Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Government Information and Public Inflammation.

Ignorance of the law is no defence in court yet we are all expected to understand, and abide by, the ever changing laws of Jersey. But how are the general public supposed to keep up to date with the enormous amount of legislation that is enacted or proposed?

We at Team Voice have been battling with the Scrutiny System for proper access to hearings and to be able to video report the proceedings but this is just the tip of the information iceberg.

Our government is obsessed with putting information online and not printing paper copies of reports etc. (supposedly to save costs) but many people do not have access to computers for one reason or another and the official website is a confusing mess.

The whole question of access to information in Jersey needs looking at afresh and the long awaited Freedom of Information Law should help to promote change if it is enacted.

But even the most basic provision of signs outside of official and government buildings is deplorably inadequate and physical access for many is often discriminatory because of steps or lack of other facilities such as hearing loops (for the deaf).

This video introduces the problem so far as government information is concerned.

In part 2 we will look at the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) to see how information can be properly delivered (with a smile). We shall also be looking at Parish Halls and other places where information should be available to the general public.

Both the States Greffier and the head of the Information Service at Cyril Le Marquand House declined to give us an interview.

Submitted by Thomas Wellard.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

0/10 and the cheapest feed in Town

We at The Voice thought that the free sandwiches had ceased, but today the Chairman’s Chairmens Committee members were still devouring them like Royal Square pigeons presented with a fist of corn.

Fortunately, we all know that there is no such thing as a free lunch and our boys over there in London – Chief Minister Le Sueur and his pal Senator Pip Ozouf of the Treasury – must have had indigestion following the annual Dinner for Crown Dependencies on the ominous 13th October. What did granny Ozouf used to say, don’t eat oysters unless somebody else is paying but don’t eat anything free on the 13th! Or was that ole granny Walker?

Well, it must have come as a shock to learn that the whole 0/10 economic policy was off – like some corked claret – and after all that expensive nurturing too – just because some countries in the EU have objected on the ground of unfairness!!! Who ever believed that life in a tax haven was about fairness?

Of course, this economic bombshell wasn’t on the agenda for the Scrutiny Chairmen because even after they had determined who should have the much prized prawn with mayo ( always high on the agenda at these meetings) they seemed very concerned that some Members of the States were not even serving on Scrutiny Panels. So they have decided to contact Bob Hill – who must be the hardest working and busiest Deputy in the building – to try to persuade him to join a Scrutiny Panel!! Perhaps they feel that he doesn’t waste his quota of time or is looking underfed? Anyhow, for some reason – perhaps he likes the prawn option – they couldn’t agree whether to invite Senator Syvret to join in with their fun and games too. We wondered why not?

Our particular favourite “Chairman” (that’s what she prefers to be called) Senator Sarah Ferguson suggested that her Panel might take a future look at States Employment policies and HR matters. She means Human Resources of course - not Human Rights because Deputy Bob Hill seems to be left with a total responsibility for those - and we have often lamented that the electorate had not shown closer attention where the Senator’s employment was concerned. However, we were surprised that she didn’t want to raise 0/10 through her Corporate Services Panel because just one week earlier she had had both Ozouf and Le Sueur in the hot seat under the white light of her inquisitorial gaze.

In fact, neither of our 2 most senior Ministers had even mentioned then that the Europeans had committed the gravest attack upon Jersey’s economic well-being since Adolf’s Heinkels landed at St Peter. Perhaps it had slipped their minds?
But they had outlined a whole new economic austerity package that required successive States expenditure cuts of 2% per annum within a strictly controlled 3 years Strategic Plan, which was to address the existing anticipated £60 millions “black hole” in Jersey’s economy, an immediate 6 months review of ALL of Jersey’s taxation policies, including GST and 0/10 and aligning with any GLOBAL TAXATION REVIEW STANDARDS etc. They stressed that all spending and all means of raising income were to be strictly reviewed. They were talking tough – or as tough as a couple of jelly babies can – and the steely Senator and her dynamic team (Deputy Vallois and Constable Murphy) occasionally stirred to comment. But since this was an “after lunch” meeting there was nothing to really excite the political taste-buds.

Of course, we had applied to video record the proceedings (and had complied with the absurd 3 day rule) but our favourite Chairman has her very own policy of a total ban on anybody except the “accredited media” making recordings and so we cannot bring you an instant video blog of the hearing and you must apply for the official transcript for the full text.
But, undaunted we asked her today for an interview about 0/10 and the dramatic announcement that it was as dead as an Esplanade Quarter Plan but of course, she refused, no doubt awaiting further instructions. We reminded her that the 2 most senior Ministers had not mentioned it just 1 week previously and although she agreed that they almost certainly knew about it then, she had no plans to recall them for a further grilling under the white light of transparency. Also she thought it very unlikely that she would want to invite Accountant Richard Murphy either in spite of the fact that he had been retained by the Jersey States and was sacked for advising against the adoption of the 0/10 taxation farce, many years ago.

What we say is, carry on buying your own sandwiches Bob and stay away from these time-wasters!

Submitted by Thomas Wellard.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Skippy the Justice Kangaroo.

Well another day in the totally predictable Jersey Kangaroo Court re Attorney General v Stuart Syvret.

This is another one of these surreal episodes that you really must be there to appreciate and are extremely difficult to convey in words…….but we shall try our best.

Team Voice have been to a number of the Magistrates Hearings involving this case and this is why I say these are predictable and today was no exception. The first part was taken up by Advocate Baker submitting that there should be a media embargo on naming “Nurse X” that is to say (as far as I understand it) that “Nurse X” and his/her family deserve protection from the media.

This embargo or injunction or whatever it’s called was not contested by ANY of our “accredited” media, although the JEP wrote a letter to the Court which I found quite confusing but as far as I am aware the bottom line was they are not contesting it but might in the future

So it was left to Team Voice to do what any self respecting “Journalist” should do and argue against reporting restrictions being imposed on the basis of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (and also the Jersey Human Rights Act) and in accordance with Article 19 of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Senator Syvret made similar arguments but predictably the Magistrate found in favour of Advocate Baker acting for the AG. So for the moment reporting restrictions have been imposed.

The fact that Team Voice was able to make a submission was in itself a small miracle since there appeared to be no notice anywhere in the media that there was to be this hearing on reporting restrictions! It was only by chance we were told of it by Senator Syvret during an e-mail exchange that morning.

Team Voice rapidly set about drafting a submission. We phoned the Magistrate’s Greffier so that we could e-mail the submission directly. After a succession of people refusing to give us their names and refusing to give us an e-mail address for the Greffe and hanging up the phone on us we had to turn up in court with our arguments. Although the Magistrate (predictably) found against us we felt compelled to make this stance to protect free expression.

So far as Senator Syvret’s case was concerned this is where the surrealist dimensions, déjà vu and perverse predictability comes in.

Yet again Senator Syvret was asking the prosecution to disclose evidence that would assist the court in the proper consideration of the abuse of process trial initiated by the Senator (or was it the Data Protection case?) But the prosecution argued that the evidence sought was not relevant to the case. Inevitably the Magistrate decided to have ANOTHER directions hearing at a future date to determine whether the evidence is relevant or not.

Senator Syvret has been here before. This is not the first time he has been refused evidence and the last time, if I recall correctly, the prosecution stated that the evidence sought was not relevant and the Magistrate agreed without even viewing the evidence!

To date the Magistrate has not found in favour of Senator Syvret on one single legal argument that we are aware of. Today appeared to be the last straw for the Senator, he could not see the point in having yet another argument where the outcome is already determined (to use his words).

We must encourage any readers to turn up to one of these court cases as they really have to be seen to be believed. If this is what passes for “Justice” in Jersey then we are all in the sh1t!

The Senator did walk out of the court today and claimed he would not return and will face arrest if necessary. We can not blame him for feeling such frustration but must also hope he is not playing directly into the hands of “The powers that be”.

Senator Syvret will be publishing a post on these proceedings in the next couple of days on his Blog and we are sure he’ll be able to shed more light on this debacle than we could.

Submitted by Team Voice.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

The birdman of crass

He’s a cuddly and chirpy little chap and doesn’t mean any harm to anybody but we should not be fooled that Mike Stentiford MBE does not have political agenda.

As President of the “National Trust for Jersey”(NTfJ) he heads a very powerful political lobbying group which by its very name lays down a biased belief in Jersey as a Nation and under cover of some very laudable purposes, promotes a very narrow view of Island affairs and priorities.

Of course the preservation of countryside is traditionally linked to conservative land owning or farming interests and the likes of Mike Stentiford, with a life long concern for wildlife, are obvious – but not always compatible – allies in battles against development or other perceived threats to their privileged lifestyles.

Thus, in Jersey where the government is so embedded into the finance business and a belief in ever more commercial and population growth - the need for the NTfJ and others under an environmentalist banner to resist building encroachments into the countryside is thoroughly predictable - just as it is hypocritical.

Be in no doubts however, but Mike Stentiford has a political record because he is a poll topper when it comes to signing nomination papers for election candidates. During the most recent Senatorial elections last autumn he signed for 4 candidates including (Senator) Mike Vibert – and they were all unsuccessful. Yet, whilst it is evident that he would have shared some environmental concerns with some of the candidates his signature alongside that of Freddie Cohen – the Minister of Planning – on Mike Vibert’s nomination was puzzling at least, in view of the recent “Line in the Sand” manifestation.
Presumably, even in Jersey there is some expectation of political consistency and shared beliefs when it comes to nominating electoral candidates?

It would no doubt prove very interesting to undertake a fuller analysis of election nominations to reveal the sub-power groups from among the NTfJ, or farmers or lawyers etc who support the men and women who eventually form our government and to compare their political policies.

We all know that landowners and farmers are never shy of building in the countryside for their own purposes or that there is virtually no end to the hideous green sheds, glasshouses or other developments that are permitted in the name of “farming”. And we also know that the countryside is littered with massive ex agricultural buildings that are now storing finance business archives or have been changed to many other uses. And, we are the usually silent witnesses to the glasshouses that have been re-zoned for housing development - making instant multi-millionaires of their blessed owners.

Shall the “birdman” and his allies be demonstrating against the latest farmland rezoning plans in the current Draft Island Plan produced under Freddie Cohen’s careful eye? Shall the faming lobby be demanding that the glasshouse sites be returned to grazing for Jersey cows or even that Freddie’s own fields be returned to a proper agricultural use in leafy St John? Shall any of these groups be proposing a plan to house everybody in Jersey?

Of course, the hidden agenda is that the homes that are desperately needed to properly house the entire population of Jersey will never be built. The 15,000 people who live in lodgings and farmyard portakabins are just simply not on the radar of the NTfJ and its membership and unless they grow feathers and learn to whistle a pretty tune – Mike Stentiford will not focus on them through his binoculars. At best, some of these thousands will be stuffed into shoeboxes within the town limits and if houses are built in the countryside the Constables will hoist the “parishioners first” signs.

The elimination of discrimination in Jersey is not a priority because it simply does not affect adversely those who govern or make the critical policy decisions. Birds and squirrels must have their nest boxes and those so pretty cows must have their 4 acres, milking parlours and sheds but the second class thousands of workers who do the work and pay the taxes that keep the whole show on the road – are forever to be ignored. They are not included in the Plan.

It is undoubtedly a perverse society that allows such policies to be promoted year after year. Even Norman Le Brocq’s Island Plan of 1983 (when he was President of Planning) perpetuated the same prejudiced aims in the name of protecting the countryside and he offered no solutions to the housing dilemma. It is just the same with Freddie Cohen, 25 years later.

Mike “Birdman” Stentiford might look superficially like one of our “Team Voice” on this cartoon image but we shall be pleased to receive his contrary reply and to post his side of the conservation, environmentalist argument.

Submitted by Thomas Wellard.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Jersey line in the sand - an impossible dream?

Our government is obsessed with development and growth and proposes to increase the population by yet another 8,000 to reach 100,00 residents.

There are already 15,000 people in Jersey living in lodgings of one sort or another. Yet the very latest Draft Island Plan proposes to build only 4,000 more dwellings (but only for those with housing qualifications) and most of these are to be crammed into the St Helier Ghetto.

Consultation papers seen by “The Voice” estimate that Jersey already needs another 10,000 units but when will anybody produce a plan that honestly attempts to solve Jersey’s horrendous housing problems?

(We apologise for the poor sound quality on some of this video)

Submitted by Thomas Wellard.