Director of the DPP Hits For Six?
There’s an interesting story in the Royal Gazette today, covering the ‘special sitting’ of the Supreme Court that was held to mark the ‘official’ start of the new legal year.
The Director of the DPP took this opportunity to articulate some concerns of his Department in light of the reactionary neo-liberal cuts to Government Departments, highlighting the problems this is causing for his Department in particular.
Now, by ‘reactionary neo-liberal’ I am meaning an aggressive execution of an ideology that believes in market fundamentalism, which translates in practical terms to systematic cuts to the public sector and privatisation of public-sector responsibilities, along with an aggressive move to reduce, if not altogether eliminate, any and all social-welfare policies.
This leads to a loss of revenue for the State (as the most productive elements are siphoned off by the ‘already haves’), renders the State increasingly unable to fulfill its functions (and thus leading to more calls for privatisation as the State becomes increasingly inefficient) and an attempt to ignore any and all structural aspects of society, instead placing ‘blame’ on ‘personal responsibility’ alone.
The Director made clear that the cuts to his Department are having a counter-productive effect, with staff morale and ability to do their work is reduced, all at the same time as the workload of the DPP is increased (which in many ways reflects the socio-economic stress that the ongoing economic crisis is having on our people, as well as how threats to social-welfare policies are in some ways increasing the DPP’s workload accordingly).
A Brief Segue to Cannabis Reform…
While not mentioned in the Director’s comments, it should be noted that amendments to the cautioning guidelines for cannabis possession, made in February 2013 (presumably by direction of the Minister for National Security or the Minister of Justice – I haven’t been able to track down the exact circumstances yet), removed the ability of the police to decide whether to charge or issue a caution – this instead has to be determined by the DPP.
This alone greatly increases the workload of the DPP – it requires every case of cannabis possession to be reviewed by their workforce, which one can imagine must clog their workload considerably, compared to when the police were able to make the decision themselves (while the guidelines they used were never, to my knowledge, made public, it would have diverted a considerable number of cases being reviewed by the DPP).
Additionally, requiring every case of cannabis possession to be processed by the DPP also greatly increases the overall cost of dealing with these issues, including the cost of the lawyers reviewing them and court proceedings like the recently abandoned case involving the son of a Cabinet Minister.
Which leads to another argument in favour of decriminalising cannabis possession as an initial step of a wider reform process – with the existing schedule of 20 grams being the point that possession is considered ‘intent to supply’, as suggested recently by the PLP, being a good guideline for at least issuing cautions rather than charges, greatly freeing up the time and labour of the DPP on this matter, regardless of the political point-scoring involved here…
The DPP’s Crises
It does seem though that the DPP is increasingly in crisis, and regardless of which came first (the cuts to the Department of the internal problems of the Department), the stress produced by cuts to this Department, plus the ever-increasing workload, are certainly going to exacerbate this Departmental crisis.
To what degree is this symptomatic of wider problems throughout Government Departments, chafing under the stress of cuts along with increased workloads, well, it’s hard to tell.
Symptomatic of Wider Problems?
Nonetheless, I doubt it will surprise anyone that the stresses on the public sector are having a negative effect (including on the public sector workers, it’s ability to fulfill its responsibilities, and the consequences for wider society, which then impact back on the public sector again, all in a downward ratchet).
It certainly seems that certain Departments are literally at breaking point, and any more cuts will seriously undermine their ability to even tread water (which itself is problematic when the consequences of the ongoing economic crisis represents increasingly stormy seas…). I’m thinking here particularly of Departments such as Public Works, Planning, Parks, Education and, perhaps especially, Health and Financial Assistance, as well as the aforementioned DPP.
I’m not saying I have answers.
At best I’d question some of the spending decisions currently being made, involving consultants and overseas trips, and I’d call for the recommended reforms of the civil service (in numerous organisational reviews cited in the SAGE report) to actually be implemented, as well as making an aggressive push to stimulate new revenue streams (Islamic Finance, Renewable Energy – reducing the outward flow of hard currency for fossil fuels alone would be beneficial for Bermuda – Aquaculture, these are all possible revenue streams that could be developed – but developing them requires investing in them, which includes committing public resources to develop the necessary infrastructure for them. The opposite of public sector cuts.
What I am saying though is that the focus on public sector cuts is increasingly appearing to be counter-productive and the crisis of the DPP appears to be symptomatic of this. Quite frankly, perhaps it’s time to cut the cuts and change course?
Unless, of course, that’s the whole point – undermine the ability of the public sector to ‘do its job well’ and thus to justify an aggressive privatisation push, along with civil service layoffs…