Saturday, 10 September 2011

Green Street Barracks saga - Part V - “The Minister made a foolish gamble and lost" - Hubris

I delayed posting this blog to await the report by the JEP in their Saturday edition on the evidence given by David Flowers, former head of Jersey Property Holdings. The JEP gave a fair and accurate report. This is what many have to rely on for their view of the world (well in so far as Jersey is at its centre), albeit they often try to double guess. In fact articles are often written with such skeptics in mind. Indeed reading between the lines is an art. In terms of opinion formation the public will definitely have got the impression that the Treasury Minister made a colossal mistake.

It will be interesting to see if the Minister’s handling of the matter becomes an issue in the elections. It certainly should. Questions ought to be asked of candidates at hustings. This will test their loyalty as to which side of the Establishment Party they swing.

Once Scrutiny has published its final report, look out for what the editorials of the JEP start saying. So far there have been none. They will wish to protect the Golden Boy, but may have to ditch him if it all gets too hot.

Outside the Scrutiny hearing room on Thursday, Senator Philip Ozouf asked me what exactly it was that he had done wrong in his handling of the Lime Grove House purchase. I answered “Hubris, Sir, Hubris”. I am not quite sure if he understood what I meant, but by now he will have Googled the expression.

We were all ushered in to the sub panel hearing before I was able to expand on the precise details of his failures of policy, but just enough time for a Deputy candidate in St Helier No.3/4 to verbally jump to the Senator’s defence. Not that the Senator wanted or needed a toothless dog to bark on his behalf. That was quite an insight for me into the phenomena of allegiance and loyalty; this from a man attending his first Scrutiny meeting, supposedly with a view to objectively assessing the facts. I fear it may be his one and only attendance. At least there will be no question as to political affiliation in a future House.

The Scrutiny meeting became quite heated at times. The dynamics of personalities came into play and at one point the Chairman Senator Sarah Fergusson had to administer a verbal slap and remind the Minister that it was she that was asking the questions not he.

The Minister merely reiterated his “I was batting for Jersey” line, so don’t criticise me.

The real action came the following day on Friday with the second appearance before the sub panel of Mr David Flowers, the former head of Jersey Property Holdings (graduate of Kings College, Cambridge – say no more!). He was accompanied by Treasury CEO John Richardson, as is the right of any line manager to accompany their subordinate. This did not go down well with the Chairman, Senator Sarah Ferguson, as it was perceived as an almost intimidatory act. It was certainly in keeping with the culture of bullying that seems to be a feature of the Jersey Civil Service.

Mr Flowers was able to speak freely in front of the panel by virtue of parliamentary privilege and protections, but the same comments could not be made by him outside as he was bound by confidentiality clauses in his contract which apply to all civil servants. This is particularly handy to politicians who can lay the blame for mistakes on officials without them having a right of reply. This is not good for the official and their reputation. The Minister has been trying to impugn the reputation not only of Mr Flowers and turn him into a scapegoat, but also a number of other officials and private sector professionals. Such is desperation. We are given to believe there are a number of law suits already issued for defamation of professional reputation.

Mr Flowers, in the fourth year of a five year contract to effect change, was clearly frustrated by his inability to achieve that goal, surrounded by superiors who said they wanted it but in reality did not.

Casino mentality
Anyway, there were a number of classic quotes from Mr Flowers that damned the Minister and his CEO:

1. “The Minister made a foolish gamble and lost

2. “Trying to get one over in a [property] deal, just comes back on you.

3. “What was the downside risk of chipping half a million off the price? Where was the risk assessment?

That is to say, Senator Ozouf has no experience of negotiating property deals, yet he sacked the property services department and its professionals, sacked the Assistant Minister with responsibility for property matters and assumed personal responsibility, advised only by his CEO, John Richardson, a civil servant with equally no property negotiation experience. Phoning a friend (unnamed) for a bit of advice, and acting on that advice, does not negate the necessity to obtain professional assistance.

4. “Why would the public want to drive a win/loose deal?

That is to say, do the Public expect the Treasury Minister to be a property speculator that operates brinkmanship style negotiations on their behalf?

During the hearing there was a lot of talk by Treasury of Lime Grove House a fire sale or somehow damaged goods by virtue of having been left empty for ten years. We now understand that the building stands the owners in at nothing, having sold off the apartments alongside. This is precisely why they could afford to leave it empty for ten years and wait for a prime tenant to take the entire building or find a buyer for the freehold.

I have blogged extensively on the Lime Grove House hearing and hope these may help clarify the situation. It is unfortunate that not all transcripts are as yet on the Scrutiny website, especially those with David Flowers and Richard Law. They will be and I recommend the read.

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