My First Year in Government -
What I have Learnt
Deputy Shona Pitman - States Of Jersey
[Such is the censorship
in Jersey that reforming legislators are easily silenced and cannot get
their views across to the people. To facilitate dialogue AABA is happy
to provide space for Jersey legislator Shona Pitman].It
has been a first year as the youngest States Member, which has been
huge contrasts. Exhilaration at being
given the opportunity to help improve the lives of people in the
of course, play a part in trying to begin to improve Jersey as a whole
Government. On the other side of the
coin, frustration and disappointment, at the way the huge opportunity
more democratic form of Government with the change to the Ministerial
(December 2005) is being diminished.
refer to: the regular obstruction of information to Scrutiny; the
obsession of Ministerial ‘spin’; the lack of public participation in
decisions; the ‘tax the poor to save the rich’ policies and too many
‘privileged’ politicians who are arrogant and appear morally bankrupt.
To illustrate my point…
start with what symbolises a democratic Government – the ability of an
to vote for its ‘leader’. Despite the
proclamations of many politicians of the previous Assembly, that
Government would be more democratic than the Committee system, the
people of Jersey can not vote for their Chief
Moreover, this choice was only given to the 53 States Members,
by secret ballot. As the final vote
demonstrated so glaringly, representatives could tell the electorate
vote one way during their election campaigns, and then secretly vote
total opposite. And who was voted
in? Senator Frank Walker - a politician
that was (by far) not favoured by the
public and scraped in at bottom of the six Senators elected at the
regard to Scrutiny’s role, I am pleased to say that some Ministers have
well with us and have taken on board our recommendations – just as the
Report envisaged. Despite this, for all
the talk on ‘open and transparent’ Government, why is it that Scrutiny
refused the same legal advice that is given to Ministers?
Why is it also, that we are not automatically
given B Agenda minutes of Minister’s meetings and instead have to work
get them, if indeed we do? How can
Scrutiny play its intended part in Government, if a Panel, following a
takes its recommendations in the form of a proposition to the House. The proposition is then voted out, regardless
of its merit but seemingly due to nothing more than being viewed as a
direction of the Executive or, that certain Members do not like the
who is bringing the proposition to the House.
relationship with the Executive is, as Ministers so often quote,
act as a ‘critical friend’. However, I
have to ask: how can we be this when, in my experience, there are
clearly do their utmost to ensure that we either don’t get the
information or actually
receive misinformation. As has been
pointed out by others more than once, Scrutiny was meant to be not only
counter-balance to power but the ‘champion’ of the people in ensuring
democracy. Because of the lack of
co-operation with Ministers, as yet, I feel, it cannot be claimed to
The curse of modern western politics –
of the biggest hindrances to our democracy is undoubtedly ‘ministerial’
spin. With the implementation of
Ministerial Government came the Communications Unit, members of which
actually paid nearly fifteen thousand pounds more than politicians. Why? I
wonder… We now hear a lot from
communications of the regular, much hailed public consultations
e.g. GST (Goods and Services Tax) and ‘20 means 20’ (income tax at 20%,
any allowances for every earner); the construction on the Waterfront;
minimum wage; the new income support system; and a decent public
system. I ask; what real say have the
people of Jersey had on important Government
decision-making? After all, doesn’t ‘real’
listening engender change?
finally have a human rights law in place, yet what does this truly mean
people whose quality of life will be reduced because of the ominous tax
policies which will hit middle and lower income earners hardest. Tax on education, basic food stuffs,
clothes – are these not the most basic materials of a modern democratic
living? (How long will GST stay at 3%,
once implemented next year? As the demand
on Government budgets increases, so to will the pressures to raise
GST?). The ever increasing cost of living
e.g. expensive accommodation (comparable to the richest parts of
London); a low
minimum wage (currently below the UK); electricity rises of 20%;
paying university fees and their parents paying significantly more; and
of affordable leisure facilities to take children.
With all these new expenses, Jersey
faces a future of much more financial hardship for its people. Moreover, such hardships are more likely to
compel people to take on second jobs or work longer hours, leaving them
time to spend at home with their families. This is all detrimental to
maintenance of traditional family values.
And to top it all, the Chamber of Commerce are now recommending
Government set an income tax cap at a ridiculous level of between one
hundred thousand pounds. Yet we all must
sacrifice for a rosy future – according to Ministerial communications. And of course the new Income Support
will, we are assured, compensate for the new financial burdens that the
income earners will find themselves.
However, regardless of Ministerial ‘spin’ the truth is, without
figures or regulations, as yet, we just don’t know.
The erosion of diversity of industry
and the need for understanding of our own impact within the global
final point: how many of our new policies, immigration, housing,
fiscal are crushing other industries and with them, the people of Jersey,
with the exception of the very rich, to suit our Finance
Industry. And to what expense is our tax
haven really having on third world countries?
Yes, we most certainly need this industry and must continue to
it, this is a fact, but in what way and to what expense?
We do not exist within a vacuum. When
it comes to the matter of finance it is
without doubt, that all too often in recent years any criticism of this
industry is immediately jumped upon and portrayed as somehow being
‘anti-Finance’ or even ‘anti-Jersey’.
What we actually need to move on to here, is an intellectual
ensure we do continue to fully support Finance – but in a manner that
compliments and respects ‘the bigger picture’ both at island level and
the sphere of globalisation. As I
pointed out before, so much else has been allowed to wither on the vine
vibrant tourism industry and agriculture to name but two.
Without focussed investment, regulation and
innovation now, where will we turn if and when the Finance
wanes as many predict?
What about democracy?
the only question that remains is: do we really live in a democracy? The answer in my view is, no, we do not and
this Government is not even moving in that direction.
For anything to change, people must get out
and vote for more political
candidates who have a social conscience and possess a real
economics both locally and globally.