Senator condemns Jersey's new electoral system

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DEMOCRACY in Jersey is in decline, according to a retiring Senator who has criticised the Island’s new electoral structure and the increasing power of civil servants.

Senator Sarah Ferguson said Islanders lost out under the new regime, ending up with fewer votes to cast than in the past.

Wednesday’s elections will be the Island’s first under a system that will see 37 Deputies chosen to represent nine newly drawn constituencies.

‘I think it is rubbish,’ she said. ‘I used to have eight votes, now I have only got four or five. I used to be able to vote for six Senators, a Constable and a Deputy.

Now there is just four Deputies in the revised constituency and a Constable and that is it.

‘So, I have a reduction, a democratic deficit.’

She also disagrees with the move to do away with the all-Island vote for the now defunct Senatorial role, a role to which she was elected three times – in 2008, 2014 and 2018. Senator Ferguson added that Guernsey’s system seemed to make more sense for islands such as the Bailiwicks.

‘I can’t vote for anybody that I think might be appropriate for a Chief Minister,’ Senator Ferguson said. ‘You can’t vote for a Chief Minister because there is no all-Island vote.

‘I think Guernsey have got a much better system now. It’s taken them a bit of time to sort out, but I think it is better because they still have, effectively, committees and a president. They have an all-island vote. They kind of put a different coat on it but it is roughly the same thing. I think it makes a lot more sense.’

There seems to be an ‘obsession’ with trying to make the States more like the electoral system in the UK, she said, adding: ‘I think ours originally had more basis on the American system than Westminster.

‘We had 12 Senators, 12 Constables and 29 deputies. Six of the Senators stood for election every three years, which meant we had corporate memory in the States and there was continuity. And now, of course, it is all change at the end of four years.’

Once the election is over and a new Council of Ministers formed, Senator Ferguson said she hoped they would meet their responsibilities head on.

She said too often it seemed like unelected civil servants were setting the agenda, while ministers simply repeated what they were told and did not spend enough time in the departments, getting involved and thinking issues through critically.

‘They are the ones who are going to be hung out to dry, so they should get out there instead of being so placatory,’ she said.

‘They should get out there and put their points across. The ministers are hiding behind the civil servants, which is a problem.’

Former government chief executive Charlie Parker’s restructuring ‘muddled’ the departments, she added, and did not line up well with ministers’ authority. ‘So, nobody really knew who was what, and doing what where, and what they were in charge of. And that wasn’t the same as Charlie Parker’s vision of what they were in charge of.’

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