St Mary hustings and interesting questions.

A packed St Mary Parish Hall on Friday night and some of the best questions of the hustings so far, ranking alongside those of the youth hustings. I spoke first and was hence almost last to answer all the questions.

The first question came from deputy Wimberley. He asked how we would get more honesty into the debate on States spending. He cited the example that we spend less than other OECD countries as a proportion of GNI or equivalent, yet we are told spending is out of control and some want faster deeper cuts. Several candidates seemed either to not follow the argument, or to talk about consultation. No one that I recall, even those who have been talking cuts and reducing spending at other hustings, disagreed with the deputies key factual observation above, though Mr Pearce drew a different conclusion on spending from other comparisons.

My response was that to have a debate it is essential to make the accounting transparent. I have listened to States debates on the radio and it is astounding how monies, not in the budget, can be found for pet projects from odd pots of money. The public have little to no chance of following such opaque operations.

We also need to have some basic numerical analysis applied. For example I was at the health consultation at St Paul’s the other month. We were presented with three scenarios stretching 30 years into the future. But the variation in the projects costs was only 10%. Such projects could easily have errors or variability in excess of 10% so the comparison is rather meaningless. But those error bands or expected variabilities were not presented.

The second question was the ubiquitous electoral reform one – should we have a referendum and should it also have support from each parish to be passed. The answers were pretty much unanimous of supporting a referendum and against a parish veto.

Question three was a really interesting one that had also been raised at the St Mary deputy hustings. To paraphrase, what did candidates think of the proposed Intellectual Property law and its implication in education and other areas. Most candidates clearly had no idea. A couple talked of copyright and protecting the interests of authors and artists. Mr Bailhache, who should know something of it being a lawyer by background, merely saw it as a commercial opportunity for lawyers and trademark and patent specialists, and a diversification of the economy. But he did not answer the questions. Neither really did the other lawyer on the platform, advocate Colley give a clear answer. She gave the typical lawyer on the one hand on the other hand response to a question they do not know how to answer.

While I agree it has earning opportunities for lawyers and some other specialists, it is not a legal question, it is not something to be left to lawyers. It is a mater of public policy. I did not answer the education bit specifically, but addressed the other area part of the question. Is it right that bio-tech companies can claim ‘ownership’ of parts of the human genome and then demand payment for therapies based on that, or withhold right to treatment altogether? Is it acceptable that companies like Monsanto can claim rights on a gene found in nature and the sue subsistence farmers for saving the own seed as they have for thousands of years because it contains the companies ‘proprietary’ gene?

I also pointed out, from my personal experience as a research engineer, that it will not protect individual knowledge creators as they usual have their rights signed away as a condition of employment. I ran out of time to continue. The only other person on the platform who appeared to understand the question and respond appropriately was Stuart Syvret who commented on the ongoing patent wars of Samsung , Apple and the like and the problems surrounding that.

There was a questions on the statement in the education green paper on student who can benefit should have their choice of course influenced by costs. Ie funding students. One or two brought up not paying for irrelevant courses, or having loans. The consensus seemed to be the need to fund all students adequately.

The final question was on whether Jersey should look at a windfall tax as they have in the past and may again do in the UK, specifically to pay for our infrastructure bill. The majority seemed to be against. Senator Le Gresley was for a windfall tax on land rezoning gains (I agree) but went on to say he would like to 'whack' the finance industry, if he could. Top marks for political honesty there, but I think it is an impractical proposition while so much of our economy and people’s jobs depends on it.

Stuart Syvret was not wholly against the concept but interpreted it as a form of capital gains taxation.

My preference and priority as expressed in the meeting is to find a way to tax non-resident trading companies, who currently contribute no tax. Our infrastructure problem is of the States own making. We have only recently moved to GAAP accounting and using depreciation. We have known for decades we need to do something about the sea defences the Germans put in. The situation with the States housing stock is indefensible – tenants have paid their money as rents but we have not done the repairs. It is not fair on them, and it is allowing a major asset to deteriorate- madness. In retrospect I should have referred to question one on this point to – honesty in accounts.

1 comment:

Mark Forskitt said...

I have amended the item on Deputy Wimberley's questions to clarify Darius Pearce's position.