Monday, 19 March 2012

States Propositions - A Comment

The true Enlightenment thinker, the true rationalist, never wants to talk anyone into anything. No, he does not even want to convince; all the time he is aware that he may be wrong. Above all, he values the intellectual independence of others too highly to want to convince them in important matters. He would much rather invite contradiction, preferably in the form of rational and disciplined criticism. He seeks not to convince but to arouse - to challenge others to form free opinions. (Karl Popper)

Since Ministerial Government arose in Jersey, and the website went live, there has been a facility to see the propositions coming up in the States under "Sittings and Debates".

For example, coming up on the 20th March are:

Proposition: Old Age Pension: method for increase.

Proposition: Old Age Pension: method for increase (P.164/2011) - comments.

There has been a practice for some time for the States department involved to have the Minister put in a "comment", hence after each of the above propositions, we read:

Proposition: Old Age Pension: method for increase (P.164/2011) - comments.
Proposition: Ex gratia payment: Mr. D. Turner (P.166/2011) - comments.

The comments have clearly been put together by the Department officials, and not the Minister, even though the protocol has words like "The Minister does not accept...". The Minister has asked his officials for advice, and they have given him the advice, and I imagine, written it up for him.

Both the proposition and comment contain a detailed discussion outlining the case. So before the debate has even gone to the States, there has been a fairly large amount of information and argument put out into the public domain. But that has meant, from time to time, that the proposer can look at the comment, and analyse it for weaknesses, so that there can be comments on the comments - counter-comments, if you like.

That's not bad, because it forces the substance of the debate to be about words and arguments, and cases that need to be made, or opposed, to be much more thoroughly debated here than would otherwise be the case. There is only so much time in States sittings, and words there often display opinions as much as arguments. The mechanism for a precursor to debate in the public domain is, I think, a very good one. It allows the public who follow the States time for reflection, time to examine the merits of the proposition and counter-proposition. And it allows facts and figures to play a part as well, in more detail than might be possible in a debate, where it is difficult to present data in tabular form.

So far, so good. But the fly in the ointment is that Ministers seem to have become aware that their "comments" allow time for a detailed examination, and a "comment" on their comment, exposing any weaknesses in their position. Their "comment" can be shot down in flames before the debate by another "comment"!

Rather than seeing that as a good thing, because it is surely good that any debate expose any shortcomings in order to come to the best result, the strategy has been to release the "comments" at the 11th hour, in the last week or less before the debate takes place, and when there is not a lot of time available before the debate for that kind of examination.

It might be argued that it takes time for officials to put together a comment, but some of these debates have been scheduled for months ahead, and to continually put out the comment in the week before the debate takes place is simply too much of a coincidence. It is more likely that the Minister wants to refer to the substance of their "comment" in debate, and it is rather difficult to do that if the flaws in it have been exposed beforehand.

It is the reverse of Karl Popper's critical rationalism: "I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth." (Karl Popper), and an avoidance of debate.

1 comment:

James said...

It's good in as far as it goes. But it's indicative of the yawning gap in understanding between Jersey and most modern states regarding what a representative assembly exists to do.