18 March 2003
The truth will out
Slowly, but surely, Old Grumpy is finding out the truth about the business relationship between Cabinet member Cllr Brian Hall and the County Council's economic development consultant, Dr Michael Ryan.
I first became aware of this relationship when I came across the company Euro-Ryall Ltd, of which the two men are the sole shareholders and directors, while surfing the Internet.
Then, during last October's public audit of the council's books, I discovered a series of payments to Dr Ryan's company, ORA International Ltd amounting to some £25,000, and bills for his accommodation at the Cleddau Bridge and Lamphey Court Hotels for another two grand.
After I publicised what I knew on this website members of the opposition and the local press started to ask questions.
In response, a lengthy press release was rushed out by the Leader, Cllr Maurice Hughes, most of which was given over to a recitation of Dr Ryan's credentials.
Only one short paragraph was devoted to the important matter of Dr Ryan's relationship with Cllr Hall.
It read: "The Council is fully aware of the company Euroryall. Before the company was registered, the principals [Cllr Hall and Dr Ryan] approached officers of the Council. They gave firm undertakings that the company would not trade in Pembrokeshire nor provide any conflict of interest".
As I compared the vagueness of this paragraph with the precise detail of what had gone before, my nostrils detected the the sickly-sweet smell of rotting rat.
So I wrote to His Leadership asking for the names of the officers involved and the date on which they had been "approached".
I also enquired whether the "firm undertakings" were legally binding documents or mere gentlemen's agreements.
Despite sending him four reminders, Cllr Hughes has refused, point blank, to answer my questions.
And, having recently received a letter from the council's Monitoring Officer, which seems to indicate that the paragraph quoted above has little, if any, connection with the truth, it is little wonder that His Leadership is reluctant to venture out of his bunker.
The approach to officers, it appears, comes in the form of a letter, dated 3 September 2000, sent by Dr Ryan to his minder, the council's press officer, Mr David Thomas.
Why the press office should be controlling Dr Ryan, rather than the economic development department, is a question that will have to wait for another day.
In his letter, Dr Ryan says that the Directors of ORA International Ltd have decided to establish a UK base.
"It is my intention, on behalf of ORA International Ltd to incorporate [in the UK] a limited liability company ", he writes, and that "I will represent ORA's interest in the UK through this new company, but this will exclude the territory of Pembrokeshire County and any other area within Wales which you might request, within reason."
As any first year law student would confirm, this letter is not "contractually enforceable" as the council claims, but a bare promise, unsupported by consideration.
It is, as our learned friends would say, a nudum pactum.
Dr Ryan's letter makes no mention of Euro-Ryall Ltd, nor, more importantly, Cllr Hall, which gives the lie to Cllr Hughes' statement that "They (my emphasis) gave firm undertakings".
And, as the issue revolves around the business relationship between a member of the council and one of its employees, the lack of any reference to Cllr Hall's involvement torpedoes His Leadership's claim that "they" had given firm assurances that the new company would "not provide any conflict of interest".
During the course of my investigations I visited ORA International's website (www.oriain.ie) where I found a list of 44 "successfully completed major projects" in places as far afield as Moscow, Tokio, Kuala Lumpur, Adelaide, Montreal, Hong Kong and um, er, Pembrokeshire.
Can any reader tell me where?
I also notice from ORA's website that the company has offices in such far flung places as Poland, Japan, California and the Czech Republic.
What caught my eye is that the Polish office is in Warsaw.
Regular readers will remember (see Questions answered) that Dr Ryan visited Warsaw on our behalf (and at a cost to the taxpayer of some £3,500) back in May 2001.
What's the point of keeping a dog in Warsaw if you have to fly there yourself when there's barking to be done?
One part of the Leader's press release stated that Dr Ryan had been engaged after he answered an advert in the Irish press.
After months teasing out the facts, I have now discovered that the said advert appeared in the Irish Independent on 6 July 2000.
The letter confirming Dr Ryan in his post is dated 1 August 2000, just over three weeks later.
It takes them longer than that to answer one of my letters.
It seems that I was rather too quick to dismiss the story of the County Council chauffeur who claimed that a senior council officer had asked him to spy on members travelling in the official limo.
Now I hear it is being whispered in Kremlin-super-Cleddau that this improbable-sounding story might have legs, or should it be wheels.
A mole now tells me that the County Council has admitted that Mr David Thomas, Head of Marketing and Communications, did ask the chauffeur to keep elected members under surveillance and to report back if he saw them misbehaving.
What exactly Mr Thomas intended to do with this information is not altogether clear.
Next week I hope to be in a position to strip away the mask and reveal the full facts.
On the subject of clandestine intelligence gathering, I have been doing some in-depth research into Cllr Brian Hall's secret recording of the SPARC Annual General Meeting held at the Picton Centre Haverfordwest on 9 May 2001..
For once, I don't need to rely on my moles because I have a copy of a letter sent by Cllr Hall to the Treasurer of SPARC.
It seems that he was upset by some comments that the Treasurer had made about "irregularities in financial matters" in a "large organisation" not far from where the [SPARC] meeting was taking place.
"I want to know the name of the organisation you were referring to," Cllr Hall thundered, "and the exact nature of the irregularities you were alleging."
Obviously not one of my regular readers!
And just in case the Treasurer thought he might deny slurring this "large organisation, Cllr Hall warned him: "Firstly, I should inform you that I recorded the entire meeting and on listening back to the tapes, I was even more astonished at some of your comments than I was on the night."
Considering that the SPARC meeting went on for three hours, when did the Pembroke Dock sleuth find the time to listen to these tapes of "the entire meeting", and for whose benefit were the recordings made?
His expense claim for the period might provide some clues.
It shows that, on the night of the meeting, he didn't arrive home until 10.30 pm.
The following morning he left home at 9.00 am to attend a council meeting which ended at 11.05 am..
For the rest of that day, his expense claim records: "meeting C/Ex and D Thomas", and that he arrived home at 4.30 pm.
The next day, the letter, written in a style and tone bearing a remarkable similarity to that employed by the council's press office, was sent to SPARC.
Give and take
It seems that wherever you look you find a world dominated by spin and half-truths.
A friend telephoned to say that even our water bills are not immune from this modern disease.
He tells me that, at the top of the invoice he received recently, Dwr Cymru was trumpeting the fact that its standing charges for water and sewerage had each been cut by £4.50, giving a total saving of £9.00.
However, being a former public servant, he had filed away his previous year's account and, when he compared it with the latest version, he found that things were not quite as the water company was making out.
The rate for water, he discovered, had gone up from 39.66p, per pound of rateable value, to 43.22p, an increase of 9% (more than three-times the rate of inflation) while sewerage charges had shot up from 46.07p to 55.64p - a 20% hike.
The bottom line is that, as a result of the Dwr Cymru's open-handed generosity, his water bill has increased by double the rate of inflation, from £360 to £378.
Comment Who'd have thought,
That Clare Short,
Could still be there
After rubbishing Blair?
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