Sunday, 4 April 2010

Finance and the Historic Child Abuse Enquiry

"I think Mr Walker was most unwise to talk about an open chequebook with no questions asked, if he used the latter words." (Ian Le Marquand)

There are some odd inconsistencies with regard to Frank Walker's statements. To Channel Television, he said that:

Indeed I have been criticised by some for giving them that support, particularly giving the Police, right from the outset of the investigation, what, in effect, amounted to an open cheque book to ensure that no stone was left unturned and that no line of investigation had to be curtailed due to lack of funds.(1)

Yet just recently, after being criticised by Ian le Marquand, Mr Walker states that:

Mr Walker said: "It wasn't a question of an open chequebook with no questions asked. "(2)

So if questions were asked, and there were problems, why weren't they raised at the time, but only a long time after Mr Walker's tenure as Chief Minister has ended? What precisely was meant by saying that he gave the police "what, in effect, amounted to an open cheque book"? In one sentence he seems to say there was no accountability, and then he says there was.

I think a lot of this comes down not to Mr Power's alleged financial mismanagement, but because Mr Walker wants to have it both ways. It appears to me that he wants to defend his record of giving the police unlimited financial support, but when that is under fire, with an explicit criticism of him by Ian le Marquand, he wants to say that there were questions asked, and he was in control of the situation. But both can't be true - either there were no controls, and if Frank Walker wants to claim that the "open cheque book" was his responsibility - as he has done on CTV - that is fine. Or there were controls, and someone apart from Graham Power must be ultimately responsible for failing in any alleged mismanagement of finances.

The States Accounts for last year has this:

Each accounting officer has been required to detail any significant control issues which have arisen during the course of 2008 or any known areas of non-compliance with financial directions, together with their proposals to address these matters. These are subject to more detail in the individual Statements on Internal Control available on the States' website. Independent investigations are being conducted into the managerial and  command and control aspects of the Historic Child Abuse Enquiry. Depending upon the outcome of these investigations, it is possible that some of the costs incurred by the enquiry may not be entirely justified.

There is a public hearing, online, in which the accounting officer, Mr Austin Vautier, answers questions. It looks as if the chain of command is quite unclear when it comes to finances, and it seems that Mr Austin-Vautier is the person legally responsible. Did he not ask enough questions? It seems from this that he is, and yet with regard to the police, he just signs off a sum which they then use as they think appropriate.  The answers given by Mr Austin-Vautier are extremely slippery, at one point he suggests the session may have to be secret, and it is clear he doesn't want any responsibility for the Historic Child Abuse enquiry -  which he may not have, because of the oddity of his position. It's a pity it couldn't be made clearer.

Someone, in order to prepare the accounts, must have to at least have an awareness of the figures of the money spent, and it would seem obvious it is Mr Austin-Vautier, so while he may not have a say in how the budget is spent, he must be getting some figures back from somewhere or no accounts could be prepared. Who gives him these figures? I know that when Mr Parkinson was Chief Officer, he certainly was not in charge of doing the accounting work. I'm pretty sure it was a Mr Trevor Green. But someone must be. One assumes that if he was unhappy with the accounting results, just like any professional accountant in the private sector, he would raise concerns with the Minister on the accounts, even if - as he says - he can't ask questions of the Chief of Police - yet he does not seem to have done so.

And where does the Minister come in? Did Wendy Kinnard, and then Andrew Lewis fail to ask questions? "The Chief Officer of Police reports direct to the Minister", he says. Presumably they'd get both accounts from Mr Austin Vautier and information from Graham Power, and this must be documented somewhere. If Mr Power had concealed anything, that would be certainly serious. But if he did not, and they were then happy with matters, why didn't they sound alarm bells?  As Wendy Kinnard once stated:

It is my duty to secure the maintenance of an adequate and efficient police force, and this responsibility is clear in the Police Force (Jersey) Law 1974.  Accordingly, States of Jersey Police are accountable to myself for the delivery of an effective service to the Island, and this encompasses all their activities.  There is no remainder of policing activities for which the force is accountable to someone else. (5)

In the same session of the States, she also said:
I have to say, Sir, the States of Jersey Police Force is probably the most scrutinised organisation in the public sector.  There are regular quarterly reports on statistics, crime levels; there are yearly reports; there are independent inspections; there is the oversight of an independent authority; there are indeed many Members of this House who, on a daily basis sometimes, question the Chief and the senior officers of the force on various matters.  There is a very great openness in terms of replying to questions from the media and others.  We have nothing to fear, I believe, Sir, either myself as Minister or the States of Jersey Police, in terms of transparency and accountability, and I think that that is the way forward. (5)

I look forward to looking at this report into financial mismanagement, because one would expect a fraud squad to be involved if there was fraudulent deception. What is precisely meant by financial mismanagement? If it was financial incompetence, then some solid details would be forthcoming, but one does wonder what Mr Austin-Vautier does with his time if he didn't spot it. Let's hope that this very lengthy report that has been mentioned is in the public domain, so accountants in the public domain can also scrutinise it. What may be convincing to the layman - and in terms of accounting, I'm not sure any Home Affairs minister is anything but a layman - may not stand up to professional scrutiny. Certainly there is a singular lack of precision over precisely what the nature of the financial critique is. Hearing that there are significant problems, and not even being given the basic nature - fraud, incompetence? - is like being bludgeoned by the invisible man.

Mr S. Austin-Vautier:

Starting off, page 94 then, we had an increase in spend over 2007 of about 20 per cent but clearly the vast majority of that was due to the historical child abuse inquiry but also there were additional prison posts and the other amount was our pay award.

Other developments, there is a remark there about the accounting arrangements with respect to the police and I suggest we come back to this
later, but we are just making the point there that we have worked the arrangements well up until the beginning of 2008 when we obviously had the historical child abuse inquiry and that did expose weaknesses in the accounting officer arrangements which I am happy to go into later if you want to.

It may not be apparent to all the Committee but Home Affairs is the only department with 2 Chief Officers and there is a very, very important
distinction.  The Chief Officer of Police reports direct to the Minister and I have no managerial or command or control or responsibility at all, but I am the accounting officer and so the whole of the Home Affairs budget, half of which is the States of Jersey Police budget, I am accountable for.

The rest of Home Affairs, that is the Prison, Fire and Rescue Services, Customs and Immigration, Jersey Field Squadron and Superintendent Registrar, they do report through me to the Minister.  There is a different managerial relationship and clearly I can ask more questions of those departments than I can do of the Police.  That, as I said, we have been able to live with under ordinary circumstances.  When we got the unprecedented situation of potential child murder and all that was concerned with that inquiry, which it was billed as at the time, it put the accounting officer arrangements under severe strain and it has exposed weaknesses.

It is not in dispute that I am accountable because the law says I am and there are particular circumstances that have arisen with regard to the
inquiry and they need explaining.


1 comment:

Rob Kent said...

This seems to be another situation in which there are weaknesses in the system that are being blamed on one individual, like that revealed by the Verita report.

If the presence of two Chief Officers put the system under strain during the abuse inquiry, that is hardly the fault of Graham Power.

And if Frank Walker, Bill Ogley and Andrew Lewis (who I recall also repeated that phrase) gave Graham Power an open chequebook, it's hard to see how he could be held cuplpable for any overspend.

There would have to be some pretty egregious items on the balance sheet for Power to be deemed irresponsible. I mean practices that are variant from the norm of other States officials.

For example, if Lenny Harper travelled First Class, what do other officials and States Members do in similar circumstances?