THE Chief Minister was this morning due to face questions as to why External Relations Minister Philip Ozouf has stepped down from his political responsibility for the financial services industry – just five days after she publicly backed him.
Deputy Ozouf resigned as minister with responsibility for the sector after being summonsed to attend the Petty Debts court on three occasions in as many months – something which he put down to personal oversights.
Just days earlier, Chief Minister Kristina Moore backed her long-time political ally to continue in the post stating that ‘ministers should be judged on how they perform in their official role’ rather than on private matters. However, the Chief Minister said yesterday that ‘ministers must uphold and be seen to uphold the highest standards in all aspects of their lives’ as she confirmed that a panel of four ministers would take on responsibility for the sector instead.
She said: ‘When I was elected as Chief Minister I stated that I would not always get everything right, but I would do my best.
‘While I do believe that politicians should be judged by their actions – and this government is focused on delivering for the public who have elected us – we do of course have a requirement to uphold high standards in our personal lives.
‘We expect particularly high standards of those who work in our financial services industry and therefore our minister with responsibility for that sector of the economy should meet those too. Deputy Ozouf and I agree that his oversight of his personal affairs has fallen short and that has prompted questions.
‘During his time in the role Deputy Ozouf has spent time building a number of constructive recommendations for the financial services team. I am grateful to him for his energy and thoughtful advice.’
Two former ministers – Deputies Sam Mézec and Lyndon Farnham – have now stated that Deputy Moore must explain the reason for the U-turn or risk undermining public confidence in the government. The States Assembly was due to sit this morning, with Deputy Moore expected to face a period of questions without notice.
Deputy Mézec has confirmed that he and his Reform Jersey party colleagues will be raising the issue during this week’s sitting.
He said: ‘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.’
Deputy Mézec continued: ‘By U-turning twice in just a few weeks, the Chief Minister has created political instability. While 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. The statement she published [yesterday] morning does not adequately address these matters and does not address whether there were concerns for Jersey’s international reputation arising from this publicity.
‘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.’
Meanwhile, Deputy Farnham – who previously served between 2014 and 2018 in the Council of Ministers alongside Deputy Ozouf – added that Deputy Moore needed to ‘explain her thinking’.
‘What has changed over the weekend? I am keen to ask that question if no one beats me to it,’ he said. ‘We need to focus on the economy – we have the Moneyval audit coming up – and this is a massive distraction that carries significant reputational risk.’
He added that the Chief Minister ‘lacked judgment’ over the episode, which has the potential to be a distraction for the government.
Upon her election as Chief Minister, Deputy Moore indicated that she intended to transfer the financial services portfolio to Treasury Minister Ian Gorst. However, it was confirmed on 20 January that the political oversight for the sector was to remain with Deputy Ozouf, with Deputy Gorst acting as an assistant minister.
Deputy Ozouf was called before the Petty Debts court last week after St-Helier-based GP surgery Health Plus Ltd claimed that he had not paid a bill. The minister had also been summoned in December over an unpaid St Saviour parish rates bill, and another bill of £2,500 relating to properties in Trinity. Both were paid shortly before the cases reached court.
In his letter to Deputy Moore relinquishing responsibility for financial services, Deputy Ozouf said: ‘As Chief Minister you have rightly set out the need for a government that delivers for Jersey and conducts itself against the highest standards. I accept that this requirement extends to both professional and person affairs.
‘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 reoccur.’
He added that he would focus on his work as External Relations Minister with ‘unswerving commitment’ and that he supported the decision of the transfer of financial services to the Chief Minister’s Department.
Social Security Minister Elaine Millar and Deputy Gorst will be appointed as Assistant Chief Ministers for financial services, and join a ministerial group with Deputy Moore and Deputy Chief Minister Kirsten Morel.
Deputy Moore, in a statement confirming the change, said: ‘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.’
Deputy Ozouf’s letter to Deputy Moore in full:
Dear Chief Minister,
Thank you for your time earlier today.
As Chief Minister you have rightly set out the need for a government that delivers for Jersey and conducts itself against the highest standards. I accept that this requirement extends to both professional and personal affairs.
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 reoccur.
Following the last election, in July 2022 you proposed me as Minister for External Relations to a role which also encompassed ministerial responsibility for financial services but with the intention that ministerial responsibility for financial services would be transferred. I accepted the terms of your original nomination. As we have discussed, recent events serve as a catalyst for concluding the proposed transfer. Your decision to transfer oversight of financial services matters to the Chief Minister’s department with a joint team of ministers performing the relevant ministerial functions is welcome and one that I fully support.
The sector is of fundamental importance to the people of Jersey whose future depends on jobs. The continued success of our Island is based on the continued success of trade-in-services.
Having discharged the role of Minister for External Relations and Financial Services, I am writing separately as to lessons learnt setting out my suggestions as to how the financial services policy responsibilities might be handled, strengthened and improved to ensure the executive delivers on the priorities which have been approved by the States Assembly in the Plan for Government 2023-26.
My focus and work as External Relations Minister will continue with unswerving commitment. There is an ongoing and significant agenda. Strengthening relations with the UK and France, opening up new markets and building broad-based relationships with key economic partners are so important to the whole Island. In addition, External Relations’ ongoing work concerning sanctions will continue. I hope the work that I have already done demonstrates my ability to deliver for the people of Jersey. I hugely appreciate the opportunity of serving and delivering for Jersey as an elected representative of St Saviour. Moreover, as a collegiate member of the government which has considerable challenges. I am confident in its strength and depth and energised with your focus on delivery.
I personally wish to thank you, members of the Council and the Assembly as well as the public for their understanding of the issues that should not have emerged.
Deputy Philip Ozouf