Monday, 13 March 2017

The Jersey Aircraft Registry - a Soaring Success from the Jersey Government





I'm not going to lie, today was pretty irritating!

Myself and someone I know had been doing a bit of digging lately, trying to uncover what we thought might be a political scandal. We were on the verge of being ready to go public and, lo and behold, the media somehow managed to beat us to it!

I am of course talking about the story today that the States has spent £860k on setting up and running the Jersey Aircraft Registry, and only two aircraft have actually signed up to it.

Just a few hours after this story hits the headlines, my written question for the States sitting tomorrow was published, so I've missed the chance to get involved. Oh well! - http://www.statesassembly.gov.je/AssemblyQuestions/2017/(152)%20Dep%20Mezec%20to%20EDTSC%20re%20cost%20of%20jersey%20aircraft%20registry.pdf

There will be more documentation being published at our initiative soon to reveal a few more details.

The Isle of Man Aircraft Registry has almost 1,000 aircraft registered to it, and Guernsey's paradoxically named "Channel Islands Aircraft Registry" has 160 registered. We have two. That's £430k per aircraft, with only £11k in registration fees made to offset that. Pretty embarrassing, by all accounts.

I think that most Islanders will rightly feel aggrieved that, once again, a venture headed by the Economic Development Department has led to a huge amount of taxpayers money being squandered.

Whether it is the business class golf jollies around the world, the failed Innovation Fund or now the failed Aircraft Registry, there is a legacy of embarrassment haunting this department.

Whenever questions are raised about what the department are doing and the legitimacy of any of their activities, we get normally a rebuttal from the minister, Senator Farnham, which usually is missing any actual answer but instead contains a bit of hot air about how "this government is a success because the economy is growing and you lot just hate success".

This is incredibly worrying that Farnham thinks this is acceptable answer and, in my view, shows that he either doesn't really understand how economics works, or that he does but is just awful at bluster to hide his failures.

In a nutshell -

Jersey has had some economic growth over the last two years, but it has been erratic and doesn't reflect a positive trend. In one year growth was driven by the finance industry where several large firms undertook one-off restructuring, but all other industries shrank. The next year, finance shrank and growth was driven by the other industries. Nobody can really take anything genuinely positive out of that, especially when a large proportion of that growth was driven by the fact our population is massively increasing every year (which is ultimately a Ponzi scheme).

So, having noted some of this bluster and been unable to find any evidence that government policies were having any positive tangible effect on our economy, I thought I'd just ask a simple written question asking the minister to list everything he has done which he thinks has helped develop the economy.

Here is his answer - http://www.statesassembly.gov.je/AssemblyQuestions/2017/(15)%20%20Dep%20Mezec%20to%20EDTSC%20re%20promoting%20economic%20growth.pdf

To sum it up in one word, this list is - pathetic.

The first one on the list is the regulations to extend pub opening hours for the Queen's birthday (which by the way was actually my idea! But anyway...), as if this is a true success story for our economy. Unbelievable.

Others include the raising of various fees charged by the States. As if increasing the cost of business helps grow the economy.

But, most amusingly, a whole seven items on this list are to do with the Aircraft Registry!

In a parliamentary question to a States Member about measures which have had a tangible effect on economic growth, Senator Farnham chose to boast about a scheme which has seen a deficit in States finances of £849k.

You could not make this stuff up.

If his department had any proof that their actions had actually done anything to help businesses in the Island, cut unnecessary red tape or improve the regulatory framework for those busy employers in the Island, then I'm sure they would be shouting them from the rooftop. But instead we get pub opening hours on one weekend and the Aircraft Registry.

When I stood for election last year, I was asked at one hustings what I would do to create jobs in the Island. I said a combination of three things -

1) Cut Social Security Contributions for the self-employed (ironically the opposite of what the "pro-business" Tories in the UK are now doing), so they have more security in their lives, can afford to invest more and employ more people. 
2) Form a joint review group of employers and trade unions to work together at finding the laws and regulations which no longer suit the needs of either workers or bosses and consolidate, update and simplify those laws. 
3) Push forward with the eGovernment programme to cut down on bureaucracy and red tape that businesses have to contend with when dealing government.

I think these policies aren't too bad for a left-winger. Yet instead, the pinnacle of our government's creativity is the creation of an Aircraft Registry.

Lord help us!



So, is Senator Farnham our most useless Minister? It's a tough one. Leave your thoughts in the comment box below!

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Consultation, Consultation, Consultation.


If there is one thing the States of Jersey loves, it's a good ol' consultation.

Today States Members were sent an email to let us know that the Housing Minister is launching a consultation on the regulation of Jersey's letting market. They want to know what problems tenants, landlords and letting agents have with the current regulations and want to hear the public's views on how the market could be improved to provide fairness.

This wasn't too much of a surprise as I have twice asked questions in the States Assembly about what measures the Housing Minister was going to take to protect tenants from many of the unfair fees that are being imposed on them for no good reason by letting agents, and twice the minister had said that something like this was on the cards.

There is, I think, a widespread feeling amongst many members of the public that the States spends far too much time consulting and that ministers and senior civil servants use them as an exercise to absolve themselves of taking any responsibility on a particular issue.

There is certainly truth in this, but I think there is something a bit deeper that should be examined too.

Currently there are three main consultations going on -

1. Letting market

2. Family Friendly laws

3. Social Security contributions

On every single one of these subjects, both government ministers and Reform Jersey have publicly committed to particular changes we both agree on.

In the States Assembly I asked if the Housing Minister was prepared to follow the lead of the Tory government in the UK and abolish letting fees for tenants, instead making it a fee exclusively charged to landlords. She said "yes".

On several occasions the Social Security Minister and the Home Affairs Minister (who, for some reason, is in charge of initiatives connected to the '1,001 Days Manifesto') have publicly said that they support increasing the statutory maternity leave provisions in Jersey.

The Chief Minister said in his 500 word statement when he was proposed for a second term as Chief Minister that he supported introducing progressive rates of Social Security Contributions for the self-employed.

On all of these issues, Reform Jersey wholeheartedly agrees with the words of the government.

So why do we have to have these expensive consultations when the answers are staring us in the face?!

If you agree that letting agent fees to tenants should be banned, then ban them.

If you believe statutory maternity leave needs to be extended, then extend it.

If you believe that self-employed Social Security Contribution rates should be cut, then cut them.

Instead, we have policies which have been in the government's own programme since it's earliest days, that they have not delivered on after two and a half years in office, and are now putting those questions out to consultation rather than just getting on with them.

Obviously there is a legitimate place for consultation and I'm not knocking them on every single occasion. The consultation on the new Les Quennevais School was clearly a useful exercise and helped produce a good proposal (although it's up in the air at the moment, so maybe not a great example).

But when there are some relatively small measures that are clear on principle and which will clearly have a tangible benefit to people's lives, why not just get on with it? If there is a bigger picture, it can be dealt with separately, but the smaller measures can often be isolated.

Here's my theory -

It's all about re-election.

What do all of these consultations have in common? The results are all going to be released in the run up to an election, without enough time to have them implemented beforehand.

This means the candidates for the effective Jersey Tory Party can stand for (re)election with their policies already constructed for them. They will stand with a commitment to deliver the recommendations of these reviews and consultations. These policies will be paid for by Jersey taxpayers, rather than made by the membership of a party through a democratic process.

It is essentially establishment politicians feathering their own nests, with the connivance of senior civil servants who get to sit back whilst this happens, knowing that they won't be to blame for anything that could go wrong.

This is, I believe, a symptom of a broken democratic system in Jersey that leads to us taking years and years to make decisions which could be made much quicker, we spend so much money arriving at those decisions and the ordinary people of this Island have to contend with poor regulations and public service provisions whilst those politicians enjoy the view from the top of Cyril Le Marquand House.

So I say - cancel these consultations, stop hiring spin doctors and start hiring some law draftsmen to get these policies enacted as soon as possible, so you can then move on to the other important issues facing the Island.

Reform Jersey intends to stand for election in 2018 with a series of tangible policies set out that could be implemented in relatively quick succession.

Whether we win or lose that election, I hope we can set a standard of what the public should expect from election candidates. Politicians in Jersey lack credibility, and this barrage of consultations offers nothing to the public to help them regain confidence in those who lead them.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

'State of Democracy' tour of the Channel Islands

Press Release - For immediate release
Jersey political party leader to hold ‘democracy’ events across the Channel Islands

Jersey’s Deputy Sam Mézec, leader of the Island’s only political party, Reform Jersey, is announcing that he is to hold public meetings in each of the Channel Islands to discuss the state of local democracy.

This follows a speech Deputy Mézec gave in the States of Jersey Assembly at the end of last year in which he made scathing criticisms of the attitude and competence of the government of Jersey, which quickly went viral on social media, with over 100,000 views so far.

He said -
“After my speech went viral I was contacted by a lot of people in the other Channel Islandswho said that they felt that the problems I had highlighted in Jersey were equally true in their Islands too.

In Jersey, there is a widespread feeling that the government does not work for ordinary Islanders, is completely out of touch with the public and too beholden to vested interests. I know that many people in Guernsey, Alderney and Sark feel that their governments are the same and many Channel Islanders are crying out for change, but it’s falling on deaf ears from our current political leaders.”

I don’t believe that any of our Islandgovernments are demonstrating a proper commitment to true democracy and I want to encourage all Channel Islanders to get politically active and demand much better from our governments

The people of Alderney showed at their last election that you can achieve change if you engage with the political process and are prepared to punish failing politicians at the ballot box. I hope that these meetings will inspire more Islanders to get involved in political campaigns, form political parties and start working towards the change our Islands so desperately need.

Each meeting will begin with a speech on the state of democracy in the Channel Islands by Deputy Mézec, followed by the floor being opened to the public to either contribute or ask questions. Debate is encouraged!
Guernsey’s event is being held from 7:30pm on Wednesday 25th January at the Wicked Wolf (formerly the Carlton Hotel) in St Martin.
Alderney’s event is being held from 7:30pm on Thursday 26th January at the Island Hall.
Sark’s event will take place at some point in February, with a date and venue to be confirmed.

All members of the public, media and politicians welcome.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Our last hope for democratic change in 2018


P.133 - A small step forward for democracy in Jersey



Here are the facts:

- Jersey's electoral system is an undemocratic mess.
- It needs to change.
- So far every attempt to change it has been a disaster.

Following so far?

Our system is over-complicated, with three categories of elected MP, each elected in different constituency types but who do exactly the same job as MPs, with one doing an extra job of running a Parish. Our system is unfair in that different parts of the Island receive different levels of representation. Our system produces huge numbers of uncontested elections (17 out of 49 last time), many constituencies do not attract very high caliber candidates and election turnouts are some of the poorest in Europe.

Still following? I don't blame you if your eyes are glazing over already.

If you've been paying attention to Jersey politics for any reasonable length of time, you will be well familiar with all of this and probably be sick and tired of talking about it.

We are the victim of our circumstance. Our democratic system has evolved over hundreds of years without any real democratic revolution which has forced our constitution to be underpinned by clear principles of objective democracy, and it's proven so difficult to overhaul the system to one which actually works on behalf of the people of Jersey, rather than the people in government in Jersey.

It isn't rocket science to build a proper democratic system. You just need to make sure it complies with two basic principles -

1) The system must be simple and user-friendly so any citizen can easily engage with it if they choose to.
2) The value of everyone's vote should be equal, so that the system is fair.

This isn't difficult. It isn't controversial. It certainly isn't radical. It's just basic democracy.

My policy is that Jersey should have one category of States Member, elected in equal sized constituencies where every voter has the same number of votes. Party politics would provide further accountability where people would see a direct connection between how they vote and what they get, plus it would provide a framework for ordinary Islanders to still be able to get involved in politics even if they don't aspire to stand for election.

That is what I believe in and what I will fight for.

But there is one thing getting in the way - Reality.

My preferred system just isn't going to happen any time soon. I wish it was imminent, but it's not and that is the sad fact of the matter. Anybody who does not start by accepting this clear fact is living in delusion.

For any proposal which changes how States Members are elected to be successfully implemented, it needs 25 States Members to vote for it in the Assembly. The number of us who will vote for equal votes and a simple system is probably in single digits.

The political reality is that my ideal system will not be implemented by this Assembly for the 2018 elections, and so if I want to see any improvements at all, I have to be prepared to support measures which, in my view, don't go far enough, but which represent at least a small bit of progress.

We have a choice. We can be pragmatic, accept the reality of the situation and work constructively to deliver improvements, or we can stay dogmatically tied to an idealistic ambition which stands no chance of being achieved. If you fall in the latter camp, you serve no positive purpose to politics and actually provide an unhelpful and counterproductive distraction.

Only one thing matters in Jersey politics - improving people's lives.

Politics isn't a game and it should not be a nice cosy club for those elected to stand on a soapbox and claim £800 a week for the privilege.

To waste time devoted to something which is not going to be achieved and which actually reduces the chances of more modest reforms being accepted, is a self-indulgence that I will not be involved in.

My last manifesto said - "We will support any proposal which makes our system fairer."

I have a duty to my electorate to obey that promise, and so I will vote for any proposal which makes our system fairer, even if it doesn't totally represent what I want in an ideal world.


Why does our system need change?


Nobody is satisfied with our system. When 70% of the public don’t vote, yet all polls show 70% of the public are dissatisfied and want change, it doesn’t take a genius to spot the correlation there.

With greater participation in our elections we would get better quality governments.

If elections are made tougher, only the highest calibre candidates will get elected and they will be forced to produce much more comprehensive manifestos with tangible objectives which they can be measured against at the next election.

To quote Spiderman's Uncle Ben - "with great power comes great responsibility". When the electorate begin to feel the direct consequences in society from how they voted at elections, they will treat their vote more carefully and be prepared to be far more pragmatic in their expectations and more willing to treat those in power with respect so long as they maintain their integrity, and that partnership between the people and the government will be far stronger and more constructive.

Basically, more democratic societies get better outcomes, especially in smaller jurisdictions where it's tougher to fund big projects.



Why has it been so difficult to change is thus far?


Two words - self interest.

Too many States Members over the past few decades have been prepared to implement a system that they can't be certain they'll still get elected in, or which could accidentally weaken the power of the right-wing establishment in Jersey.

Basically, they're scared that if we had a fairer voting system, they'd actually have to work harder to democratically defeat progressives at the ballot box, because when we stand on equal platforms, most Jersey people would actually find the progressives more convincing. Jersey is not as conservative a society as people often say it is. The establishment know this and know that unless they rig the system, there is a very real chance that they could lose power fairly quickly and then it will be down to the people of Jersey to determine who governs the Island.

We have a dodgy history of States Members spending days debating various hodgepodge propositions to alter the system, some representing small progress, some actually making things worse. Mainly just paying lipservice to the subject because they know they can't really keep a straight face and say "what are you talking about? The system we have works fine!"

In 2000 Sir Cecil Clothier headed a panel of locals and experts to make recommendations to reform the entire government system. The establishment of the day decided to implement all the recommendations which consolidated their power, but to ignore all of those that gave more power to the public.

In 2012 the States decided to set up an independent Electoral Commission to produce proposals for reform to be put to a referendum in 2013. At the last minute the States decided that the commission should not be independent and should actually be headed by States Members. It was hijacked by Senator Philip Bailhache who used it as a vehicle to propose the system he really wanted the whole time where more power would be concentrated in the areas the establishment do best and less in the urban and more progressive areas.

He proposed reducing the States to 42 members, with 30 Deputies elected in super-constituencies based on the Parishes, plus the 12 Parish Constables remaining as members. The effect of keeping the Constables meant that the conservative countryside remained hugely over-represented in the States. This system was non-compliant with the international guidelines on fair electoral systems (the Venice Commission).

A referendum was held and, by a very slim margin on a low turnout, what became known as “Option B” won, with that system being resoundly rejected in the parts of the Island which would suffer under that unfair system, but being outvoted by the countryside.

Then, amazingly, the States went on to reject the referendum result and refuse to implement it anyway!

Proposals came forward to ask the public to vote in a referendum on election day in 2014 on proposals for one type of States Member distributed fairly across the Parishes. The proposal was wrecked by an amendment to turn it purely into a referendum on the Constables in the States.

Since that referendum I have worked on a sub-committee of the Privileges and Procedures Committee to see if there is a way forward for reform, to make positive changes, bearing in mind that referendum result and the desires of States Members.

There isn't.

Simple as that. Two years work and it has amounted to nothing because there just isn't a system that stands the faintest chance of being accepted by the States which could improve things.

There is no dishonour in admitting defeat when you've worked hard but circumstance is against you.


What can we do now to achieve change?


There is one final chance. It's called P.133.

Deputy Andrew Lewis has lodged a proposition to have the States redebate the winning "Option B" from the 2013 referendum, however with a small change to increase representation in St Helier to undo the unfairness which helped seal Option B's initial defeat.

The States would be made up of 44 members, including the 12 Parish Constables and 32 Senators elected in large districts with 5 members each, except the St Helier districts which would have 6 members.

Here is the breakdown -


The map at the top of this blog post shows what the Island will look like.

The addition of two extra members for St Helier is a significant improvement for voter equity in contrast to the original Option B which left St Helier underrepresented -




Under the current electoral system, St Helier represents just 22% of the Assembly despite making up 34% of the population. Under this Option B+ system, St Helier will make up 30% of the Assembly. That is significant progress.

The proposal is still not compliant with the Venice Commission, but it is more proportionate than the current system.

District
Population
Senators
Constables
Residents per S + C
Deviation
St Brelade + St Peter
16,035
5
2
2290.714286
-2%
St Ouen + St Mary + St John + St Lawrence
14,610
5
4
1623.333333
-30%
St Helier North
18,070
6
0.523904787
2769.813569
19%
St Helier South
16,421
6
0.476095213
2535.632887
9%
St Saviour + Trinity
17,223
5
2
2460.428571
6%
St Clement + Grouville + St Martin
18,439
5
3
2304.875
-1%
Total
32
12
2330.799608
Total members
44



Let me be clear - this proposition does not represent what I want in an ideal world.

If I wanted this proposition to be perfect, I would remove the 12 Constables and have every district elect 7 Senators. That would provide complete equality.


But here are it's virtues -


- It provides more proportionate representation than the current system

- It is far simpler than the current system, with 32 members elected equally and 12 in Parishes, rather than 3 types of member, only 8 elected equally.

- It reduces the number of States Members, with the countryside taking most of this burden.

- It gives voters a much more equal number of votes, either 6 or 7, rather than the current system where some have one vote for Deputy, some with 4.

- It will require all candidates to knock on doors if they want to get elected and reduce their reliance on the mainstream media.

- The 32 active members will be elected in tough elections on an equal basis, so will each have a mandate for their policies.

- It broadly reflects the result of the 2013 referendum, with a nice concession to those who voted against it, and might restore a bit of faith in politicians for listening second time round.


But most importantly - it actually stands a chance of winning in the States.

Many sitting States Members campaigned and voted for Option B in 2013 and voted for it when it came to the States. Many Option A campaigners were against it then, but are now of the view that this slight alteration does represent progress and could be tolerated. If any proposition stands a chance of succeeding, it is only this one. No other one will and successful amendments will weaken it's viability.

I also believe that the exercise of overhauling the electoral system once will show the public that there is nothing to be feared from change and will make us all more tolerant to the idea of the electoral system not being set in stone and subject to regular review. I believe that soon enough there would be a successful proposal to move to one type of member in equal constituencies, with a majority of States Members prepared to accept it.

I promised I would vote for progress. This is progress. I have to vote for it.

I want much more and will not settle for this as a final solution. But if it's a choice of no progress, or this small step in the right direction, the answer is obvious. Progress must prevail.

This is exciting and we should be prepared to grasp the opportunity with both hands. If we don't, we face going into the 2018 election with the same system and the same inevitable outcome. That is not acceptable.

Please lobby your States Members to vote for progress and support P.133.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Kit Ashton on Climate change, Trump and bigotry - a guest post


I'm delighted to publish for the record the recent letter to the paper written by local democracy and Jèrriais campaigner Kit Ashton.

He tackles climate change, Donald Trump and Jersey-based racism, and what progressives need to do to respond.

We'll be discussing some of these subjects at our next 'Pint and Politics' event upstairs at the Green Rooster at 8pm on 9th December. Come join us for a discussion on the "Trump Effect" and how progressives should respond. We'll have guest speakers and live music. The last event was really good fun so hopefully this one will be even better!


____________________________________________________________________________


Dear Editor

I write regarding Bram Wanrooij’s perceptive column on the election of Donald Trump and the rise of the populist far right.

Mr. Wanrooij makes some excellent points, and the questions he raises are now paramount not just for abstract debate – but – and I mean this with no intention of alarmism – for the continuing existence of humanity as we know it.

Beyond Trump’s arrogant, bullying manner; beyond his ignorant, fascist, nepotistic, and (partly) anti-Semitic cabinet; beyond his disgusting approval of racism, misogyny, torture, murdering the families of whoever he decides is a terrorist, pre-emptive nuclear strikes, and authoritarian autocracy; there is one policy position that should strike dread in every citizen of Earth: his stance on climate change.

On the same day Trump was elected, the World Meteorological Organization delivered its latest report, which reconfirmed the urgency for action: climate change is happening, it’s devastating, and humans are responsible. The evidence (if you’re a person who will actually weigh up evidence) is compelling.

Yet Trump is planning to defy 97% of peer-reviewed climate scientists, billions of global citizens, and the painstaking agreement of nearly 200 nation states, by tearing up the Paris Agreement, which may have mitigated the worst effects of environmental chaos. This is very bad news indeed.

So what can we do in little old Jersey?

First, I believe we should get our own house in order – Jersey’s slow progress on our carbon footprint, our dependence on petrol cars, indulgent lifestyles, over-population, and our woeful food security must be addressed. This mean us all mucking in.

Second, we can pressure our politicians to act - and to influence Trump’s position where possible.

Third, we need a cohesive community response, public debate, and a positive alternative to the politics of hate, division, and of course climate denial. This has already begun - with Jersey in Transition, Reform Jersey, and other helpful groups.

Finally, the good people of Jersey must remember our history and not shrink back from confronting and calling out the far-right for what it is. Trump’s bigoted allies and supporters are amongst us, though they mostly hide in euphemistic language.

Indeed, judging by his consistent, cringeworthy endorsement of all things Trump on social media, one such person even writes a column for the JEP… I’ll give readers a clue: he’s not from Jersey, he’s got a few quid, and his name is not Bram Wanrooij.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

A Day in the Life of Deputy Sam Mézec - Town Crier


This month's edition of the St Helier Parish magazine, the Town Crier, features an article about what I get up to on the job!

It's available in outlets across town, but here's a copy for those who miss it.


________________________________________________________________________________




So what is a typical day in the life of a States Member actually like? Well, the short answer is that there is no such thing!

I guess that is partly why I enjoy being a Deputy, because there is always a new challenge on the horizon or a new controversy brewing which must be dealt with, which keeps the job exciting and keeps me motivated.

But the one thing which is the same for me every day is that I get to start the morning by walking through the heart of St Helier No. 2 where I live, through the Millennium Park and get to stop and chat to constituents, often friendly words of support but also keeping me up to date on the local issues in the area.

The park is always packed with people enjoying the open space, playing football or taking their kids to the playground. I will continue to put pressure on the Council of Ministers to keep their promise to improve life in St Helier by purchasing the Gas Works site so we can extend the park and provide more open space in the most densely populated part of town.

The most important duty of a States Member is to attend debates in the States Assembly and represent our constituents. I think I’m a very active States Member in the chamber. I regularly bring propositions to try to achieve my manifesto pledges and ask more questions than most other States Members put together to hold the government to account. I think the majority of people in St Helier are dissatisfied with how the Council of Ministers is letting our Island down, so I try to give a voice to those people who want to see the government of Jersey deliver something much better than we are currently getting.

Sometimes it can feel like banging your head against a brick wall, but I feel optimistic that one day in the future we will have a proper States Assembly which will genuinely work in the interests of ordinary Islanders!

On a day when the States is not sitting, I’ll probably be out and about in town scurrying between different States departments trying to help people who are having difficulties, or working with the Education and Home Affairs Scrutiny Panel of which I’m a member.

I meet several times a week with my colleagues in Reform Jersey, Deputies Geoff Southern and Montfort Tadier. We work very closely together and I think we’re a great team and are much more effective than we would otherwise be if we were independent members.

Politics is serious business and it can easily grind you down if you don’t make sure you keep enough time free to enjoy yourself. So even though this job dominates my life (and I’m not complaining!) I keep sane by playing guitar in a band and spending time with my friends and family.

Monday, 17 October 2016

My submission to the States Members Remuneration Beyond 2018 review



DEPUTY SAM MÉZEC – CHAIRMAN OF REFORM JERSEY

SUBMISSION TO THE ‘STATES MEMBERS REMUNERATION BEYOND 2018’ REVIEW

17TH OCTOBER 2016





Dear Mr. J. Mills CBE and SMRRB Members,



The topic of the level of remuneration which Jersey’s elected politicians receive is one which usually provokes emotive and strongly held views on all sides of the debate. As a sitting States Member (and one who hopes to continue beyond 2018) I have a direct financial interest in what the basic rate of pay is. I have been careful at election hustings and in media interviews to steer clear of that particular element of the remuneration debate which I have stated should not be a matter for politicians, and so in this submission I wish to make no recommendations on that particular element of this consultation.

However, I will say that I believe the decision taken by the SMRRB in recent years to avoid recommending pay increases during an electoral term has been an eminently sensible decision which I hope over time will be appreciated by the public, as many people I speak to appear to be unaware of this decision and believe that the previous arrangement of pay rises every year is still in place.

Instead I wish to focus on the arguments surrounding the pay structure and, specifically, differential pay.



Starting principles

The SMRRB has in its terms of reference the inclusion of two points of principle which I wholeheartedly agree with. Namely that the rate of pay should be at a level which allows the broadest possible spectrum of persons to be able to serve as States Members and sustain a decent standard of living, along with the important consideration of the current fiscal climate and public finances.

However, I am strongly of the view that a fundamental consideration in determining the pay structure for members of Jersey’s parliament should be that the structure should complement a system designed to uphold basic principles of democracy.

That may sound a bit vacuous or clichéd, but I will try to find a coherent way to explain what I mean.

Serving as a member of a parliament is a privilege and a huge responsibility, and it is one which is only temporary so long as our constituents continue to have faith in us to represent them. It is essential that those in that position be people who are held to an incredibly high standard with regards to their behaviour and performance in that role.

The States Members’ Code of Conduct states that members must observe the following principles of conduct whilst in office – Selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. (Otherwise known as the ‘Nolan Principles of Public Life’)

Whatever our pay structure may be, it must not be one which could inadvertently lead to situations where there is a financial incentive to disobey these principles.

Members must always be able to act according to those principles without any consideration of what that could mean for their personal finances.

Whilst it is true to say that most people involved in politics in Jersey are in it for the right reasons and act with integrity throughout their political careers, it is a fact that corruption exists in political systems around the world and we must be vigilant to ensure that it is not allowed to creep into our own system by taking a complacent approach to these issues.



Non-remuneration related factors to consider

It must be said that there are a whole host of factors which affect people’s decision on whether to stand for election or not, or whether or not to seek ministerial office, which have nothing to do with how they will be remunerated for it. In fact, in many cases the remuneration is actually a very unimportant consideration to them.

The most significant of these factors is that Jersey lacks a proper party political system which would otherwise offer support and training for prospective candidates, as well as a selection process which aims to target every constituency for a contested election.

In other jurisdictions, established political parties contest power through elections and this gives their entire process a completely different dynamic to what we have in Jersey.

Here, somebody who wants to serve their community but who has no idea how the practical side of elections work has a mountain to climb before they can be considered a viable candidate. This can be daunting and I am certain will put off a lot of people from putting their name forward for election. A party system would provide the infrastructure to enable more people to get into electoral politics and stand for election.

Another factor is that we have a broken electoral system.

The mechanism by which our States Members are elected is overcomplicated, gerrymandered and has a propensity to lead to uncontested elections. People are less likely to challenge a sitting States Member if they are perceived to have a ‘safe seat’. It also leads to ‘carpet bagging’ i.e. candidates chasing the seats they are mostly likely to get elected in so they can pursue their political agenda, rather than stand in a place they know well and have a connection to.

The final factor is that the level of support provided for States Members varies on what category of member you are or what office you hold.

An ordinary backbencher has no dedicated office facilities, no support staff and no researchers. They have to do it all themselves. Ministers have personal assistants and Chief Executives for their departments and the Constables have their office and staff at their Parish Halls.

These are three serious factors which have a huge impact on who ends up standing for election and how Ministerial roles end up filled. The salary structure can never rectify the problems caused by these deficiencies and so the SMRRB should not attempt to mitigate those failings by just proposing pay increases as a solution.

Of course these factors do not fall within your terms of reference to make recommendations on, but I do not think it would be wrong to at least make a passing comment on the effect these issues have on our political process and how it makes your job more difficult.



Differential Pay

It is certainly true to say that our States Assembly is unusual in contrast to most parliaments around the world in that all elected members receive exactly the same remuneration, irrespective of what other offices they hold. But then we are an unusual Island!

There is a logical argument that says that salary rates should reflect the level of responsibility somebody has, as is common in many other professions. However, the peculiarities of our democratic system must be taken into account and the other factors which will affect how those in positions of responsibility act should be considered.

A rate of pay which reflects the level of responsibility a member has will not necessarily reflect how hard that member actually works.

As I said previously, backbenchers do not have any administrative support whereas Ministers do, which can make their job less onerous. It is also the case that some departments do not involve as much work as others. The clear example here is the Housing Minister who no longer actually has a department to run as it has been incorporated into Andium Homes Ltd. Is it fair to pay the Housing Minister more than a hardworking backbencher and the same as, for example, the Health Minister?

The point must also be made that if this were implemented in the current Assembly, the people who would see the biggest increases in pay are those members who are actually already the wealthiest, whereas those who would see the biggest drop are those who are of the most modest means.

Another argument that is often made is that differential pay rates (i.e. a higher pay rate for Ministers) would encourage more high calibre candidates to come forward for those positions.

I believe this is a flawed argument because it does not take into account that a person standing for election as an independent candidate has no way of being sure that they will end up becoming a Minister once elected.

The only way that a candidate could know that if they were elected they would be appointed as a Minister (and get the pay rise that comes with it) is if they forged a deal behind the scenes before an election with the person most likely to become Chief Minister in return for mutual support. Otherwise they would run the risk of standing for election, being isolated from the Council of Ministers for not sharing their plans for government (despite their personal credentials) and then have to spend 4 years in office on a lower rate of pay than they anticipated, or resign and cause a by-election.

This would encourage a quasi-party system to exist only behind the scenes and not included on the ballot paper for voters to judge. This cannot be conducive to having an open and honest political system where political alliances are open and known by voters.



“Legalised Bribery”

I think that the strongest argument against differential pay has come about since October 2014 when changes to the States of Jersey Law 2005 came into force which introduced the doctrine of ‘collective responsibility’ to our system and gave the Chief Minister the power to fire Ministers.

If Ministers were entitled to a higher rate of pay, the Chief Minister would not only have the power to dismiss someone from Ministerial office, but would also therefore have the power to cut their pay.

This could very easily be used as a political tool to discourage Ministers from speaking their minds when they believe other Ministers are making mistakes.

If members are elected as ‘independent’ candidates, then it is wrong to provide a framework to allow the Chief Minister to essentially be able to bribe them into doing what he wants.

Many States Members are not independently wealthy and rely solely on their States Members salary to provide for their families. If one of these members were a Minister who received a higher rate of pay and had a difficult family circumstance where they might have to spend a lot of their income on professional care for a relative, or perhaps they had multiple children who were struggling with the cost of higher education, that extra supplementation to their salary would be an incredibly difficult thing to lose over a point of political principle and they would have a clear financial incentive to put their integrity aside so they could continue in office and receive the extra income.

In previous States debates and media interviews I have described this concept as “legalised bribery”.

I accept this could be seen as an extreme way to describe this situation, but I consider it to be so incredibly dangerous for our democracy that it must be treated very seriously.

Having served as a States Member for two and a half years, both before and after collective responsibility was introduced, I have seen first-hand how the Council of Ministers works and know that it is not a slick operation and that there are Ministers who are incredibly calculating and would know full well that this could be a tool that could be abused to serve the political agendas of the most senior Ministers.



Fiscal climate and public finances

Lastly, and briefly, it must be said that it is insensitive to propose pay rises for Ministers who have spent the best part of two years cutting public services and support for some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society.

To make the case that a Minister (like the Social Security Minister), who has just cut £600 a year in support for disabled Islanders, should get a pay rise because the job entails a lot of responsibility will not be an argument that will go down well with the public.

Most Islanders are finding it increasingly hard to get by. The bottom quintile of earners in the Island have seen the value of their incomes reduced by 17% over the past five years.

This is quite possibly the worst time in the history of the SMRRB to contemplate a pay rise for those Ministers.



Q1: Do you agree that the Chief Minister should receive a supplement above the salary for a States member?

For the reasons I have stated, I do not believe that this should actively be pursued now.

I will however concede that the arguments that apply for how the supplements could be used as a form of bribery for Ministers do not apply for the Chief Minister.

As this is a role which is only accountable to the entire States Assembly and cannot be summarily dismissed by one member, it is clear that a pay increase will not have a potential impact on that individual’s attitude towards the job.



Q2: Do you agree with our proposal that the supplement for the role of Chief Minister should initially be set at 15% of States members’ salary (which at the current salary level would be £7,000)?

I see no logic why that particular figure should be used instead of any other.

I am also concerned by the use of the word “initially”. How long would it remain at that rate and would this be a slippery slope?



Q3: Do you agree with our proposal that in principle differentiation should apply to ministers and chairmen of scrutiny panels once the economic climate has improved?

No and I believe that this would be incredibly damaging for our democracy, for the reasons I have stated.

The economic climate has little to do with it. There may well be a case for differential pay when Jersey has a reformed electoral system and party politics, but whilst we retain so many deficiencies in our democratic system, this can only serve to make things worse.



Q4: Should States members’ salary (£46,600) be held level during the 2018-22 period?

I make no comments on this question, for the reasons stated at the beginning of my submission.




Thank you for taking the time to read my submission. I would be happy to make myself available to discuss any subsequent issues you may wish to explore in person.





Kind regards,
Sam Mézec
Deputy for St Helier No. 2
Chairman of Reform Jersey