Workshop Feb. '06
The aim of this Workshop was to provide an oppositional voice for the people of our Island at this time of Ministerial Government. This was to be tackled by informing ourselves of State's policies, being clear about what is unacceptable about them and working towards proposing alternatives. To achieve this all available outlets should be used - websites, newsletters, media and discussion with States' members who have the people's interests at heart.
This event took place on the afternoon of Friday 3rd February 2006 and the morning of Saturday 4th February. The group was made up of our facilitators, Mr. John Christensen, Director of the Tax Justice Network and Professor Prem Sikka, Professor of Accounting at the University of Essex, invited members of the public, a total of nine States' Members and members of Attac & TJN. 33 people attended the first half of the Workshop on the afternoon of Friday 3rd February and 36 people came on the Saturday morning.
John Christensen got the ball rolling by reflecting on Jersey and the changes he had noticed over the past few years. Tax Havens are under increasing pressure. Jersey is all about capital flight. He commented that the 3% Goods and Services tax was bound to be increased. The 0/10% tax proposals do not meet the Code of Conduct and will fail at the first legal test. Neither the EU nor the UK have been told of the detail.
We need a culture of oppositional politics. In the UK the Opposition is always referred to as 'Honourable'. It is a crucial part of the parliamentary process which holds leaders to account. Opposition needs to test veracity and competence, research alternatives and differentiate between rhetoric and fact. Technical jargon needs to be deconstructed and translated into simple language. Both involvement in Scrutiny and representation on the Statistics Users Council are essential in order to hold government to account. A Media and Communications officer needs to be appointed.
John emphasised that economics was initially about justice and not about maximising profits. The language of justice and injustice should be used rather than the language of efficiency. Say what you really think!
Prem Sikka added that if corporations rule we have no democracy. That would amount to capitalism without ethical constraints. Corporations which are only paying 0% tax still expect to be supported by the infrastructure. What exactly is their vision?
Speaking on the topic of aid to developing countries Prem said that while Africa and her leaders are often accused of corruption this is nothing by comparison with the west. Now is the time to move away from simply giving aid to an insistence on fairness in taxation.
The participants then divided into nine tables concentrating on
1. Housing and Welfare Benefits 2. Workers and Employment 3.Tourism, Agriculture and Fishing 4.Tax and Social Security 5.Youth
6. Poverty in the Developing World and Jersey 7. Education for Democracy 8. Planning and the Environment 9.The Elderly.
On Friday present policies and trends were discussed and viable alternatives explored.
On Saturday morning John reminded us of the need to be more analytical in our approach and to make greater use of available statistics and data when asking questions of government. For example - If Jersey has the second highest Gross National Income (GNI) in the world then why is the Island so far down the Pensions ladder compared to European countries?
Prem emphasised the need for much more hard data for example tourist numbers. On the subject of poverty and aid to developing countries he pointed out that aid had often destroyed the local economy. Sometimes a whole economy is wiped out as a result. If Africa has 50% of the world's diamonds and copper why is there so much poverty in that continent? The rich must pay their taxes.
He stressed that our analytical skills need sharpening and that questions should be asked of government that go straight to the heart of the issue.
"Failure is not to try."
Based on the proposed alternatives discussed on Friday, groups worked out a maximum 3 clear statements of intent. These form the basis for action to be taken in the coming weeks and months.
We went away with the clear conviction that for democracy to thrive at this time of Ministerial Government in Jersey then working together is essential. This Workshop marks the beginning of a serious working relationship between Scrutiny and the public. John and Prem were highly impressed by the positive attitude towards Scrutiny Committees, which open up channels for accountability that were not previously available.
What has emerged from this Workshop is a model for a People's Forum.