The Royal Commission

On 20 November, Guernsey Press reported 22 high-profile Channel Islanders observing the inconvenient truth that Sark is having problems, wondering where these come from, whether these problems have built up over a generation or so and calling for a Royal Commission or a Panel of Inquiry to help Sark out. Their call been welcomed by the Sark Chamber of Commerce and Sark Electricity.

On the other side, we have the reply from Chief Pleas, who call themselves a “democratic government”, affirm their “commitment to democracy”, and purport to be “engaging” with “all” businesses on the island. Chief Pleas could help themselves considerably if they made representations which were not so manifestly detached from reality (and be seen to be such) and which no one believes any more and stuck instead to statements which had some credibility. Many authoritarian states — including every Warsaw Pact communist state — have called themselves “democratic”. But calling yourself “democratic” does not make you so, only your actions can. Perhaps the most revealing decision by Chief Pleas in this regard has been to turn itself into a secret parliament holding all the meetings that matter behind closed doors.

Chief Pleas also find support in Guernsey in Peter Roffey. Roffey, who calls Sark’s government “legitimate, democratically elected” and waxes lyrical about Sark’s “democratic reform” (thus proving not only that he lives on a different island, but on a different planet), objects to outside interference in Sark. While I agree with him on this, where was Roffey when Sark was — as he acknowledges — “pushed” into “democratic reform”? Who does Roffey believe “pushed” Sark into this reform, if not interfering outsiders? But, in this case, Roffey says, Sark was “rightly” pushed. Roffey, it would seem, does not object to outside interference on any principled grounds, but rather supports it when he approves of those engaging in such interference and approves of its results, but objects to it when this is not the case. Thus, we have to conclude, Roffey is a pragmatist and not a man of principle. Roffey questions the legitimacy of the 22 Channel Island residents’ proposals because they are not Sark residents, while he himself is also a non-resident. Roffey, too, could do himself a favour if he stuck to commentary which did not undermine its own credibility.

Alas, although the proposals of the 22 eminent Channel Island residents are helpful (not to mention internally consistent) and correctly point out that Sark has been so destabilized that an internal solution to its own problems is unlikely, I doubt that their proposed solution is the right answer to Sark’s problems either. Roffey says — Chief Pleas might be a super government or an awful government or somewhere in between. Unfortunately, whether you think that the post-2008 Chief Pleas is a super government, an awful government, or somewhere in between (which is a subjective assessment), the objective reality is that it is a government which is inexorably leading Sark towards economic and political annihilation, depopulation, the loss of independence and viability. Furthermore, under the 2008 constitution, this will always remain so. The way Chief Pleas are “engaging” with the power station will make Sark not just a Dark Sky Island, but a Dark Island, and possibly a Ghost Island soon too.

The real “inconvenient truth” about Sark is that the 2008 Reform Law experiment has been an abject, catastrophic and total and utter failure. Largely all of Sark’s problems stem from that law, the people who have come to govern it as a result of its adoption, and the kinds of laws they have been enacting. All of these problems were a predictable, predicted (ahead of time), and most importantly, obvious (then and now), consequence of this law.

We can keep looking for the cause of our problems, but so long as the truth is staring us in the face and we choose to ignore it because it is either embarrassing, inconvenient or does not fit our agenda, until we recognize the bitter and painful truth and bite the bullet, we will never find the cause of our problems, or a solution that works.

While personally, I appreciate all offers of help, and perhaps a Panel of Inquiry or a Royal Commission will reach a helpful conclusion, I am somewhat sceptical that this will be the case. Maybe such a panel or commission will be staffed by more sensible people, but just as likely (or more so) it will be staffed by the very same kind of politicians and bureaucrats, of the same kind of blinkered ideological persuasion, who have caused Sark’s problems in the first place.

The principal (and perhaps the only) help Sark could helpfully receive is the recognition of the abject failure of the 2008 Reform Law and a repeal of this law and all the subsequently passed anti-business legislation.

All that needs to be done is to look at how Sark was doing before the 2008 reform, how it has done since, observe the kinds of laws that were passed since 2008 and notice the obvious causal link (already known to most of the local population, the usual suspects who will now probably jump on me excepted) between these laws and Sark’s subsequent poor performance.

Until the 2008 Reform Law and the laws passed in its consequence are repealed, Sark’s problems will never be solved.

Regrettably, I cannot see how this will happen in practice — via a Royal Commission, Panel of Inquiry, revolt of the local population, or otherwise — at least not in a way that a stable political regime (as the pre-2008 regime was) will be restored. Sadly, it seems that the 2008 article in the Economist which said (as did many of us privately) that the 2008 Reform Law would lead to a loss of Sark’s independence — is likely to come true, and that this may now be an inevitability. Perhaps the only hope is if those locals who have been grumbling quietly, will eventually speak up — but, particularly in the current atmosphere, can this ever happen?

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