A series of unfortunate events
Policy & RESOURCES, being the senior committee, has a responsibility to act even-handedly and fairly. Today I am considering just how they acted in relation to the Committee for Home Affairs governance report.
I am not in any way trying to defend bullying or poor strategic planning, and if that has happened, then the proverbial ‘heads should roll’.
However, we are also dealing with people’s political careers and, probably more importantly, their personal reputations. Therefore, I think that P&R do owe members of the Home committee a duty of care; to ensure thoroughness and fairness.
Before finalisation, the Home committee had seen at least one draft version of the report to comment on and it is the final version which is available on the gov.gg website.
The report is dated 19 June 2019. P&R released it on Monday 24 June 2019.
Interestingly, the review into Health is dated November 2018 and was released on 16 May 2019 – held for six months as opposed to six days.
From all of the media releases my understanding is that P&R thought it was so damning it had to be published without delay, while the committee are saying they had told P&R that their committee meeting to consider and discuss the final version was to be held on Monday 24 June.
I agree that reports should be published in a timely manner, but was it really fair for P&R to publish a very contentious report the day of the Home committee’s meeting to discuss it?
The report is an independent report and we have no reason to believe that its author, Professor Catherine Staite, has acted in anything but good faith in producing it. I totally disagree with the personal comments made towards her, but I do think that it is fair to question and critique aspects of the report.
And this is where it seems that P&R have let themselves down.
There is clearly enough in the report to be concerned – but is there enough evidence to call for resignations?
Rather than rushing the publication of the report, perhaps P&R should have investigated the issues, quickly but thoroughly, to verify that the criticisms are indeed fair.
For instance, there are criticisms that the committee made decisions without evidence. I assume that examples were given to Professor Staite, especially since she only reviewed two months of the Home Committee’s minutes.
If she had no examples, then her report is weakened.
If examples were given, then P&R could have reviewed those to find out whether those decisions were indeed without evidence, or just a matter of the committee coming to different conclusions from the staff.
Politicians should always take note of advice, but realistically there are times when they will come to different conclusions than their staff. This has to be accepted, otherwise why have politicians involved at all?
I tend to agree that the notes of Professor Staite’s meetings should remain confidential – after all, that was the basis for the interviews.
However, the accusation of bullying is so serious, and cannot be just a matter of differing political judgement, that it does need verification – and if true, very strong action taken.
Although we do not know who raised the issue of bullying, we do know who the seven members of staff interviewed by Professor Staite are – they’re named in the report.
Because this relates to staff wellbeing, the chief executive would need to be involved.
Together, he and P&R could have approached each of the staff members explaining they are taking the matter very seriously and are attempting to formally investigate the claims. They could have asked the staff for details of the incidents. Of course, the staff would be free to decline, but since the States has protection for ‘whistle blowing’ they should have nothing to fear.
If we assume the bullying claims were verified, what could P&R do?
This is where I differ from their approach in asking for a resignation and threatening a vote of no confidence.
A no-confidence vote has to be against the whole of the committee, not just one or two members. Therefore, if the bullying accusations do not involve all members of the committee, such a vote is not appropriate since it would tarnish both the innocent and the guilty.
Furthermore, resignations and a vote of no confidence are political tools – bullying is not a political act, it is more serious; a breach of the deputies’ code of conduct.
Here I must be transparent – I am a member of the Code of Conduct Panel and these are my thoughts, not those of the panel or any other member of it. Disclosure completed.
Anybody can bring a complaint under the code, so P&R could have done that. They could have investigated the issue and made a formal complaint, leaving it for the independent panel to review and decide upon.
Surely that would have been fairer and more transparent.
There is another reason for this approach.
It’s no secret that there are personality issues between some members of P&R and Deputy Lowe.
I am not suggesting that P&R were influenced by these, but as former deputy Robert Sillars used to say, ‘in politics, perception is reality’.
Hold on, Peter, you might say, surely P&R are demonstrating good, strong leadership; just what we need?
Yes – and no.
Leadership, especially in a consensus government, means using the appropriate tools available, not necessarily directly taking action when a more appropriate route is available.
The report contains serious accusations which cannot be ignored, but they need to be dealt with in a way which is open, thorough and not only fair, but seen to be fair.
It’s sad that the governance surrounding a report on governance has been so poor.