The Isle of Man can hardly be called a democracy in modern times and seems to be lazily drifting further towards a state of corporatocracy, where the wishes and needs of business are starting to take precedence.
In a democracy, it is the needs and wishes of citizens that is the sole determiner of the decisions of its government.
Yet because most countries treat businesses as private entities and because they hold economic power, it is essential and unavoidable to understand how changes to laws and economic policy will have an effect on the business sector.
However, the more influence private businesses have on government decision-making the more democracy is eroded.
This is why consultation of the business community is an expedient and why it needs to qualified and managed carefully so as not to interfere and overrule the democratic will of the people.
Yet the island’s business community now has a powerful voice on the island.
Regardless of whether its views are justified or not, the Chamber of Commerce is especially vocal. It rarely has a counterposing view from trade unions in media reportage and is seemingly very influential on government in representing the business community.
We now have a large department of government that has expanded and which openly works to meet the needs of local businesses whilst also having responsibility for changes to employment law and influence over training and education.
And the government now works in ‘partnership’ with a multinational corporation to determine the future of the economy.
The Government Conference is also structured in language that is more suited to office manager meetings than for the general public with networking in break-out areas to discuss the latest strategies. Whether this is good for the economy or not, none of it is democracy.
If the Isle of Man had strong democratic processes the influence of private power could still be recognised as being very influential on government.
Unfortunately, the democratic processes are very limited here. There’s the vote, where the public acts as spectator to the decisions of MHKs but the public have no direct say on specific issues.
We have the consultations but on the most important matters these are misunderstood because they invite business and government department contributions and then the consultation summaries are misleadingly reported as public opinion.
As an example, despite the claim of work permits having the public’s endorsement, it is unknown what proportion of responses were from businesses and what proportion of responses were from members of the public who agree or disagree with proposed changes.
Without knowing exactly what percentage of members of the public agreed to the removal of permits, it cannot be said what the public’s overall decision is on any changes and it is only the public who can make a decision on this and any other matter.
As business submissions are not handled separately we do not know how much weight is given to private business submissions and whether they have been used to endorse the government’s proposal or decision.
Nor do we know who these private entities are who are making submissions, how many employees they have, what their role is on the island.
In a healthy democracy, their contributions should be visible so the public can accurately understand and assess their influence on government decision-making.
When the Chamber of Commerce already represents the business community, is it really desirable for private businesses to have additional input in the public consultation process?
A true public consultation would be one that is solely for members of public.
Once the public’s will has been established then a separate consultation for businesses could be conducted.
The task for politicians and the government would then be to work out how to accommodate compelling business needs and concerns with the overriding and paramount majority opinion of the island’s people.
Name and address supplied
This letter was first published in the Manx Independent of August 3.
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