Wednesday, 29 March 2017

The Bailiff’s Clarification

The Disallowed Questions:

1) To Minister for Treasury:

Will the Minister state whether, following the publishing of R.3/2017. The Comptroller and Auditor General’s report entitled ‘Jersey Innovation Fund‘, he was requested by the Chief Minister to resign, or whether he offered his resignation to the Chief Ministefl

2)To the Economic Development Minister:

Will the Minister state whether, following the publishing of R.3/2017, the Comptroller and Auditor Generals report entitled ’Jersey Innovation Fund’, he was requested by the Chief Minister to resign, or whether he offered his resignation to the Chief Minister?

The Bailiff’s Clarification

Below is printed a clarification by the Bailiff to Deputy Tadier (and sent to all States members) on why he ruled out questions regarding the resignation of Ministers.  It appears that Deputy Tadier had to ask for a written explanation for the decision, and it would I think be far more transparent when any question or proposition is ruled out of order, that a statement is made clarifying the reasons is made for the record. Incidentally, the statement does not appear as yet on the States Assembly website.

Publishing the explanation for a veto would also help other members of the States and create a body of case studies which must surely benefit the democratic process. Nothing is more invidious that decisions taken by the Bailiff where the reasoning is not in plain view to both States members and the general public where it impacts on the ability of members to ask questions or bring propositions to the house.

The core argument is that “Parliamentary questions must relate to a public matter for which a Minister has official responsibility.”. But surely past responsibility must count for something, otherwise Ministers could just move on and leave a trail of mistakes in their wake for which they cannot be called to account (except at the ballot box)?

As a Freedom of Information request cited by the Jersey Evening Post noted, Senator Maclean and Senator Farnham both signed off loans.  While they no longer have official responsibility, they must surely have had that responsibility at the time: how else could they have signed off the loans?

However, it does appear though that any statements by themselves about whether they offered to resign are a private matter for them, and it is up to them to make a private statement. That they have failed to comment on their responsibilities at the time says a lot about the culture of ignoring where mistakes are made in the past. But that does not mean it would necessarily be it as a resigning matter: just a bit of openness about their decision making. It may in fact be that at least one of the Senators signed off on the loans we know were successful.

Regarding Deputy Tadier’s question, referred to in the Bailiff’s clarification:

“Given that Senator Ozouf was not the only Minister to have signed off loans from the Jersey Innovation Fund, will the Chief Minister also be asking Senators Farnham and Maclean to ‘step aside’ from their ministerial duties until the relevant investigation has fully reported back?”

This was in fact neatly side-stepped by Senator Gorst:

“Both Ministers that the Deputy referred to are indeed honourable men and they are getting on delivering on behalf of this community. As I said in my opening answer, Senator Ozouf was the person who most recently had political responsibility of being delegated and that is why he chose honourably to step aside. We should now let the reviews take their course and once those reviews are finalised and, in the case of the political one, published, then if further action is required that further action will be taken, as I indicated at the last States sitting.”

This is a fudge and one can see why Deputy Tadier felt frustrated.

In the meantime, it seems that the question cannot be raised as to how much responsibility Maclean (who set up the fund) and Farnham took over signing off loans.

Indeed, the real question which needs to be answered is whether they made a mistake in signing off loans with problems that could have been seen at the time, and whether they were aware of the failures in the procedural governance of the fund. They should really clarify their position on this, either now, or certainly they may have to face the question at the hustings when such questions may not be so easily disallowed.

The Bailiff’s Clarification

Dear Deputy

I am writing in response to your request for my reasons for ruling out of order the questions you submitted asking whether the Minister for Treasury and Resources and the Minister for Economic Development. Tourism, Sport and Culture were asked to resign or offered to resign following the publication of the Comptroller and Auditor General‘s report on the Innovation Fund.

Parliamentary questions must relate to a public matter for which a Minister has official responsibility. This is set out in Standing Orders 9(1) and 10(2).

In relation to whether either minister has been asked to resign, that is properly a matter for the Chief Minister who has official responsibility for the Council of Ministers and you pursued this line of questioning with him at the sitting on 14' March.

As to whether the ministers themselves offered to resign, that is a personal matter for them not an official responsibility, which is one of the reasons why statements of resignation are personal statements rather than statements of matters of official responsibility.

In this context, it does not matter whether the questions are asked in relation to the period after the publication of the report on the Innovation Fund or specific meetings of the Council of Ministers.

Furthermore, if the questions were allowed it is very likely that Members would seek to ask supplementary questions concerning the Innovation Fund. However, neither minister has official responsibility for that matter. Removing the reference to the report on the Innovation Fund from your questions, as you suggested, would not help as the questions would then become entirely hypothetical and thereby infringe Standing Order 10(6)(a).

I understand that the application of the Assembly’s rules on questions can sometimes be a source of frustration. The Greffier can offer advice on how to use the Assembly's procedures to scrutinise ministers and there are likely to be opportunities for further questions in relation to the Innovation Fund when the reviews instituted by the Chief Minister are completed.


Nick Palmer said...

It all comes down to Gorst not answering the posed question at all but saying something like "unicorns, I love them" instead (a song from 'Despicable Me' in case you're wondering).

paul troalic said...

I think we should await the outcome of the reviews. If these show that any of the other ministers did not take reasonable steps to ensure the risk of failure was minimised then Gorst will be left with egg on his face and those ministers involved will need to resign.
I have faith in the review system and this will put all ministers firmly in the spotlight just before the next elections.
Patience is needed here.