Friday, 29 October 2010

Don Mitchell CBE QC – blog hero

Corruption-free Anguilla (linked HERE) has been the blog site of Don Mitchell since December 2006 but it looks likely to be closed down.

It is a great loss. The site was set up as “A discussion site for Good Governance and Corruption in Public Life issues in the British Overseas Territory of Anguilla…”

What is especially unusual is that the blogger is a much respected lawyer, and former Magistrate and Judge of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court circuit.  He is the equivalent of a Bailiff turned blogger.

Don Mitchell started as a lawyer in St. Kitts and worked extensively in the West Indies and has been based in Anguilla for many years in private and public practice.

He was awarded the CBE by the Queen in 2005 for his public services in the Eastern Caribbean and retired soon afterwards starting his extraordinary and brave blog site, twelve months later.

The vast range of his outpourings has been amazing and deserves to be studied and saved before they are removed from the net entirely. His writing is always well informed and his articles on human rights and constitutional issues are as relevant in Jersey as they are 3,000 miles away.

If you have never looked at Corruption-free Anguilla – DO SO NOW – whilst you still have the chance and bear in mind that even such a highly qualified lawyer as Don Mitchell can be forced off the internet by a complaint.

This is not the first time that Don has been threatened with legal action and it seems that the libel laws in the Caribbean are much more favourable to the complainant but, make no mistake, it can happen here too. All bloggers should realise that they run the risk of challenge even over simple and genuine mistakes.

Just a few months ago Gibraltar Vox (yes Voice) was closed after paying substantial damages as a result of a story posted re abuse allegations in a children’s home on the Rock.

In the UK there have been several cases where lobby/NGO groups have been taken to court and substantial damages awarded against them and the whole issue of blog-sites vulnerability is causing a great deal of concern to accredited and non-accredited journalists alike.

Proposition 100 in Jersey is our petty government’s latest attempt to target bloggers and to restrict free speech and expression. This will be discussed in the States in November and will no doubt receive approval because our so called representatives will fall for the lie that “bloggers” are immune to control or restraint.

In fact of course, we do not have a clue who is to be classed as an “accredited journalist” under the Proposition 100 rules. There is no list of journalists working in Jersey or any standard form of qualification or registration or process for discipline. Outside “journalists” can turn up here and undertake covert recordings at a local bank and nobody says a thing!

Bloggers like Don Mitchell or Team Voice would not dream of such conduct but our elected representatives in Jersey are seeking to control us – not the errant “accredited” media outlets that are regularly discredited at both local and national level.

We understand that Don Mitchell’s wife Margaret is from Jersey and that she is active in many Caribbean charities and good causes such as Animal Rescue and the Anguilla Soroptomists which has human rights and environmental sub-groups. We know too that Don has been teaching law in Anguilla and is a writer on Caribbean history and many other things but we have never met them and know else little about them.

However, we at Team Voice cannot watch the demise of this most important blog-site without expressing our profound regret and hope that any personal damage to Don and his wife is minimal and temporary.

Submitted by Thomas Wellard.

Thursday, 21 October 2010


Quite what motivated Senator Alan Breckon to try to reform the Scrutiny system is not at all clear. His proposals would have served only to make our government even more secretive and lacking in transparency so thank heavens they were defeated in the States.

But, has the experience woken up our so called representatives to the deep-seated malaise at the root of our government system and shall any more useful reforms be stimulated soon?

The Chief Minister’s support for Alan Breckon’s reforms should have sounded the warning bell that this was a dangerous plan. When Deputy Le Claire brown-nosed the CM’s tame utterances in a particularly fawning manner, the dubious escapade was fully exposed.
The attempted retreat back into the discredited ways of the long-gone Committee system was even too much for Senator Ozouf to support. He finally pressed the “abstain” button although 21 of our “reps” still voted for the madcap scheme.

Unfortunately, it’s not that scrutiny is proving so effective that the establishment is afraid of it. On the contrary, published scrutiny reports are already largely ignored even when they do offer usefully critical comments or suggest policy changes.

The 3 brief video clips here were all taken at Scrutiny meetings by Team Voice and they indicate just some of the problems. As the old sage would say “the medium is the message” – so don’t worry too much about the spoken recorded words here – it’s the failed process we want to focus upon.

Sadly, the general public has little idea of what goes on at Scrutiny meetings and don’t know where or when they take place or who participates in them. Very few people ever read a scrutiny report or the “Scrutiny Matters” glossy PR freebie that drops through letter boxes several times a year (£8,000 a time and likely to be cut under costs savings).

Yet, those States Members involved in the scrutiny system talk in glowing terms about “engaging the public” whereas we know that public participation is the very last thing that most of them want.

Our politicians are not so different from politicians elsewhere but they are a bit more extreme than some. They mostly want power for themselves and don’t plan to share it with the public. That is why there are no effective political parties in Jersey – our politicians simply refuse to be selected or mandated by a party membership. They are political prima-donnas although they prefer to describe themselves as “independents.” It’s the very same inability to share political power with the general public that makes scrutiny such an unfulfilled dream.
It is such a pity. If only our “reps” would encourage the public to sit in at the discussion table and join in with the government process - it could be so different – and at no extra cost either! The public is a repository of a great wealth of knowledge – why is our government so loath to have it expressed except at elections or under the most stifling and constrained circumstances?

These video clips commence with a recent Environment Scrutiny hearing chaired by Deputy Rondel where we were allowed to take opening pictures but not record the proceedings (relating to the sustainable transport policy) because witnesses Constable Jackson, Deputy Lewis and their team of civil servants, objected.

Thus, although we and the other media could help to make these scrutiny proceedings more accessible to the general public – permission was refused. Why?

The next clip shows the Minister for Home Affairs appearing before another Scrutiny hearing this week. Senator Le Marquand agreed that we could record him – as he usually does – and these are a few seconds from the proceedings, produced by us, as always, in accordance with all the scrutiny rules and protocols.
Yet, all the other witnesses – senior civil servants and police officers – at these topical and important discussions (on Succession Planning in the Police), refused to permit any recording.
How strange this is, whereas the hearings are supposed to be public? What are these public employees afraid of?

The third clip is from our archive and shows Minister for Education etc Deputy Reed appearing before a Scrutiny Panel with his Chief Officer. At that time we were able to freely record the whole proceedings, alongside the “accredited press” without hindrance but always in accordance with the appropriate rules and restraints.
Soon afterwards, for no apparent reason, the Chief Officer refused to allow any further recordings to be made and this is the policy that has subsequently been adopted by all civil servants and many politicians appearing at scrutiny public hearings.
Some Chairs of Scrutiny Panels have also decreed that we shall be refused permission to record at all times – no matter what witnesses might say.

Of course, the restriction on Team Voice’s participation at Scrutiny or other public meetings has been compounded too by a range of bespoke petty rules and “protocols” introduced under the stamp of Senator Shenton’s Scrutiny Chairmen’s Committee or PPC.

Soon, Proposition 100 will be discussed in the States and this seeks to further inhibit us (the proposed legislation is designed specifically to curtail our activities) under the pretence of “setting out how members of the public who are not journalists working for an accredited media organisation will be permitted…to make visual and audio recordings etc.”

Of course, Proposition 100 is the predictable response of authoritarian government to the latest technology that threatens the status quo. The Internet and blogging are seen as threats to the established order so Jersey politicians have reached for the control and restrict buttons. It is especially sad that well meaning people like Alan Breckon have apparently been seduced by the controlling instincts of more conservative political colleagues.

Senator Breckon serves with Senator Shenton on the Public Accounts (Scrutiny) Committee and we fear that some of his former reforming motivation has become eroded. We have observed Senator Breckon at recent hearings of the Committee and note that he hardly participates at all in the questioning of witnesses.

We also note that this Committee sets out to be different from other Scrutiny panels because it tends to examine senior Civil Servants rather than Ministers and claims that;

“The PAC is neither political nor adversarial in its approach to questioning witnesses at hearings. This is particularly important since the witnesses are normally public employees without the power of public reply.”

Such an approach, if applied across the whole field of scrutiny activities, would suit the secretive purposes of the Chief Minister and many of his close colleagues very well.
However it is a great pity that Senator Breckon sought to give that dull policy a wider application.
The entire scrutiny process in Jersey needs a much keener adversarial approach and the direct involvement of the general public.

There is no place for the cosy club approach to Jersey government in the 21st century.

Submitted by Thomas Wellard.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

OZOs International status recognised at last and cultured too!

Yes – little Pip is at it again, this time he has been in the USA showing-off his international dimension.

We interviewed him following his trip to India and we have previously commented upon his ambition to be Jersey’s very own globe-trotting Foreign Secretary hob-knobbing with the international glitterati.

Of course, in the Frank Walker - Pip Bailhache tradition, young Senator Ozouf is very keen to boost Jersey’s International profile and he wants to sit at the top table with the rich and powerful at Davos and other trendy places (see our voiceforprotest posting from November 2009). HERE

Well, we all have a dream! – though, whatever happened to the two new banks that were due to open in Jersey following the India and Chinese promotions, is anybody’s guess. Recent figures seem to indicate that two banks have actually gone missing from the famous and exclusive Jersey list…although that’s another matter.

But what a pity that none of this international awareness and profile raising is evident in Jersey.

Here, adherence to international obligations remains a farce and we just cannot afford to sign up for the most basic standards that apply in other places. Except, of course, for those agreements that suit the Finance centre agenda.

We have previously reported on some very basic UN agreements that have been ratified for Jersey – but are still ignored by Ozo and his chums.

We wonder if he managed to call in at the UNs HQ in New York to check on our record of non-compliance with the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights?

Team Voice has previously focussed on this obligation especially since we (Jersey) have to send in a report to the UN every few years to show how well we are doing and we posted on voiceforjersey on 19 May 2010 on this very subject HERE

Then it was the Public Accounts Scrutiny Panel chaired by Senator Ben Shenton (plus Breckon and Perchard) that was considering Jersey’s hopeless Cultural Strategy.

Nobody mentioned our international obligations during the discussions around the table under the Blampied paintings. We noted the irony of it all and Senator Shenton left a single word comment – “noted” – to our criticisms on the vfj blogsite.

Sadly, nothing has changed or improved, because this Monday we attended the latest Scrutiny hearings to consider the same six years-old Scrutiny Strategy.

This time it was Deputy Le Herissier chairing a sadly depleted Education, Home Affairs scrutiny cultural strategy review. Only Deputy Macon was also there for most of the three hours of talking. Deputy Trevor Pitman turned up later but Deputy Tadier gave it a miss.

The Scrutiny process is desperately unchallenging at the best of times since the questions are usually submitted to the witnesses beforehand. Thus, it is usually nothing more than a polite chat among friends and the same witnesses seem to appear with monotonous regularity before different Panels answering the same unchallenging questions. Deputy Le Herissier assured all the witnesses “we are not the public accounts committee” and this is only “like a health check.”

Why don’t they protest we wonder and tell scrutiny to stop wasting their time? Surely these good people have real work to do?

Thus, whenever our scrutiny politicians want to spend a few hours of discovering nothing new it’s easy enough to call in the Arts or Heritage Trust management, or those nice people from the Societe Jersiase or the Opera House to tell how they all get on so well together but could do with more funding.

We at Team Voice seem to remember that some of these same witnesses have been heard recently before Senator Ferguson and one of her Panels discussing CSR implications – but its all becoming a bit of a blur…

By way of a change, the latest polite chats took place across the corridor under the paintings of Jersey artist John Le Capelain. He is of course long since dead so there is no danger that he might be asking for any funds or facilities to further his cultural activities.

Team Voice and the general public are not allowed to speak at the hearings of course – but when the official proceedings cease we do attempt to put forward some well meaning observations – like why does nobody ask about international culture obligations – and why is it the same “culture and arts” groups that are always consulted – why not the Jersey Live organisers or Island motor clubs or even the churches of Jersey…..

Surely, we try to suggest, there is more to culture in the 21st century than this? - but the room soon empties….

Submitted by Thomas Wellard.