Penguin News caught up with the Commander of British Forces for the South Atlantic Islands, Brigadier Nick Sawyer stationed in the Falkland Islands.
Brigadier Sawyer pointed out to the very healthy and vibrant democracy in the Falklands, and Islander should be proud of the institution that they have built. He also referred to the constitutional responsibilities he must comply with according to the Falklands constitution and also indicated the efforts at MPA to integrate with the Islands economy.
Brigadier Sawyer said there were no surprises for the political tasks he must comply as BFSAI, and in reference to the Falklands, since he also has experience as military attaché, and described relations with the Falklands community as very positive and strong.
Finally the BFSAI commander also commented about the second flight to the continent and the need to convert the MPA terminal, a military airport, into a long purpose civilian facility. Likewise he admitted to contracting out Mare Harbor since it already handles large vessels that can't operate in Stanley, and MPA must look out after the harbor 365 days and this is not efficient for military expenditure.
Your post here has a political element to it, is that new to you? How have you found it?
CBF: It’s really quite interesting, because I’ve served as a defense attaché before, so I’ve been exposed at the political level but this is the first time I’ve actually had a constitutional role. As CBF, I’m named in the Constitution as having certain responsibilities and certain tasks, and of course I’m a non-executive, non-voting member of ExCo and Legislative Assembly.
It’s actually a real privilege to be involved with democratic institutions
and it's refreshing to be part of something that encourages debate, listens to alternative views and works through frictions and disagreements. And there are frictions and disagreements, I think that’s a sign of a healthy and vibrant democracy and I think the Falkland Islanders should be proud of the institution that they’ve built.
I would encourage as many Islanders as possible to join the debate, write to your MLAs, express your views – not that they are shy in expressing their views, but if I’ve got one observation, it is that there is even more scope for inclusion in the entire community.
It’s so raw, fresh, and close to the people, it’s unique,
You mentioned your constitutional role, do you think there will still be a place for that role going forward?
My constitutional role is defense and internal security and because of the 1982 legacy, that’s why it’s there. But the Constitution is owned by the people of the Falklands, and if they choose to change it, then that’s their prerogative, that’s their decision. I am here to serve the Falkland Islands people and therefore as long as they want me here to provide that defense and internal security then I am here to do it, or my successors after me. I don’t think anything is set in stone, the constitution can be changed, in fact I think there’s a constitutional review ongoing at the moment.
Localization of contracts at MPA has been an ongoing issue for some years. How do you feel that is going? What obstacles, challenges and opportunities are there?
We’ve done an awful lot of work here at BFSAI to get permissions from the United Kingdom to break out of the global contracts system and the universal rules and regulations that apply to commercial business; it’s unique down here, it’s very different, and we’ve had a lot of success.
So we’ve got exemptions, we’ve got permissions to work with local businesses and we’ve put something like £5m worth of business into the local community already. Is there more to do? Of course there is, there are always more opportunities, but it’s a balance between the capacity of local business - the Falkland Islands is a small community, a small business sector, and the Ministry of Defense is huge.
So it’s about not exceeding the capacity of the local community but maximizing the opportunities.
So there’s still more to do, of course there is, and I’d like to get to a position where we are buying as many services as possible from the local community or FIG.
There’s a joint waste management facility being developed between FIG and MoD, do you think there are other opportunities for taking advantage of the two markets, and what those opportunities might be?
We’re working with Falkland Island Government to try and integrate our waste management systems. It’s absolutely pointless both doing things independently, and it’s not just in that area. Housing is another area, by pooling our requirements we can get cheaper deals. So there’s more to do, we’ve appointed a joint project officer, so 50% paid by us 50% paid by FIG, and his sole purpose in life is to try and identify these collaboration opportunities and realize the benefits and deliver.
Very early days yet, housing is one, waste management is another. There are probably a list of ten that we’re looking at, port services for example. We’ve got a port, Falkland Islands have got a port.
Why aren’t we combining our requirements and having a single port authority, for example? Where I would really like to get to, is we buy services from FIG, but that’s a long-term plan, so the near to medium term plan is these collaboration projects.
Do you ever see a situation where Mare Harbor could be an island-wide port rather than just a military port?
To a certain extent it already is. So it’s deep water port, certainly deeper than Stanley port so we already offer the services of East Cove for ships that can’t get into Stanley, for example. Where I’d really like to get to is where that port is run by a contractor, or is run by FIG and then I buy the services that I need from it. At the moment, I run it 365 days a year which is really inefficient because I don’t use its full capacity for 365 days a year. So that’s a really good example of where it would be much better if we had a joint approach with FIG.
The second flight is set to start in November. How do you see the airport developing as the second flight starts, in terms of the terminal but also how that airport serves the Islands as a whole?
It’s a really interesting conundrum, because the airport was built for military purposes, to launch fighter jets to defend the Islands. It’s dual-use, but its design is not what we would want for an international airport. When the second flight starts, the majority of passengers coming through here are going to be commercial civilian passengers, yet the whole thing is set up for a military purpose, so it’s not going to be fit in the long term once the passenger numbers get up to the level that we are expecting with the second flight. So we’re looking really closely with FIG to look at options for the future. Longer-term, I’m talking 3-5 years, really where we need to get to is a purpose-built passenger terminal that gives a great passenger experience, can handle the numbers, provides the security that I need and provides the security that Civil Aviation requires of passenger terminals.
But that’s a long way off. So what are we going to do for November?
We’re working to put in a temporary arrangement to make sure that the numbers of passengers arriving and departing don’t exceed the capacity of the current terminal. There’s fire regulations we have to adhere to; that’s just the safety and comfort side of it, before we even look at security, so a lot of work to do. We’ve got to build what was built as a military operated base into an international airport. That’s going to take some work, and it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to cost some money, but we’re determined to make sure that the dual use facility at Mount Pleasant allows me to run my military operation, but allows FIG to operate it as a commercial air terminal.
How do you see the relationship between the military and FIG or the civilian population? There seem to be some friction points, like rotor winds, security passes… Do you think they have affected that relationship? Do you feel frustrated that they are sometimes taken out of proportion?
There’s several groups of people that we have a relationship with. The civilian community, I think we have a really positive relationship, a really strong relationship.
There will be frictions and disagreements, of course there will, but you just need to look at the Queen’s Birthday Parade, the Gurkha Concert, the work experience that the kids did a couple of weeks ago up here. I think that side of it is really, really positive.
The relationship with FIG is constructive; we talk, which hasn’t always been the case in the past between previous assemblies, previous secretariats and us. But I think it is entirely sensible that we have disagreements, because I’m here to defend the islands, so my number one purpose is military operations, military effectiveness. FIG’s number one purpose is supporting their people, economic development, and economic security. Sometimes the two don’t marry up; only an idiot would think they marry up all the time. There’s a conflict, of course there is, and so my job, along with the secretariat and the MLAs, is to find a sensible balance between the two.
If it was all geared towards military operations I’d close the base off and I wouldn’t allow anyone on and I would get on and do my military operations. That’s clearly ridiculous. The other end of the spectrum is we completely allow free access to everyone and everything, and that just undermines my security, because there are troublemakers out there, not in the Falkland Islands community obviously, but there are visitors who would like to make trouble so I‘ve got to protect against that.
So the relationship is one of finding the right balance at the right time, and that is I think not communicated well enough to the people out there. Would they want me to undermine my military operation?
I’m sure they wouldn’t, but I’m here to try and provide as much support as possible to FIG whilst maintaining those military operations. (Penguin News)