UK minister: ‘Sark is in serious state of affairs’

THE UK has asked for assurances that there has not been a breakdown of good government in Sark – a potential trigger for intervention in its affairs.

Lord Keen. (Picture by Adrian Miller, 22618634)
Lord Keen. (Picture by Adrian Miller, 22618634)

It follows the island’s failure last month to pass a Budget, which led to the resignation of both the island’s Finance and Resources committee and the only civil servant, and six years passing since there was a contested election.

Lord Keen, the UK minister responsible for the Crown Dependencies, has written to Sark, copying in Guernsey’s Lt-Governor Vice Admiral Sir Ian Corder, seeking answers.

‘I am aware that urgent measures have been implemented to manage the situation but it is nonetheless a serious state of affairs in which Sark now finds itself,’ he said.

‘I therefore wish to have your assessment of the implications for the good government of the island.’

In 2010, the UK Government agreed with a select committee assessment that ‘just as the establishment of democratic government in Sark was a matter of good government, any threat to the ability of that system to operate fairly and robustly has the potential to raise good government issues which might require UK Government intervention’.

Lord Keen said that to be satisfied of good government on Sark, he needed to be assured on three counts.

n that the island’s government has sufficient capacity and access to the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to govern effectively.

n that government decisions are made in a transparent way, based on objective advice

n that proper democratic accountability of the government to the people of the island can be restored, primarily through periodic contested elections.

Referring to the first two points, he said that Sark needs a small, professional civil service to provide objective advice.

‘It would also be able to make recommendations on standards of propriety in government and, importantly, ensure that Sark’s government maintains sufficient overall capacity and expertise to govern.’

On the last point, he said that no democratic government can hope to maintain itself indefinitely without periodically answering to its electorate through elections that offer a genuine choice of representation.

‘It has been six years since a properly contested election in Sark. In light of the many significant challenges facing the island, it is now a matter of urgency that your forthcoming elections deliver a strong mandate to government going forward.’

The next general election takes place on Wednesday 12 December. Nominations open on Friday.

After the failure to pass the Budget in October, Chief Pleas voted to form a new Policy and Finance Committee, merging the roles of the senior committee and Finance and Resources.

On Tuesday evening, Chief Pleas passed an amended Budget, which includes £90,000 for a senior administrator and committee support staff.

Lord Keen wrote to the island before that debate.

He had two key questions: how did Chief Pleas plan to ensure that the skills and capacity to provide good government are available and also what the impact of the senior administrator’s resignation was on nominations for the December election and what other measures Chief Pleas had taken to encourage people to stand?

. Tributes were paid yesterday to Policy and Finance chairman Steve Taylor, who died on Tuesday evening.

The cause is unknown.

‘Steve was a person who approached his public duties with an enthusiastic and a genuine problem-solving ethos. He will be much missed,’ said Speaker of Chief Pleas Arthur Rolfe.

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