Thursday, 25 May 2017

Cracks in the Wall

According to the JEP:

“CRACKS are beginning to appear in the Council of Ministers as ‘differing opinions’ among the Island’s most senior politicians on the Jersey Innovation Fund and hospital funding threaten to undermine ministerial government.”

“Treasury Minister Alan Maclean admitted that one of the reasons he withdrew the debate on funding for the £466 million hospital was ‘differing opinions’ within both the Council of Ministers and the States Assembly.”

But this is not the first time dissent has occurred within Ministerial Government. In 2010, we had this report from the BBC:

Jersey's Housing Minister Senator Terry Le Main has resigned from his position. He faced a vote of confidence in the States after allegations he interfered in the prosecution of a property developer. He has denied the allegations. 

 The Senator was criticised in court for writing to the Attorney General to say a case against developer Frank Venton was unfair. Mr Venton has admitted breaching housing law. The Royal Court was told that Senator Le Main is friends with the property developer, which the Senator denied.

While Terry Le Main may not have mixed socially with Mr Venton, in his register of States Members interests, it had been noted that Mr Venton, as the Creative Director of Vision Advertising has been printing the Senator's election campaign material since 1978.

Chief Minister Terry le Sueur, who was loath to let Senator Le Main go, despite previous warnings about alleged breaches of the Data Protection Law as Housing President. But Terry Le Sueur was forced into a corner, and Senator Le Main, rather than be booted out of the Council of Ministers, took the face saving course of resigning.

Intimations were made by both Chief Minister that he could in due course return to the front benches, but he never did: once out, other Ministers were keen to ensure he did not return. It is always easier to keep someone from coming back than to get rid of them!

And there were certainly cracks under Chief Minister Ian Gorst’s first term of office. A frequent voice of dissent was Deputy Rob Duhamel, the Minister for Planning and Environment, and it got to the point when storming sessions made his losing his position much closer.

But Senators Ian Le Marquand and Francis Le Gresley both defended the right of dissent, and Ian Gorst was forced to back down, although Rob Duhamel was certain hauled over the coals by his fellow Ministers. This differs from the Le Main case in that the Chief Minister wanted to sack a Minister, rather than keep him on in the face of growing opposition.

After that, it was clear that a tightening of controls was in order, so duly Senator Ian Gorst managed to get both the power to sack Ministers, although crucially the States would be the final arbiter on Ministerial appointments, and Collective Reponsibility, a charter to stifle any of the dissent that plagued him with Deputy Duhamel.

But Collective Responsibility is a double-edged sword, and means that when Senator Ozouf resigned, his return, as that of Senator Le Main, was never going to be that easy. This also underlies the withdrawal of the hospital funding, a proposition amended so many times by Senator Maclean that it was resembling a patchwork quilt.

It means that the voices of dissent within the Council of Ministers have a greater power than individual Ministers, and it means that it has been harder for Senator Gorst to restore Senator Ozouf to the inner circle.

The recent report on the Innovation Fund appeared to enonerate Senator Ozouf, pointing out he did not have political responsibility for the fund, even if he may have believed he did and other Ministers believed he did. It is a question of formal control over what happened in practice, and perhaps concentrates too much on the pure question of the former, whereas the Auditor-General’s report looked at the latter, who actually made decisions and how decisions were made.

However, recent remarks by the former Chairman, Tim Herbert, to Scrutiny have suggested there was political pressure to sign off on some loans, and at the moment, it is unclear which of the three politicians involved was indicated by this remark. So a question mark remains on all three – Senator’s Maclean, Farnham and Ozouf. The Senator is not completely out of the woods yet.

The Council of Ministers is divided over his return, as Bailiwick Express observes:”some see him as an experienced, eloquent, knowledgable and active advocate of Jersey; others believe he intrudes into areas which aren't his responsibility, and is a divisive figure who sows discord.”

Early on, a falling out led to Deputy John Le Fondre as assistant Treasury minister being sacked by Senator Ozouf.

In 2012, the JEP noted that:

“A SERIOUS breakdown in the relationship between Treasury Minister Philip Ozouf and former chief executive Bill Ogley led to the civil servant leaving his job with a £546,337 pay-off, a new report by the States independent spending watchdog has revealed.”

Mr Ogley wrote: ‘Over the last two years a sustained period of interference and harassment by the Deputy Chief Minister and Treasury Minister has made it impossible to do my job to the best of my ability.’

In 2014, as Jersey Treasury Minister, Philip Ozouf described his relationship with the departing States Treasurer as "forthright" - but strongly denied she resigned because of it. Laura Rowley resigned just days before the 2015 Budget was announced, a Budget in which she appears to have forcefully resisted the Senator’s attempts to raise the Marginal Relief threshold.

In 2014, new Treasury Minister Senator Maclean was defending him over the Waterfront, saying that commitments given last year that the Waterfront office development would not go ahead until tenants had been found for 200,000 square feet of offices were a simple mistake. 

Earlier that year, Senator Philip Ozouf as Treasury Minister had restated a commitment that the tenant threshold would have to be reached before work could begin: “I am afraid that what was said unfortunately by Senator Ozouf last year was an error. It was a mistake.” But in a statement, Senator Ozouf stopped short of calling his answer a mistake.

All Jersey's ministers have been called to a special meeting today, at which it's believed they will discuss whether to reappoint Senator Philip Ozouf.

We live in interesting times.

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