Sunday, August 16, 2009

Geoff dismantles Ferguson's defence of Ozouf

When I pointed out last week that the Treasury Minister’s new initiatives to centralise powers under his control looked like a dangerous bid to create one-person government, I did not expect the head of the Corporate Affairs Scrutiny Panel, Senator Sarah Ferguson, the person charged with holding him to account, to rush to his defence. But in the weird world that passes for politics in Jersey, I suppose I should not have been surprised. After all they share very similar political views on most subjects apart from climate change.

I was not surprised in the least however by the loose way in which she marshalled the work of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in support. After all her election platform was almost entirely based on a misrepresentation of the CAG’s report into the potential for £35 million of further budget cuts. He said they were extremely difficult and many would result in service Business Plan cuts surely indicate who was right.

Worse still in her defence of Senator Ozouf was her use of selective quoting from the CAG: “… the lack of discipline in financial recording has assisted departments in obscuring cost profiles and this has been regarded by some as convenient.” The fact is that the past master of “convenient lack of discipline” is none other than Senator Ozouf himself, in his time in charge of Economic Development. He it was who restructured the ED budget under large generic titles such as “Promotion” and “Marketing” to hide subsidies of the order of £1m to prop up airline routes, many of which have now ceased.

That policy may have been right or wrong. Who knows? Whatever it was, it was not transparent, and it certainly lacked accountability.

To obscure costs in the larger budgets of Health and of Education is one thing; to do so in the ED budget of only £14 m requires rare talent and dedication. Senator Ozouf managed it. Apparently, the poacher has now turned gamekeeper, and according to Senator Ferguson we should now place our trust in him. I hope she will understand if I withhold mine.

Geoff Southern

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