Harold Rowlands

Falkland Islands stalwart
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The Independent Online

Harold Rowlands, a lifelong stalwart of the administration of the Falkland Islands, died in the house overlooking Stanley Harbour where he had been born. For decades he was the person who helped to oversee the economy of the islands and their handful of inhabitants, from a modest office at the government Secretariat on the western end of Stanley.

Harold Rowlands, civil servant: born Stanley, Falkland Islands 11 July 1931; Financial Secretary, Falkland Islands 1972-88, member of the Legislative Council 1989-94; CBE 1989; died Stanley 17 April 2004.

Harold Rowlands, a lifelong stalwart of the administration of the Falkland Islands, died in the house overlooking Stanley Harbour where he had been born. For decades he was the person who helped to oversee the economy of the islands and their handful of inhabitants, from a modest office at the government Secretariat on the western end of Stanley.

He was born in a territory which had lost the once important place it had in the world. Roads hardly existed outside Stanley, people moved among settlements on horseback, there was no other way to move freight than by ship and more than half the land was in the hands of the Falkland Islands Company, which showed little concern for their tenants. As Rowlands grew up, the tiny population hovered around 2,000, one-third less than the present total, and many inhabitants had to turn their hands to more than one job.

With only the basic education that the islands provided, Rowlands joined government service in 1948 as a boy, reached the rank of Financial Secretary in 1972 and retired in 1998.

He witnessed the islands' dizzying changes of fortune - its status as a valuable asset in the Second World War; the growing threat from Argentina during the successive presidencies of Juan Domingo Perón, the economic penury as a marginal producer of wool beholden to sleepy shareholders in Britain; the campaign, spearheaded by Lord Chalfont, then a minister in Harold Wilson's government, to pass over sovereignty of the islands as quietly as possible to Argentina; the Argentine invasion of 1982 and subsequent recapture; and the post-Falklands War economic boom from fisheries and the maladministration of resources on hare-brained schemes which came in its wake.

Rowlands's hour came with a vengeance in 1982 when he was left as the senior administration representative after the departure of the Governor, Rex Hunt, and the tiny garrison of 31 Royal Marines and 11 sailors on the arrival of the Argentines.

He had been one of the many who, through naïvety or self-delusion, thought, or at least said, that Buenos Aires' claim to the archipelago would somehow quietly die. Like Margaret Thatcher and John Nott, her Defence Secretary, who were responsible for neglecting the defence of the islands, he felt that some sort of modus vivendi could be worked out between Britain and Argentina. Rowlands declared,

Just before the invasion, I thought we might be able to come up with the idea of combining the Falkland

Islands and the Dependencies and the other islands and possibly Tierra del Fuego into a new territory, which could be called the South Atlantic Territories, which could be developed by Britain, Argentina, Chile and possibly some other appropriate nations.

The invasion soon disabused him. "I could hardly believe that they would be mad enough to take military action," he commented.

With the Argentines installed, Rowlands, mindful of the last instruction of the Governor, said that he would carry out his duties for the benefit of the islanders. He refused, however, to collect taxes. He wrestled with the monetary problems of the 74-day occupation that included a run on the Government Savings Bank, which he managed to stop by announcing that the bank had good reserves in London. There was always enough cash to pay government salaries during the brief Argentine occupation. The bank was nevertheless left with 1.6bn rapidly depreciating Argentine pesos which the junta had forced into circulation beside the local currency. These Britain redeemed at a large financial loss.

During her prime ministerial visit, in January 1983, Rowlands presented the Freedom of Stanley to Margaret Thatcher and pledged islanders to build a better future to ensure that the fighting had been worthwhile and that British lives had not been wasted. He remained her vocal admirer.

In subsequent years Rowlands saw the growth of the squid fisheries, the licensing of which multiplied many times the meagre income the islands had seen in his earlier days. He won the most votes in the 1989 elections to the Legislative Council and was a member of the Governor's Executive Council where he saw at first hand the scandals which caused the waste of many millions of pounds of public money.

Rowlands was a gregarious person, seldom happier than when chatting in one of Stanley's pubs. It was after a particularly companionable session in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, that he spent a night in jail and performed the act which was to immortalise him. Asked by the Uruguayan police to prove his identity, he pulled out a Falkland Islands banknote and indicated his signature printed on it.

He was a slave to jazz and few of his visits to London went by without a visit to Ronnie Scott's.

Hugh O'Shaughnessy

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