The Chief Minister says he doesn't want meeting minutes revealing how Ministers made some of the most pivotal decisions of the pandemic to be released – despite Express being told that Government was looking to find a way to make them available to the public.
Challenged by Senator Tracey Vallois in the States Assembly this week, the Chief Minister responded: “I don’t agree that Competent Authority Ministers’ (CAM) meeting minutes should be published.”
Senator Le Fondré said this was because Ministers needed a “safe space to have their discussions” – something he said was “consistent” with the UK, which does not publish COBRA meeting minutes “for those same reasons.”
But this was despite Freedom of Information officials telling Express, which has for seven months argued in favour of their release in the public interest, that a meeting was due to be held on how they could be released with redactions applied.
The meeting was originally due to take place earlier this month, but officials confirmed last week that the meeting didn’t end up taking place.
They said an update “had not been forthcoming as those involved have been busy with emergency pandemic meeting commitments.”
Currently, the minutes of the Government’s scientific advisory team – STAC – are in the public domain, after the States Assembly voted in favour of releasing them.
The minutes have often shown divergences in opinion with Ministers – most notably over loosening border restrictions ahead of the second wave and festive guidance – fuelling calls from the public to see the meeting minutes of CAM, who make the final decisions.
Pictured: Competent Authorities Ministers.
Those calls boomed again recently when it emerged last week in STAC minutes from 7 June that medics had concerns about Ministers’ desire to relax travel rules given the risks posed by the Delta variant. It led Scrutineers and islanders to demand greater transparency about decision-making.
Such a sentiment has previously been shared by the Environment Minister, who said that even Council of Ministers’ colleagues often found themselves “frozen” out of crucial decisions.
Under the law, CAM is an emergency decision-making body made up of the Chief Minister, and Ministers of Health, Home Affairs, Economic Development, External Relations and Infrastructure. The Treasury and Education Ministers are not statutory members, but were invited when the importance of their portfolios in relation to covid-19 measures became apparent.
They CAM is a select group of Ministers, with the island’s Emergencies Council, which includes civil servants, the Bailiff, Attorney General and Lieutenant Governor, more closely resembling the UK's COBRA.
Video: The Chief Minister chairing an early Emergencies Council meeting about covid-19 in 2020.
Following her question to the Chief Minister, Senator Vallois went on to urge him to confirm that CAM “is not equivalent to COBRA and also the fact that professionals and senior staff officers of the States should have a ‘safe space’, whereas elected representatives as elected by the public should be open honest and transparent about their decision-making?”
But Senator Le Fondré continued to push back.
“The decision to publish STAC minutes was a decision of the Assembly because otherwise I would be in complete agreement with the Senator,” he said.
The Chief Minister continued: “In so far as we can be, we are as honest and transparent as we can be and particularly honest, but I make the point that Ministers do need a safe space otherwise you will have… some meaningless minutes that are produced, but we do ensure that Members are briefed on a regular basis and that, where appropriate, Council of Ministers are also briefed.”
Earlier this month, Senator Le Fondré said CAM didn't intend to stop taking emergency decisions as a unit until the covid crisis is over on a global level.
According to the Freedom of Information Unit, the heavily delayed final response to Express's request for an internal review of the decision not to release the CAM minutes is now scheduled for 28 July.
Comments on this story express the views of the commentator only, not Bailiwick Publishing. We are unable to guarantee the accuracy of any of those comments.
Once your comment has been submitted, it won’t appear immediately. There is no need to submit it more than once. Comments are published at the discretion of Bailiwick Publishing, and will include your username.