Over the two weeks, the Isle of Man Government announced, and then instituted, controversial changes to the Manx lockdown rules. This started with the Treasury Minister foreshadowing the changes on Friday 17 April, the Chief Minister snubbing Tynwald and announcing the changes at a press conference on Tuesday 21 April, before belatedly deciding on what the actual rules were late on the night of Thursday 23 April. This then led to the debacle on Sunday 26 April where the Environment Minister said that “all fishing should remain a no-go area” in contradiction to the law and the Police announcement which said “fishing from the beach is now OK“.
Clearly, different people in our community have different views on the current rules. Some people think the rules should be tighter, to try to eradicate the disease from the Isle of Man. Some people think the rules should be looser, to allow people to get back to work. Some people think the rules should stay the same. Whatever your view on the underlying policy issue, these views should be debated in a national forum which is democratically elected – and accountable – to the people of Mann.
More than a thousand years ago, Norse invaders to the Isle of Man brought with them a new idea – an institution whereby community leaders could meet and debate the laws for the island. They called it “Tynwald” and today, it claims to be the world’s longest continuously operating parliament. This parliament should be used to debate, argue and scrutinise the proposed laws of the Government. Not only will that allow for better decisions (since they will benefit from the democratic feedback of different members) but it will also allow the Manx public to hold their elected representatives to account for the decisions they make and the votes they cast.
Think the rules should be tighter? Tell your MHK. Think the rules should be looser? Tell your MHK. Think that the rules should stay as they are? Tell your MHK. Parliaments should not just be places for politicians to give speeches, but a place for the public to exert control over the rules through their democratically elected representatives.
Last month, there was a case for emergency rules to be created quickly. As late as March, the Manx Government was repeatedly playing down the risk of Coronavirus, saying the risk to the Isle of Man was only “moderate to low”. While many people already knew there was a global health crisis underway a month earlier with more than 25,000 people infected across at least 24 nations, clearly the Manx Government got wrong-footed. In that context, it made sense in the middle of March for emergency rules to be quickly and hurriedly rushed through to try to patch up the response – especially in the early days when it was not clear that Tynwald would be able to meet and debate in a socially-distant manner.
But now that we are in the midst of the crisis, the emergency is no longer time sensitive. Tynwald is now sitting remotely over the internet. We also know these decisions are not so urgent, because it took a week between the Treasury Minister first announcing changes to the lockdown rules to them actually being introduced. In the “new normal” of the coronavirus crisis, it is important to get the right decision: and the best way to get the right decision is through open and democratic debate in our national parliament. “Democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”