|10th July 2020
CHIEF PLEAS HITS AN ALL-TIME LOW IN THEIR CONTEMPT FOR THE PEOPLE’S RIGHT TO OPEN, TRANSPARENT AND ACCOUNTABLE GOVERNANCE
On Friday 21st February 2020 The Sark Newspaper reported that members of Sark’s Policy & Finance Committee had, two days earlier, been in Guernsey holding talks with Lord Keen of Elie, the UK’s Minister with responsibility for the Crown Dependencies. Having returned to Sark, they immediately attended an Extraordinary meeting of Chief Pleas, held that very same evening, 19th February 2020, to approve the purchase of a second-hand passenger ferry, the ‘Corsaire des Iles 2.’ They also went on to approve a taxpayer-backed guarantee for a loan of £300,000 that the Isle of Sark Shipping required to complete the purchase.
This publication questioned at the time, why Sark’s unelected ‘chief minister’ Peter, aka Samuel, La Trobe-Bateman, had failed to take the opportunity to inform Conseillers and the public-at-large, that he had been in Guernsey, that very same day, meeting with not just Lord Keen but also representatives from both Guernsey and Jersey’s governments, officials from the UK Ministry of Justice and HM Procureur Megan Pullman QC. The Sark Newspaper also questioned why the meeting at Government House had been held, why the people of Sark were not told of it in advance and what was discussed?
Today The Sark Newspaper, in the public interest, publishes the official minutes of the meeting. They will make troubling reading for the people of Sark and others further afield, in particular the people of Guernsey and Jersey. The UK Ministry of Justice along with a coterie of Guernsey, Jersey and UK state officials have colluded to meet behind closed doors, free from public scrutiny, to apply pressure on Sark to either do their bidding or else face the threat of ‘...a Privy Council examination of Sark.’ This, of course, begs the question, if Sark today, why not Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man tomorrow?
Of the 13 attendees only three, Conseillers Peter Samuel La Trobe-Bateman, John Guille and William Raymond, are answerable to the Sark electorate. At general elections and by-elections, the people of Sark can exercise their democratic right via the ballot box to either re-elect or reject them from office. Sark’s electoral system is far from perfect, but its effectiveness was tested and proven in the last general election, when two long-term Chief Pleas stalwarts, Edric and Diane Baker, were rejected by the electorate in favour of fresh, younger candidates.
Not one of the other attendees are answerable to the Sark electorate. We have no mechanism by which we can either elect them to or remove them from office. They are unanswerable to us but, critically, we, the people of Sark, are unanswerable to them. For over 450 years the Island of Sark has been an independent jurisdiction whose people have an inalienable right to self-determination. Today, courtesy of a Crown lease held by our Seigneur, Major Christopher Beaumont, our status as an autonomous jurisdiction is as strong and as robust as it has ever been. Addressing the Sark Chamber of Commerce in January 2019, the Seigneur made his position on the issue of Sark’s independence absolutely crystal clear:
“We should retain our autonomy at all costs.”
In this troubled and often dangerous world our Seigneur’s commitment to maintaining our independence and right to self-determination should strengthen the resolve of every one of the current generation of Islanders to guard and protect Sark’s autonomy from external forces who seek to interfere in our internal affairs. The members of Chief Pleas, some elected, some unelected, have been ill-judged in choosing not to let the people know what has been going on behind closed doors in Guernsey. That said, it is unclear how many members of Chief Pleas were, prior to the recent release of the minutes of the meeting at Government House on 19th February 2020, party to what had been discussed. The leaking of the minutes to The Sark Newspaper from a multitude of sources suggests that the majority of Chief Pleas members had been kept as much in the dark as the rest of us until only recently.
On Wednesday evening Chief Pleas met for its Midsummer meeting, one of only four scheduled sittings this year. In failing to take the opportunity to inform Islanders what has been going on behind closed doors in Guernsey, they hit an all-time low in their contempt for the people’s right to open, transparent and accountable governance. Chief Pleas is not a secret society, yet, under the stewardship of the unelected Reginald Guille, it sees fit to conduct itself as one. However, only the people of Sark have, via the ballot box, the power to change this situation. It is not for Lord Keen or any of his fellow conspirators who were to be found skulking and scheming behind closed doors at Government House in February to be telling the people of Sark what they should or what they shouldn’t be doing.