Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The Dark Caves of Plemont

“I would respectfully suggest that those who have suggested that I have concealed information withdraw their comments” (Senator Philip Ozouf)

I think the vote of no confidence is ill-judged, and will not succeed. The best judgement of Senator Ozouf’s performance as Treasury Minister will be the election.

In passing, I would remark that the letter in the JEP by Roy Travert has mistakenly identified the property tax with a poll tax. It is not. It is, however, as one of the options, suggesting shifting the burden of property tax from owner / occupier to occupier alone, hence is a move in the direction of a poll tax, but not in fact one. That’s why I called it a “twist on the poll tax”.

But there is something about concealed information revealed by the recent question by John Le Fondré in the States of Jersey recently. Deputy Le Fondré asked:

“When was the Council of Ministers formally informed of the significant change in the income forecasts as compared to those included in the Medium Term Financial Plan?”

The reply was very revealing:

“The Council of Ministers were informed of the revised income tax forecasts at their meeting on 11th June. 2014. The Treasurer advised that the income tax department was undertaking further work with agents to assess whether or not any more income was likely to be generated and to check that all returns had been made. On 30th June 2014 the income tax department confirmed the revised estimate, having completed further enquiries with industry.”

This means that the Council of Ministers were fully cognizant of the significant deficit in States finances before the debate on Plemont.

Now on 1st July, the States debated Plemont, and neither Sir Philip Bailhache, nor Philip Ozouf, saw fit to enlighten the rest of the States about the black hole in the States finances. This information was, in fact, concealed from the States.

Would the outcome of the debate been different if the States had known about the significant shortfall in tax revenue, and the need to revise the budget plans? Who can say? Perhaps the result would have still been the same.

It remains a fact, nevertheless, that important and significant information was concealed from the ordinary States members during the debate both by the proposer, and by the Treasury Minister.

Ostensibly the criminal confiscation funds could be moved to lessen the budget for the new police HQ, so that the Chief Minister’s Department would have extra funds, and hence not effect the Medium Term Plan. But in fact, given the scale of the problem, such a strategy could well have been used to ameliorate the projected deficit in tax revenues, without instead using the fund towards Plemont.

In Plato’s allegory of the cave, the reality inside the cave is invisible, but only seen in the shadows cast by the fires burning. In the dark caves of Plemont, we can glimpse just the shadows of the unseen reality, and wonder what else may have been unsaid.

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