As we potentially approach an election later this year, Express reader Anthony Cunningham is concerned about "how the electorate can possibly hope to elect a more functional body than the present one" and he wants to open up a public debate on the issue.
Mr Cunningham said the time will pass quickly until the election, "and if we do not get a discussion started soon on how we select deputies then I believe it will end in tears".
In his own words below, Mr Cunningham has outlined his thoughts "which can perhaps get the ball rolling".
Pictured: Anthony Cunningham.
"It looks like sense is to prevail and Guernsey will see an election in October of this year, with the assembly having appeared to support and then rejected a September date following a lengthy debate, but with little clarity as to why it was ultimately rejected. It is difficult for many of us to follow the ebbs and flows of the election date decision. But, let’s work with the premise of a 7th October election. How do we, the electorate of Guernsey, improve the chances of electing a states assembly that the majority will have faith in? Given the Guernsey electoral system, both last time and potentially this time, such an objective may be difficult, if not impossible to achieve.
We have the concept that each deputy is a party of one which makes its own mind up on every issue that comes before the states. The majority in the chamber (when they get back to using it) have not been on the committee that will have been looking in to the detail of the subject at hand. They are therefore both speaking and voting largely unencumbered by the facts. They are potentially swayed by an eloquent speech from a deputy who can also ignore the facts as there is no advance opportunity to scrutinize his or her speech. Worse still, he or she may slip in a quick written amendment over lunch which is then debated by a group of people with little relevant experience of the problem at hand. Most seem to believe they must speak in debate, but as Plato said “Wise men only speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something”. No private organisation would allow such ungoverned and ill disciplined decision taking. Is this really the best way for Guernsey to be run?
For a central body with satellite committee structures, such as we have in the states, to work, it requires the central body to both respect and have confidence in the committees and total trust in the committee chairpersons. I believe it is evident that this has not applied in the current states. It is in fact an inevitable consequence of how deputies have been selected and how committees have been formed from those deputies. Historically, deputies have stood on some concept of a personal manifesto. We have to recognise one deputy alone can promise everything and, no matter how well intentioned, can achieve potentially nothing, without having changed his/her position. What potential deputies tend not to do is lay out the relevant skill sets and experience that they will bring to the table and the principles they will use to apply them. Accordingly, the electorate have little opportunity to consider which deputies will bring a balance of skills to the assembly and what will drive their contribution to the evolution of Guernsey. This is critically important on this occasion, as the next assembly has access to £500m of our money, which can either be spent wisely (not as easy as it sounds), or can be blown on individual deputy pet projects, perhaps on a “you vote for mine, I’ll vote for yours” basis.
Pictured: Guernsey's government usually holds its meetings in the States Chamber within the Royal Court building.
Secondly, if a subject comes up for consideration by a committee, there is no mechanism for a strongly interested non-committee deputy to involve themselves in the policymaking. They have to wait until all the work is done and then get the committee’s proposal thrown out in central debate, perhaps because they had an understanding of the issues to contribute, but had no means to do so in a formal way. This is expensive, inefficient and fundamentally divisive. Why not let other deputies second themselves on to a committee for a subject that they are knowledgeable on and hold strong views about. We can then get good policy positions brought to the assembly which then progress first time. However, to achieve this, we have to select deputies for their specific skills and experience and then ensure we have the right people on the committees, especially the chairperson. It is unprofessional to construct committees without a focus on the mix of skills and views necessary to draw out the best for Guernsey.
If we do not have skilled leaders in charge of states committees then the real decisions will be taken by the civil servants and the deputies will be their mouthpiece. Whilst some may like to think otherwise, the reality is that our senior civil servants are excellent at putting forward the case that fits their agenda. This is not a criticism; it is just recognising the reality of human nature. It is the job of the deputies to challenge these ideas and ensure that they are also the best for Guernsey. This needs experienced deputies who are skilled in interrogating management ideas. Instead, all too often, the committee will turn to external consultants to verify management’s propositions. We spend enough money on our civil servants to expect them to have the skills to formulate policy suggestions in their area. We spend far too much on offshore consultants, coming in to tell the deputies what either they and/or the civil servants want to hear. This is not the consultants doing a bad job (their job is to make money), but highlights the shortcomings of not having experienced leaders in control of our committees.
Political parties around the world have seldom covered themselves in glory. For this reason, I sense the people of Guernsey have a very healthy mistrust of the concept. However, the other extreme of trying to select 38 individuals with no easy mechanism to know how they may work together is equally flawed, as has been demonstrated by the current states assembly. I believe we need groups of people to stand together adhering to a common set of principles, but with the group able to demonstrate a diversity of skills. I am concerned that, given we were due to have an election very shortly, there is no sign of the emergence of such groupings already. If you are considering standing as a deputy, have relevant experience and skills and are interested in considering what might be a common set of principles to stand with others, please let this be known sooner rather than later.
Pictured: Sir Charles Frossard House - the base for most civil service functions in Guernsey.
This leads to the final point. How do we get deputies with the skills and experience to manage and direct our senior civil servants, given that a deputy is paid so much less. Furthermore, how can we hope to get skilled potential deputies to prepare to give up their current roles if they have no idea when the election is going to happen. Ultimately, I believe we should have fewer but better paid deputies, but we will not get that for this election. The other option is to have unpaid deputies with a non-executive director approach (it worked in the past, but is unlikely to create the level of diversity in the states that would be required today). Accordingly, we need people who will most definitely not be in it for the money, but who are willing to offer their skills to the people of Guernsey for the sake of Guernsey. It is very likely that an individual bringing the right skills to the table could earn far more in the private sector. It is therefore likely that a reform of the states deputies along these lines will mean we are weighted towards those who have already been successful in their career. The people of Guernsey must avoid simply selecting their friends, or those they know, over those with the skills to take us forward if they do not wish to again hear the all too familiar cry of “this is the worst states ever”.
In conclusion, I would ask you to:
when you cast your vote, remember the next states will have a disproportionate effect on many future generations of Guernsey residents. We owe it to them to get it right and focus on the skills we are voting in."
The above is the view of the author and not Bailiwick Express. If you wish to have your own article, readers letter or other material considered for publication please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pictured top: Anthony Cunningham.