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Sark in a ‘serious state of affairs’, warns UK minister

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SARK is in a ‘serious state of affairs’, the UK minister with responsibility for the Channel Islands has said in a letter in which he raised questions about the island’s government.

Lord Keen

Lord Keen sent the letter to Sark’s government and Guernsey’s Lieutenant-Governor Vice-Admiral Sir Ian Corder following the island’s failure last month to pass a Budget.

The collapse of the planned tax and spending plan led to the resignation of the island’s Finance and Resources Committee and its only civil servant.

It is also six years since Sark last had a contested election.

In the letter, Lord Keen said: ‘I am aware that urgent measures have been implemented to manage the situation [following the Budget failure] but it is nonetheless a serious state of affairs in which Sark now finds itself.

‘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 in Sark, he needed to be assured on three counts.

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

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lThat government decisions are made in a transparent way, based on objective advice.

lThat 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 needed 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 could hope to maintain itself indefinitely without periodically answering to its electorate through elections that offered 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 is due to take place on Wednesday 12 December.

Richard Heath

By Richard Heath
author

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