Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Reply to ex-Senator Reg Jeune on the dual role of the Bailiff

I have written a letter to the JEP following a contribution to the debate on the dual role of the Bailiff from ex-Senator Reg Jeune, which can be read here - http://www.thisisjersey.com/news/comment/2013/12/17/stop-trying-to-change-the-roles-of-the-bailiff/

But before that, a brief comment on this editorial - http://www.thisisjersey.com/news/comment/2013/12/17/knowing-what-we-vote-for/

In particular the line - "It is also a fair bet that the worst elements of the blogging community will make it the dirtiest and most unpleasant election in memory."

This is probably one of the most desperate and ignorant comments in a JEP editorial I've seen since.... well, not that long ago, to be frank.

There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to suspect that Jersey bloggers will do anything other than provide their own commentary, which people may or may not agree with, and focus on issues that may not be of interest to everyone, but most importantly, they will make sure they scrutinise the mainstream media at every opportunity. They have not done anything so far to make anyone suspect they are ready to ruin an election.

I was out of the island during the whole of the 2011 election campaign. I had to vote by post and rely on whatever information I could find online to make up my mind on who to vote for.

The blogs in Jersey were far more useful than the Jersey Evening Post. Without them, I would have been left in the dark.

They provided video interviews with any candidate that was willing to do one. They videoed parts of the election hustings. They offered alternative ways of looking at things.

The JEP's role in the election was pretty much to make sure Philip Bailhache was on the front page of the JEP everyday. Of the articles of theirs I read online, it was Philip Bailhache who was almost always quoted, to the exclusion of other candidates.

Their coverage of the election was appallingly biased and they are in absolutely no position whatsoever to criticise other forums for their contributions.

Especially when they also said this - "Voters will be further confused by a polling day referendum on the future of the Constables"

Actually, the referendum on the Constables has been dismissed by PPC. The JEP should know this, but they didn't send any reporters to the PPC meeting a few weeks ago to find out (I know because I was there and was the only member of the public). The referendum will be on the Clothier reforms as a whole, which includes Deputies distributions and the future of the Senators.

The JEP getting their facts wrong again. Shock horror!



Dear Editor,

I write with reference to the letter from ex-Senator Reg Jeune titled ‘Stop trying to change the roles of the Bailiff”. In his letter he rather oddly claims that the dual role of the Bailiff is part of our shared Jersey heritage. I was born and raised in this Island and could not disagree more. It is not our archaic political institutions that make me feel a Jersey person. Jersey is defined by its culture, its people and its beautiful beaches and countryside. Politics will always be something that individuals disagree on.

The implication behind saying that the dual role of the Bailiff is an integral part of Jersey is that, if you believe in modernising our institutions, you are somehow “anti-Jersey”. Actually I and many others are in favour of modernising our Islands democracy precisely because we care about Jersey. We are not enemies of Jersey tradition.

Mr Jeune wants us to believe it is impossible for a Bailiff to be anything other than a paragon of virtue and cites his 34 years as a States Member as good qualification for saying so. Though it is odd that he seemingly suffers from amnesia when it comes to the late former Deputy Bailiff (and therefore Deputy President of the States of Jersey) Vernon Tomes who had to be sacked from his position for under-performing as Deputy Bailiff. He then went on to top the next Senatorial elections.

This makes the point quite nicely. It is entirely possible for an individual to make an excellent judge, but not a very good Speaker of the States, or vice versa.

Mr Jeune selectively cites the Kilbrandon Report. He neglects to tell the readers that the Kilbrandon Report was written over 40 years ago and had a very wide scope of things it was tasked with analysing, in which Jersey’s constitution was a very tiny part. Contrast this with the very recent Carswell Report, which had the very concise purpose of examining the role of the Crown Officers in Jersey. The Carswell Report very clearly stated that it is not appropriate practice in the 21st Century for a judge to also be speaker of a parliament. This was the same conclusion that the Clothier Report came to as well. The writing is on the wall.

Whilst Guernsey may also have a Bailiff who presides over their States, Mr Jeune did not tell the readers that our other sister island, Sark, has recently been compelled by the UK government to modernise and they have split the dual role of their Seneschal. Do we really want to have to wait for the UK to compel us too, when we are capable of making the change ourselves?

The Isle of Man and Gibraltar also have elected speakers, and their society has not crumbled before their eyes.

I'm reminded of the lyrics in Bob Dylan's classic The Times They Are a Changin' “you better start swimming or you'll sink like a stone”. The world is totally different to what it was like when Reg Jeune was a politician. If Jersey is to remain an internationally respected and trusted jurisdiction, we should not only keep up with the times, but we should try to be ahead of the times. The dual role of the Bailiff cannot continue, and now is the time to modernise, as Sir Michael Birt is about to retire.

If Jersey traditions are so important for our heritage, why are some people so scared of creating new traditions?

Sam Mezec - Chairman of Reform Jersey

Thursday, 12 December 2013

More Powers for the Chief Minister? Think Again!

Following a speech the Chief Minister Ian Gorst gave today to the Institute of Directors, Channel TV have reported on a few of the things he has said -

"Jersey's Chief Minister is keen to push through a raft of changes to the format of government early in the new year. 
Senator Ian Gorst wants his position to have more power, and to be able to freely shuffle Ministers and portfolios around. 
He also said if Senator Philip Ozouf's proposition - to cut the number of States members to 44 and scrap Senators - isn't voted through, further action will need to be taken. 
"If that [Senator Ozouf's proposition] is not approved, then we need to consider how we're going to deliver electoral reform. It becomes apparent to me that actually, this is one of those times when we need to call for a Royal Commission." 
Senator Gorst also said he is "undecided" as to whether he will stand for election next year.
But, he said, if he does and is voted in, he will stand for Chief Minister once again."

I feel that these statements cannot be left without comment.

So let's go through them one at a time -

"Senator Ian Gorst wants his position to have more power, and to be able to freely shuffle Ministers and portfolios around."

In theory an excellent idea. If we want an effective cabinet style government, we need cabinets where all Ministers are on the same page as each and all put into the best positions to match their expertise, working towards a common goal that they all believe in.

A conglomeration cabinet (which is what we have now) will inevitably end up with certain members trying to pull in one direction where others go another.

When each Minister is elected individually, it's entirely possible for two Ministers to get elected who hold opposite views on a particular subject. The obvious example is a Housing Minister who wants to build houses in one particular place on the island to tackle a shortage there, and a Planning and Environment Minister who absolutely opposes houses being built there.

But hang on, who picked the Chief Minister? The States did. Not the people of Jersey. No Chief Minister we have ever had has also been the poll-topper in a Senatorial election, and Senators are likely to be abolished sometime son. So the electorate are entirely powerless when it comes to deciding who the Chief Minister is.

If the Chief Minister is to head a government of his or her choosing, to take the island in a direction in line with a particular vision, they absolutely must be endorsed by the public.

I cannot accept any enhancement of the Chief Minister's powers, without also an enhancement of his or her democratic mandate.

I'm suggesting that if the Chief Minister is to gain more power, it should be a directly elected position.

After the general election, the States Members should nominate their preferred candidates for Chief Minister, which then goes to a public vote after a month of campaigning. To get on the ballot, the States Member must be nominated by a majority of States Members, with States Members allowed to nominate more than once. That way the public will not be able to vote in a candidate who will not be able to command the support of the States Assembly and just lose a vote of no confidence at the first hurdle, leading to a constitutional crisis.

Ideally, I believe in a party system, whereby the leader of the biggest party after an election becomes Chief Minister. At the election, the public would vote for their local party candidate, knowing that it is not just a vote for the candidate, but also a vote for that party's leader to become Chief Minister.

But we don't have parties yet, so in the meantime I think that there should be a cabinet government, led by a Chief Minister elected in a sort of presidential style election.

"He also said if Senator Philip Ozouf's proposition - to cut the number of States members to 44 and scrap Senators - isn't voted through, further action will need to be taken."

Yes, very true. That action will be a referendum on the Clothier recommendations, as the States has already decided. Is his amnesia on this an indication that he will vote against the enabling legislation for the referendum? That's genuinely something to worry about.

" "If that [Senator Ozouf's proposition] is not approved, then we need to consider how we're going to deliver electoral reform. It becomes apparent to me that actually, this is one of those times when we need to call for a Royal Commission." "

You just couldn't make this sort of thing up.

Does he really think that a Royal Commission will come up with anything other than what has already been suggested in the past?

Any independent commission will just come up with either what the Clothier report suggested, or Option A.

On both occasions, the powers that be have rejected those. What will be different from a Royal Commission?

Senator Gorst supports keeping the Constables in the States. No Royal Commission would ever suggest keeping the Constables in the States. What will he do when a commission comes back with a suggestion that doesn't include the Constables? If he says he'll accept their findings, well why not just accept the findings we have already had from the Clothier commission?

Also, no Royal Commission will ever suggest anything that isn't in line with the Venice Commission's criteria. So whatever they suggest will not retain the overwhelming bias of the current system (and the proposed Option B) to the country Parishes at the expense of the urban ones. But if he is happy to accept their findings if they include this principle, why does he persistently vote against any proposition that tries to achieve fairness for St Helier? It's sheer hypocrisy, nothing less.

"Senator Gorst also said he is "undecided" as to whether he will stand for election next year. But, he said, if he does and is voted in, he will stand for Chief Minister once again."

It's a bit annoying that Jersey politicians always seem to be "undecided" about whether they will stand again. But I hope he does stand again. We've never had the chance to pass a verdict on the performance of a Chief Minister, and we need that opportunity.

I think Ian Gorst's premiership can be summed up in one word - weak.

Perhaps I'll go into more depth on why I think that in another blog post.

In the meantime, perhaps readers could leave comments with their verdict on Ian Gorst as a Chief Minister so far in this term?


Reply to my letter to the Chief Minister on his visit to Israel

Below is the letter I received back from the Chief Minister after I sent him this letter -

A few things - 

He does mention that Shimon Peres is a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. This is true, but let's not forget that he was the co-recipient with General Yitzhak Rabin, who was responsible for the Sabra and Chatila massacre (Google it if you want to read something absolutely horrifying). And of course, President Obama is also a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, despite him contributing absolutely nothing to world peace whatsoever. He still sends drones over Afghanistan and Pakistan that kill innocent people, he has not closed Guantanamo Bay and he has fanned the flames in Israel by making outrageous declarations that Israel should be able to keep Jerusalem in any peace settlement, despite this being a non-negotiable point for the Palestinians.

Unfortunately, the Nobel Peace Prize has lost any credibility it may once have had.

I am also thinking it could be worth starting some sort of "Palestinian Solidarity" group, or even a branch of the UK Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

I have a lot on my plate at the moment though, so that may be something to think about in the new year.


Dear Sam

Thank you for your message.

Jersey’s external relations policy is aligned with the overall British foreign policy approach to Israel. This is a policy of constructive engagement, with the ultimate goal of securing a universally recognised Israel living alongside a sovereign and viable Palestinian state, achieved through direct negotiations between the parties.

Shimon Peres also supports this position, having stated recently that "the peace process with the Palestinians has an agreed beginning and an agreed solution: two states for two nations." As you may be aware, the Israeli President was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to create peace in the Middle East. He believes that peace is not just a strategic choice, but a moral call which stems from Israel’s heritage and that now is the time to renew the peace process.

Whilst the human rights situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories continues to be of concern, we support the British position of promoting security, prosperity and regional peace through partnership with Israel. These priorities are mutually supportive and the interests of Jersey and the UK are indivisible from our enduring values.

I trust that this response helps in understanding our overall approach.

Kind Regards

Senator Ian Gorst

Chief Minister of Jersey

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Open letter to the Chief Minister on his visit to Israel.

Dear Chief Minister,

I see from the news today that you are currently in Israel for a conference. A picture is circulating on Twitter of yourself shaking hands with President Shimon Peres.

This comes just a few days after you paid tribute to Nelson Mandela for fighting his entire life against Apartheid and racial discrimination.

I first just want to draw attention to a quote from Nelson Mandela, in a memo that he sent to the American journalist Thomas Friedman - "Apartheid is a crime against humanity. Israel has deprived millions of Palestinians of their liberty and property. It has perpetuated a system of gross racial discrimination and inequality. It has systematically incarcerated and tortured thousands of Palestinians, contrary to the rules of international law. It has, in particular, waged a war against a civilian population, in particular children."

Today Israel commits crimes against the Palestinian people which are almost identical (and in many cases much worse) to the crimes that were committed against non-whites in South Africa.

Israel occupies the West Bank and runs a blockade of the Gaza Strip which is almost universally condemned by the international community. Military operations are regularly conducted by Israel which almost always end up killing a significant and disproportional number of civilians. Israel is in breach of more United Nations resolutions than all of the other countries of the world combined.

I am sure you are not a supporter of any of these things.

Of course it is a positive thing for Jersey politicians to go around the world to encourage businesses in other countries to set up in Jersey, including Israeli businesses. But it is our duty as a society that values freedom, equality and democracy, not to enable other countries to commit crimes against humanity.

The reason why the Boycott Movement campaign was so important to South Africa, was because it forced the government to accept that the system was not sustainable in the long run and that it could not remain profitable so long as it was the cause of discouraging businesses to engage with South Africa.

Likewise, the BDS campaign for Israel is equally as important. So long as Israel's oppression and occupation of the Palestinians remains financially viable it will continue and crimes will keep on being committed. The occupation will crumble when it becomes both politically and financially unsustainable.

So I am concerned when I see politicians visiting Israel, and I want reassurance that absolutely nothing is being done that could risk Jersey engaging and, by extension, assisting with the occupation.

So I want to ask you; what precautions do you and your colleagues take when in Israel, to ensure that you are not encouraging any business that is either based on occupied territory, or profits from the occupation, to forge links with Jersey? When visiting Israel (and Arab countries with very poor human rights records) do Jersey politicians exercise any moral judgement when making decisions on who to speak to, and how to speak to them?

One specific example of something that I thought was unacceptable was when Senator Maclean visited Israel in March this year and met with the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a city which is half occupied, and it's occupation is one of the biggest obstacles to peace in the region because the Palestinians want East Jerusalem as their capital. The occupation of Jerusalem is considered illegal under international law, and therefore the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem is an illegitimate position. Part of that role involves administering an illegal occupation which has seen thousands of Palestinians thrown out of their homes with no compensation, to be replaced by Jewish settlers.

Were I the Economic Development Minister, I would seriously have considered not meeting the Deputy Mayor.

I hope you will take the time to read this email and answer my questions on how you and your colleagues consider these factors when making decisions.

As long as Jersey is taking up more responsibilities for it's international identity, it is important for the government to take a moral stance on various issues and make it clear that Jersey will not inadvertently assist any government that is abusing human rights.

"Our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians." - Nelson Mandela

Kind Regards,
Sam Mézec

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

The Final Stand for the Gerrymander and an Opportunity on the Role of the Bailiff

This week is probably not the best of weeks to talk about electoral reform, given that the 2014 Budget is due to be debated, along with amendments. But it will be inescapable that once that is concluded, the States are set to move straight on to debating Senator Ozouf's reform option, and there has also been the interesting development of the Bailiff announcing his retirement.

Time for Carswell

The announcement that the Bailiff will retire on the 24th January 2015 presents the States with an opportunity.

So far there have been two independent reports done into Jersey's government, the Clothier and Carswell Reports, both headed by experienced judges. They both came to the conclusion that the Bailiff should not continue as President of the States of Jersey, but solely remain the head of the judiciary.

But as happens so often in Jersey, their recommendations have been kicked into the long grass, with many hoping they will simply be forgotten about. This won't happen. The principles in both reports are right and the shadow that is hanging over the States will not disappear until their reforms are enacted.

You can understand the difficulty to a degree. It is inevitable that if the Bailiff is to lose his role in the States, it will be seen as a judgement on how he, as an individual, was performing, and will inevitably be able to be argued against if the Bailiff at the time happens to be a good Speaker. Rightly or wrongly, the Bailiff is a position that is respected and revered in Jersey and so to seemingly want to tear the job apart isn't a politically easy point of view to have.

But the writing is on the wall, and most States Members know this. I even hear whispers that at the top levels of government there are people who accept it as inevitable but simply want to wait for the right time.

And what better time is there than at the end of a Bailiffs tenure?

For as little fuss as possible to be caused and to provide for a seamless transition, the most appropriate time to change the role of the Bailiff is going to be in January 2015. If Sir Michael can retire on the 24th January, then a new elected President of the States of Jersey can be sworn in on the 25th, and the new Bailiff can assume to responsibilities of head of the judiciary.

Sir Michael Birt will have only been Bailiff for 5 and a half years when he retires, which is actually a relatively short time compared to his predecessors. For all we know, his successor could be in office for well over a decade.

So now is an opportunity that must be grasped. I and Reform Jersey will be lobbying to encourage the States to set a timetable for this transition to having an elected President of the States of Jersey.

The Great Gerrymander

This is the last chance if there is to be any reform before the next election. By next year it will be too late to get all the changes implemented and the legislation amended. So it will be interesting to see if Philip Ozouf's reform proposal benefits from it being the last opportunity.

His reform proposal can be read here - http://www.statesassembly.gov.je/AssemblyPropositions/2013/P.093-2013.pdf

It is essentially Option B, with the minor change of one extra Deputy for each St Helier district.

I've already dismantled Senator Ozouf's argument in this blog post - http://sammezec.blogspot.com/2013/07/senator-ozoufs-reform-proposal.html

It is clear that this reform proposal is an insult to the people of St Helier. Senator Ozouf has vaguely accepted that Option B was unfair to St Helier, so his attempt to address that is to give each district just one extra Deputy, which doesn't even come close to giving the Parish equality.

Anything less than equality is unacceptable.

His solution to a system that is very unfair to St Helier is offer a system that is just quite unfair, and it should be rejected as the pathetic gerrymander that it is.

It is strange that Senator Ozouf delayed his proposition until today when he acknowledged that it stood no chance of winning when the rest of the reform proposals were debated last month. But it has ended up being debated literally straight after the 2014 Budget, which presumably (and rightly) will have preoccupied Senator Ozouf's time over the past few weeks. It will be interesting to see how much preparation he has done for this proposal.

It would be absurd for the States to adopt this reform when they have already agreed to hold a referendum on the Clothier reforms next year. Hopefully a majority of States Members will see through this proposal for what it is - an attempt to consolidate power and keep St Helier on it's knees.

He will need 26 States Members to vote this through. I can't see it happening. Good riddance.