I use the phrase to summarise how good ideas can be strangled at birth; how actual decision making can be effectively halted and how “initiatives never become reality because of the stifling effects of the bureaucratic process”.
The recent Throne Speech listed a lot of new committees, authorities (another name for a committee), think tanks (likewise, another name for a committee), units (yup, another name for a committee) and plans (no doubt steered by a committee.)
Yes, the subject matters to be addressed by these groups definitely tick a lot of the right boxes: A Tax Reform Commission, a Parliamentary Committee on a Living Wage and a National Workforce Plan are all sound ideas.
Likewise, the Economic Diversification Unit gets a big tick, a Bermuda Events Authority (tick) and good governance committees (tick).
But could (should) the Events Authority be part of the Bermuda Tourism Authority? Can (does) the Bermuda Development Agency do the work of the Diversification Unit?
Good governance committees will presumably largely reference the SAGE Commission, the Commission of Inquiry and the 2014 report from the Joint Select Committee on Parliamentary Governance. Presumably the first task of the Bermuda First Think Tank will be to read the original report of the original Bermuda First Think Tank.
Should existing agencies, which already have much of the necessary expertise, have been given a wider remit with some extra funding?
By creating these committees, is there a risk of trying to reinvent the wheel and adding another bureaucratic layer?
The committees are yet to be established so we do not know their composition, their terms of reference and, importantly, the deadlines for their reports.
If they operate correctly and efficiently, the committees/units/think tanks/plans will, in all probability, come up with some innovative ideas.
Forgive me if I sound cynical, but the public needs to be reassured that the eventual reports will not be allowed to gather dust alongside other reports already stacked up on Government shelves and that new Ministers will not be allowed to come into office only to dismiss a committee’s work and demand that work start over.
Importantly also, how quickly will these committees be able to come up with meaningful ideas and how quickly will Government be able to establish the necessary legislative and policy framework to allow a committee’s recommendations to be turned into action?
It makes good sound bites and headlines to talk about new think tanks, it takes a heck of a lot more to turn the recommendations into actions that make a difference, that address the ‘Two Bermudas’.
I am sure that over the course of the next few months we will be hearing more details of the initiatives outlined in the Throne Speech. The PLP is placing a lot of emphasis on these initiatives and it will be interesting to follow their progress.
John Barritt sent me this comment:
Jeremy, I read your piece on Death by Committee. I think maybe you were being a little bit too harsh if not premature. Sure, we all know the old saw about how ideas, unwelcome ideas in particular, are sent to committee to die, if not recede into oblivion. In the case of the PLP I am not so sure that the ideas being referred are viewed by them as unwelcome. Many, if not all,of the referrals were commitments in their election platform.
I have long been a proponent of parliamentary committees because they give backbench MPs, Government and Opposition, meaningful opportunities to get involved in governance. Their opotential has been established by the Public Accounts Committee and the work which they have been performing in more recent times.
The establishment of committees like those recommended by SAGE and the Commission of Inquiry are intended to also add to accountability and transparency.
That’s theory anyhow. We won’t know how well they work and what further change and/or improvement is needed until we at least try to move in this direction .
The OBA had the opportunity to do this, and indeed made a number of promises that they would do so, but never did.
We can only now watch and wait in hope, I know, but that’s the way our system currently works.
I remain hopeful that any steps aimed at bringing about inclusiveness and increased participation in oversight and decision-making, will lead to a marked change in our political culture.