Let’s clear up this mess
HAVING just got back after a couple of weeks on holiday, it seems to have been quite an eventful time in the island.
This is going to be quite a difficult column to write since I am currently a non-paid, non-voting member of the Museum Management Board, which Deputy Matt Fallaize chairs, but this matter is of such significance that it would be remiss of me not to comment on it, so here goes.
What a mess.
Firstly, we have to remember that, unlike some areas of politics, recruitment deals with people’s lives, having a major impact on them and their families, something I always put ‘front and centre’ when I recruited people.
I was tempted to provide an analysis of the inconsistencies between the various statements from Education. I decided against this since it seems generally accepted that they have been less than transparent, or as the editor of the Guernsey Press put it in his comment column: ‘Time after time Education answers the question it wants to be asked, not the one posed’.
I am approaching this issue from a different viewpoint; that of the Population Management Law.
The reason for this is that I am the chairman of the Population Employment Advisory Panel, which advises the Home Committee on some employment permit policy matters. Importantly, we do not get involved in individual ‘out of policy’ applications so have had no involvement in this application.
I also emphasise that the following are my personal thoughts and not those of the panel, which has not discussed this issue.
Like it or loathe it, we have a Population Management Law and it is important that its integrity and credibility is maintained.
Generally, employment permits are not granted if there is a person locally who can do the job. Indeed, the guidance on making applications includes the following: ‘Please tell us how many people not needing an Employment Permit applied, and why they were not employed by you’.
Section 46 of the Population Law states that a person has committed a criminal offence if he or she ‘produces or furnishes or causes or permits to be produced or furnished any information or document which he knows or has reasonable cause to believe to be false, deceptive or misleading in a material particular’.
So how was that question answered in the permit application?
Obviously I do not know the answer, but from the media reports it seems that a full and complete answer to the question in the guidance notes would have been along the lines of:
In total four candidates were interviewed, two being local candidates, both suitable with one being deemed to be the most appropriate applicant and was offered the job. She accepted the job, agreed terms, but after political intervention withdrew her application. The second locally qualified candidate was not approached after the first withdrew her application.
I may be wrong, but it seems inconceivable to me that an answer along those lines would result in a permit being granted because there are two locally qualified candidates able to do the job.
Therefore, it does seem possible that a less than complete, possibly misleading, answer was given and a permit issued on the basis of the answer.
This possibility is supported by the former HR manager’s statement that she was asked to make a false statement on a permit application, presumably because two local candidates were shortlisted and both found capable of doing the job.
This situation, or even the possibility, of the States making a false application does risk bringing the integrity and credibility of the Population Management Law into question.
After all, why should businesses worry about employing locally qualified people if the States gives priority to non-locals and provides incomplete or misleading information on applications?
Therefore, for the integrity of the Population Management Law, this needs to be publicly clarified as soon as possible.
Although all operational decisions of the population law are taken by the Population Management Office under the direction of an independent statutory official, it is the Committee for Home Affairs which is politically responsible to the States of Deliberation and the public for the population law and ensuring its credibility.
So it is in a position to ask questions and expect answers.
It is worth digressing for a moment and noting that if there has been a misleading statement the fault does not lie with the PMO – it cannot double check every statement, which is why the onus is on applications being correct and why making a misstatement is a criminal offence.
If I were still Home minister I would want sight of the application form and if a less than complete or a misleading statement has been made, then I would make a formal statement to the police that I think a criminal offence has happened, suggesting an investigation.
I know what you are thinking – political involvement in operational matters.
Not so. The decision to grant the permit was operational but has already happened and anybody who thinks a crime has been committed can refer the matter to the police.
In doing this my focus would be the political responsibility for the Population Management Law –trying to ensure the public and businesses have confidence that all organisations, be they private businesses or the States, adhere to the law and are brought to account if they do not.
For this reason, that particular part of the application needs to be made public.
I understand that P&R declined a freedom of information request, but their reasons just do not stand up.
The first reason they cited was that it was not policy for the PMO to release this information. True, but technically P&R are responsible for all HR matters in the States so they are the applicant and as such they could release that part of the application.
The second reason they gave was data protection. The classic reason for not releasing information – in this case also not valid. Data protection relates only to personal data, so as long as the answer did not contain names, or any names are blanked out, there would be no data protection issues.
If P&R have nothing to hide, why not be open and transparent?
As former chief of police Mike Wyeth wrote: ‘no one, private citizen or politician, should be above the law or appear to be so’.
Finally, I have sympathy for Ms Sealy. Can you imagine the reaction when people meet her? Perhaps along the lines of: is this a person who got a job only through political intervention, despite not being the interview panel’s first choice and being less experienced than the first choice, who seems to have been ‘encouraged’ to withdraw her application?
I would not like to start a job with that hanging over my head, especially in Guernsey, where this issue will be remembered for years to come.