14th June 2019
A DANGEROUS FOLLY
A HANDFUL OF ‘ANONYMOUS’ ISLANDERS PETITION THE PRIVY COUNCIL OF THE UNITED KINGDOM AND INVITE THEM TO INTERVENE IN SARK’S AFFAIRS
Sark problems, and there are many of them, are for the people of Sark to sort out, no one else. Within this simple statement lies the key to securing and maintaining the people of Sark’s independence, their right to self-determination and most important of all, the Island’s autonomy. In a troubled and often dangerous world Sark is unique.
We are on the edge of Europe but not answerable to Brussels. We have no political representation in the European Parliament nor do we seek any. Not one member of the European Parliament holds a mandate from the people of Sark to govern over them.
We are part of the UK, but not answerable to Westminster. We have no political representation in the UK government nor do we seek any. Not one member of the UK's government has faced the electorate in Sark. Not one member of the UK’s government holds a mandate from the people of Sark to govern over them.
We are part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, but not answerable to the States of Guernsey. We have no political representation in the States of Guernsey, nor do we seek any. Not one member of Guernsey’s government has faced the electorate in Sark. Not one member of Guernsey’s government holds a mandate from the people of Sark to govern over them.
Sark’s unique status as a self-governing autonomous jurisdiction means that every resident, regardless of the divisions that have plagued the Island for the past decade, must be ever vigilant against outside interference in our internal affairs. Sark has its own parliament, far from perfect, but nevertheless constituted from year-round residents, who pass legislation and make laws with a legitimacy that negates any unlawful attempts by Europe, Guernsey or Westminster to intervene in how we govern ourselves. Sark is not averse to listening to and occasionally taking heed of advice from Brussels, Westminster or Guernsey but it is solely the people of Sark who have the right to decide how we are governed.
On Wednesday 1st May 2019 Chief Pleas unanimously passed three propositions that paved the way for the long-awaited land reform law. In doing so they made the prospect of property ownership for all a reality.
The benefits of land reform are clear for all to see. This is why our parliament decided that now was the time to act. To date only cash buyers, or those with the cash to build their own home, could own a property on Sark. Now, as a result of the passing of The Land Reform (2019) Law no end of opportunities have been opened up.
Young, and not so young, men, women and families can now start saving up for the deposit of 5% to 10% which will allow them to get a mortgage from a bank or a building society to buy their own home here in Sark. Sark has no shortage of elderly residents who are asset rich but cash poor. Having ploughed all of their cash during their economically active years into buying their property they are currently denied the opportunity to access the equity in their homes because of Sark’s antiquated property ownership laws. This is set to change with the enactment of The Land Reform (2019) Law. The benefits to Sark’s economy will be enormous as cash is released for home improvements, healthcare and general day to day living costs.
Why, one might ask, would anyone oppose this long-awaited liberation of Sark’s property market? The answer is self-interest and greed.
Rumours are abound the Island that a few selfish residents have been doing everything they can to thwart the will of Chief Pleas and stop Land Reform in its tracks. The Sark Newspaper can exclusively reveal that these individuals are responsible for a petition to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom requesting that Royal Assent is disallowed for the Projet de Loi The Land Reform (Sark) Law, 2019. Who are these people and why are they encouraging outside intervention into Sark’s internal affairs?
Unsubstantiated accounts suggest that ex-members of Chief Pleas Andrew Cook, Janet Guy, Charles Maitland and Peter Cole are behind this this act of treachery, along with Sark residents Susan Daly and Peter Cunneen. They have clearly not heeded the warnings implicit in the now infamous letter from Lord Keen the UK Ministry of Justice Minister with responsibilities for the Crown Dependencies in October 2018:
To be satisfied of good government on Sark, I need to be assured on three particular counts. First, that the island’s Government has sufficient capacity and access to the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to govern effectively; second, that Government decisions are made in a transparent way, based on objective advice and; third, that proper democratic accountability of the Government to the people of the island can be restored, primarily through the mechanism of periodic contested elections.’
‘On the first two points, as you know, it is my considered view that Sark needs a small, professional civil service, which will provide objective advice and enable decisions based on proper evaluation of the evidence, costs and risks. 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, irrespective of the ultimate size of a ‘sustainable’ Chief Pleas.’
Lord Keen has every right to offer the people of Sark advice on how a 21st century self-regulating jurisdiction should conduct itself. However there is no legal basis for this clumsy attempt at Westminster gunboat diplomacy that carries an inherent suggestion that if he is not happy with how Sark is managing its affairs he will intervene. Sark’s problems are for the people of Sark to resolve. No-one else has the legal right to do so.
One can only imagine the delight in the UK when a group of Islanders chose to ignore this basic principle and call for outside intervention in our internal affairs. The accusations laid out in their petition to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom against how we conduct our affairs on Sark gives succour to the likes of Lord Keen and others who would seize any chance to gain control over Sark and its people:
‘Sark government no longer has any on island skilled, knowledgeable and experienced objective advice provided for Conseillers to enable decisions based on proper evaluation of the evidence, costs and risks. Chief Please by approving this law has demonstrated it does not maintain sufficient overall capacity and expertise to govern effectively or provide good government. Where there is evidence that advice from the Law Officers of the Crown has been ignored no explanation has been forthcoming.’
‘There is no evidence of new Conseillers (elected Dec 2018) receiving induction training about their responsibilities to make decisions in the public interest or being provided with briefings to understand when everyone on the island has an interest and therefore conflicts of interest need to be addressed by applying independent objectivity. In addition Conseillers responsibility to engage with inhabitants irrespective of personal position, respond to inhabitants concerns and familiarise themselves with all views and options to make informed decisions, is also not evident.’
‘There is a perception that many in Chief Pleas believe there is sufficient scrutiny by other Conseillers, this is evidence by the lack of challenge on public record. Hansard also reveals lack of challenge by Conseillers on matters that inhabitants have brought to their attention. There is no system of scrutiny provided by professional civil servants for Conseillers who may wish to question or challenge what is proposed.’
Everyone in Sark knows this to be the case. This has been comprehensively reported within the pages of The Sark Newspaper for many years. But it is for the people of Sark to change this through the ballot box, not the unelected Lord Keen, the Privy Council of the United Kingdom or anyone else for that matter. For Sark to start the process of securing its future as an autonomous jurisdiction The Land Reform (2019) Law must be enacted without delay. It may surprise our readership that for once the Island’s ex chief enforcer Reginald Guille will be given the last word on the importance of both land reform and the sovereignty of Sark’s parliament. At the 2018 Christmas Chief Pleas, with customary arrogance the unelected Guille told the house:
“I would remind Conseillers, and the public, that I have always been in favour of legal enfranchisement – the right to buy. However, I have had to compromise that position in order to get land reform moving. It will be for a future Chief Pleas to see how the landlords have made use of their ability to sell leasehold properties to their tenants that is if you approve the removal of indivisibility today. I put the landlords on notice that these first steps in land reform are to be watched very closely and I expect a future Chief Pleas to act quickly and robustly if abuses of the ability to sell become apparent and detrimental to the majority of leaseholders.”