Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Et Tu, Brute?

The knives are certainly out for Senator Ozouf, but is this of his own making or not?

A letter written by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Chris Swinson, said he thought the treasury minister was attempting to smear his review.

He reviewed the failed attempt to buy the Lime Grove building for the police. The minister, Senator Philip Ozouf, said the accusations were one-sided. He said:

"This is the second time the comptroller and auditor general has effectively published a report with one-sided accusations that somebody being held to account that they in their view are being harassed to do their job."(1)

The other time, of course, was Bill Ogley who accused Senator Ozouf of harassing him, and behaving in a manner ill befitting a politician; this was the cause of Mr Ogley's rapid departure, although the golden handshake itself was a mistake to be laid at the feet of former Senator Frank Walker - another politician who just doesn't seem capable of apologising, or seeing any need to do so.

I wonder if these reports had come out before Senator Ozouf tried and succeeded in keeping his position as Treasury Minister, whether he would have managed to get re-elected to that post. I somehow doubt it.

But this was part of the culture of the States. Senator Frank Walker led the way. First there was his angry "shafted" remark to Senator Stuart Syvret - when he thought the cameras and microphones were safely off, and he could be rude with impunity. Then there was his apparent bulling of Wendy Kinnard at a meeting witnessed by Graham Power, which would also have gone unremarked.

The Health Minister Jim Perchard told Stuart Syvret in a States session to slit his wrists, and denied it, before being forced into an embarrassing admission of guilt, because other States members had overheard. Stuart Syvret probably didn't help, with his tirade of invective that made me wonder if he was trying for the Jeremy Clarkeson award for rudeness, but like Clarkson, one rather expected it of him, and at least he was open and honest about his insults, not sly and underhand.

Meanwhile, Terry Le Main fired off letters as Housing Minister to try and influence a Court case in which the defendant was the man who provided him with election posters and leaflets at cost, and ranted that he had done nothing wrong.

With teachers like Senator Walker, is it any wonder that Senator Ozouf learnt to express himself forcefully, albeit never in the public sphere. The learned behaviour is as follows - don't ever apologise, go on the offensive.

Unfortunately, as we have seen, these things leak out eventually.

The report, published on Tuesday, catalogues accusations of harassment and bullying by Senator Ozouf and an attempt to smear the former chief executive of Jersey Property Holdings, David Flowers. (1)

Senator Ozouf was once the golden boy, the heir apparent of Frank Walker. When Ian Gorst was standing for Chief Minister, there was still a chance for him to challenge him for the post; once Philip Bailhache decided to stand, he must have realised that he would not stand a chance. His natural supporters, like John le Fondré once was, have now seen what he can be like and they wouldn't vote for him to be Treasury Minister. James Reed was effectively stabbed in the back by bringing forward education proposals that appear to have been rubbished by the Treasury Minister.

Channel Television kept showing a picture of him looking gaunt and jaundiced, alongside captions like "Bullying". The Jersey Evening Post has the headline "Ozouf 'prepared to ruin civil servant's reputation'" The BBC report is probably the least antagonistic, and does print something of his reply:

Senator Ozouf said: "It's very easy to say when someone is being challenged that that behaviour is too challenging, well we were at risk of purchasing the most expensive piece of property the States would have ever bought - I think the public expect me to ask questions. (1)

On Channel TV, the Senator also said he would be giving a full statement when he returns to Jersey. But the knives are definitely out, and with past allies like Frank Walker and Terry Le Sueur now gone from the scene, it will be interesting to see if there is pressure for him to resign from the Treasury. One thing is certain: he will need a lot of luck to remain in the States next election.

Of course, there are more than one side to a story; it can be told in different ways, and events can be open to different interpretations. Dunkirk, after all, can even be seen with positive spin as a "miracle", even though it was a retreat. When one looks at history, there is always a need to be aware of possible alternative interpretations, and how well they fit the available evidence. But the Auditor General has been doing this. He is an honest man, without an axe to grind.

It is noteworthy that the Auditor-General's report has taken great care to sift the evidence, to test what he is told by witnesses, including Senator Ozouf, and he is very careful not to make any political judgements. That task falls to the States, and in particular, the Council of Ministers. We shall have to wait and see.

Links(1) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-jersey-18147648

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