By Barry Elsby MLA
The first item discussed was Fishing Access Fees for 2014. The Director of Natural Resources also attended. Due to a conflict of interests, MLAs Short & Hansen sat in for MLAs Rendell and Summers. It was agreed that no increases would take place this year but we have asked the Director provide a paper to review just how the ITQ System is working and develop a system to reliably set fees for the future.
Next we discussed a paper looking at the future of SAAS. Members were very clear that the Falkland Islands should have an independent international shipping service. We also approved the latest business plan in accordance with the current shareholders agreement. Further discussions will go on between shareholders. An appeal regarding planning permission for a house in Central Stanley was heard. As MLA Summers had attended the original application he did not attend EXCO for this matter. EXCO rejected the appeal and upheld the Planning and Building Committees decision.
We then went on to look at a paper from the Financial Secretary about Budget Strategy for the forthcoming financial year. EXCO believed that this paper was a good first step in developing a strategy but we wanted to involve the Policy Unit and Economists within that unit to better assess the effects of decisions on the economy of the Islands as a whole.
We were also very keen to see the budget presented in a way that clearly shows what is recurrent income and what is windfall income from oil related matters. We felt that this was essential so that people could better understand what monies are available for ongoing funding, not simply one off Capital Programme.
Whilst discussing this paper Members also discussed how we could open up the Budget Select Committee to public scrutiny. We felt it would be relatively easy to open the meeting to the public and the media when we were discussing overall strategy and we hope to have this in place for the forthcoming budget round.
We then looked at the Supplimentary Appropriations Bill which was also taken to Legco the next day. This just identified the various monies that Standing Finance Committee had approved since the last budget.
We then went on to look at Medical Services Tax. The Financial Secretary produced an options paper on MST. There was unanimous agreement that we should look at removing this tax but we decided to leave this until the budget process so that we can look at the effects of removing MST would have on our ongoing budget. We were reassured by the Financial Secretary that changes made in June can be backdated to the beginning of this current tax year i.e. 01st January 2014.
We then went on to look at amendments to the payment on account of tax (POAT). There were minor changes to the legislation to remove any discrepancies and this paper was also seen and passed at Legco a day later. There were no fundamental changes, it was merely a tidying up exercise.
We then went on to look at the structure for rent levels for the new development on Murray Heights South. This will be a development of accommodation similar to that already existing on Murray Heights itself. We will be making accommodation available for both private individuals but also for local and overseas companies.
A strategy of costings was agreed with owner/occupiers being changed a far lower rate than private owners looking to sublet.
We approved a 5 tier structure system of charging for the plots, ranging from the low level for owner/occupiers to a much higher level for non-local companies looking to sublet or use for their own employees. The calculations of these rents will be made public very soon.
We then discussed a paper from the Department of Mineral Resources looking at the use and discharge of drilling fluids that might contain oil. The paper was very long but a very good paper. The recommendations work to standards seen in both the North Sea and Norway and we believe they will safeguard our environment from any potential damage.
We then went on to discuss a paper from the Director of Health & Social Services looking at a review of the Medical Treatment Overseas Policy. This policy, as people will know, attempts to set out what FIG will pay for when a person is sent overseas for medical treatment.
As with all policy documents there are sometimes errors that are found when a particular case occurs and so the Director had produced a paper that attempted to tie up all those loose ends. A few minor problems were found with the new policy but these will be addressed before its made public.
As part of the discussion we also agreed that future minor changes could be made by the Health & Medical Services Committee rather than having to come to EXCO every time. EXCO will review the policy every 3 years as a matter of course.
During that discussion the fees charged for patients being sent overseas, currently £300, were discussed. It was our intention to ask Standing Finance Committee to abolish these the next day. I am pleased to say that this has now taken place and from January 01st there will no longer be a £300 charge for people being sent overseas for medical treatment.
We then took a paper from the Chief Executive on the Falkland Islands Development Corporation. It had been Governments intention to change the ordinance relating to the FIDC such that it was a more independent of Government. Because of matters that have arisen it was agreed that we would defer the planned implementation of the Falkland Islands Development Corporation Ordinance for another 6 months.
During this time further reviews will be undertaken before a final decision as to how to proceed will be taken.
We then went on to discuss a paper from the Attorney General on the Revised Laws Project. We are very conscious of the fact that the Laws of the Falkland Islands are not up to date and they are also very difficult for people to access in an easy format.
Earlier this year we had a visit from a company to advise us on how to go forward on this matter. The report from those two people was an excellent document and provided us with a route map of how to progress the work over the following 2 years.
Recognising how important it is to have very clear laws as the Islands develop, Members approved the recruitment of the post of a Law Commissioner, initially for 2 years, to drive forward this project.
We then went on to look a paper on the Misuse of Drugs from the Attorney General. This was a paper making minor amendments to our list of controlled drugs and was agreed. This had nothing to do with the law on Legal Highs brought in a year or so ago.
We then went on to discuss a paper on SAERI from their Director. SAERI was established in March last year and has rapidly developed in how it operates.
In December of 2011 EXCO approved the phased approach for the development of SAERI with funding to establish it but the idea being that within a few years it would be a stand-alone organisation.
The paper we discussed was to review a step in that process whereby SAERI would register as a company in the Falkland Islands but also as an independent limited company in the United Kingdom. This would enable SAERI to apply for charity status within the United Kingdom and it would help in their fundraising activities. The intention is to make SAERI a centre of international repute.
The final paper we discussed was the reappointment to the Retirement Pensions Board of Management of one of their Members. This person was re-appointed unanimously.
Barry Elsby 17/12/2013