Q: How many deputies does it take to attend a CPA party?
Tuesday 10th September 2013, 5:00PM BST.
A: Four – but you’d never know it from perusing the Billet.
THERE are some – and I imagine most of these class themselves as parliamentarians – who absolutely swear by it. There are others who remain resolutely sceptical about the benefits.
It is something that is expected to cost taxpayers £63,000 this year, up from £54,000 last year and £43,000 in 2011.
All this at a time when States spending is under scrutiny like never before, with the expectation that areas should be cut or at least held to inflation.
And rarely do deputies ever question its value for money because, after all, it is a club they can all belong to.
Welcome to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, an organisation with a bit of an image problem that it needs to overcome – if it can.
Last week, Guernsey attended a party in South Africa for the association’s 59th annual conference.
Not that many would have known because it is not something that is actively promoted by those responsible over here, which does not help its image as a unnecessarily secretive part of States spending.
Deputy chief minister Jonathan Le Tocq went with deputies Heidi Soulsby and Sandra James, the former two keeping us all up to speed via Twitter.
Deputy Mike O’Hara travelled as a member of the CPA’s governing body, the executive committee.
We learned from tweets that the Falkland Islands was asking the CPA General Assembly to endorse its constitutional status as British.
A vote was passed in favour of Gibraltar’s proposition that Spanish pressure on it was unacceptable and should stop.
Which will all no doubt have Spain and Argentina rapidly reversing their stances on both issues – or, just maybe, it won’t.
Sometimes you can’t help but think it’s as useful as a group of mates voting on the issue in the pub – at least, that’s what a sceptic will say.
A quick Google news search shows that the event barely causes a ripple in the English-language media.
Is it a case of parliamentarians voting and talking because, well, that’s what they do?
There is, of course, an alternative perspective. For some jurisdictions, the CPA holds great value as a route onto the international stage. It is also a chance to make contacts that could be invaluable.
Just take this note sent to Guernsey from the Falklands last year before a conference out there: ‘The Falkland Islands have long valued their relationship with the CPA, an organisation whose members are united in respect for individual rights and freedoms and which seeks to foster cooperation and understanding between members.
‘Through understanding comes friendship and our friendship with Guernsey is something we hold dear.’
Now I also imagine that the politicians who go on these trips will argue they are immeasurably important because of the experience they gain and ideas they bring back with them.
Actually, I don’t just imagine it, I know it, because we’ve reported these views many times before.
Whenever there are trips like this – partly funded by public money and taking up the time of those voted in, and paid, by the public – there should be a tangible benefit.
There should be an identifiable strand that you can follow from conference experience to influence on policy in Guernsey.
Now the challenge – examine the Billet and find one report that even references a CPA conference.
Much work is needed to demonstrate that the CPA provides taxpayers with value for money.
And that can come about only by those involved engaging with the public, openly telling people about the trips local representatives are going on and why, then reporting back on what happens.
That should not just be for the major conferences – the ones that make people suspicious are often the smaller-scale events in far-flung places.
Last September, political commentator and former deputy Peter Roffey challenged those who go on CPA trips to write a report explaining to us all how we benefited from their trips – the response to this was muted.
What is there to hide?
There is also the challenge of making sure those given the chance of representing Guernsey and in turn bringing back contacts and new ways of thinking are the right people – does anyone remember the own goal of an all-male party heading to a conference in Sri Lanka last year that centered on encouraging more female parliamentarians?
Of course, the selection process is all behind closed doors so how that, or any, selection decision is arrived at is anyone’s guess.
For those who wonder if it is all a bit of a jolly, having a full daily programme of trips for spouses and partners probably does not help.
Take this from the latest South Africa conference – a visit to SAB World of Beer.
The programme says: ‘Take a tour of the South African Brewery’s World of Beer and you’ll quickly discover why it was twice named the number-one tourist attraction in South Africa.
‘This fun and interactive journey explores the rich history of Africa’s beer culture, transporting you from the beginnings of Castle Lager and the story of Charles Glass into the tombs of Egypt and mining townships of Johannesburg’s early days.’
Perhaps we can all be persuaded it is necessary to have four deputies at a conference in South Africa, but at this stage it is an uphill battle.