YESTERDAY’S SCRUTINY HEARING – SoJDC
UNUSUAL ACCOUNTING, IRRITATION & ‘THAT MEETING’?
Yesterday afternoon the SoJDC Chairman, Directors and three non-executive board Members gave evidence to the Corporate Service Scrutiny Panel Public Hearing in the States buildings. Here we have tried to take out the mundane Qs & As and bring you the salient points.
(We were there and took our own notes; they are not as good, however, as the full transcript of the Hearing which should be available soon on the Scrutiny .gov site.)
What went on
The key to the whole matter revolved around who was responsible for the decision to override the clear requirement that SoJDC was not to proceed without obtaining sufficient pre-lets to cover the construction costs.
It was an instruction from us, the public, via our representative, the States Treasurer Senator Alan Maclean, as to how to eliminate risk.
This is crucial.
If it transpires that there was a meeting and that the Minister had instructed the JDC as he told the States, then the JDC are not following the instruction.
However, if it transpires:
a) There was no meeting, OR
b) There was a meeting, but the JDC were not instructed as the States were told
…then the Minister was guilty of misleading the States on this most critical of issues.
This critical issue is the fundamental financial policy of the ‘risk elimination‘ when building the IFC to safeguard the public.
This is what the States members voting ‘pour’ in all five States debates had all been assured of.
One would have expected, given the much publicised confirmation to the States of Jersey by our former Treasury Minister (Sen Ozouf) on 4 February 2014, that only the previous day, he had instructed the SoJDC not to start building until the buildings were fully-let, that the SoJDC would have brought along minutes of this meeting, so important was it.
But this was not to be.
Scrutiny is ‘an irritant’
JDC Chairman Mark Boleat, who recently branded Scrutiny ‘an irritant’, would not confirm or deny who the relevant Minister was when deicisons were made, whether the date was right, or even if there had been a meeting.
Niether would he clarify whether they had discussed the instruction or even whether he or the Minister were there or not.
Mr. Boleat then said, ‘The Minster’s speech may have not been minuted verbatim’ anyway.
Mr. Boleat and the CEO Lee Henry were instructed by the Chairman Deputy John Le Fondré to go back and look up the details of the meeting and produce the minutes.
Mr. Boleat vigorously complained that they should have been notified of the question beforehand and then they could have had time to prepare. Given this question has been all over the media, we would have thought they would pre-empt this problem. Were they being disingenuous or just ill-prepared?
This grumbling attitude is not very helpful. (The JDC Chairman’s irritation for the Scrutiny process was very evident, but Chairman Deputy John Le Fondré and the other panel members were very polite and measured at all times.)
In addition, Vice Chairman Deputy Simon Brée had, at one point, to clarify to the SoJDC Chairman exactly what the Treasury Minister’s position is as Shareholder for the States of Jersey, and the responsibility that role carries in relationship to the public. To be clear, Senator Maclean is the representative for us, the public of Jersey, and we, the public, are the shareholder.
The former Treasury Minister, Senator Philip Ozouf, has been uncontactable by the press. He was last heard of on important States business in deepest Capetown. It seems he does not wish to use Skype, email or even a phone (we are assured countires outside of Jersey do have phones) to answer the media and give his version of events.
It was left to the Directors of the SoJDC and the others present to shed light on the ‘pre-let’ statement, but they would not, or could not, do so yesterday.
The other huge stumbling block to any progress by Scrutiny was the continual refusal by the SoJDC to release documents to Scrutiny, even under confidential disclosure agreements. Their reason being (they said) is that both the HSBC and Camerons contracts have non-disclosure clauses as well as confidentiality agreements.
The JDC were instructed to go back to both parties and request that they release the documents to Scrutiny on the understanding they would be kept confidential.
Key Financial points that emerged included:
– – The income from UBS rentals will be used to service the HSBC interest on the loan.
– – Another loan will be taken out from HSBC to pay the interest on the first loan
This will be extant until the tenants start paying rent at an undisclosed date (we think 2020).
– – The projected profit on the total development will be approx £50million which may well be used to sink La Rte de la Liberation if the States want to use it for that, said the Chairman. However, the JDC said they had not yet thought about the road sinking.
– – All of the income from UBS will be used to service the HSBC interest in the construction loan.
– – The 6 blocks and underground car park will take 10 years to build. It transpires the capital component on the first building is actually the value of unlet office space which will not be fitted out.
Other than for UBS, the SoJDC are not providing offices fitted out as category A. They are building shells not ready for immediate use.
Any future buyer will be be faced with empty floors with bare concrete walls much like a house without bathrooms or a kitchen; the idea behind this is that they will want their own layout and apparently this is common practise. Nonetheless, this takes away from the buildings’ values.
Indeed, much was the problem with the office at the Green Street roundabout that was supposed to be the new Police Station (until someone messed up). That building was vacant for 10 years.
Detailed financial analysis will follow when our team have read the transcripts.
SOS Jersey conclude Mr Boleat and his directors at the JDC are proceeding in a manner which perhaps shows they do not understand the purpose and powers of a Scrutiny Panel. It is a States body.
In the same way that they are dealing with the Treasurer in (presumably) supplying him with the confidential information he needs to make informed decisions, they should surely do the same with Scrutiny?
The SoJDC should submit all their information automatically to Scrutiny who will treat it as confidential in the same manner as any other States Body would and will naturally, before they issue their report, agree this and any details that may potentially be commercially sensitive with JDC.
The JDC are treating Scrutiny as if they a rogue organisation. Scrutiny are elected members of the States and will abide by all normal procedures and confidentiality matters that relate.
The Treasury Minister would have to know all these details in order to make informed decisions and so should Scrutiny.
We await the release of those minutes with interest.