with the leftovers.

      Tristanians are very loyal to the Crown and proud to be British, but
      often they feel like the ugly duckling - neglected, out in the cold
      and having to fend for themselves. It has to be said that all feel
      that David Morley is doing a sterling job here. He has achieved more
      in the few weeks since his arrival than previous administrators have
      done in their three year tenures!

      So we must achieve good governance and a stable economy to improve the
      morale, the ethics and the welfare of our community through open and
      transparent communication and between the FCO, the Tristan Government,
      the Administrator and the Chief Islander. The Island Council needs to
      see and be able to respond to all political correspondence between
      London and Tristan.


      1) EDUCATION. This is vitally important for present and future
      generations of Tristanians.

      (a) We need a teacher from the UK to bring our rather rudimentary
      education up to British standards and to give local teachers
      in-service training. This last took place in 1991. More than half of
      the teachers will be retiring in the next five years, two are our most
      senior teachers and there is no one to replace them. The school needs
      new computers so it can offer computer-training classes to pupils and
      the community.

      (b) We need management training for heads of government departments
      and the workforce engaged in electrical, mechanical, information
      technology, fisheries, agriculture, business, nursing, accountancy and
      clerical duties. To have on-island training from those qualified in
      farming, civil engineering, and labour management would be a great
      asset, as it would in other areas. Some islanders ought to be able to
      go abroad for specialist skill training.


      The hospital must upgrade its building and facilities.

      (a) The present labour ward needs converting into a properly equipped
      emergency room. The hospital interior needs refurbishing to enable the
      dental suite to be swapped with the theatre complex, a new dispensary
      with extra shelving to be created and a computer acquired to manage
      the stock. There should be an additional ward for use as a labour ward
      near the theatre complex.

      (b) Equipment: the hospital needs a patient monitor (ECG, NIBP, SpO2
      Respirations), a theatre light, theatre (operating) table,
      resuscitation table/gurney, operating light (for the emergency room),
      ultrasound scanner, gastroscope, ECG monitor/defibrillator,
      sigmoidoscope. UV Filter for hospital water supply, Paqa lab test kit.

      All this equipment is essential to the doctor in such a remote
      community. It means the difference between life and death.


      There is only one shop for the sale of foodstuffs, clothing and
      hardware and our current building is very outdated, with inadequate
      storage facilities. It does not meet UK standards, being constructed
      of asbestos over a steel frame. There is a constant (losing) battle to
      exclude rats. For environmental and health and safety reasons, we
      urgently need a new supermarket.

      (a) Requirements: proper cold storage for meats and fruit, new
      computers for stock and cash flow systems, computers, adequate and
      safe shelving, facilities for hygienically cutting cheeses and other
      foodstuffs and the means to upgrade personal facilities for employees.
      The warehouse must be upgraded to meet current UK hygiene standards.

      I realise of course that these essential improvements will cost money
      and resources, something Tristan simply does not have at present. The
      community will be grateful for support with these proposals and help
      in implementing them and devising a business plan to enable them this
      to happen.

      I hope the Committee will give its kind consideration to the contents
      of this document and look forward to a response in due course.

      Yours Sincerely
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