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Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Enthusiasm for Scrutiny is underwhelming

Hosting a hospitality event in a distillery?
Would you let these people organise it?
The people of Jersey asked for change and whilst the council of ministers largely ignored the wishes of the people and duly elected exactly the same people back into their old positions some members did listen and the Chairs of the various scrutiny panels have now changed.

I have been told, "All States members want to be Ministers or Assistants because then they get free blackberries and their phone bills paid for, whilst Scrutiny members have to pay for their own calls". Pathetic, but probably true.

I like to look at the various panels as the effective opposition to the Minsters, now by effective opposition I mean that they are responsible for looking into the detail of propositions, identifying weaknesses and omissions and generally ensuring that any legislation arising is fit for purpose.
So:
  • Treasury and Resources is vetted by the Public Accounts Committee, 
  • Economic Development is vetted by the Economic Affairs panel
  • Home Affairs & Education, Sport & Culture is vetted by Education & Home Affairs
  • Planning and Environment is vetted by Environment
  • Housing & Social Security & Health and Social Services is vetted by Health, Social Security and Housing
  • Transport and Technical Services is vetted by Corporate Services
Which leaves one committee to organise the running of the States, Privileges and Procedures and a further Committee for Jersey Overseas Aid.

There is some disparity here and it would seem more sensible that each department be vetted by its own individual scrutiny panel.

The first thing that you notice is that the two biggest spending departments, Social Security & Health are vetted by a single panel which also oversees Housing. So entrusting this massive responsibility to the newly elected Deputy of St Peter, Kristina Moore is perhaps a sign of the relative importance of the scrutiny panels, the very issue which caused such commotion last session.

With all due respect to Miss Moore, the experience of being a journalist is hardly a qualification for vetting the most heavily over-spending departments in the States of Jersey, but I salute her courage in taking on the position when no one else stepped forward, she embodies just the 'can-do' attitude that many of her fellow members should be encouraged to follow.

Whilst wishing the best to Miss Moore, I am afraid I am fearing that Scrutiny will be ineffective once more, which raises the question of why we pay good money to operate it.

No doubt many will wonder at the decision of Deputy Tadier and his fellow progressives not to seek the Chair of the various panels, but in essence they are listening to the people of Jersey. They are not simply going to slot back into their old positions. I am sure that they will be at least as effective, if not more so, by taking a backbench approach and bringing key propositions on a wider range of issues.

In the absence of an effective means of making the voice of the people of Jersey heard in the Chamber and fulfilling the primary duty of a States Member, representing the electorate, these backbench members may be the most effective of all.