Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Questions and Evasions

An interesting variety of questions in the States - these were the written ones. If there are complaints (usually from the Council of Ministers) about the number of questions asked, it must surely be because of the inability of the Council of Ministers to provide complete answers.

Phil Rondel asked several questions about Operation Blast, and received several answers, although the question mark about any involvement by former Senator Frank Walker and Chief Advisor Bill Ogley was assumed to be closed - "Operation Blast was instigated on the instructions of the Chief Officer of Police." Wiltshire took the view that on balance it was unlikely that they had been involved, which is not the same as proving they hadn't. But when he asked "What action, if any, will the Minister take against the instigator and can he confirm that the files are now closed?", all he got was a reply to the first part of the question - "The disciplinary proceedings against Mr Power have been discontinued due to the lack of time for completion." The files, while they are not being added to at the moment, one assumes remain open, and in existence, and it certainly doesn't look as if they will be destroyed.

A most unusual question came out of the blue from Deputy Montfort Tadier. Deputy Tadier asked a question about vodka production, and asked Senator Maclean if he would support: "the idea of Vodka production in the Island and, if so, what steps he will take to bring this about?" In fact, this is already taking place - "Vodka distillation production would assist diversification and a pilot study to further investigate production and marketing is being funded under the Rural Initiative Scheme. If the pilot study is successful the applicant would begin commercial production." Perhaps we should start twinning with towns in Russia?

The suspension of Graham Power was on the agenda for Deputy Trevor Pitman, who was asking whether justice was served by the partial dissemination of information from Wiltshire: "Would the Minister further inform members whether he considers it correct in terms of natural justice that, having announced the abandonment of disciplinary action against the Chief Officer of the States of Jersey Police, he subsequently sought to use evidence from these inquiries to justify the suspension when the Chief Officer of the States of Jersey Police will himself have no right of reply?" Senator Le Marquand replied that "The Chief Officer of Police has already exercised his right of reply and will no doubt continue to do so either directly or through his political supporters." but not that Senator Le Marquand will be putting it into the public domain. In other words, the Senator will release Wiltshire in redacted form, but if Graham Power wants his defence to be made public, he will have to do it himself. Interestingly, he did not answer the question about "whether he considers it correct in terms of natural justice" for Mr Power to have a right of reply, only that "the investigation was fairly carried out", which is the closest to an answer. It's frustrating when a politician doesn't either give a direct answer, or replies in terms other than those in which the question was framed. One longs for a Jeremy Paxman to press the point.

Philip Rondel was asking about a quite different subject - ""Given that the military and government in the United Kingdom have established a special service run by General Practitioners to deal with cases of combat stress illness, will a similar service be available in Jersey, to make sure all our ex-service and serving personnel can benefit from any help that is required, given many Island residents have been or are in the Armed Services and the Island has a defence budget for our Territorial Army?" Deputy Ann Pryke, the Minister in charge of Health and Social Services said that "Individuals who work or who have worked in a military setting can present with a variety of psychological difficulties ranging from clinical depression and adjustment disorders through to anxiety states, obsessive compulsive disorder, as well as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  Staff within the Psychological Assessment and Therapy Service have experience of dealing with this wide range of difficulty. " but that in an Island this size, a specialised service would be difficult. It would be interesting to know the number of ex-military personnel who  have since ended up in prison, and from what I've heard on the matter quite a few do - there are often major problems reintegrating into civilian life - I'm not sure the Health service is dealing with the matter proactively enough.

Senator Alan Breckon was asking questions about salaries above £70,000  that have been paid to existing and former employees of Jersey Post and Jersey Telecom in the two years prior to (and each of the years following) incorporation up to 2009, and also about bonuses. Senator Ozouf began by not answering the question, and telling Senator Breckon that "The States of Jersey is the sole shareholder in Jersey Post and Jersey Telecom and the Board's shareholder relationship is set up under a Memorandum of Understanding.  The Treasury Minister does not directly control employee remuneration" - which  begs the question not asked - who does control it if not the shareholders? Do the directors have cart blanche to set salaries and bonuses themselves? He then told Senator Breckon that "The accounts include disclosure of Directors' remuneration, which includes disclosure of Directors salary/fees and their bonuses", so clearly Senator Breckon will have to look them up for himself, because the Treasury can't be bothered. That's just sheer laziness on the part of Senator Ozouf, especially as his department has copies of the accounts anyway, but it does ensure they don't get into the public record as an answer in Hansard.

Deputy Wimberley asked about organisation charts "to aid States members as they consider efficiency savings in the public sector, and to help the public to understand 'where the money goes', will the Minister also undertake to publish, by department, organisation charts which show, in outline, who does what within each department?" and the Chief Minister told him that "As members should be aware, Departmental Business Plans contain organisation charts which are updated annually and are available on the States of Jersey website." As Senator Ferguson knows, these are schematic summaries which contain really none of the information that Deputy Wimberley was asking for, and she asked for, before undertaking to draw up and work out her own charts for the Hospital. It is an evasion by the Chief Minister which suggests there is all the information there, if only Deputy Wimberley would care to look. But it isn't there, and it's the kind of sloppy fobbing off a question that is so annoying, when an honest answer would have been that there were only summaries available. 


Anonymous said...


I can tell you from a good deal of personal experience that Ministers are rarely prepared to give straight answers to straight questions. One immediately thinks back to the "Yes Minister" series which were uncomfortably close to the truth.

The reason for not answering questions fully and truthfully is usually one of three - or sometimes a combination of two or all of them -

1. An inborn reluctance to tell the whole story - such reluctance is invariably quite baseless and a Minister would be hard pressed to explain the reluctance.

2. A (perhaps) unconscious need to show how clever a Minister is by sounding eloquent and open whilst actually avoiding the issue completely. In other words, "Yes Minister".

3. A quite deliberate attempt to stonewall in the face of a difficult question which, if answered truthfully and fully, would prove embarrassing to the Minister.

I suspect that, in the case of the present Home Affairs Minister, we regularly have a dazzling display of all three reasons!

TonyTheProf said...

Yes the number of times local politics mirrors yes Minister is extraordinary.

The Economy Drive - we need to take on more managers to make savings!

The Economy Drive - we can lose a few typists and tea ladies

The Tangled Web: Sir Humphrey forgets there is an open mike in a BBC Radio interview