Eradicated once and for all

Are the States of Jersey doing enough to improve the negative perception of the Jersey Way?

This is an online expanded column that originally appeared in the Jersey Evening Post on the 26 July 2017

A key finding in the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry report, Recommendation 7, is that “all perceptions of there being a negative ‘Jersey Way’ are eradicated once and for all”. The negative Jersey Way being defined as:

“the protection of powerful interests and resistance to change, even when change is patently needed”

It’s been less than a month since recommendation 7 was released to the waiting victims of child abuse, their families and the public. Since then we’ve had Deputy Andrew Lewis take to the States Chambers to mount his own defence and protest his innocence against the Inquiry finding that he lied. He simply made a mistake, twice.

We then found out from Jersey’s Attorney General that he couldn’t be prosecuted for committing perjury anyway, unlike the public. What damage this has done towards States members remaining truthful and for potential future inquiries we will never know. Deputy Jackie Hilton called for Lewis’ standing down, not wanting to be “tarred with the same brush” saying “If we want to maintain the confidence of the public in the States Assembly there is only one thing Deputy Andrew Lewis can do”.

Politicians were also quick to praise the Chief Minister, Ian Gorst’s, diplomatic handling of the findings of the report. Constable Len Norman said he “deserved nothing but credit”, while Senator Philip Ozouf tweeted that he was an “inspiration to all”. The £33,500 spent on “strategic advice” from PR company Portland Communications and further £18,000 on engaging former Tory spin doctor Ramsay Jones were all but forgotten.

Former Chief Minister, Chairman of States owned Andium Homes, Non-Executive Director of the Ports of Jersey and newly appointed Chairman of Digital Jersey, Frank Walker, was interviewed on BBC Radio Jersey on the 12th July regarding the findings of the Care Inquiry report.

The report states that there was “disquiet” among politicians, including Frank Walker, (as current Chief Minister) over the effect of the publicity being generated by Operation Rectangle at the time, but that they “recognised” any accusations of a cover-up would of been far worse for Jersey’s reputation. The victims apparently just an after thought.

Questioned about this interpretation on BBC Radio, Frank Walker said he “disagrees” with the inquiries claims that he was more focused on Jersey’s reputation than the victims at the time.

Frank Walker’s notorious BBC Newsnight Interview in February 2008

A few days later Senator Philip Bailhache was also telling BBC Radio Jersey he disagreed with claims in the report. The discussion came to his 2008 Liberation Day speech when he said “All child abuse, wherever it happens, is scandalous, but it is the unjustified and remorseless denigration of Jersey and her people that is the real scandal.”

The Inquiry panel stated of the speech that they “cannot accept that a politician and lawyer of his experience would inadvertently have made what he told the Inquiry was an ‘unfortunate juxtaposition’ of words”. When questioned on this point by the BBC radio presenter, Senator Bailhache simply responded that the panel of legal experts had “got that wrong”.

Including the Clothier and Carswell reports, the Care Inquiry report also recommends that the Bailiff’ should be removed as president and speaker of the States of Jersey. However, despite this now third report to recommend such action, Senator Philip Bailhache and Constable Chris Taylor have both openly stated they are against it. The fact that the Bailiff happens to be Senator Philip Bailhache’s own brother, and was previously in the role himself, is not lost on the Jersey people.

Creating a perception of resistance to change the Chief Minister recently stated his intention to vote against the proposition to remove the Bailiff due to their not being enough “detail” within it. So far he has made little to no effort to provide further guidance or detail as to what would help move his decision towards supporting the proposition. He has till the 12th of September to help make that recommended change.

The Bailiff, William Bailhache took the opportunity on the 14th of this month, in his Bastille Day speech, to espouse the positive aspects of the Jersey Way. A week later he did so again, this time in the States Chambers. After Deputy Michael Higgins spoke of the negative perception of the Jersey Way still being prevalent, the Bailiff intervened to inform him that it was about “fairness, compassion and integrity”. Deputy Higgins politely disagreed.

Jersey Evening Post revealed this month that the Economic Development Minister Lyndon Farnham may break collective responsibility and request an exemption to vote against the Chief Minister for the first time. The reason being that a proposed waste charge would impact upon the hospitality industry and the business he is a director of. He therefore appears to want to openly act in his own vested interested.

Finally there was the news that following a Scrutiny review report into the Jersey International Finance Centre development, amongst other negative points, there was evidence in 2008 (just after the Masterplan was approved by the States Assembly) that the plans at that time were revised to show a loss of £50 million rather than a £75 million profit.

What’s more, this information had been kept from certain States members as well as the Jersey public. The Scrutiny review report also found that the States of Jersey Development Company and the Minister for Treasury and Resources had “at best, stretched” the conditions to enable the development to start.

Recommendation 7 means more than just signing off on creating a few new positions and roles, or reallocating funds to where it’s currently felt they are needed most. It’s about radical change being required by the States of Jersey. A major change in culture and the way the government communicates with and presents to the public. In how members view their responsibilities.

The days of being secretive, revealing information only when it suits, and putting positive spin on issues must be well and truly over. With Jersey facing many current and future challenges, now more than ever we need a government that is open, honest and transparent. But also willing to treat the public with respect by informing them of all the facts, good as well as bad.

Following the Care Inquiry report, abuse victim Jacky de la Haye came out to speak to the Jersey Evening Post of her experiences. She said “I absolutely 100 per cent believe that things will not change. It’s Jersey. It’s the Jersey Way”. Judging by the last few weeks since the report has been released it’s hard not to agree with her.