Friday 23 April 2021
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Opinion

Blinkered vision

Blinkered vision

Tuesday 06 April 2021

Blinkered vision


Deputy John Young and Senator Tracey Vallois have aired their frustrations with being a Jersey Minister on mainstream and social media.

Now, the ‘Democratic Accountability and Governance Sub-Committee’ (DAGS – an unfortunate acronym) is looking at the accountability and effectiveness of the Council of Ministers, Scrutiny, the States Employment Board and the relationship between ministerial and civil service structures.

But does having the States Assembly appoint Ministers and Scrutineers from its own number serve public interest in the first place? 

States Members are elected from a random pool of candidates. None of them are required to have particular knowledge or skills. States Members might look to civil servants and the civil service-like States Greffe to compensate for a lack of knowledge and experience in specialist areas, but this can lead to a failure of States Members to recognise incompetence or self-promotion of interests, let alone know how to challenge them. 

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Pictured: next year's elections will be in May or June.

In 2019, the States Members’ Remuneration Review Body (SMRRB) found the near £50,000 annual salary was not the main motivator for States Members standing for election. The main reason States Members gave for retiring, however, was wasted time. A ComRes Report in 2018 found potential voters and potential candidates were mainly discouraged by the belief States Members cannot make a real difference in our community.

How likely, then, is a wage hike to attract electoral candidates with skills and experience that support a particular Ministerial or Scrutiny Panel role? Every candidate has to engage in a bun fight to be elected to the States Assembly. Even if elected, the candidate may find, as did former Senator Zoe Cameron, that the States Assembly does not want the candidate for the role for which he or she expressly stood. 

Would it not be more in the public interest to spare people who may be best suited to a Ministerial or Scrutiny role a farcical way of job recruiting?  What if a States Assembly - with fewer members - itself directly recruited people for such roles (other than that of Chief Minister) from a much larger pool of Islanders? 

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Pictured: "States Members currently perform up to eleven different job components"

This would enable States Members to focus on engaging with their constituents and the job of best representing them. The SMRRB found States Members currently perform up to eleven different job components so it is little wonder they can find themselves overloaded and fail to engage with their own electorate adequately. The representational ability of Ministers and Planning Committee members is further reduced by rules preventing them from representing their own districts in matters related to their role.  

Combining Scrutiny with Ministerial work could overcome current delays and dysfunction, enabling Ministers to engage with States Members better and be directly accountable to them. 

Two States Members on the DAGS (who have chosen to abandon Ministerial roles) have expressed discomfort with a more corporate structure for the States Assembly, suggesting a prejudice that could inhibit efficiency. Blaming a lack of success on factors other than one’s own competency also suggests pride. States Members might serve the public interest better by adopting a degree of humility and being prepared to accept their own limitations. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author personally, and not necessarily shared by any organisation she is linked with. 

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