OVER 2,500 SIGN ‘DON’T GO WITH THE FLOW’ PETITION | Darrin Henry
The streets of Jamestown echoed today to the chants of St Helena’s first public protest in more than seven years. Approximately 135 people (including organisers and marshals), held aloft homemade banners and marched in objection to proposed water tariff increases by the island’s utilities company, Connect Saint Helena.
“We are the voice of the community,” was the rallying call, repeated by the crowd, followed by a sharp shout of, “LISTEN!”
The One Hour Protest
Starting from Pilling School at 12:04 (Saturday 30 June, 2018) the protesters marched down through Jamestown under the watchful eye of a team of police officers, who also videoed the event from start to finish.
A few extra protesters joined the march along the way.
Banners carried the protest slogan:
Don’t Go With The Flow, Say ‘No!’ Stop The Increases To Our H2O!
Arriving at the Parade Square, 15 minutes later, demonstrators gathered in front of the Court House steps. Over a PA system, a letter being submitted to the utilities regulatory authority was read out.
A request from the protesters for officials representing the government and the regulatory authority, including Governor Lisa Honan, to take public receipt of a petition signed by over 2,500 islanders, then caused a mini-stand-off.
“We will not be dictated to”
The handover of the petition on the Court House steps had been refused by the Governor following the advice of the police in “the best interests of public safety.” An offer was made by Governor Honan instead to meet inside her office at the Castle. A small group representing the protesters would be permitted entry, but it was announced no media were to be allowed in.
Protesters rejected this behind-closed-doors option, and demanded the exchange take place in public while giving assurances there would be no public disorder.
“We need transparency. We need accountability,” was the repeated chant that was probably heard quite clearly in the Governor’s office, perhaps 100m or so away.
“We will not be dictated to,” was the defiant message coming out of the PA speakers.
After 30 mins the power of the public voice prevailed. Governor Honan and Utilities Regulatory Authority representative, Paul Hickling, emerged from the Castle with a police escort.
A peaceful handover of the petition took place on the Court House steps. The whole process took less than two minutes, then Governor Honan and Mr Hickling retreated back to the Castle.
By 13:04, one hour after the march had begun, the crowd had dispersed and it was all over.
The Real Reason Why People Marched
Water tariff increases might have been the trigger for today’s public protest march, however, the reasons for people participating, went deeper.
There was a sense among those we spoke to of being fed up with the way the island is being run and the increasing cost of living for ordinary people.
Taking part in the protest was as much about trying to be heard as it was about water rates.
Here are some of the comments from those marching. We asked what motivated them to come out and take part.
Mark Simon, The Briars – Self-employed electrical contractor, also an organic farmer and chicken breeder
What motivated you to come out today?
“Pretty much exhaustion from the price increases. You know many people on the island are struggling. There are increases on pretty much everything. It’s become a major burden to many families especially the vulnerable. It was only a matter of time before this kind of event would happen. I think it’s long overdue as well. I think the people today were quite organised and very peaceful in the matter and just trying to get the point across. Trying to make a difference, not only for ourselves but for our vulnerable, our elderly people, and also our younger generation.”
How do you feel overall it went today?
“I think it went positively, I think it was quite effective. We’re not just Saints, we are people at the end of the day. A community like ours needs to stand together and not be divided, as the slogan said. At the end of the day we’ve got to fight for our rights. The only way to do that is by peaceful marching and demonstrations, without violence. That’s the best way to get forward, get the point across peacefully.”
Colin Thomas, Colt Sheds – Farmer, business owner
“I’m a full time farmer, I employ six full-time staff, and today I’m marching on behalf of the people of St Helena.
“I’ve been farming since I was 8 years old with my dad up to today and I’m 62.
“The increase in water tariffs affect me big time. Because where we supply most of the island, [with vegetables] a lot of our people are diabetic and dependent on social benefits they really can’t afford to handle any higher rates in water.
“We use tons and tons and tons of water during summer time, and during winter to establish crops. During winter, after the crops are established, we depend on the winter rains to make it a bit cheaper for consumers.
“Yes, I think today will have a positive effect, because water is everybody’s concern and the ridiculous high price that Connect is asking for is out of range of anybody’s pocket.”
Lisa Benjamin, Clay Gut – Speech and Language Therapist and Assistant Practitioner, Safe Guarding
“What motivated me to come out here today is I really need to support our island in moving forward. I think they are trying to put the prices up of the water, for me personally that is not supporting anybody. It’s not supporting the poor person; it’s not supporting the person that can afford it. It’s just getting a little bit out of hand now and I just feel I need to be part of this so I know I also tried to help by coming out today and supporting everybody.”
Toni Joshua, Half Tree Hollow – Environmental Health Technical Officer, Public Health
“I am more or less here today because my husband has a business, a crèche. So therefore, it’s going to affect us in a big way, the business. I am here today for the community and for ourselves and to try help to make it better.
“I really hope today makes a difference. From the meeting that night there was a good response so I just hope today we get a good turnout as well and we can make them see that we do mean business.
“I would like them to do this review [of Connect Saint Helena] look into it and see if they can come up with a solution rather than put an increase on.”
George Crowie, Deadwood – Agriculture and Natural Resources worker, Scotland
“I’m taking part today because the prices of things is getting more than your wages actually, because it’s not just the water, it’s everything going up.”
“It’ll affect us in a lot of things, right down to the farmers, because they paying more for water, next thing the price of vegetable will go up.
“Do I think that it’ll make a difference? You don’t know until you try.”
Jeffrey Ellick, Half Tree Hollow – Small business owner, Brick and Block Ventures. One of the protest organisers.
“It’s pretty good so far, we’ve been overwhelmed with support. We counted the signatures of the partition and its over 2,500 which is pretty good in my view, that gives a big statement there.
“We’re just hoping the people rally round today and come for the march. Some people can’t be at Pilling School, obviously we’ve got pensioners and so forth so they will join us at the Market or the Canister.”
What has been the overwhelming comment that you’ve heard from people?
“I think it’s like a lady said at the meeting at the community centre, it’s time for Saints to stand up and not to take it, enough is enough.”
Are you optimistic about making a change today?
“I think it’s going to make people stand up in the right places and think before they start acting. You’ve got practically most of the adult St Helenian public saying this. And it’s up to the councillors now, the politicians the administration, ‘Connect Saint Helena’ to listen. So let’s see if they are listening.”
Doris Clarke, New Ground – Housewife
(before the start of the march)
“I’m marching today because of the water prices what are going up so high. We are going to do something about it and try to put our feet down and show the councillors; we elected the councillors to be there for us, to help us. And thanks to [Councillor] Christine Scipio-O’Dean for what she has achieved this far, it looks like it’s only she who has tried for us.
“We struggle now to buy fresh fruit and vegetables it’s going to be a hell of a lot of money. And in that respect some of our elderly folks won’t be able to afford nothing. The doctors advise us to have protein, vegetables and fish and all that, but if they advise us that and the water prices go so high, how can we afford it? We can’t afford to buy that? Look in the shops there’s nothing now, so what go happen to us? So something has to be done, we got to get down to it.
“I hope there is going to be a positive outcome and we can see our way forward. And those councillors what we elect they have to come and join us. They should be all round here to help us, but they not here to help us.”
Winnie Thomas, Deadwood – Teacher at Pilling Primary
“I feel I need to, well I know I need to support the community and we all need to stick together for something like this because it affects all of us.
“I am on my own, I’m a single parent, and it’s not easy when the bills come in. Since I’ve been back from the UK I find that yes, it’s nice being home but there are things that I feel could be a bit better and feel they need to look at the pay packet. I’ve been back since 2009, nine years.”
Rosemary Mittens, Deadwood – Nurse, Public Health Department
“I also feel the increase they are putting on water is quite a big jump. Water is something we use every day and we cannot say we’re not going to use it because it is important to our lives. I just feel that there needs to be something done, even if it’s just a bit less. I know that things do have to go up but I feel that it’s quite a big increase they’ve put on the water.”
Annalise Thomas, Deadwood – Secretary, Prince Andrew School.
“Salaries here is very low and it is a struggle to survive.
“I expect today that they will see all of us care about what is happening and that they will take it into consideration that people aren’t happy. Hopefully they will make some changes for the better.”
How do you feel about coming out today for something like this for the first time?
“Quite nervous but excited.”
Dennis Henry, Cow Path – Construction Worker, Barry’s Construction
“I wanted to join the crowd and make my voice heard, say no to the 20% on the H20. It affects me most of all, washing my car, watering the garden and the lawn.
“I hope today will have a positive effect, I hope we achieve something. It’s my first time to do something like this, but I will join the crowd.”
Rosie Bargo, Half Tree Hollow – Business owner, Rosie’s Bar and Restaurant, Ladder Hill
“Well, as you know running a restaurant and a bar we use a lot of water so of course this affects us immensely.
“Just looking at the island as a whole I’m even marching for my Mum, the family, for myself personally, for everybody really. I think it’s about time we at least demonstrate our dissatisfaction of things. Saying, why should they be increasing costs? I know they have good reasons but seriously at this time no one can afford it.
“I mean the island still hasn’t reached that economic point where everything is going well enough that money is flowing. Then if you’re bringing in rises that’s understandable, but right now no one can afford it. No business. Utilities especially in my business is huge and increasing the rates of water or electricity will possibly have a very, I would say, damaging effect. It could even mean businesses like myself, and like mine, could even actually cause closure.”
Mark Brooks, Jamestown – Unemployed
“I think that the St Helena people have been pushed over enough so we’re just here to stand up for ourselves. Even though it’s just a small raise, the whole principle is just stand up for yourselves and not be a pushover.”
Andrew Yon, Sea View – Fisherman, self-employed
“The reason why I am here is for my future and my family’s future because at the end of the day if the water tariff go up by 40% is it? St Helena Fisheries I don’t think they’d be able to afford to pay that kind of bill.
“That’s going to be an extra £6-800 per quarter for them. They’re not making any money now, so that’s the reason why I’m here. We got all the people to represent fisheries but who is round here to actually represent the fisheries? Nobody as far as I can see. That is because their wages are based on government pays. I am a self-employed fisherman so you know, nobody pays for me…”
“We can demonstrate but will 2,000 people make a difference to a handful of people? Their minds are already made up. As we know here, it ain’t what you know, it’s who you know. Will we make a difference? I really do hope so.
“Well we definitely don’t need any more bills do we? An increase on the wages would be good for everybody, but we definitely don’t need more bills. And as far as I can see, Connect [Saint Helena] are not really proving anything to us, they just take over from government and that’s it. Nothing substantial has happened. Even the solar farm, does it work? I don’t think so. Come on, it’s just a lot of wasted money, and we have to pay for it.”
Gemma Yon, Longwood – Sure South Atlantic
“We all have families, cousins, grandmas, ourselves, we all pay for water and it’s essential, you can’t live without it. I know a lot of members of my family they work jobs, have good money but it’s still unaffordable. And that’s simply why I’m here.
“I am pleased with how today went, however, I was disappointed that they [Governor Honan and Paul Hickling] didn’t want to come out at first. It’s just about being accountable and transparent, it’s also about acknowledging the people. People have come from their homes to come here today, we just need someone to say, we saw you, we heard you. Just some acknowledgement.”
Christine Scipio-O’Dean, Longwood – Legislative Council & Executive Council Member. Political representative of protest group
“I think throughout the whole week, the demonstration, the support from the community, demonstrates the people aren’t happy with what is happening on the island with the increases and how they’re going to affect them. I was so overwhelmed by the number of signatures that we had, how people went out of their way to get signatures from people who were unable to go to the shops to sign. It demonstrates that the community is working together, the community at last is coming together as one voice. I thought that there’d be more people in attendance today but we need to respect that the airport is in operation so people need to there, receiving and saying cheerio as well. But judging by the number of signatures it was so overwhelming.
“I think the people have taken the opportunity to use their voice which is really good. And for me at the public meeting we had they said they wanted openness and transparency they made the decision that they wanted the petition to be presented in an open space and that’s why we have done that today. We had a mandate, the group had a mandate of what to do and it’s what we had to achieve today and that’s why the group did not go into the Governor’s office to hand in the petition because that was not the mandate that the community wanted.
“I admire the participants today for being respectful because that’s what we wanted. It showed that we can be respectful, and I think that is a huge bonus what the community achieved today. Because it appears that they [public] were dictated to as how they [authorities] wanted to do this petition and that is not what they wanted. That’s what we achieved today.
“So the next step now then is what happens with the outcome of discussions with the regulatory authority? I hope that they listen to the people. Personally I hope the increases aren’t implemented from the 1st July and that an independent review of Connect Saint Helena is carried out before any consideration is given to any increase on the island.
“I am extremely pleased with how the community worked together in such a short space of time. Last week in getting the signatures and making themselves heard.”
Was there in instruction to yourselves as councillors with regards participation today?
“I can’t speak for other elected members but for me personally, I received independent legal advice and the advice I had was that as part of Executive Council to do not participate in the petition and the demonstration. Of which I did not. I was in front of the Canister as a First Aider for the St Helena Red Cross.”
Merlin George, Nr Princes Lodge – Retired Policeman
“I came out to support everyone else because everybody else will suffer if nobody protests against the charges that’s being proposed by Connect Saint Helena. The voices are heard, I think things will perhaps be addressed and looked at and it’ll be better for us.
“I think on the whole it’s the impact for everyone, but there are as we know some unfortunate people on the island so the impact on them is much greater.”
“I give credit to the organisers, I think it [the march] was well organised and planned. And I must also thank everyone for coming out to be heard. It all went very peacefully, something the organisers wanted. I think the icing on the cake was when after strong persuasion from us and the group, to have the Governor and Paul from the regulatory authority here. It has calmed things down and I think people will go away from here feeling a lot happier and hope that we have the right result at the end of it.”
Trevor Furniss, Longwood Hangings – Farmer
“I’ve been farming for 10-15 years and grow anything that will make money, sweet potato, carrots, cabbage, potatoes, whatever.
“I supported the [protest march] day because I’m in the farming industry. People are shouting out now one cabbage is what, £5, and if the water goes up, what us go do then? My idea, I think it is best to get rid of Connect [Saint Helena]. They are a company coming here, ripping all our money off and going overseas. It’s no good to us, the money got to stay on the island buddy.
“The demonstration went very well, lovely everything was peaceful, great. Yes, I thought that was good the Governor came out.
“I think so this will have a positive effect. This was great today, I enjoyed it.”
Jonathan Thomas, Longwood – Acting Chief Inspector, St Helena Police Directorate
What is your overall assessment of the demonstration today?
“Very pleased. Very pleased with the actual outcome of the people. I’m quite pleased the public are using their right to protest. It went really well, the signage and banners was respectful for the process and everyone, barring a minor incident, it all went well. We had officers here, sufficient enough to deal with any incidents plus the organisers had their own marshals so it went really well.”
How may police were out today?
“I won’t be able to give you the numbers because that is operational information but we had sufficient to deal with the operation plus we had contingencies in case anything had gone wrong. We had officers out to deal with this.
“As the police we have a duty to provide safety measures. The officers, they actually had to come out off duty from their rest days, so I need to appreciate our officers as well. So it went really well.”
Jeffrey Ellick, Half Tree Hollow – Small business owner, Brick and Block Ventures. One of the protest organisers.
After the event.
“I thought it went very well actually, the crowd was compliant, there were no hiccups coming down, people were orderly, the marshals, they did their job quite well. I was very impressed with the people, and then after I was quite impressed that the Governor and Mr Hickling came out to accept the petition, despite saying they weren’t going to on the advice of the police. But you know at the end of the day, it all came together and we achieved what we wanted to achieve and the people are happy that it went through the right process. So I’m happy all round.
“I don’t know what the perception from the police was of the crowd from the onset. St Helena is full with friendly people, and they demonstrated that here as well today. So well done to the people I would say.
“I think at the moment we are doing it the right way, and hopefully the councillors, the administration, Connect Saint Helena and the regulatory authority will listen. And that’s all we can hope for.”