October 26 2004

email: oldgrumpy.mike@virgin.net

Questions, questions ...

At last week's meeting of the County Council the Leader accused me of abusing the right to ask questions under clause nine of the council's Standing Orders.
And his Cabinet colleague Cllr David Simpson piped up to suggest we should put the past behind us and concentrate on the future.
A bit like Tony Blair and WMD!
The problem is that the only only reliable guide to the future is the past.
We can analyse the past but we can only speculate about the future.
The two of them were speaking in response to a series of questions I had put down regarding Cllr Brian Hall's bogus expense claim for 1 February 2001 ( see The Time Lord)) and the conspiracy between Hall and the authority's economic development consultant Dr Michael Ryan to abuse their public positions for their own benefit.
If Cllrs Davies and Simpson really believe there is nothing in my allegations about these two issues they should ask themselves why neither Hall or Ryan has sued me over my persistent "libels".
I would remind them that, in December last year, Dr Ryan's solicitors wrote to both myself and Cllr Michael Williams threatening legal action if we didn't apologise and agree to pay £3,200 each to cover his legal expenses.
In response to that letter, I sent the solicitors a copy of Dr Ryan's fax to Hall dated 16 October 2000 (see Hall-Ryan) which substantiates everything I have said about the pair's nefarious schemes.
If, as seems increasingly likely, neither Hall or Ryan is willing to take a chance on having this document scrutinised by the High Court, it would seem that the best course of action for Cllrs Davies and Simpson is not to try to sweep the matter under the carpet but to use their good offices to bring the truth out into the open.
What I can tell them for sure is that I will not be bullied or browbeaten into dropping the matter.
As far as I am concerned I have a shedfull (literally) of evidence and, in addition, I am fortunate to live in a country that values free speech.
So, I can go on making these allegations, and will, until such time as someone in authority declares that what I am doing is illegal.

...but no answers

One of the matters that troubled the Leader was my request for a copy of the list of "completed projects" that accompanied the application by Dr Ryan's company ORA Ltd for the consultancy contract with the council.
This the Leader refused to provide on the grounds of commercial confidentility.
I find this rather strange because if you log on to ORA's website (www.oriain.com) and follow the link to "portfolio" you will find: "ORA International has successfully completed major projects in:" followed by the names of 43 cities and regions including Moscow, Montreal, Shanghi, Istanbul and New York.
At the end of the list it says: "Comprehensive list of clients and projects available on request."
So why is this list commercially confidential if Dr Ryan is willing to send it out to anyone who cares to send him an email.
Unfortunately, several people have done just that but received no reply.
Moscow and New York are rather large places so it is difficult, if not impossible, to check these claims without some more specific information as to the exact nature of the completed project.
However, an earlier version of this webpage contained a boast about a "successfully completed major project" in Pembrokeshire.
Knowing a bit more about what goes on in my own back yard, than in Kuala Lumpur, Kiev or Kyoto, I was fascinated to know more about the location and nature of this project.
So I emailed Dr Ryan to ask.
Not only did I receive no reply but the website suddenly disappeared from cyberspace for "reconstruction" and, when the revised edition eventually reappeared, the succesfully completed Pembrokeshire project was no more.
Makes you wonder!

Fire alarm

A row has broken out over unflattering remarks about our local firefighters by the Vice-Chairman of the Mid and West Wales Fire Authority, Cllr Brian Hall (who else?).
It is not for me to pour oil on troubled waters (surely add fuel to the fire. Ed) but the position of our representatives on the Fire Authority gives rise to some interesting constitutional questions, not the least of which is who are they representing anyway.
File on 4 recently did a programme on the very similar situation with regard to Police Authorities in which it was pointed out that, while local authority representatives on these bodies are all elected, because they are appointed by the Council, often for purely political reasons, there is no guarantee that their original election owes anything to their expertise in the particular field.
Indeed, I doubt if the issue of Fire Authority policy even got a mention on any of the election addresses of our three current representatives.
What is particularly interesting in Cllr Hall's case is his habit of almost always travelling to Fire Authority meetings in Carmarthen along the route Pembroke Dock - Haverfordwest - Carmarthen -Haverfordwest - Pembroke Dock, thereby adding some 20-30 miles (at 50p) to the journey.
When I queried this practice with the District Auditor, I was told that Cllr Hall went via Haverfordwest in order to be briefed by someone in County Hall - and debriefed, presumably, on the way back.
There are several things that bother me about this explanation, one of which is that neither of the other two representatives seem to be given the benefit of these briefings.
But, more importantly, it is not easy to know what these briefing might be about because, as far as I know, the County Council has no official policy on Fire Authority matters.
As I understand the constitutional position, these representatives are not delegates and they certainly don't report back to the Council on the situation inside the Fire Authority.
It just seems that they have some vague role in representing the interests of the Pembrokeshire electorate.
So, if they are merely there to execise their independent judgement, there is nothing to be briefed about.
Must remember to put down a question about this for the Christmas meeting.

Mutual tolerance

Rocco Buttiglione finds himself in hot water with the European Parliament for his "illiberal" views on homosexuality and other delicate matters.
But who is it that is being illiberal here?
Surely, the essense of a liberal society is that the actions of others are tolerated, though not necessarily approved.
So, in the case of homosexuality, the important thing is that its practicioners are not discriminated against.
It doesn't put them above criticism or mean that the rest of society is bound look on their activities with approval or indifference, even.
Indeed, to large numbers of Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Muslims, the idea that homosexuality is sinful is commonplace.
And, of course, this spirit of toleration means that they are not banned from holding these opinions just because Peter Tatchell finds them objectionable.
To argue otherwise gets very close to accepting the idea of thought-crime.
Live and let live, as my grandmother used to say.
And the same goes for foxhunting - but I won't go on.

Not that stupid

Way back in 2001, when the so-called "new political arrangements" were on the agenda, the then Leader of the County Council Maurice Hughes made known his opposition to the idea of a Mayor elected on a county-wide franchise.
Thanks to my policy of never throwing anything away, I still have the press release he put out the time.
His main stated objection to the elected Mayor was that it would "place too much power in the hands of one person".
His real, unstated, objection was that if there was an election he knew it wouldn't be him.
So what did we get instead? exactly the same power placed in the hands of the Leader, who, rather than being elected by the voters of Pembrokeshire, was elected at a secret meeting of a strange political entity known as the Independent Political Group.
It has always puzzled me why the latter method was ever considered more democratic than the former.
As the Chief Executive told one meeting where these new arrangements were discussed, the object of the exercise was to "streamline decision making".
Roughly translated, this means doing away with time-consuming debates in order, as was said in an earlier time, to "make the trains run on time".
The great democratic safeguard in this new system was to be something known as the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, which, we were led to believe, were to be modelled on the Parliamentary Select Committees that, from time to time, give the government of the day such a hard time.
Imagine my surprise when a mole inside the Pembrokeshire Independent Group rang up to tell me that the Cabinet had met and decided who would chair these ferocious watchdogs.
A few months ago, the local Tories invited me along to one of their meetings to give a counter opinion to that of Maurice Hughes who had told them that the Pembrokeshire Independent Group was the best thing since sliced bread.
When I mentioned the fact that the Cabinet had selected its own stooges to chair the committees that were supposed to scrutinise the cabinet's activities - the sort of thing that happens in Zimbabwe and other banana republics - I was challenged by Cllr David Wildman.
The usually mild-mannered Cllr Wildman sounded rather agitated as he informed this gathering of his party faithful that he had ben elected to the Scrutiny Committee chair by the council's AGM.
This was, up to a point, true.
There had been a sham democratic process at the AGM, but that didn't explain how, a week before that meeting took place, I had been able to print the names of all four Scrutiny Committee chairman on my website (See The scrutineers)
My statistical consultant tells me that the chances of selecting these names at random from a field of 30 is 1/30 x 1/29 x 1/28 x1/27 divided by factorial 4, or in bookmakers' parlance, 27,405-1 against.
I think even the Tories, who the philosopher John Stuart Mill once described as "the stupidest party", could see I had a point.


Survival of the fittest

Two Yorkshiremen were hiking in the African bush when they were confronted by a hungry-looking lion.
One immediately whipped off his hiking boots and pulled on a pair of running shoes.
"Thou'll nivver outrun a lion, even in them", his companion opined.
"Ah know that", said the other, "But a'll outrun thee."


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