Frankenstein a creation of ‘old-fashioned compromise’, by Nick Mann
Tuesday 20th August 2013, 5:00PM BST.
GUERNSEY’S ‘Frankenstein’ government has fast become the focus of a strand of discontent among politicians.
It was a term used last week by Deputy Laurie Queripel, but seems apt when considering what has happened since the ham-fisted reforms that came in 2004.
‘The attempt to graft, add on, clearly incompatible parts to our consensus system, including top-down diktats, central control and an odd take on the corporate working ethos, is causing confusion, uncertainty, dual lines of reporting, conflict etc.,’ said Deputy Queripel in describing the changes.
Now for those who instigated the recent bout of changes within the structure of the civil service – the focus of the Bebb requete – it was all about creating accountability and clear lines of reporting, with chief officers becoming responsible to the chief executive.
Those who cry foul about that focus their ire on how it does not match the political structure above it, the committee system so loved and derided in equal measure.
They talk about the mismatch and lack of control boards have over their own departments, with projects of central government taking priority.
When those projects are about ensuring the States is running efficiently, surely there can be little argument – a healthy tension, perhaps?
But what has unravelled is a sense of distrust – with the handling of the new States computer system, SAP, a prime example for those who do not like control from the centre.
Deputy Matt Fallaize is one of a team of politicians investigating the structure of government.
Reading the runes, it would seem the recommendations for system of government change will have to come down clearly in favour of a purer version of the consensus model or an executive one. Trying to marry elements of the two is no longer an option, in his eyes at least.
Many of the arguments are being rehearsed after revelations about problems with the Cadastre computer system and the lack of information originally given to the politicians who ultimately are accountable in the eyes of the public.
You can look elsewhere and see how this is history repeating itself – the GCSE results scandal is the obvious example from last term, when politicians were kept in the dark about what was happening on the ground.
Do we blame the politicians for not asking the right questions, or a lack of openness from the civil service itself, which controls much of the information?
Deputy Fallaize argues that much of the time, the problem is with the system.
‘The problem is structural in that our system of government tends to push cross-departmental issues upwards to the Policy Council, which consists entirely of ministers, who by and large are the busiest members of the States holding the greatest responsibility,’ he said.
‘Without political parties, ministers (like all members) have no political support and yet we expect them to lead quite busy departments, lead cross-departmental initiatives and deal with an increasingly eclectic range of functions which the Policy Council has needlessly absorbed from other committees of the States.
‘I admit to being critical of the Policy Council from time to time – indeed, I was very critical of two poor policy letters they put before the last States meeting – but I have to admit that the tasks expected of ministers today are probably unrealistic.’
So we are led to conclude that ministers are doing too much, board members too little and nobody really knows what’s going on because they do not ask or are not told.
And that does not even touch on a scrutiny system that operates with one hand tied behind its back, or the well-rehearsed argument that there are too many States members who are all adverse to anyone showing any kind of leadership anyway.
The navel is well and truly being gazed at.
It will be a theme now for the rest of the term – whenever there is stress or disagreement someone will turn around and blame the system.
Fortunately members will be given a chance to debate this – unfortunately it will again cause a split between executive and consensus fans.
And what happens when that comes to pass? History tells us a good old-fashioned Guernsey compromise – which is where all these problems began.