July 3 2007

Strange silence


At the meeting of full council in early May, chief executive Bryn Parry-Jones accused Old Grumpy of failing to declare an interest during a debate on a Notice of Motion on planning procedure (see Under fire).
When I insisted on my right to speak, Mr Parry-Jones even went so far as to advise the chairman, Cllr Steve Watkins, that he could report me to the Ombudsman for this alleged breach of the members' Code of Conduct..
And, after Cllr Joyce Watson intervened to suggest that it was inappropriate for the chief executive to be encouraging one member to report another to the Ombudsman, Mr Parry-Jones said he could report me himself, if he so wished.
The council's monitoring officer also weighed in with his opinion that, by speaking on the subject, I was breaching the councillors' Code of Conduct.
Strange that, nearly eight weeks later, I still haven't heard anything from the Ombudsman, especially as rule 6 of the Code of Conduct requires a member to report any breach of the Code.
Two possibilities present themselves:
(a) this was simply a crude attempt to prevent me from highlighting the corrupt nature of the planning system in Pembrokeshire, or, and this will be difficult for some members of the Independent Political Group to even contemplate, (b) the chief executive was wrong.

Unnecessary journeys

This is the time of year when the county council's books are open for public inspection.
So, on Monday morning, I toddled along to the council's offices in Waterston to have a look-see.
I usually play myself in by inspecting members' travelling claims and what better place to start than with those submitted by our old friend Cllr Brian Hall.
Regular readers will recall that, during his resignation speech, he promised to renounce travelling expenses (see resignation statement), so this will be the last opportunity to study these revealing documents.
And what a tale of disorganised incompetence they tell.
Old Grumpy has already described how, on 1 November 2005, Cllr Hall was in Manchester at a Fire Authority conference that ended at 3.45 pm.
He also had a county council duty to fulfill that day: a pre-meeting CLAW (don't ask) dinner in Cwmbran which started at 8.00 pm.
Now, instead of going straight from Manchester to Cwmbran, as any sensible person would have done, Cllr Hall's expense claims show him driving all the way back to Pembroke Dock and then on to Cwmbran (Mystery tour) - a distance of 320 miles requiring six-and-a-half hours, according to the AA.
Comparing this latest batch of county council claims with those submitted to the fire authority throws up other examples of poor route planning.
For instance, on 12 April 2006, county councillor Hall travelled to Swansea for a waste forum, claiming 120 miles for the return trip.
The same day he claimed 216 miles for driving from Pembroke Dock to Cardiff on fire authority business.
A week later, on 19 April, he claimed 90 miles from the county council for the return journey from Haverfordwest to the National Botanic Gardens for a meeting with the Environment Agency and on the same day, wearing his fireman's hat, he left Pembroke Dock to drive to Dover to meet Alastair Darling (668 mile round trip).
And all that extra carbon dioxide.
Tut! tut!

News from Kazakhstan

Last week I wrote about my visitor from Kazakhstan.
My first idea was that it was someone who had wandered onto the site by accident, though I much preferred the more exciting theory that it was one of President Nazarbayev's sidekicks looking for hints on how to run an authoritarian regime while keeping up democratic appearances.
However, the truth turned out to both more mundane and more interesting because it transpires that my reader in central Asia is David Jones from Haverfordwest.
I wonder if the Kazakhstanis complain about Welshmen with unpronounceable names.
David e-mailed to say he is working for AGIP KCO on the Kashagan project : the giant oilfield, 80 km south-east of Atyrau.
According to AGIP's website, Kashagan is considered to be the world's most important oil find since the discovery of Prudhoe Bay in Alaska's North Slope in the 1960s.
David tells me that the summer temperatures reach 45 degrees C with similar negative values in the winter
Interestingly, David's father Bob used to work with me when I was in the building business.
I wonder if my regular visitor from Taiwan is local.

Free trade is fair trade


If you type "fair trade coffee" into Google up come 1.55 million entries.
While the "fair trade" movement is undoubtedly inspired by the noblest of motives there are some economists who doubt its value as a means to ease the lot of the poor.
Generally speaking, there are three possible reasons why producers are paid low prices.
Firstly, there are buyers' price-fixing cartels.
These are illegal under WTO rules and any hint of such practices should be stamped upon.,
Secondly, there are tariff barriers which, because they increase the final selling price, automatically depress the prices available to the producers of the goods.
Unfortunately, all the developed nations seek to protect their farmers by playing this game, with the EU in the first rank of offenders.
And, finally, the classic free market explanation for low prices: supply outstripping demand.
So, if the world's coffee producers are growing more coffee than world markets are prepared to purchase at, say, £100 per ton, the price has to fall to whatever is the market clearing price.
There is a perfectly respectable argument that, insofar as low producer prices are the result of overproduction, fair trade operates to make matters worse.
Almost by definition, fair trade can only benefit a small fraction of producers.
By creating a false market, "fair trade" encourages those favoured producers to grow more.
That leaves those outside the fair trade arrangements as helpless price-takers in an even more overcrowded market.
If I thought it would improve the lot of some poverty-stricken third-world farmer, I would be more than happy to pay a few pence extra for a cup of coffee, though I would suggest that campaigning for the removal of trade barriers would do more to ease the plight of the world's poor.

More to democracy than elections

At the recent G8 summit, both Tony Blair and George Bush were eager to chastise President Putin over the lack of democracy in Russia.
Those who believe that electoral success is the be all and end all of democracy might be puzzled by this.
After all, in terms of electoral support, Mr Putin is streets ahead of Bush/Blair.
For those interested in statistics, Bush gained 52% of the vote on a 50% turnout, Blair 36% on a 63% turnout and Putin 73% of 63%.
Translated into levels of support of the electorate as a whole, these come to Bush 26%, Blair 23% and Putin 45%.
So, on the face of it, Putin has no need to justify his democratic credentials to either President or Prime Minister.
However, as oft repeated in this column, elections are a necessary but not sufficient condition for democracy.
And being elected doesn't make someone a democrat.
After all, Hitler was elected.
Firstly, to qualify as democratic, elections must be free and fair.
Critics of the Russian situation say they are neither because the state-controlled media are little more than the ruling party's propaganda machine.
Even when the media coverage is balanced, elections may still be decided on the basis of which side tells the more plausible lies.
And, of course, what Bush and Blair are concerned about is Russia's lack of democratic institutions such as an independent judiciary and non-politicised security services.
This makes it difficult to imagine a situation arising in Russia where the courts ruled that Putin had acted illegally.
This is a fairly frequent occurrence here and in the US where the courts have overruled governments on such issues as control orders and military trials for the inhabitants of Guantanamo Bay.
Even if you disagree with the courts rulings on these matters they are still a cause for celebration because they are proof that we are a democracy under the rule of law and not what former Tory Lord Chancellor Hailsham called an elective dictatorship.


More from Manorbier

Manorbier Community Council is again embroiled in legal procedings - this time the former Clerk is suing them for wrongful dismissal.
From what I read at http://www.manorbier.com/ , the council has now sacked its solicitors, having already paid them £2,000 in fees.
The council is now represented by Chairman Tony Wales and acting Clerk Cllr David Needs, neither of whom, it would appear, has heard the old saying that a man who represents himself in court has a fool for a client.
All great fun, unless you are a Manorbier council tax payer.
Incidentally, you may be surprised to learn that Manorbier is an anagram of more brain.

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