St Helena is a small island of volcanic origin in the South Atlantic with an area of 47 sq miles. It is 1,930 km from the west coast of Africa and 2,900 km from South America.
The nearest land is Ascension, 1,125 km away. St Helena was discovered by the Portuguese navigator, Juan da Nova, on St Helena Day (21 May) 1502.
Its existence was kept secret until the English seafarer Thomas Cavendish found it in 1588. In 1658, a Charter from Richard Cromwell, Lord Protector, authorised the British East India Company to colonise and fortify the Island, which it did the following year. Napoleon was exiled on St Helena from 1815 until his death there in 1821.
It became a Crown Colony in 1834. St Helena is currently accessible by sea only. In November 2011 a contract was signed between the St Helena Government and the construction company Basil Read to construct an airport. An airport is under construction and its opening in 2016 is set to push St Helena into becoming a prosperous thriving community.
The UK Government will finance the airport and St Helena will do all it can to develop and eventually graduate from budgetary aid.
A new Constitution was introduced in 2009, containing a comprehensive suite of fundamental human rights, including provisions to guarantee a fair trial.
The St Helena Constitution Order provides for a Legislative Council consisting of the Speaker, twelve elected members and three ex-officio members (the Chief Secretary, the Financial Secretary and the Attorney General).
The Governor enacts laws acting in his or her discretion. The Executive Council consists of five elected members of the Legislative Council and the ex-officio members.
The Governor has responsibility for the conduct of government business relating to defence, external affairs, internal security including the police, shipping, finance, administration of justice, and aspects of the public service.
St Helena’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) stood at £15.5 million in 2009/10. The economy has expanded sluggishly, averaging growth of 0.7% per annum over the past 10 years (in real terms).
The main driver of growth has been financial support from the UK Government, with the public sector employing one third of the working population.
In order to make the most of the airport development, the St Helena Government has embarked on a programme of far reaching reforms to open its economy up for tourism and to encourage greater levels of inward investment.
These reforms are designed to make the island a more attractive place to live, invest, work and to visit. A ten-year Economic Development Plan is also being written that will outline what activities will be undertaken in the coming years to attract investors, develop tourism sites and critically to enable the people of the Territory to participate fully in the local private sector.
The total aid package from the Department for International Development averaged £23.5m a year over the three years from 2009/10 to 2011/12 and 13.55 million during 2014/15.
DFID provides development support to St Helena to meet the reasonable assistance needs of citizens cost-effectively and to promote greater self-sufficiency. DFID’s direct budgetary aid currently provides over half of the St Helena Government’s recurrent budget but this proportion will decrease as the island’s economy grows and revenues increase.
Budgetary aid helps fund the delivery of basic public services such as health care, education and social security.
DFID aid also maintains maritime access by subsidising the operation of the Royal Mail Ship St Helena.
The final component of DFID’s aid supports specific interventions, such as the provision of technical expertise, a project to modernise and increase efficiency in the public sector, and support to a number of infrastructure development projects.