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Give Scrutiny compelling powers

Guernsey Press Comment | Published:

Since its inception, the scrutiny function of the States has been hamstrung.

That is bad for the public and bad for government – if committees are allowed to work in the dark, money will be wasted and services will not be as good as they should be.

There will be no accountability, less drive for improvement.

One of the key problems facing this and previous Scrutiny committees has been the lack of powers to compel others to provide documentation and evidence, or even to attend public hearings.

When the issues at hand are not conscious, and let’s face it much of Scrutiny’s work this term has been pretty inoffensive, then this is not an issue. A well-prepared president will happily turn up and hit back the gentle lobs offered, some fresh information will be eeked out and things move on.

But the Law Enforcement investigation by HMIC is contentious, painting a picture of operational interference and a shortage of strategic direction from Home Affairs which its committee members steadfastly deny.

Scrutiny, set to help pick this apart, has not been given access to all the evidence seen by inspectors. Remember too that HMIC was restricted to seeing only committee minutes directly related to Law Enforcement – and even then they had to push to get that access.

Behind the scenes, there is obstruction and control from Home Affairs that is uncomfortable and that is also at odds with the public messages it gives out about wanting a ‘warts and all’ inspection.

Successive States have said that they welcome proper scrutiny, but the reality is that too many members view it as an inconvenience and have done little to advance its effectiveness.

Too much relies on the tenaciousness of individual deputies, and too few of them are willing to upset their colleagues, perhaps fearing what it means for their own political career in the long term. Ideas like an independent auditor general have come and gone, the structure of scrutiny changed but not its powers. It still relies on cajoling and good faith and now needs more.

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