‘Senior civil servants are gaining too much power’

SENIOR civil servants are gaining too much power – and are trying to override ministerial policies – partly because of a lack of political leadership at the heart of government, a former minister has said.

Senator Sam Mézec                                                             Picture: ROB CURRIE. (29652436)
Senator Sam Mézec Picture: ROB CURRIE. (29652436)

Days after he described the interference of some government officers as a ‘poison’ in the public sector, Senator Sam Mézec, who is the subject of today’s Saturday Interview, described repeated attempts by some officials to undermine senior politicians.

And the Senator, who quit as Children’s and Housing Minister to support the recent vote of no confidence brought against Chief Minister John Le Fondré, said he had yet to be convinced that his successor – Deputy Jeremy Maçon – had the ‘fight’ to stand up to opposing views.

The Reform Jersey party leader said that on several occasions during his tenure he encountered difficulties in dealing with senior officers who were attempting to shape political decision-making.

One of his last acts as a minister was to announce a freeze of Andium rents. However, he said the move faced several delays before reaching that stage.

‘Over a couple of months I kept saying this is what I want to do and asking for the paperwork so I could sign off on it and it wasn’t forthcoming,’ he said.

‘Treasury officials had attempted to use a funding model that we had specifically ruled out to put forward a model that would have cost Andium to deliver that rent freeze. That would have impacted their construction programme. It was only at the last minute that I had to kick off and had to ask three times what was going on.’

Senator Mézec also revealed that during the planning stage for the Common Strategic Policy – a document which sets out the government’s core aims – a civil servant had unilaterally changed the wording of one of the headline priorities and it had to be switched back to its original form at the last minute.

He said the problems were ‘systemic’ and would not change once a new government chief executive was appointed following the departure of Charlie Parker.

And he said that the issues had reaffirmed his belief that party politics was needed in Jersey.

‘I think it is a huge mistake to blame it on Charlie Parker,’ he said. ‘Charlie is very experienced, very energetic and has a lot of good qualities that he brings to the table. Some of the people brought in by him have been very good as well.

‘When Charlie goes, those problems are not going to disappear. There are wide cultural problems in parts of the civil service and that is a political problem. If there was a Chief Minister with better leadership qualities and a more united Council of Ministers, then some of those issues would fix themselves.

‘One of the problems is in areas that aren’t just my responsibility – things that extend into Treasury and Social Security for example. If an officer doesn’t like what I say they will go to another minister. It is a way of officers pitting ministers against each other. A party system, all working towards delivering the same manifesto, wouldn’t have that.

‘The people working within the system are irrelevant. Without a party system those problems will carry on. They will still face the same systemic problems. Blaming personalities is not going to fix anything. Charlie will go; things will not get better. The Chief Minister could change and things would stay the same. My experience has proved that for me.’

Senator Mézec also said that he believed Reform Jersey would return to the ministerial table at some stage and added that he was focused on leading the party and attempting to deliver some of their core aims from the backbenches.

  • Saturday Interview: Pages 10 and 11.

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