Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Coming up later in the States

An Innovative Strategy
Coming up later in the States is Jersey Innovation Fund: Board Remuneration. Having voted to establish an Innovation fund, and having appointed Tim Herbert as Chairman, the Minister for Economic Development has now seen fit to give some idea of costs involved.
The States are asked "to refer to their Act dated 1st May 2013 in which they approved the establishment of the Jersey Innovation Fund and agreed the Revised Operational Terms of Reference April 2013, and agree to vary the Revised Operational Terms of Reference so that Board members may be remunerated for their work."
Having approved the Board, the States are hardly likely to rescind the original vote, but it does seem a very slip-shod way of going about matters. Why could this have not been anticipated before? There seems to have been rather inadequate consideration of the need for extra remuneration in the initial proposal.
We are told "During the recruitment process it has become clear that the time commitment required of the non-executive Board members will be greater than originally anticipated". There is no indication anywhere in the proposition of how much time was originally anticipated, or how much extra time is now anticipated.
As an exercise in obfuscation, Senator Maclean's proposition can scarcely be bettered. He is clearly at the peak of his powers, and should surely be awarded the Sir Humphrey Appleby Award for the largest number of words conveying the minimal amount of information. Just consider this little gem, which gives absolutely no idea about how the costing for the remuneration is arrived at:
"Following a recruitment process, overseen by the Appointments Commission, a Chairman has been selected. With the Department's support, the Chair is in the process of appointing 3 non-executive members to the Board, again in a process overseen by the Appointments Commission. During the recruitment process it has become clear that the time commitment required of the non-executive Board members will be greater than originally anticipated. Therefore, in order to attract the appropriate calibre of Board member with the skills and expertise for these critical roles, some level of remuneration will be required. Economic Development has therefore reviewed the policy within the agreed Operational Terms of Reference and concluded that the non-executive Board members should be remunerated. Such remuneration will be in the form of an annual fixed sum awarded on an honorarium basis."
We don't even know how many times the board will meet, how much time will be demanded of its members, or how the level of remuneration was calculated. We are told, however, later in the document, that there will be "an estimated 10 applications a year". And for this, and for the total number of unspecified meetings and unspecified hours, the 4 non-executive members will receive a total of £50,000 per annum. That's not a huge amount for each one - £12,500 per year for each of the four, but we have absolutely no idea how much that works out at per hour, because no figures have been given. It could be very high indeed, or relatively low.
If I was in the States, I'd want more information before voting that through, and quite frankly, I'd be rather appalled at the way a proposition could be brought without any indication of how the costs were arrived at. When I did mathematics problems, we were always taught to show all the workings out, and you always knew the students who were cheating, because they just provided an answer and no workings out. This proposition is like that; it is a bit of a cheat!
Public Elections
The proposals for changes to public elections are very positive, and I particularly like the idea of streaming hustings, and the consideration of electronic means of voting. I'll return to those in a later posting, but one thing I do want to take issue with is this:
"Mr. Adrian Lee had stated that what was observable was the relative completeness and accuracy of the Electoral Register in Jersey. The Jurats had confirmed that in their opinion the registers were accurate in 2011."
In fact, the registry, as far as I have been able to ascertain, was held on separate spreadsheets and not on a single database. As a result, there were errors in the registry. In St Brelade, for example, 13 voters appeared in voting lists of both districts, and of those, 4 were placed at exactly the same address but with different voting numbers! The Greffier was made aware of this, but by that time, the voting lists had been published.
Had the Jurats asked the Greffier, they would have been informed that the registers were not 100% accurate in 2011. It would be interesting to know on what basis they made their confirmation. The errors were small, and "relative completeness and accuracy" suggested by Mr Lee is probably a good description, and certainly closer to the truth.
Public Elections: Single Transferable Voting System (STV) and an Alternative Voting System (AV).
What is interesting here is the comment by the Comité des Connétables on the proposition. Looking at STV and AV, they comment that the States members should be aware that "the results of an election using such voting systems are unlikely to be available on the polling day as has been the case with elections in Jersey to date."
It is also suggested that the extra demands on Parish staff and volunteers for STV would be very great:
"Polling stations are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Parish staff and volunteers are already committed to a very long day to ensure an election runs smoothly."
We can see an argument  - which is not wholly explicit - that the duration and demands on time should be a main consideration for rejecting the proposals. They don't come out with that explicitly, but reading between the lines, that is what the thrust of their comments are pointing towards. What they fail to address is whether such a voting system would be fairer than first past the post, and hence engage with the electorate more fully.
When it comes to the Alternative Voting system used in the Referendum, the Committee is in a quandary. It could, after all, easily apply to all the Constables seats, so there is a degree of self-interest. But what we know from the Referendum is that it can be done, it can be done quicker than we suspected, and it can be done in one evening.
They have this to say:
"The Alternative Voting system is, in effect, that used for the recent referendum on the Reform of the States Assembly. It might be possible for such a count to be concluded on the polling day, but this would depend upon the turnout, the number of candidates and whether a recount or recounts were required."
As there has scarce been a massive amount of contested Constables elections, and none that I can recall within living memory of three candidates, I think this is special pleading. Even if STV is not adopted elsewhere, there is no reason at all why the Constables elections should not use AV. The likelihood of its use would be marginal in the extreme.
Reading all these comments, I find it is rather like considering the difference between a diet of convenience junk food, which is very easy to prepare in a microwave oven, and costs a lot less in time and effort, and a  meal from fresh ingredients bought, prepared and cooked. One may well be simpler, but in terms of nutrition, it would be a poorer choice. The comments here look just at the cooking time and convenience, and nutrition seems to have been overlooked. It is easy to get addicted to junk food, and it does provide some small nutrition. But surely the public deserve better from the States?

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