Submission to the Foreign Affairs Committee
- 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
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
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 AND THE WELFARE OF ITS COMMUNITY.
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
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.
PRIORITIES TO IMPROVE INFRASTRUCTURE AND LIFESTYLE:
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
(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.
2) MEDICAL DEPARTMENT.
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
I hope the Committee will give its kind consideration to the contents
of this document and look forward to a response in due course.