On 28 September 2001, after a historic debate lasting four consecutive days, the States of Jersey voted in favour of a proposition that the Island's present committee system of government be replaced by a ministerial system, combined with a system of scrutiny committees. This decision will implement what most commentators regard as the most important element of the proposals contained in the report of Sir Cecil Clothier's Review Panel on the Machinery of Government in Jersey (see Jersey Brief, Issue 18 - Spring 2001).
Once implemented, the system will operate by the States Assembly appointing from amongst its number a Chief Minister. The Chief Minister will then nominate a team of ministers who will form a Council of Ministers in whom, together with the Chief Minister, the executive functions of government will be vested. There will be not more than ten departments of government, each headed by a minister who, subject both to the consent of the Chief Minister and a limitation on total numbers involved in the executive, will be able to appoint up to two other Members of the States to assist in the work of the department. The number of States Members not involved in the executive will have to exceed those who are so involved by a margin of at least ten per cent of the total Membership of the States.
Those States' Members not involved in the executive will still have an important role as members of the several committees that will be established by the States Assembly:
- a Privileges and Procedures Committee, which will have responsibility for: establishing and monitoring a code of conduct for all Members; determinations on scrutiny arrangements; facilities for Members; public information services, including production of a Hansard-style transcript of States' proceedings; and remuneration of members;
- a small number of scrutiny committees, which will scrutinise legislation proposed by the executive, examine the performance of the executive and contribute to the development of policy;
- a Public Accounts Committee, comprised of the chairmen of the various scrutiny committees plus at least one other member not involved in the executive. This committee, supported by an Auditor General, will scrutinise the expenditure of public funds by the government.
The Council of Ministers will be supported by a Chief Executive who will head the Island's civil service, which will be unified at a senior level under the leadership of the Chief Executive. The States Assembly will establish an independent Appointments Commission (comprising persons who are not States' Members), which will have responsibility for ensuring that senior appointments in the civil services and to public "quangos" are properly made.
The next stage in the process is for the Policy & Resources Committee of the States of Jersey to bring to the States, before the end of November 2001, an implementation plan on how and when the changes set out above will be brought into effect. Many - indeed, most - of the Island's existing legislation will have to be reviewed and amended to reflect a transfer of responsibilities from existing committees to either a department of government or, in some cases, the Council of Ministers. There may also be some challenges as to the level of support that will have to be given to the scrutiny committees, to enable them to carry out their responsibilities effectively. It seems most unlikely that these changes will be implemented before the next elections, towards the end of 2002.
At some time, the States will also need to consider other recommendations made in the Clothier Report (see our earlier articles). In particular, the States hasn't yet debated: whether the Parish Constables should continue to have an automatic right to a seat in the States; whether Members should continue to be elected as either Senators or Deputies, or whether the former post be abolished; and whether the Bailiff should continue to preside over the States Assembly.
However, the proposition adopted on 28 September can be accurately described as an historic moment in the history of the States Assembly and for the government of the Island. Most Islanders expect and hope that the changes will lead to a more effective, more accountable and more open system of government.
Mr Christensen is Managing Director of Volaw Trust & Corporate Services Limited
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