Tuesday, 24 February 2015

The Centralisation of Power in Jersey Today

I’m reprinting today a letter to the JEP from former Deputy John Young, as it highlights some worrying trends. I would add to that the following:

- The increasing use of Ministerial decisions to avoid the States debate, not on routine matters, but on important matters which have in the past been taken before the house.

- The absence of any Ministerial decision with regard to the latest missive from the Social Security Minister on long term incapacity. Is this the start of a new trend?

On the Waterfront, which forms part of the substance of John Young's letter,  I was also very disappointed by the argument of Ian Gorst. He implied again and again that the lawyers Crill Collas were biased with their criticism of the legality of the destruction of the car park. Their statement was flawed because they were acting for a rival organisation who wanted their own office complex to be the one of choice. But what matters is the legal case, and if it stands up, not whether it is put by lawyers acting on behalf of little green men from Mars.

As C.S. Lewis noted, “The motive game is so uninteresting. Each side can go on playing ad nauseam, but when all the mud has been flung every man’s views still remain to be considered on their merits.”

Lewis termed the approach that Ian Gorst took on BBC Radio Jersey, “Bulverism”, and argued that it is a logical fallacy (it is also called the genetic fallacy):

“You must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong. The modern method is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became to be so silly.”

That is almost exactly what Ian Gorst did on BBC Radio Jersey, distracting attention from the arguments presented by Collas Crill by diverting attention to who funds them. We really deserve better than that.

Letter from former Deputy John Young.

Urban trees are scarce and lift the spirits nowhere more so than in St Helier. Those in the Esplanade car park were a delight until our SOJDC decided the trees had to make way for our office development. Those who mourn their loss are seen as standing in the way of progress.

Is this a clash of alternative visions for St Helier,. whether our capital becomes a good place to live. or an overcrowded economic powerhouse? Is there a bigger underlying message of the power exercised by our government?

The way the trees'- removal was carried out with no advance warning despite a States scrutiny inquiry into the development shows just how powerful our government has become. The dismissive remarks of the chairman of SOJDC about the scrutiny review show that the executive is under instructions to press ahead with the Esplanade development, regardless.

There are other worrying signs, the support of the Council of Ministers for the proposed high-density development of the Gas Works site against the views of residents. They supported the Port Galots development which would have removed the last remaining open view of the Harbour and Elizabeth Castle from the residents of St Helier. It has taken a public outcry to put a`stop to it. We as taxpayers are left with the loss of £400,000.

How do such things happen? Our Chief Minister, Senator Ian Gorst, imposes collective responsibility on all his ministers. SOJDC and States Property Holdings take, their instructions from our Treasury Minister, Senator Alan Maclean. He is directed by the Council of Ministers and our Chief ' Minister, independent thinking will lose him his job. The safeguard is our Planning Minister, but he is also under direction from Senator Gorst. Next week in the States, powers of the Planning Minister are to be transferred to unaccountable civil servants who in turn are under direction by the States chief executive. Such centralisation of power is without precedent in Jersey.

Senator Gorst won a huge mandate at our election, yet how democratic is his government? His ministerial nominations were made on the basis of personal acceptability, leaving out Senator Zoe Cameron.

Two of his ministers and five assistants were elected unopposed. Senator Gorst's government has an inbuilt majority in the States, supported by the majority of Constables and those Members who are ambitious for future advancement.

Efficient, yes. But where are the checks and balances on government power? We have a reform party of three members who seek to form an opposition, we rely entirely on the minority of States Members who maintain their independence and exercise their own judgment. We have a scrutiny system, which does not have the power of UK Parliamentary Select Committees, is under-resourced and largely disregarded by ministers.

The reality is we now have a one-party political system in Jersey. Democracy requires we need stronger scrutiny, greater safeguards and public scrutiny of our government by all possible means, using social, conventional media, parish, public meetings and petitions.

In our next elections we will all need to become more open to political organisation and alliances and ultimately to political parties.

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