May 22 2007

 


Tempus fugit

 

The Adjudication Panel's hearing into the Ombudsman's findings that Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse breached the councillors' Code of Conduct by failing to declare an interest at a meeting of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Committee will be held at the Lamphey Court Hotel at 1.00 pm on July 10.
As this is more than five years (roughly the same duration as the Second World War) after I made the original complaint to the Ombudsman, some serious questions need to be asked about the conduct of the institutions responsible for these delays.
Feeling sympathetic towards Cllr Allen-Mirehouse is not something that comes naturally, but nobody should have something like this hanging over them for that length of time.
The meeting where the alleged breach took place was on 28 January 2002.
I complained to the Ombudsman on 10 May 2002.
Failure to declare a pecuniary interest being a criminal offence, the, then, Ombudsman Elwyn Moseley referred the matter to the police.
Over a year later the police wrote to me , informing me that "... due to a concentration of our resources on other enquiries" the investigation has "only recently commenced in earnest.
Another year-and-a-bit elapsed before I received a letter from the Ombudsman dated 27 September 2004 telling me that the investigation was being discontinued.
The reason for this decision was that "He [Cllr Allen-Mirehouse] has stated that he has not applied for permission to develop any land and there is no evidence that he has any land which would be affected by the adoption of the policy on development within the National Park".
Presumably, Cllr Allen-Mirehouse had made these statements to the police.
Finding it difficult to believe that someone who owns a large part of the Angle peninsula didn't own any land that might be affected by the National Park's "homes for locals" policy, I took myself over to the authority's offices in Llanion, where, within half an hour of my arrival, I came discovered two applications by agents acting for Cllr Allen-Mirehouse for the inclusion within the Angle village limits of land which he owned .
So, it was not that there was "no evidence", merely that the police, in keeping with their foot-dragging policy when investigating complaints against senior county councillors, hadn't bothered to look for it (The untouchables).
I sent copies of these documents to the Ombudsman who agreed to reopen the case.
Another 15 months went by before the production of the Ombudsman's report in December 2005 and now more than 18 months later the matter is finally to come before the Adjudication Panel.
As William E Gladstone said "Justice delayed, is justice denied."

 

False memory

 

A couple of months ago I reported a minor success with my Notice of Motion calling for Pembrokeshire County Council to adopt the statutory definition of an approved duty (Rare triumph).
This is of some significance because elected members can only claim travelling expenses if they are on an approved duty.
In 1991, Parliament defined an "approved duty" in the local authority's members allowances regulations.
The first seven headings of the regulations are totally uncontroversial; covering items such as attendance at council meetings, seminars and the like.
Not wishing to be too prescriptive, Parliament added (h) any other duty approved by the body, or any duty of a class so approved, for the purpose of; or in connection with, the discharge of the functions of the body, or any of its committees or sub-committees."
In 1995 the shadow Pembrokeshire County Council passed a resolution in which (h) was rewritten to read: "7. Attendance by the Leader of the council and other group leaders (or their nominated representative(s)) at such meetings approved by the Chief Executive for the proper discharge of the business of the authority."
In any case, all these provisions had been superseded by the 2002 expenses regulation enacted by the Welsh Assembly.
The 2002 regulations are essentially the same as the 1991 version with a few minor changes in the wording plus a new category to allow Cabinet members to claim expenses when carrying out Cabinet duties.
However, there was no give on my request that the 1995 council resolution be replaced by the 2002 regulations.
The officers' recommendation was that: "Council be advised not to adopt the Notice of Motion as the existing arrangements comply with the relevant regulations."
Nevertheless, I approached the corporate governance committee with degree of optimism because John Hudson had provided me with a copy of a letter he had received during a lengthy correspondence on the subject of approved duties with the District Auditor.
The District Auditor's view seemed to be on all fours with my own because he told Mr Hudson: "The definition is clearly set out in the Regulations and it would not therefore be appropriate for the council to make any further definition."
Unfortunately, before I could deploy my secret weapon, I was interrupted by the chairman Cllr Alwyn Luke who said he didn't understand the point I was trying to make and the Leader quickly moved rejection of my NoM.
What was also noticeable was that neither of the two district auditors present at the meeting gave out so much as a peep.
The report of the corporate governance committee came before full council on 1 March 2007 when, as before, the recommendation was that: "Council be advised not to adopt the Notice of Motion as the existing arrangements comply with the relevant regulations."
In addition, members were told that: "The Council be advised to note that in the forthcoming reprint of the Council's constitution the approved duty provisions previously adopted by the Council [the 1995 resolution] will be included in Part 6 of the Constitution."
During the debate, I took the opportunity of reading from the District Auditor's letter to Mr Hudson, which said in the clearest terms that the regulations passed by the Welsh Assembly took precedence over "any further definition" agreed by the council.
At that juncture, up jumped the chief executive to express his disbelief that the District Auditor had ever said any such thing, before pointing out that two members of the district auditor's staff had been present at the corporate governance committee and neither had uttered a word in my support.
I didn't quite know what to make of this intervention, so I got up and assured members that I wasn't making it up.
For good measure, I again read out what the District Auditor had told Mr Hudson.
Realising he was batting on a sticky wicket, the Leader popped up to propose that paragraph 7 of the of the 1995 resolution be replaced by paragraph (h) of the 2002 regulations.
As that was basically what I had been asking for all along, I found myself in the strange position of seconding my own resolution.
And so matters rested until I received the agenda for the meeting of 10 May together with the minutes of the meeting of 1 March where I was surprised to read: Resolved: That In the interests of clarity and the avoidance of any possible uncertainty in this matter:
(a) Minute 4(iii) of 17 July 1995 currently detailing the scope of certain approved duties for the payment of travelling and subsistence expenses be rescinded.
(b) The Chief Executive be authorised to determine approved duties in accordance with the relevant Regulations."
As it was not my recollection that the council had resolved to rescind the 1995 resolution, I queried the accuracy of this minute and was told that it accorded with what was in the notes of both the chief executive and committee clerk.
Clearly, then, Old Grumpy's memory must be defective, though I am still wondering why the 1995 resolution had to be thrown on the scrap heap, if, as we were told at both corporate governance committee and full council, ". . . the existing arrangements [based on the 1995 resolution] comply with the relevant regulations."
Still, the council has now managed to bring itself within the law while avoiding an open admission that it was wrong in the first place.
Tricky business, keeping up the appearance of infallibility!

Yeltsin's legacy

Following the recent death of Boris Yeltsin, Radio 4 interviewed a series of Russia-watchers about his achievements.
All saluted his bravery in standing on top of a tank outside the parliament building to thwart a threatened coup by the old communists.
However, one commentator said that, while in the short term Yeltsin had seen off those who would have returned the country to Soviet-style repression, he had failed to establish the institutions of democracy necessary to ensure that Russia was governed under the Rule of Law.
These institutions: independent judiciary, non-politicised police and civil service and an army loyal to the state and not to any political faction, are as essential to a democracy as free and fair elections.
As we can now see, Yeltsin's failure has allowed Putin and his gang of ex-KGB agents to seize control of the country, leading the strange situation where one such, Andrei Lugovoi, has been charged by the CPS in connection with the murder of Alexander Litvinenko.
As Polonium 210 is not the sort of stuff that you can buy over the counter at Boots, it seems highly likely that, whether or not Putin knew about it, the Russian state is somewhere behind this killing.
Predictably, the Russian government is signaling that it will not allow Lugovoi to be extradited, presumably because it fears that, standing in the dock at the Old Bailey facing a life sentence, he may be tempted to spill the beans.
Of course we do things differently here where only a couple of weeks ago I heard Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness swearing to uphold the Rule of Law during the ceremony to mark the return of devolved government in Northern Ireland.
However, while it is not suggested that the British government would send its spooks to track down and eliminate its enemies, our own record on keeping a safe distance between the independent institutions of democracy and politics is not unblemished.
For instance, only recently, our government terminated a serious Fraud Office investigation into allegations that, in order to win a large arms contract, BAe Systems Ltd had paid vast bribes to Saudi officials.
With that shameful episode in mind, we should be grateful that, despite the inevitable deterioration in Anglo-Russian diplomatic relations, the head of the CPS, Sir Ken McDonald has struck a blow for the Rule of Law by demanding that Lugovoi be brought to justice.

Division of labour

The battle of the sexes has taken over the Chelsea Flower Show where an argument is raging over whether men or women make the best gardeners.
We don't have much time for this sort of nonsense in our house
We treat gardening as a co-operative exercise; organised along Adam Smith's division of labour principles, where the greatest efficiency is achieved when the participants concentrate on those activities for which they have a special talent.
So, Grumpette is in charge of dead-heading the flower beds and weeding - under close supervision, of course, because, to the untutored eye, weeds and useful plants can easily be confused.
For my part, I take care of the more technical aspects - crop rotation planning, the greenhouse and pruning, to name but three.
And I can tell you there is no more rewarding experience on a cold January morning than to raise your eyes from the seed catalogue and glance through the kitchen window to see Grumpette getting on with the winter digging.

Three's a crowd

It seems I owe an apology to Fluffy for casting doubt on her mothering abilities (Old retainer) because, almost a week late by my calculations, she hatched out two chicks.
Two out of seven is not brilliant, but it was her first attempt so I can only hope she has learned something from the experience.
I have rather a nice picture of this charming threesome, but my cyber skills are not up to loading it onto the web.
Hopefully, my son in law will come to the rescue before next week.