Minister steps back from financial services role after multiple petty debts summons

Emma Volney reports...

Jersey's External Relations Minister has given up his responsibilities for the island's financial services industry, saying recent events have been a "catalyst" for change.

It comes just days after Deputy Philip Ozouf was summoned to the Petty Debts court for the third time in three months over unpaid bills.

On Thursday, Jersey's Chief Minister backed the former finance minister over the summons, claiming politicians should be judged "on how they perform in their official role rather than their private lives."

However, Deputy Kristina Moore has now taken on responsibility for the finance industry with three others, saying "ministers must uphold and be seen to the highest of standards in all aspects of their lives".

Writing to the Chief Minister on Sunday 5 February, Deputy Ozouf said: "Recent oversights in the administration of my personal affairs should not have occurred and I apologise for this.

"Personal matters need to be dealt with properly and pressures of work are not an acceptable reason for letting matters slip.

"I recognise that being in public office requires the need to maintain the highest of standards of personal administration. This is a requirement of all ministers including myself. I have undertaken to you not to allow issues of this nature to re-occur."

Deputies Elaine Millar and Ian Gorst will join a ministerial group with the Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister, Kirsten Morel, to take on the financial services portfolio.

In a statement circulated to States Members on Sunday evening, Deputy Moore said:

"Having received a letter from the External Relations Minister requesting that his responsibility for Financial Services be transferred, the political and legal responsibilities for Financial Services will be transferred to the Chief Minister.

"Deputy Elaine Millar and Deputy Ian Gorst will be appointed as Assistant Chief Ministers with delegated responsibility for Financial Services and will join a ministerial group with the Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister."

Deputies Kristina Moore, Kirsten Morel, Ian Gorst and Elaine Millar will share political responsibility for the financial services industry.

The Chief Minister continued: "Deputy Ozouf and I have agreed this transfer of responsibility. This will allow him more time to focus on the important work of External Relations, where he has made a positive impact and has identified a busy agenda of work, which he will continue as the minister.

"One of the key objectives for my time as Chief Minister is to restore trust and confidence in government. As part of this, ministers must uphold and be seen to uphold the highest standards in all aspects of their lives.

"An important part of my role is to always act in Jersey’s best interests. Importantly, this change ensures that we have strong leadership and focused ministerial teams for both external relations and financial services in this important year for the island."

The move has been described as a "shambles" by fellow politicians.

Deputies Lyndon Farnham and Sam Mézec served as ministers under the previous government.

Deputy Mézec went on to say he is concerned about the effect the Chief Minister's changing positions on Deputy Ozouf could have on the island's reputation as a trusted offshore finance centre:

"Our financial services industry is vitally important to Jersey’s economic wellbeing and the employment of many thousands of islanders. This year the industry will be subject to an extremely important assessment from MONEYVAL, and it is essential that we have strong political leadership in place so that every effort is constantly being made to ensure that Jersey complies with all the required international standards on governance and transparency in this industry.

"By U-turning twice in just a few weeks, the Chief Minister has created political instability. Whilst last week she defended Deputy Ozouf after being summonsed to the Petty Debts Court three times in three months, saying that it had no bearing on his political position, she has changed her tune and said that standards in the private lives of ministers now matter. "

Deputy Mézec says the Chief Minister's statement "does not adequately address" concerns about the island's international reputation.

He added that the Chief Minister's statement "does not adequately address" concerns for Jersey’s international reputation.

"This episode is already likely to have undermined public trust in the government. The Chief Minister must account for these events in an open and transparent manner, to prevent developing further disillusionment."

Deputy Mézec says he and his Reform Jersey colleagues will raise questions about Deputy Ozouf's role in government during this week's States sitting, which gets underway tomorrow (Tuesday 7 February).