09 July 2012

Ozouf Censure: The Saga Continues

Censure of Treasury Minister Withdrawn in Favour of PAC Investigation 

Treasury Minister, Philip Ozouf

 Senator Sarah Ferguson

'It is quite clear that, at the moment, it is virtually impossible for the Assembly to hold Ministers to account.'

Yesterday Evening, the following Statement was issued by Senator Sarah Ferguson on behalf of herself and the 3 other States Members who were bringing the Censure Motion, p61, against the Treasury Minister, Senator Philip Ozouf:

'With great reluctance, it has been decided to withdraw the Proposition, P.61/2012, seeking a Vote of Censure against the Treasury Minister.
Given the dispute that has broken out as to the interpretation and use of evidence, and notwithstanding questions about the timing of these interventions by the former Interim Treasurer and Senator Bailhache, we think it would be wrong to pursue this Proposition while these issues remain active.

Public Accounts Committee Chairman, Deputy Tracey Vallois
Instead, we are asking the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (“PAC”) and the Chief Minister to investigate these allegations. 

Since the proposition was submitted, matters have moved on and become even more serious.
We consider the resignation of the Comptroller and Auditor General (“CAG”) to be a grievous blow to the reputation of the Island, and strongly reiterate our support for him and the report itself. It would also appear that the former CAG has had little or no support from the Council of Ministers since the publication of the report.  We also deplore what have in effect been inferred attacks upon the integrity of the CAG.
We would remind Members of the note of resignation from the former CAG from which we conclude that he became very concerned that the debate was shifting away from the issues identified in the report and was becoming more politically focussed. We also remind members of the letter dated 18th May 2012, in which the former CAG repeated (to the PAC) a warning that “to avoid the consequences of a critical report, it was likely that an attempt would be made to discredit the report by discrediting its author”. In our opinion this would appear to be what is happening.
The original issues remain the same as they were when the Scrutiny Panel undertook its original review into the Lime Grove transaction. 
The matter was initially referred to the CAG as the panel considered that the issues identified during its review were serious, and were beyond its remit. This was entirely appropriate given that some of the issues impacted on the integrity of the States.
Recently resigned, C&AG, Chris Swinson
The resultant report is not a legal document (in the sense of being prepared for a Court Case) but a report of a Comptroller and Auditor General. It is a comprehensive report based on interviews and documentary information supplied by a large number of parties.
We remind members of the credentials of Mr Swinson O.B.E. - past president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales , past Chairman of the Audit Committee of HM Treasury ; member of the Financial Reporting Council ; Senior Independent Director at The Pensions Regulator and Non Executive Director at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory. He was also re-appointed this year by the UK Prime Minister as a Trustee of the National Museum of Science and Industry. He has developed his own practice as an expert witness and mediator and is a consultant in corporate accountability and governance.
His resignation over the attempts to question his integrity is not something that members should be taking lightly.
The issues surrounding Lime Grove are not just about the failure to buy a building. The Scrutiny and CAG reports have both identified serious concerns about various processes and decision making at the highest levels in the States system.
An office which is intended to be one of the major checks and balances in our Government has been unremittingly attacked such that doubts have to be raised as to whether a new Comptroller and Auditor General can be recruited to this political environment. 
There are questions regarding the haste with which the Council of Ministers sought to close matters down, leading to the remarkable and quite frankly, risible assertion that the Treasury Minister ‘s actions were acceptable because of stress and a lack of training.
This whole episode reflects very badly on our Government. The Inquiry we are calling for should include a consideration as to how to ensure that a repetition of the events which have occurred can be avoided in the future.  It is quite clear that, at the moment, it is virtually impossible for the Assembly to hold Ministers to account.
There is immense public disquiet across the political spectrum which will not be resolved by burying the issues and attacking the former Comptroller and Auditor General.  In withdrawing the Proposition we ask all members to support the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and the Chief Minister to ensure that their ability to carry out their responsibilities with regards to the Lime Grove House Report is effective and the issues are not merely brushed under the carpet.'

Senator Sarah Ferguson
Deputy Roy Le Herissier
Connétable of Grouville
Deputy John Le Fondre