From being granted residency to setting his own KPIs and now taking on a £50k second job… A “lack of challenge” from the Chief Minister has allowed the island’s top civil servant to tear up norms in a way that is “damaging" the Government and island, a Scrutineer has said.
An “aghast” Deputy Kirsten Morel made the claim as he demanded that CEO Charlie Parker “resign immediately” from his new role as Non-executive Director of NewRiver REIT Plc.
As Express reported yesterday, Mr Parker joined the board of the UK company, which has £1.2bn in assets and specialises in retail parks and pubs, in September.
However, the Government only officially confirmed the move yesterday, saying it was “cleared by the Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister.” Express understands that the Council of Ministers were not consulted.
The revelation sparked a barrage of criticism from politicians, including Public Accounts Committee Chair Inna Gardiner and Reform Jersey, and the wider public over the failure to make an announcement at the earliest opportunity and the potential for conflicts of interest.
Pictured: Mr Parker's bio on the NewRiver website.
While the company has no operations in Jersey, a number of subsidiaries are based on the island, as well as an Employee Benefit Trust.
With some of the largest capital projects the island has ever seen on the agenda in the coming years, Deputy Morel blasted the role as “untenable.”
“On the surface, it is exactly the type of business a Government CEO should not be involved in,” Deputy Morel said.
“I don’t understand how the Chief Minister could have given permission [to work for a business focused on real estate] at a time when he is trying to push through the Government Plan which is clearly full of capital projects.”
He went on to question what due diligence on the company had been done by the Government and what evidence the Chief Minister, Senator John Le Fondré, had gathered “to satisfy himself that there is no conflict of interest.”
Deputy Morel also took issue with the Government’s justification that Mr Parker’s new role would “inform Jersey’s economic recovery from covid-19 through access to a wide range of research into international developments in the retail sector.”
Pictured: Deputy Kirsten Morel has called for the CEO to resign from his NewRiver role "immediately."
He asked what bias this might bring to his judgment in future projects, and what information on Jersey might be shared in return.
Raising concerns about how the new role would fit into the CEO’s workload at a time when the public sector was already facing the pressure of dealing with covid-19 and the ongoing ‘OneGov’ restructuring, he went on to question: “How is the Chief Minister going to satisfy himself that the Chief Executive is not using States time, taking the odd phone call in his lunch break, having meetings when he travels to London on States business?”
Mr Parker’s contract – which was only released into the public domain following a months-long campaign from Express – states that he must secure written permission to perform an external role. Express has asked for a copy of this permission and is awaiting a reply.
The contract also states: “Your off-duty hours are your personal concern but you should not subordinate your duty to your private interest nor put yourself in a position where your duty and your private interests conflict, or where public confidence in the conduct of the Employer would be weakened.”
For Deputy Morel, the NewRiver appointment has already weakened public confidence by indicating “divided loyalties” and attention. The debate it has caused, he said, “shows the job has already become a distraction for him and others.”
Pictured: The job has already become a "distraction" that is harming public confidence in Government, Deputy Morel argued.
He added: “[Mr Parker] should be fully focused on his job in Jersey. And if he’s not, maybe he’s not the man for the job.”
Deputy Morel highlighted that this latest controversy was one of a string linked to the CEO.
In an unprecedented move, Mr Parker was granted full residential status before taking up his position in Jersey.
As revealed by Express, his contract allowed him to set his own job description and key performance indicators against which he was measured. When an appraisal process was finally set, Express learned that the individual chosen to assess Mr Parker had worked with him before.
While not outside of the law or Mr Parker’s contract, Deputy Morel said such actions have torn up the norms of Government – and that they have been allowed to continue on the Chief Minister’s watch.
“The relationship there is too close, there’s too little challenge going on. It seems the CEO is almost acting independently… The people of Jersey deserve better,” he said, later adding: “It begs the question, ‘Who is really in charge?’”
Pictured: Deputy Morel said he felt the Chief Minister is not adequately challenging the CEO.
PAC Chair Deputy Gardiner said Mr Parker’s NewRiver appointment had equally left her full of questions around process and transparency.
She told Express it was clearly “not acceptable” for the appointment not to have been made public right away.
However, she said she did not feel she had enough information on the due diligence taken ahead of permission being granted for the appointment in order to comment on whether it was “appropriate” and pledged to probe the matter in her capacity as PAC Chair.
“I was surprised to see Mr Parker take on this demanding role in a time of crisis for the island of Jersey,” she said.
“Although it appears there are no direct conflicts of interest between Mr Parker’s non-executive directorship and his Chief Executive role, I will be asking him about this position and whether it affects his commitment to Jersey at the PAC’s next Quarterly Public Hearing on 30 November.”
Pictured: PAC Chair Deputy Inna Gardiner pledged to probe the matter at the next hearing.
While it stopped short of calling for Mr Parker to resign from his extra role, Reform Jersey – a party with five sitting politicians, including Children and Housing Minister Senator Sam Mézec – also hit out at the appointment.
The party said it was not only concerned about conflicts of interest, but also about “the impression it gives that the top civil servant can have time to undertake a second job whilst other public sector workers have to work long and often unsocial hours often without paid overtime leaving them unable to undertake additional jobs to improve their financial position.”
They added: “The States Assembly has commented on the lack of officer time to make new legislation and yet it appears the CEO has enough spare time to undertake a second job that pays more than the average island earnings of £31,720, with many having to survive on the minimum wage.
Pictured: Reform Jersey also criticised Mr Parker's second job.
“This announcement, when times are so hard for so many this winter, with unemployment and job insecurity rife, is unfortunate to say the least.”
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