HONOURABLE MIKE SUMMERS OBE, MEMBER OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF THE FALKLAND ISLANDS – 23RD JUNE 2016
I was first elected as a Member of the Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands Government in 1996, and have served in every Government since that time. I have seen, and helped to create and implement, a number of important changes in the Falkland Islands in that time. My purpose today is to give this Committee a view of the developments in our country over the last three decades, to give you the opportunity to understand why we are not a colony of the United Kingdom, and to give you the opportunity to think anew about the Falkland Islands in the context of this Committee.
Everything about the economy of the Falkland Islands needs to be seen within the context of our location, population size, our land area, and the ocean regions for which we have responsibility. The Islands lie some 480km east of the South American mainland. The Islands cover a land area of around 12,000km2, approximately the size of Jamaica, but with a population of just 3,000 people. The EEZ under our stewardship exceeds 450,000km2.
Our economy is strong, based on fishing, tourism and agriculture. A new hydrocarbons exploration programme is bringing additional activity, and helping to further diversify the economy and create new skills.
GDP averages around £130m per annum. We have no borrowings, and reserves of over 3 times annual recurrent expenditure of £54m.
The Falkland Islands have been economically self-sufficient since 1990, except for the cost of defence. We pay no taxes to the UK, and receive no income. We are responsible for the provision of all services, including health, education, public works, police, customs and immigration……..and much more besides. We are also responsible for the licensing, management and regulatory processes associated with the exploitation of our natural resources.
The old traditional industry of the Falkland Islands is farming sheep for wool. We have invested heavily in new stock, new bloodlines and reproductive technology to improve the carcass conformation and wool production of our sheep. An EU licensed abattoir processes meat for export.
Since its creation in 1986 the fishing industry has continued to prosper, and it contributes some 60% of GDP. Two species of squid and various varieties of finfish are fished sustainably. Total annual catch averages 200,000 tonnes, and the Falkland Islands produces around 10% of the world’s supply of squid.
We re-invest around 25% of annual license income in science and management to ensure a sustainable fishery. It has been described by independent assessors as one of the best-managed fisheries in the world.
Tourism is another essentially new industry, built up since the war in 1982. Initially based on attracting land-based tourists, the Falklands have developed an offering of extensive and accessible wildlife, stunning photographic opportunities, and a wilderness feel in the wide open spaces.
This has also attracted the cruise vessel industry. Expedition cruises visit the Falklands, South Georgia, Antarctic and southern Argentina, experiencing a rich diversity of lifestyle and wildlife opportunities.
Larger luxury cruises also visit the Falkland and the Southern Cone offering a different set of experiences.
Visitor numbers to the Falklands last season were around 60,000, representing an estimated 7% of GDP.
A hydrocarbons exploration programme has been in train since the 1990’s, and brings substantial additional economic activity to the Islands. The Sea Lion discovery 100 miles to the north of the Islands has estimated recoverable reserves of 330m barrels, and two newer associated discoveries push the estimated recoverable reserves beyond 500m barrels.
This provides economic opportunity not only for Falkland Islanders, but also for experienced logistics and supply companies in Chile, Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina, which they have not yet taken up.
All this economic activity together makes the Islands economically self-sufficient save for the cost of defence, enables us to develop public services and infrastructure, and enables us to maintain a substantial degree of political independence from the UK Government.
If this Committee were to visit the Falkland Islands (as invited every year) you could see for yourselves the very substantial economic progress we have made, and that we are not a colony of the United Kingdom.
The Falkland Islands has moved rapidly in the last 30 years to become an internally self-governing Overseas Territory.
A revised Constitution came into effect in 2009. It contains a full suite of protections of fundamental freedoms based on the ECHR, including the right to self-determination, on which the clauses mirror the provisions of the UN Charter, Chapter 1 and section 73 relating to non-self-governing territories. Importantly the Constitution also explicitly recognises that the natural resources of the Falkland Islands belong to the Government and people of the Falkland Islands – and not to the UK.
The Legislative Assembly (or Parliament) consists of 8 independent members elected for a 4 year fixed term. The Assembly makes laws for the Falkland Islands.
Three of our Members are elected annually by the Assembly to form the Executive. It is responsible for the determination of strategies and policies, and for the good governance of the Falkland Islands.
The UK Government remains responsible for foreign affairs and defence. The defence commitment provided by the UK is principally a deterrent, and proportionate to the perceived level of threat. Assembly Members engage fully in the development of foreign policy where it affects us, and in public diplomacy overseas.
Falkland Islanders are comfortable with the constitutional relationship with the UK. We have the right to move away from it if we so wished, but there is no current wish to do so. Our wish to maintain our current status was amply demonstrated in March 2013 by a referendum, in which Falkland Islanders resolved to remain an OT of the UK. The turnout for the referendum was 92%, and 99.8% voted in favour.
The UK does not doubt its sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (and nor do Falkland Islanders), and it has agreed and stated on a consistent basis through several Governments that it will not discuss sovereignty of the Islands unless and until the Islanders so wish it. Very clearly at the present time we do not so wish, and that remains the position.
The UK has made it equally clear that it will not discuss other issues about the Falkland Islands with third parties unless Falkland Islanders wish it, and are present.
If this Committee were to visit the Falkland Islands you could see for yourselves the democratic processes and the extent of internal self-government, and that we are very clearly not a colony of the United Kingdom.
During the last 30 years the Falkland Islands Government, using almost exclusively its own resources, has provided substantial new infrastructure throughout the Islands. This includes new schools, extension to health and medical facilities, 900km of road, renewable energy for Stanley and Camp, new water supply and power generation, new generations of telecommunications and broadband throughout the Islands, new tourism reception facilities, an EU licensed abattoir, community sports facilities, and virtually doubled housing supply in Stanley.
Private sector companies, sometimes but not exclusively in partnership with the Falkland Islands Government, have developed fuel import and distribution facilities, a container shipping service, a ferry service across Falkland Sound, mobile and internet coverage Islands-wide, new and substantially expanded hotel accommodation, a hydroponic market garden, and greatly enhanced retail capacity.
New projects in the next 5 years will include a new air terminal at Mount Pleasant, enhanced port facilities, increased power generation capacity, and facilities for the care of the elderly and vulnerable.
In doing this we have borrowed nothing, and relied on the financial assistance of no third party. We have done it through selective and considered investment of our own income, and our own reserves.
If this Committee were to visit the Falkland Islands you could see for yourselves how we have invested our reserves in the future, and that we are not beholden to any third party for our developments.
Our Islands when first discovered had no native population, and in that respect we are unlike most colonial situations of the 18th and 19th centuries. No ethnic population was either absorbed, suppressed or extinguished.
I am a sixth generation Falkland Islander, I have 8th generation grandchildren, and there are now families in the Islands who can trace nine generations. My maternal great-grandfather was a Uruguayan gaucho who married a Scot. My paternal great-great-grandfather fought in the Crimea War and the Indian Mutiny, before marrying in Canada and emigrating to the Falkland Islands. Many others can demonstrate similar and sometimes longer ancestry in the Islands.
Settlers arrived and departed of their own free will, and arrived from many different parts of the world, including Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, UK, Norway, Denmark, Germany and North America. In more recent years we have citizens originating from Peru, St Helena, Zimbabwe, Russia, Thailand and the Philippines. At recent censuses Islanders have identified themselves as coming from 57 different ethnic backgrounds.
So if you have heard before, or hear again today that we are an implanted British population, the facts simply do not support such a claim.
We are a people in our own right, who care deeply for our country and our home. We are Falkland Islanders. It has taken us around 160 years to de-colonise from the United Kingdom, and we have no intention of becoming a colony of any other claimant.
We have a well-educated society, fully aware of its rights and its place in the world. All students have the opportunity of education to first degree level in any part of the world, with all fees and expenses paid by our Government. Our students come home to work willingly, free of debilitating debt.
If this Committee were to visit the Falkland Islands you could see for yourselves how we are investing in future generations, that we are very clearly a people in our own right, and that we have a strong and confident society who value the rights established by the UN Charter.
Each of our traditional economic activities, farming, fishing and tourism, rely heavily on maintaining a pristine environment and the continuance of good environmental practices. We have a number of international and locally established NGO’s who assist, encourage and monitor the health of the wildlife, plant life and the oceans.
The Government demands the highest environmental standards in all of our industries, most particularly in oil exploration, in which we have taken the best from Norway, UK, USA and Australia to set our own standards.
We have invested recently in a new Environmental Research Institute, which has established working arrangements with a number of distinguished universities and similar institutions in South and North America, Europe, Asia and Australia. PhD students and researchers are engaged in a wide range of sub-Antarctic and environmental science, of direct application in the Falkland Islands as well as their own countries and institutions.
If this Committee were to visit the Falkland Islands you could see for yourselves the wild natural beauty, and the protections in place to preserve our Islands for future generations.
All that we have achieved in the Falkland Islands, including the economic and political developments from colony to internally self-governing territory, has been done in the face of continued attempts by Argentina to destroy our economy and our livelihood.
Argentina has sought to harass and bully the Islanders through a series of economic sanctions, which continue to be exercised, through restrictions on air access, restriction on free trade, numerous attempts to deter international businesses, withdrawal from fisheries science co-operation and withdrawal from hydrocarbons exploration co-operation.
Mr Chairman, the new Argentine Government has made some encouraging remarks about their approach to the Falkland Islands. But they remain just that, nothing has actually changed. We hope that they will soon feel able to dismantle the barriers to trade, co-operation and good neighbourliness put in place by its less enlightened predecessors.
The Falkland Islands Government remains willing, as it has always been, together with the United Kingdom, to enter into dialogue to find ways of working together for the benefit of future generations.
Such dialogue does not include discussions on sovereignty, on which subject the people of the Falkland Islands have expressed themselves very clearly.
We are not a colony of the United Kingdom, and have no intention of becoming a colony of Argentina.
We have exercised our right to self-determination in the referendum of 2013 under strict international supervision. A referendum this Committee specifically declined to observe. We have moved away from colonialism, a move this organisation has been unable to witness because of its continued refusal or inability to organise a visiting mission to the Islands, despite being specifically invited every year for several years, to do so.
I now, once more, formally invite this Committee to take up its sole responsibility, to have proper regard for the people of the NSGT, including Falkland Islanders. Visit our country, and see for yourselves that we are not a colony, but a strong, independent and peaceful people who wish nothing more than to be left in peace, to get on with our lives.
The Honourable Mike Summers, OBE
Member of the Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands
23rd June 2016
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