Thursday, 21 October 2010


Quite what motivated Senator Alan Breckon to try to reform the Scrutiny system is not at all clear. His proposals would have served only to make our government even more secretive and lacking in transparency so thank heavens they were defeated in the States.

But, has the experience woken up our so called representatives to the deep-seated malaise at the root of our government system and shall any more useful reforms be stimulated soon?

The Chief Minister’s support for Alan Breckon’s reforms should have sounded the warning bell that this was a dangerous plan. When Deputy Le Claire brown-nosed the CM’s tame utterances in a particularly fawning manner, the dubious escapade was fully exposed.
The attempted retreat back into the discredited ways of the long-gone Committee system was even too much for Senator Ozouf to support. He finally pressed the “abstain” button although 21 of our “reps” still voted for the madcap scheme.

Unfortunately, it’s not that scrutiny is proving so effective that the establishment is afraid of it. On the contrary, published scrutiny reports are already largely ignored even when they do offer usefully critical comments or suggest policy changes.

The 3 brief video clips here were all taken at Scrutiny meetings by Team Voice and they indicate just some of the problems. As the old sage would say “the medium is the message” – so don’t worry too much about the spoken recorded words here – it’s the failed process we want to focus upon.

Sadly, the general public has little idea of what goes on at Scrutiny meetings and don’t know where or when they take place or who participates in them. Very few people ever read a scrutiny report or the “Scrutiny Matters” glossy PR freebie that drops through letter boxes several times a year (£8,000 a time and likely to be cut under costs savings).

Yet, those States Members involved in the scrutiny system talk in glowing terms about “engaging the public” whereas we know that public participation is the very last thing that most of them want.

Our politicians are not so different from politicians elsewhere but they are a bit more extreme than some. They mostly want power for themselves and don’t plan to share it with the public. That is why there are no effective political parties in Jersey – our politicians simply refuse to be selected or mandated by a party membership. They are political prima-donnas although they prefer to describe themselves as “independents.” It’s the very same inability to share political power with the general public that makes scrutiny such an unfulfilled dream.
It is such a pity. If only our “reps” would encourage the public to sit in at the discussion table and join in with the government process - it could be so different – and at no extra cost either! The public is a repository of a great wealth of knowledge – why is our government so loath to have it expressed except at elections or under the most stifling and constrained circumstances?

These video clips commence with a recent Environment Scrutiny hearing chaired by Deputy Rondel where we were allowed to take opening pictures but not record the proceedings (relating to the sustainable transport policy) because witnesses Constable Jackson, Deputy Lewis and their team of civil servants, objected.

Thus, although we and the other media could help to make these scrutiny proceedings more accessible to the general public – permission was refused. Why?

The next clip shows the Minister for Home Affairs appearing before another Scrutiny hearing this week. Senator Le Marquand agreed that we could record him – as he usually does – and these are a few seconds from the proceedings, produced by us, as always, in accordance with all the scrutiny rules and protocols.
Yet, all the other witnesses – senior civil servants and police officers – at these topical and important discussions (on Succession Planning in the Police), refused to permit any recording.
How strange this is, whereas the hearings are supposed to be public? What are these public employees afraid of?

The third clip is from our archive and shows Minister for Education etc Deputy Reed appearing before a Scrutiny Panel with his Chief Officer. At that time we were able to freely record the whole proceedings, alongside the “accredited press” without hindrance but always in accordance with the appropriate rules and restraints.
Soon afterwards, for no apparent reason, the Chief Officer refused to allow any further recordings to be made and this is the policy that has subsequently been adopted by all civil servants and many politicians appearing at scrutiny public hearings.
Some Chairs of Scrutiny Panels have also decreed that we shall be refused permission to record at all times – no matter what witnesses might say.

Of course, the restriction on Team Voice’s participation at Scrutiny or other public meetings has been compounded too by a range of bespoke petty rules and “protocols” introduced under the stamp of Senator Shenton’s Scrutiny Chairmen’s Committee or PPC.

Soon, Proposition 100 will be discussed in the States and this seeks to further inhibit us (the proposed legislation is designed specifically to curtail our activities) under the pretence of “setting out how members of the public who are not journalists working for an accredited media organisation will be permitted…to make visual and audio recordings etc.”

Of course, Proposition 100 is the predictable response of authoritarian government to the latest technology that threatens the status quo. The Internet and blogging are seen as threats to the established order so Jersey politicians have reached for the control and restrict buttons. It is especially sad that well meaning people like Alan Breckon have apparently been seduced by the controlling instincts of more conservative political colleagues.

Senator Breckon serves with Senator Shenton on the Public Accounts (Scrutiny) Committee and we fear that some of his former reforming motivation has become eroded. We have observed Senator Breckon at recent hearings of the Committee and note that he hardly participates at all in the questioning of witnesses.

We also note that this Committee sets out to be different from other Scrutiny panels because it tends to examine senior Civil Servants rather than Ministers and claims that;

“The PAC is neither political nor adversarial in its approach to questioning witnesses at hearings. This is particularly important since the witnesses are normally public employees without the power of public reply.”

Such an approach, if applied across the whole field of scrutiny activities, would suit the secretive purposes of the Chief Minister and many of his close colleagues very well.
However it is a great pity that Senator Breckon sought to give that dull policy a wider application.
The entire scrutiny process in Jersey needs a much keener adversarial approach and the direct involvement of the general public.

There is no place for the cosy club approach to Jersey government in the 21st century.

Submitted by Thomas Wellard.


Anonymous said...

He finally pressed the “abstain” button although 21 of our “reps” still voted for the madcap scheme

Thats twice now.

Ex-Senator Stuart Syvret said...

I'm not sure why thinking people take any of these charades seriously anymore.

Jersey is - quite obviously - not a functioning democracy or a lawful jurisdiction.

BTW, the Marshall MCluhan book in question was titled, "The Medium is the Massage".

He originated the phrase, the medium is the message - but by his own account, when the book proof came back from the typesetters, they had used the word 'massage' by mistake, instead of message'.

McLuhan apparently loved the notion, and insisted the word 'massage' remained.

It suited his deconstructionist take on media in modern society, with his original title, and the 'mistake' now delivering at least four different meanings - each of which can be correct - if the reader wants it to be: 'Message', 'Mess Age', 'Massage' and 'Mass Age'.

Though even McLuhan's understanding of medias would be challenged by what passes for 'the media' in Jersey.


Tony said...

Well good for ILM. Whether one agrees with him or not (and I sometimes don't), at least he is prepared to let the public see him at a scrutiny meeting.

Which other States members do? And which positively refuse?

David Rotherham said...

The primary driver of Alan's proposition, and he was talking about this sometime beforehand, is that a team of two cannot deliver the same level of supervision and engagement that a team of five or six can and did.
We also used to have a system in which almost all politicians were actively involved, while the ministerial system and the Troy rule automatically sideline a majority of them. What disappointed me was that so many of the sidelined members rejected the option of getting involved and taking responsibility as their predecessors did.

Anonymous said...

Tony asks a very interesting question.
From memory Sen. Le Marquand is the only Minister who regularly allows us to record him. I cannot recall any other witnesses who do - certainly all Civil Servants have refused following in the Education Chief's lead.
Minister Reed did allow us to record - but that was the decision taken by the Scrutiny Panel Chairman (Dep. Le Herissier) at that time before Shenton/PPC started introducing their petty rules against us.

We assume that the Le Herissier/Pitman/Tadier group would allow us to record them if the occasion arose but they are not witnesses - they form the Panel.
Senators Ferguson and Shenton as chairs refuse us permission to record any of their hearings - though of course Shenton has been interviewed by us on several occasions outside in the Royal Square.

Those readers with a long memory will recall that we are required to give 3 working days notice if we want to record (under the Shenton rules) which means that we can usually only even ask to record hearings taking place on Thursdays and Fridays!

Since Proposition 100 will be debated in a few weeks, time is running out - but it might be useful to apply to record some ordinary Panel meetings (i.e. not hearings - those without witnesses). These are supposed to be public meetings too except when the Part B agenda is being discussed. We have had many battles over these in the past - but perhaps we need to refresh our minds about who our scrutiny friends really are!

Thomas Wellard

voiceforchildren said...

Thomas Wellard/Tony.

Tony does make a good point in that ILM ALWAYS allows us to film his Scrutiny Hearings. It must be said that he does come in for alot of criticism, certainly on VFC, for his absolutely disgraceful handling of the Graham Power (non) disciplinary/Wiltshire/Napier etc.

However despite such criticisms he has never refused us permission to film the meetings, sorry he has once but that was one of his first meetings. Credit must be given to him for that, which I happily do so.

I just can't be arsed to explain to Deputy Le Herissier what the word "support" means. He thinks that he "supports" us because he doesn't agree with that bl--dy daft 3 day rule and he has said so. In the Deputy's world that means "support".

We know that Senator Ferguson has put a blanket ban on the "public" recording her "public" hearings, so not only are we being denied the choice, so are any of her witnesses!

If she can put a blanket ban on filming her panel's "public" hearings, then what is to stop any of the other chairmen giving blanket permission for filming "public" hearings?

That's what I would call "support" so if Deputy Le Herissier does read this consider "support" "explained"..........and I could be arsed.

Or is the Deputy too scared to do this in case it shows just how much teeth his panel haven't got? Is he too scared to admit that it's the Civil Servants that hold all the power and not him and his panel? Put it to the test Roy, let's see who holds all the power............thought not.

Anonymous said...

This week there are several Scruting Panel meetings/hearings taking place and we have applied to be allowed to video record at them.
In each case we have been refused and think that this information should be in the public domain so that everybody can know how our so called "elected representatives" behave, behind the scenes.

The Corporate Services Fiscal Strategy Review Panel has public hearings on Monday and Wednesday
with Deputy Gorst Minister for Social Security, the Chief Minister Le Sueur, Treasury Minister Ozouf and a Panel meeting.
None of he witnesses have been asked if they object to being recorded because this is a standing decision taken by the Panel on 4 March 2009 to forbid any meetings or hearings being recorded by "members of the public."
Asked (on Monday)to confirm that this was still the view of the current Panel, Deputy Egre said yes it is although his panel members, Deputy Vallois and Senator Le Gresley remained silent and at least looked embarassed....

How times have changed for Colin Egre since he was fighting injustice on his own behalf against the airport authorities - before he became a Deputy and wielded the power baton himself....Shall we abandon hope for Vallois and Le Gresley?

The Chairmen's Committee also confirmed its standing decision that no recordings of its meetings shall be taken. This Committee currently consists of Ben Shenton, Sarah Ferguson, Roy Le Herissier, Phil Rondel, Mike Higgins and Geoff Southern.

Makes you wonder where the true friends of free speech and expression might be hiding in Jersey doesn't it?
Makes you wonder too why they are hiding?

Thomas Wellard