|12th July 2019
THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE IGNORED
Last week’s meeting of Chief Pleas, the third of only four scheduled meetings of the Island’s parliament for 2019, was notable by the brevity of proceedings. It took a mere 48 minutes from beginning to end. Of this time only 20 minutes were spent on propositions and debate. Most importantly, not once was the subject of the dire state of the Island’s economy raised.
Six months have passed since Sark held its first contested general election in six years. Nine Conseillers were democratically elected by the 260 Islanders who cast their votes for what were generally younger fresher faces entering parliament for the first time.
Within days of taking office, the intake of democratically elected members were, along with their unelected colleagues, presented with a petition signed by over 150 Islanders, 58% of the active electorate, in support of the Customs post that Sark desperately needs to allow direct access to the vast tourism market of mainland France. With such a powerful mandate from the people, Chief Pleas were duty bound to respond and to change the law so that passenger vessels can travel directly between the west coast of France and Sark. They did not. They chose instead to blatantly ignore the will of the people. Faced with such contempt, Islanders are now questioning whether they have got the leadership they deserve.
In the euphoria following December’s general election, the Editor of The Sark Newspaper, Kevin Delaney, spoke to several of the younger newcomers to the Island’s parliament. Amongst the topics discussed was how this publication would report on their time in government. They were told that The Sark Newspaper would continue to do what it and its predecessor, The Sark Newsletter, have done for the past decade. It would, in the public interest, hold them and their fellow Chief Pleas members to account.
At the time The Sark Newspaper was far from alone in believing that the new intake of mainly younger members would herald a new era in Chief Pleas which would see the rebuilding of the Island’s economy take centre stage. A decade of state-sponsored economic ethnic cleansing had resulted in an unprecedented collapse in the number of year-round residents from over 650 in 2008 to less than 390 today.
The electorate had rejected ‘old guard’ stalwarts Edric and Diane Baker and the Island’s chief enforcer, Reginald Guille was to follow them out of the door for good a short time later. The path was clear for newcomers to Chief Pleas: Simon Couldridge, Amanda de Carteret, Christopher Drillot, John Guille, Ellen Lalor, Rodney Lalor and Philip Long to make a real difference to the lives of the people who voted them into power by acting quickly to reverse the Island’s economic decline. They have done nothing of the sort. Presented with a petition calling for a Customs post they and their fellow Chief Pleas members, elected or otherwise, have studiously ignored it, and with it the will of over 150 Islanders.
Sark’s principal economic driver is its tourist industry. If this sector of the economy thrives and prospers, the whole Island benefits. Chief Pleas should be engaging with the industry, meeting all stakeholders and pushing through the minor changes in the law needed to open up our borders to free movement of passenger vessels between France and Sark. They have instead, for reasons known only to themselves, gone on the defensive rather than responding to the will of over 150 Islanders. It would appear that despite the exit of much of the ‘old guard’, Chief Pleas remains populated by people who have no vision for the future of Sark; people who do not want the Island to thrive and prosper.