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Sunday, 1 July 2012

"How Convenient For Ozo The Bozo"

Swinson Report: "We must carry on"


A Jersey Senator is determined that issues raised following the failed attempt to buy Lime Grove House as a new police headquarters should be dealt with by the States.

Sarah Ferguson says action must be taken over the Chris Swinson report, even though he has now quit as the island's government watchdog following criticism of his inquiry.

Mr Swinson's shock resignation on Friday has put into question whether or not a censure motion against Treasurer Philip Ozouf, who had been criticised in the report, should now go ahead.

Senator Ferguson and the three other politicians who had brought the motion will meet soon.

Meanwhile Senator Ferguson is fuming over events leading to Mr Swinson's departure.


The man who wrote the damning Lime Grove report has quit his job.

Government watchdog Chris Swinson has resigned following criticism of his report into the failed attempt to buy Lime Grove House as a new Police HQ.

Mr Swinson, the independent Comptroller and Auditor General, says the criticism over how the report was written has blurred the fundemental issues of concern.

In his letter of resignation to Chief Minister Ian Gorst Mr Swinson said: "In 2008 I was appointed by the States to serve as Comptroller and Auditor General until September 2013.

"In recent weeks discussion of a report that I published concerning the failed transaction to acquire Lime Grove House has centered on issues of process which has obscured the issues raised in the report itself.

"It is unacceptable for the discharge of my responsibilities to become a public issue in this way. Consequently I have decided that it is in the best interests of the office that I should resign with immediate effect".

Chief Minister Gorst says he is disappointed and surprised by the resignation.


Mr Swinson's report contained criticism of the behaviour of Treasury Minister Philip Ozouf over the failed purchase of Lime Grove House.

It suggested the Minister tried to damage the reputation of civil servant David Flowers - the Director of the States Property Holdings - and force him to leave his job early without compensation.

That led to a vote of censure against the minister which was to have happened on Tuesday, but was delayed.

The allegation was based on evidence given by Hugh McGarel-Groves - Jersey's former Interim Treasurer who now claims the Auditor General's report is a lie.

In an email he wrote: "I'm absolutely certain I never said any such thing to you.

"I have no idea on what evidence you are relying for that statement, but it does seem to me to be verging on libelous.

"The process you have followed in your report is seriously flawed".

Senator Sarah Ferguson, who had been leading the censure vote to reprimand Senator Ozouf, delayed the debate following production of the email just ahead of the debate.

"It's really quite scurrilous and makes considerable accusations against the Auditor General, that his process is flawed. And I am not prepared to have a debate when what is obviously going to be used as a vital piece of information is making so many unfounded allegations," she said.

Senator Ferguson spoke to Jess Dunsdon following the shock resignation

Earlier Mr Swinson was sticking to his report:

"I am aware of suggestions made by Mr Hugh McGarel-Groves concerning my Report on the attempt to purchase Lime Grove House. For the avoidance of doubt, I wish to make it clear that:
(1) I am confident of the evidence which formed the basis for the Report.
(2) I am not aware of any reason to amend the Report.
(3) My normal process was applied to the evidence provided to me by Mr McGarel-Groves and, in particular, a draft of the information he gave me was sent to him at the email address he provided.
(4) A copy of the draft Report for his comment was also sent to the email address that
he provided.
(5) No response was received from him to either the draft of his evidence or the draft
Report.

The full email sent to Mr Swinson from Mr McGarel-Groves is published below.

Leah Ferguson's report on the delayed vote of censure

Dear Chris,

You kindly arranged for the attached report to be e-mailed to me on 21 May.

As a result of work pressures, I did not have an opportunity of reviewing the report in any detail at the time; however, it has been brought to my attention that some of the contents relating to the report I was asked by the Deputy Chief Executive of the States of Jersey to prepare in January 2011 and also some of the contents of your report relating to the evidence I provided to you by telephone are now being used to support local political actions.

I'm informed that sections from your report are being quoted for political purposes and used as evidence against at least one senior local politician. It appears that the sections of your report being used for this purpose are principally sections 497 to 502 on pages 148 to 150 of your report. I understand the principal inference that is being drawn for political purposes from these sections is that I was influenced inappropriately by the Minister concerned to produce a report for the specific purpose of ousting the Director of JPH. It seems that the wording you have used in section 499 of the report is being taken as part of the evidence of this undue influence by the Minister and then in addition sections 501 and 502.

I must first of all make it absolutely clear that I was not influenced by anyone in the preparation of my report of January 2011. Those who know me, will vouch that I'm not someone who will allow himself to be inappropriately influenced. Sections 501 and 502 of your report include confirmation from the Treasurer that I was not willing to be influenced to make changes in the report I did not agree with (I did make some of the changes she requested however), so I absolutely refute any implication that I was inappropriately influenced by the Minister or anyone else in the contents of my report. I must also say that I object very strongly to your statement in section 501 (1) of a public report that the drafting of my report 'was inappropriate and inflammatory'. I have no idea on what evidence you are relying for that statement, but it does seem to me to be verging on libellous, unless you have solid evidence to support the statement, which I know you do not. I therefore request you issue a circular to all recipients of your report amending that wording to make it clear you have no evidence to support that statement.

The second point I must make concerns section 499. In this section you have summarised a fairly lengthy telephone conversation we had about the purpose of my report into four bullet points, none of which reflect my views, nor what I recollect saying to you in our conversation, so I'm at a loss to understand how you arrived at these four bullet points. My view on the purpose of my report is (and always has been) that it was to act as a second opinion on the contents of the two lever arch files provided by JPH, following the earlier report prepared by the Deputy Chief Executive of the States of Jersey, when he had reviewed the two lever arch files. The Deputy CEO expressly requested that he wanted me to use my financial knowledge and experience to identify any other matters of relevance that he had not already identified in his report. Therefore, my report was intended to be complementary to his and not duplicate the same findings. I find it rather strange that you comment in various places in your report that 'the report was undermined by the flawed process which the Interim Director of Finance was directed to adopt'. My report was never intended to be anything more than an additional review of the two lever arch files and the introduction to my report makes that absolutely clear.

So turning to your four bullet points:

(1) You state that the purpose of the report was not related to financial control. I certainly never said that to you and your statement is wrong in any case. As stated above, the Deputy CEO specifically asked me to use my financial knowledge and experience to highlight financial issues in the contents of the two lever arch files that he might have missed.

(2) You state that the Treasury Minister had decided it was necessary to remove the Director of JPH from his position at the time my report was circulated. I never said that to you and in any case it conflicts with your note 220 at the bottom of page 148, where it states '......for some time the Interim Director of Finance had been advising him as Treasury Minister that the Director, JPH's performance in his position was unsatisfactory ..........'. I have no doubt whatsoever that at the time I wrote my report in January 2011 the Treasury Minister had not decided whether he would support a process for removing the Director of JPH, even though I had been recommending to him and the Deputy CEO that this action might be necessary. The Treasury Minister was as aware as I was that Ministers must not interfere with the employment arrangements of civil servants; however, the Treasury Minister would have to take political responsibility for any termination costs involved with such a dismissal, if it proved necessary - hence his caution at that time in accepting the advice he was receiving from both myself and the Deputy CEO.

(3) Again, I certainly did not say to you, as this sub-section implies, that my report was intended as an alternative means of removing the Director of JPH 'because the amount he would have to be paid by way of compensation would not be politically acceptable'. I may have said there was always the possibility the review of the two lever arch files might unearth something sufficiently damning that appropriate disciplinary action could be taken against the Director of JPH, but I'm quite sure neither the Deputy CEO nor I seriously expected to find such evidence on these files, given that they had been put together by JPH staff and no doubt checked through by the Director of JPH
before they were handed over to the Deputy CEO. The principal purpose of the reports prepared by the Deputy CEO and myself on the two lever arch files was to establish whether the JPH recommendation to continue to proceed with the acquisition of Lime Grove House should be supported, or whether there might be other options that could be considered instead, which would satisfy the Police accommodation requirements. I don't recall any conversation with the Deputy CEO or the Treasury Minister that suggested my report might be used as a means to remove the Director of JPH, therefore I know I never had any view along those lines and consequently I know I would never have suggested to you in our telephone conversation that the purpose of my report was such.

(4) This section follows on from (3) above and suggests I said to you that my report 'was intended to be used as the basis for obliging the Director, JPH to leave the States without compensation by threatening his professional reputation.' This is even more far fetched than section (3) above and I'm absolutely certain I never said any such thing to you, for the same reasons as I've explained above. [final sentence -text redacted] I refute them entirely.

I don't know how best to prevent the statements you have purported I made in section 499 from being used as evidence against the Treasury Minister or anyone else, but I can only request you pass on my above comments to those who are trying to use them in this way, so that they are made aware that these sections of your report are incorrect.

In conclusion, I have to say that I think the process you have followed in the preparation of your report is seriously flawed. When I have been asked to contribute important evidence to other such reports elsewhere, I have been given the opportunity and sufficient time to review and correct the sections relating to my evidence, before the report was published. In this case, I received the report the day before it was published and even if I had been able to find time immediately to review the relevant sections and revert to you, it was clearly not your intention to make any amendments at that stage.

Kind regards,


Hugh

Hugh McGarel-Groves
Chief Financial Officer
Turks and Caicos Islands Government

1 comment:

  1. Surprised you are even bothered Ian.

    ReplyDelete