August 1 2006
ORA story [cont]
Cllr Michael Williams' successful appeal to the Information Commissioner has revealed a raft of interesting new facts about Cllr Brian Hall's former business partner and county council economic development consultant, the mysterious "Dr" Michael Ryan (see Life before birth).
Regular readers will recall that, in the autumn of 2002, when Old Grumpy first started to take an interest in the activities of the good doctor and his company, ORA International Ltd, I drew attention to ORA's website www.oriain.com which, under the heading: "Successfully completed major projects", listed 44 worldwide locations where the company had seen action.
These included such exotic places as Kuala Lumpur, Montreal, Singapore, St Petersburg, Phoenix and Adelaide.
Unfortunately, with nothing more than the name of the city to go on there was no way of checking if these were genuine.
However there was one small chink of light in the form of a "successfully completed major project" in Pembrokeshire.
Having been blessed with an enquiring mind, Old Grumpy e-mailed the doctor to ask if he could be more specific about the location of this undertaking.
Within a few days the website disappeared from cyberspace for "reconstruction" and when it returned it read "ORA International is currently engaged in projects in Pembrokeshire, Wales; Limerick, Ireland; and Ostrava, Czech Republic".
Being a charitable soul; always ready to extend the benefit of the doubt, Old Grumpy concluded that "Dr" Ryan had been engaged in a bit of mild puffery by elevating his company's ongoing contract with PCC to a successfully completed major project.
However, having studied the documents released under FoI, I now realise that I was being hopelessly naive because the successfully completed major project was part of "Dr" Ryan's CV when he first applied for the council job back in July 2000.
No doubt, Mr David Thomas, head of marketing and communications [press office], who seems to have been responsible for awarding the contract to "Dr" Ryan's company noticed this claim to a local achievement and checked it out.
Though, on reflection, I may be wrong about this because I seem to recall that Mr Thomas engaged "Dr" Ryan, without bothering with an interview, and on the basis of a single verbal reference of which no record was kept.
However, just on the off-chance, I have e-mailed Mr Thomas asking him to tell me what he knows about ORA's pre-2000 activities in Pembrokeshire.
And this morning I visited ORA's website (www.oriain.com) where I find under "Portfolio" exactly the same list of successfully completed major projects - the one in Pembrokeshire excluded - as accompanied its application back in July 2000.
Seems that business has dried up
Of course, one needs the ability to suspend belief when dealing with this subject, especially where the strange relationship between "Dr" Ryan and Cllr Hall is concerned.
For instance, the district auditor's report into their relationship informs us that on 21 September 2000 - just seven weeks after "Dr" Ryan was taken on - Cllr Hall wrote a "private letter" to the, then, Leader, Maurice Hughes, informing him of his intention to go into business with "Dr" Ryan.
But, according to what "Dr" Ryan told the auditor, the first time he clapped eyes on Hall was in early October 2000 - more than two weeks after Hall wrote his private letter to Maurice.
The district auditor, with a deft stroke of the whitewash brush, describes this as an "apparent inconsistency", though I suspect it looks real enough to most rational people.
Another thing I notice from the job application is ORA's claim to have branch offices in "Kyoto, Japan (Asia Pacific); Ostrava, Czech Republic (Central Europe); Los Angeles, USA (Americas); and Warsaw, Poland (Eastern Europe)".
This last one is of particular interest because Old Grumpy has previously chronicled "Dr" Ryan's £1,200 trip to Warsaw at the Pembrokeshire taxpayers' expense (see Questions answered).
Old Grumpy imagines that this is the sort of conversation that might be heard when the Independent Political Group's most serious doubter, Cllr Henry Jones - here cast as Alice - meets the Leader, Cllr John Davies, in the role of the White Queen.
"I can't believe that!" said Alice.
"Can't you?" the Queen said in a pitying tone. "Try again, draw a long breath, and shut your eyes."
Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said. "One can't believe impossible things."
"I dare say you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
Brian the snail
It seems to be taking an inordinately long time for the county council's standards committee to deal with the Ombundsman's finding that Cllr Brian Hall brought the office of councillor into disrepute when he issued threats against a BBC journalist at an event in City Hall St Davids (see Dragon's Eye).
Those events took place in January 2005 and it took the Ombudsman a year to conclude his investigation.
This long delay is believed to have been the result of the difficulty in getting Cllr Hall to agree a date to be interviewed.
In the end, no interview took place and Cllr Hall was allowed to put his side of the story in a rambling three-page letter in which he puts the blame for his predicament on a left wing plot (cf. Silvio Berlasconi) and an offensive website written by a fellow councillor.
Having received the Ombudsman's report in early January this year, it took the council a full three months to organise a meeting of the standards committee which, for some as yet unexplained reason, was held in secret (see Hall of Fame and Open secret).
That meeting, held on April 5, decided Cllr Hall had a case to answer and resolved to invite him to appear before the committee to put his side of the story.
Another four months have now passed and no firm date has yet been set for this hearing.
Matters are further complicated by the fact that the term of office of one of the independent - in the honourable meaning of the word - members, Mr Clive Sheridan, has expired and, as the regulations don't allow him to serve a second term, a replacement has to be found.
In the report to the council meeting on 13 July 2006 members were told: "The term of office of one member of the committee, Mr Clive Sheridan, has recently expired and the recruitment process for his replacement is now underway."
In fact, Mr Sheridan's term of office expired nine weeks earlier on 9 May 2006 and, as the council was well aware that a new appointment would be required, it is difficult to understand why the search for a replacement wasn't started earlier in order to ensure a seamless transition.
I am also told that one scheduled meeting had to be cancelled because it clashed with a visit by the Duke of Gloucester to the Mid and West Wales Fire Authority of which Cllr Hall is chairman.
More recently, it is rumoured, there have been problems with the availability of Cllr Hall's barrister.
It promises to be quite a spectacle.
I just hope the public are allowed to see it.
An eagle-eyed Grumpette spotted a piece in the Daily Telegraph's "Spy" column about a Bromley councillor who is campaigning to stop men stripping off their T-shirts to expose their pecs.
What caught her attention was that this councillor was called Nicholas Bennett.
A quick visit to Bromley's website revealed that this was none other than Pembrokeshire's former MP and junior Welsh Office minister of that name.
Nice to see he hasn't lost his talent for self-promotion.
For younger readers, and those who have forgotten what he looked like, Mr Bennett can be seen in all his glory (jacket and tie, actually) by logging on to www.bromley.gov.uk and following the link to "council and democracy".
Like many people in the county, I had a pretty low opinion of Mr Bennett, but it must be said to his credit that he sits on Bromley council as a Conservative, unlike the vast majority of his erstwhile Pembrokeshire Tory party colleagues who prefer to masquerade as "Independents".
Easy as ABC
There is some serious academic research that seems to indicate that people whose surnames begin with a letter early in the alphabet have an advantage when it comes to politics.
One explanation for this is that, faced with a ballot paper, a significant section of the electorate opt to put their cross next to the name at the top.
It is also noticeable that of the 20 British Prime Ministers since 1900 only two (Wilson and Thatcher) have surnames beginning with letters from the second half of the alphabet.
Among them are two As (Asquith and Attlee) four Bs and four Cs.
Old Grumpy's theory is that always finding their names near the top of any alphabetical list has given these ABCs such a high regard for themselves that, when they grow up they're so full of their own self-importance that they're fit for nothing but politics.
Testing this hypothesis closer to home it should be noticed that the aforementioned Nicholas Bennett was rolled over by Nick Ainger and Stephen Crabb took the Preseli Pembrokeshire seat from Labour by beating Sue Hayman.
Looking forward to next year's Welsh Assembly elections I notice that Tamsin Dunwoody's Tory opponent is called Davies and Christine Gwyther faces an even more daunting alphabetical challenge from the Tory's Angela Burns.
Now, if I was a betting man!
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