A Week in Politics

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No joke. The bar over which a subject must leap to be debated on the floor of the House is, you might say, pretty low.

And that’s why it is absolutely baffles me that Treasury Minister Philip Ozouf thinks he can claim authority over finance directors in every single States department with barely a backwards glance at the States Chamber.

The proposal in the ‘Treasury department draft restructuring plan’, to make the finance directors in every department report to States Treasurer Ian Black, creates problems.

Firstly, it creates a potential conflict. If a chief officer tells a finance director to do something, and the Treasurer tells him to do something else, what happens?

Secondly, how can chief officers be accountable for spending if they don’t have control of their own finance directors? Given that they’re legally responsible under the Public Finances Law for ensuring that money is sensibly spent, how reasonable is it to give away half of their authority?

This second point is almost moot. The two accounting officers who have gotten into trouble by the all-singing, all-dancing Public Finances Law, that promised dramatic strides in accountability, have just tried to pass the blame on to someone else – Lenny Harper, in the case of Home Affairs chief officer Steven Austin-Vautier over historical abuse inquiry spending, and John Richardson, in the case of Mr Black over the Eurogate incinerator – exactly what we were told that the new law would avoid.

And if that wasn’t enough, the experience of the last five years shows that the easiest way to get something to go wrong in the States is to share the responsibility between two or more departments.

Don’t believe me? Incinerator funding (Transport and Treasury), the Waterfront (Planning and Treasury), child protection (Education, Health and Home Affairs), even down to school milk (Economic Development and Environment). That’s how things go wrong.

Senator Ozouf’s plan might well help achieve the stated aim of focussing departmental minds on genuine cost-cutting, rather than the same old shroud-waving.

But it looks as though it would throw up more problems than it would solve. And whether or not that’s right, a change of this magnitude to the way that departments go about their business is surely worthy of a separate debate.

A final point about this. The very title of the ‘Treasury department draft restructuring plan’ is another high point in spin, right up there with the energy-from-waste plant (read ‘incinerator’) and inward migration (read ‘immigration’).

It’s not just the Treasury that’s restructuring – it’s everyone.

SOME people will spin, some will never call you back, some will claim they’ve been misquoted the moment that they get a bit of heat over a story, some will accuse you of bias no matter what you say, and some haven’t got a clue what they’re talking about – ever.

But there’s a flip side to that coin. There are some people who you can rely on, not just for a quick quote, but to be reasonable, well-informed, and honest. There are, admittedly, not quite so many of these.

But two of them have caused me a problem this week. Because while I couldn’t claim to know either of them intimately, I’ve always found that Home Affairs Minister Ian Le Marquand and Police chief Graham Power fall squarely into the latter category.

As a result, the further twists and turns in the tale of the suspended Police chief this week have left me a bit stumped.

Either Senator Le Marquand, who has now suspended his Police chief twice, or Mr Power, who has tabled a formal complaint about his minister’s conduct, is in the wrong over this.

But you get the feeling that even if Mr Power comes back to work, these two are not destined to share a harmonious relationship.

I RECKON that just about enough has been written about the renaming of James Street to Rue de Funchal, and the furore that followed.

But you’ve got to wonder whether a similar reaction greeted the naming of Mont de la Barcelone, Rue d’Egypte or New York Road, all of which are named after places further away both geographically and culturally than Madeira.

It is more than slightly disappointing that it was left to St Helier Constable Simon Crowcroft to express his disgust at some of the racist attitudes displayed by those against the change.

The last time that I looked there were ten Deputies in St Helier – were they not similarly shocked?

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