If secretiveness is the opposite of transparency, then secretiveness is the hallmark of government in Jersey. True to form, it was manifest Wednesday morning by the Corporate Services Scrutiny sub panel looking into the failure of the Lime Grove purchase, in deciding not to make public a BNP Paribas Real Estate report and valuation produced in June 2008.
The innocent abroad before the panel was chartered surveyor Paul Harvey of BNP Paribas Real Estates. In June 2010 he had produced a report and freehold valuation of Lime Grove House, Green Street for his client Jersey Property Holdings, the States of Jersey property management body.
Mr Harvey came over as an informed and capable expert prepared to stand by the professional integrity of his report, which valued Lime Grove House at £8.8 million. Speaking with a Northern Ireland accent, we must assume he comes from that culture of straight talking no nonsense. What he was not was a politician like Senator Sarah Fergusson and Deputy Colin Egree, versed in the ways of Jersey government.
Mr Harvey’s report was produced under the usual client and professional relationship and carried with it the backing of professional indemnity insurance. The report was produced in two versions, one full and the other “concise”, stripped of technicalities. The précis he told us was intended for States Members. It is at this point that matters become interesting. It appears neither full nor précis version were presented to all States Members when the House was asked to approve the transaction. Clearly the concise version was circulated amongst only an inner circle of Members, presumably associated with the Council of Ministers.
Mr Harvey was agreeable to a copy of his report being made available to the Scrutiny Panel for their use and that a copy of both full report and précis would be had delivered that afternoon. Since the client was the States of Jersey there could be no objection to it being shared with the Scrutiny Panel.
Senator Ferguson and Deputy Egree were in no mind for the report to be made available for public inspection on the Scrutiny web site. Quite why this should be so was not clear.
Mr Harvey was repeatedly pushed into a line of questioning as to whether there were any confidentiality matters associated with release of the report and he replied that it was at the clients’ discretion to do as they wished with a work commissioned at their behest. If the client wished to put it into the public domain, he would not object, albeit this was not the normal way in a commercial transaction. It was for Jersey Property Holdings to decide as it was their report.
Senator Ferguson said that she would discuss the matter with the Treasury Minister before the report was put in the public domain.
The third panel member Deputy De Sousa did not demur as she may have missed the point.
Clearly States Members as a matter of urgency must demand a copy of the report and précis be made available to them and to the public. The many headed hydra of secrecy must be fought.