Deputies probe Health Minister’s possible conflict of interest

Deputy Tom Binet Picture: ROB CURRIE. (37475637)

ILL-FEELING between politicians who were on opposing sides during last month’s political turbulence remained evident as this week’s States sitting.

Health Minister Tom Binet was put in the spotlight by Deputy Lucy Stephenson over potential conflicts of interest involving a charity and compensation payments for a land dispute.

Deputy Stephenson, a close ally of former Chief Minister Kristina Moore who was ousted through a vote of no confidence brought by Deputy Binet, said the matter related to the charity Focus on Mental Illness.

She asked the Health Minister if he considered that his role as a trustee with the charity was a conflict of interest, given that he now controlled the budget for mental health.

Deputy Lucy Stephenson Picture: FINN MCGREEVY. (37475660)

Deputy Binet agreed there was a potential conflict and that he was seeking to step down as chair of the charity as soon as a replacement could be found.

“I have to maintain a certain association as quite a lot of the funding comes from Deputy Rose Binet and myself, but in terms of operations it would be improper for either of us to have any direct impact,” he said.

Deputy Jonathan Renouf returned to the matter, questioning whether the potential conflict could be resolved by the minister removing himself from the charity board, but Deputy Binet said the organisation had “not had a single penny” from government and that “I genuinely don’t think there’s an issue here”.

Chief Minister Lyndon Farnham was questioned on the matter by Deputy Stephenson, who also raised the issue of compensation payments to Islanders fined tens of thousands of pounds after their coastal properties were deemed to have encroached on the foreshore.

It was revealed earlier this week by Deputy Binet, who campaigned on the matter before entering government, that he had signed payments of more than £50,000 to two landowners while serving as Infrastructure Minister, but that the payments had yet to be made and were now in the hands of new Infrastructure Minister Andy Jehan.

Deputy Farnham said that he had discussed the importance of transparency and the ministerial code of conduct at the first meeting of the new Council of Ministers, but did not see a conflict for Deputy Binet in relation to these matters.

Deputy Binet then sought to intervene, saying he “took great exception” to the “shameful” line of questioning and asking Deputy Bailiff Robert MacRae if he considered it appropriate.

Deputy Stephenson said: “If ministers can’t answer [questions] in this Assembly, then we have got a problem”, before being silenced by the Deputy Bailiff. Mr MacRae said he did not consider there was any suggestion of dishonesty or disreputable behaviour in what had been asked by Deputies Stephenson and Renouf.

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