Scrutiny has a chance to make a mark
Thursday 7th March 2013, 2:00PM GMT.
AN ANNOUNCEMENT by the Scrutiny Committee that it is to hold what it calls a swift review into the AFR Advocates affair is an opportunity for one of the island’s two public watchdogs to demonstrate whether it has any bite.
Since 2004, when the machinery of government changed, there has been no independent review of what government does or does not do.
Prior to that, there was at least financial oversight via the States Audit Commission, which was free from government pressure and was able to speak as it found – which led to it being closed down.
As it said in its final report, ‘It is a crucial element of scrutiny that those charged with the scrutiny role can be (and can be seen to be) independent of the interests of those it is scrutinising. The commission is aware that the intended constitution of the new Public Accounts Committee comprises five States members and four non-States members. Hence, the commission believes that the… committee faces an enormous challenge to uphold and demonstrate its independence of action.’
The States Scrutiny Committee, set up in 2004, is mandated to scrutinise and challenge the effectiveness of departments, including the Policy Council, in their policy development, policy implementation and service delivery.
In practice, however, it is probably fair to say that islanders do not regard it as particularly effective in holding government to account.
Will that change following the review of the AFR case? Scrutiny has an opportunity to set a benchmark for these things – but it will need to be robust.
Politicians and their officials quizzed individually and in public and being required to answer some searching questions would go a long way to restoring confidence in the system almost irrespective of what the subsequent findings are.
With members of the same club supposedly taking each other to task, independence is always going to be a struggle.
Yet if this Scrutiny hearing can introduce a frisson into being called to appear in front of the panel – not exactly a fear factor, but recognition that a hearing is not a soft option – then it will have achieved something.
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Voice for Victims is a campaign aimed at promoting the rights of those affected by child sexual abuse.