Scrutineers are challenging the recent decisions and “legitimacy” of the small group of Ministers that have had the final say on restrictions on islanders’ lives since the beginning of the health crisis, questioning whether they should be able to continue any longer.
In a critical letter on behalf of panels tasked with reviewing covid strategy, Senator Kristina Moore calls out “inconsistency” in policy decisions taken by ‘Competent Authority Ministers’ (CAM) and urges the Chief Minister to act “immediately, decisively and unambiguously."
CAM is made up of the Chief Minister, and Ministers of Health, Home Affairs, Economic Development, External Relations and Infrastructure. The Treasury and Education Ministers are not statutory members, but were invited when the importance of their portfolios in relation to covid-19 measures became apparent.
Pictured: Senator Kristina Moore was writing in her capacity as Chair of the Scrutiny Liaison Committee, which brings together the chairs of all five Scrutiny Panels.
Decisions in the firing line included the approach to travel, mask-wearing, events sector support and gatherings guidance, which saw a gala dinner with the British and Irish Lions able to go ahead but other, smaller events called off.
“Large government backed corporate events have been authorised but private gatherings for numbers over 20 (excluding weddings and funerals) even if professionally organised have continued to remain restricted, until 5th July 2021 at the earliest,” she noted.
Senator Moore also highlighted inadequacies in the financial support for the events industry and other sectors “significantly affected by policy”.
Jersey Kitchen owner Tony Sargeant recently wrote a candid column on both aspects, criticising the Government for “hypocrisy”, “backtracking” and “double standards”.
Pictured: "How can it be ok to allow a wedding for an unlimited number of guests in a field but only have a maximum of 20 guests if it’s for a private party?" Mr Sargeant questioned.
“How can it possibly be acceptable to allow a corporate dinner for 500 people to go ahead this week - indoors and with alcohol flowing, whilst at the same time a birthday party for 21 guests in a garden is not permitted? Can someone explain the rationale to me please because I sure as hell can’t understand it,” he wrote.
“The Lions' dinner for 500 guests was never, ever, ever not going to be allowed to go ahead. Why? Because it was the political will to make sure it went ahead by whatever means necessary which obviously includes bending or ‘re-interpreting’ the rules to suit - ha!”
In her letter, Senator Moore also highlighted how changes to travel rules have been made, in “somewhat quick succession” in recent weeks, causing confusion for travellers.
Last week, Ministers announced their decision to apply ‘49 additional emergency brakes’ for UK regions ahead of the whole of England turning red in the traffic light system from 29 June. At the same time, they said travellers who are fully vaccinated in the Common Travel Area can avoid full quarantine, before then this week extending that to those double-jabbed with an authorised vaccine anywhere in the world.
Pictured: Scrutineers raised questions over the rapidly changing travel policy, which they said had caused confusion.
Senator Moore also noted how the difference between guidelines and legal restrictions, such as the wearing of masks and physical distancing, was similarly causing confusion.
In the second part of her letter, Senator Moore wrote about her Committee’s “increasing concern” about the inefficiency of the “number, nature and respective meeting schedules of overlapping decision-making or influencing bodies” – these being the Competent Authority Ministers (CAM), the Emergencies Council and the full Council of Ministers.
She said the Committee had doubts over the value of CAM, whose legitimacy and status she said had been questioned several times.
Senator Moore added that Scrutineers "seriously question the merits of its continued existence", noting that CAM were "often" making decisions "at the expense of more appropriate deliberations by the full Council of Ministers."
"...Should it continue, the Committee concludes that greater clarity over the role of CAM is required,” she wrote.
Turning to scientific advisory panel STAC, which makes recommendations to CAM before they make the final decision, she raised the “scale” of the influence of non-health experts joining the group.
She also noted how the minutes of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Cell (STAC) are almost three months behind – the latest ones go back to 29 March.
Pictured: Senator Moore urged Ministers to share more information with the States Assembly.
Meanwhile, despite requests from Express, the Government has so far refused to disclose the minutes from the CAM’s meetings, arguing it would not be in the public interest as it would compromise their “safe space” in which to make decisions and “reveal potential disagreements on details of policy.” Express has appealed this decision.
Senator Moore said that various Scrutiny Panels had been reported that they had been briefed on policy changes “minutes before or after” media announcements, which she said was “not inducive to passing comment to aid any decision-making process”.
She suggested the information considered by CAM should be shared with Scrutiny members and the whole States Assembly when decisions are communicated directly after a meeting “to avoid speculation and aid in clarity when reviewing the changes being made”.
“The Committee would also highlight its concern about the move away from seeking the approval of the Assembly, which took place earlier on in the pandemic through propositions such as [the Safer Travel Policy].
"The Committee would suggest that consideration of alternative, informed views, will not hinder, but aid in the work of CAM. Failing to do so further risks undermining the decision process of the States Assembly and wider Ministerial oversight of the Government of Jersey. We would therefore suggest that members of the Council of Ministers and Scrutiny should pass comment on any potential changes, even in draft form.”
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