Senior officials at Policy & Resources (P&R) were aware of the escalating costs of the Princess Elizabeth Hospital redevelopment for over two months before informing their committee members. The £30 million cost increase was known to a select few P&R officials last year, but the P&R politicians were only informed in February.

This delay left P&R members unaware of key metrics during crucial States Assembly debates on public finances and major projects. Previously, it was known that some Health & Social Care (HSC) staff were aware of the 25% cost increase – from £120 million to £150 million – as early as February 2023, but withheld this information from HSC committee members until December 2023.

However, this is the first admission that senior officials outside HSC also knew and played a part in keeping politicians uninformed during critical debates. This information emerged through Rule 14 questions submitted by Deputy Gavin St Pier two weeks ago.

“That it required Rule 14 questions to reveal this scandalous concealment underscores a systemic rot in Guernsey’s civil service that demands immediate reform.”

“A limited number of senior officials were aware of the potential cost challenges in November and December 2023,” stated P&R president Lyndon Trott. “Initially, this was flagged informally as a risk, while further work was done to understand if there was a significant challenge beyond normal price fluctuations.”

Officials received more formal briefings on the rising costs for phase two of the hospital project in late January. “Some of these officials were advising the committee on the Government Work Plan debate in January,” added Deputy Trott. “The P&R Committee was first informed on 13 February 2024.”

HSC stated that the staff who knew in February 2023 are no longer employed by the States. Deputy St Pier’s Rule 14 questions also asked for details about their departures and whether they retired and on what pension.

“The circumstances of their departure are private to the States and those individuals, so no further details may be given,” said Deputy Trott. “P&R reiterates previous comments by the head of the public service, Mark de Garis, that the conduct of a few officials fell significantly short of required standards, and stresses that appropriate policies and procedures are in place to address such matters.”

This situation highlights serious issues with accountability and transparency in Guernsey’s civil service. There is a clear need for a Freedom of Information Law and a Public Service Ombudsperson. If senior civil servants believe this behaviour is acceptable, there is something deeply wrong within their organisation. Questions have been raised about the accountability of Mr de Garis, as with his predecessor, in managing oversight and communication in the public service.

That it required Rule 14 questions to uncover this concealment underscores a systemic rot in Guernsey’s civil service that demands immediate reform. Crucial information should be disclosed voluntarily to ensure proper governance and public trust.

This necessity for formal questioning indicates a systemic issue that needs urgent reform – what are we, the taxpayers, actually paying for?

Was this non-disclosure by accident or intent? If the former, does that not indicate extreme incompetence? If the latter, would this not be maladministration?

Maladministration refers to inefficient or dishonest administration, especially by a public official. In this context, deliberately withholding critical information about significant cost increases from committee members and politicians, thereby preventing informed decision-making and oversight, could be seen as a breach of proper administrative conduct. This kind of behaviour undermines transparency, accountability, and trust in public institutions, all of which are fundamental principles of good governance.

Suggestions for Improving Accountability and Transparency in Guernsey’s Civil Service

To prevent future concealment and ensure better governance, here are key measures to enhance accountability and transparency in Guernsey’s civil service:

  • Freedom of Information (FOI) Law: Make public project and expenditure info accessible.
  • Public Service Ombudsperson: Independent oversight for complaints and investigations.
  • Regular Audits: Independent audits and public reporting of major projects.
  • Whistleblower Protections: Protect those reporting misconduct.
  • Ethics Training: Mandatory training on ethics and transparency.
  • Internal Communication: Clear protocols for sharing vital info with committees.
  • Performance Reviews: Regular reviews focusing on accountability.
  • Public Oversight: Citizen and expert committees for major projects.
  • Clear Documentation: Well-documented decisions and actions.
  • Public Participation: Encourage feedback via consultations.
  • Impartial Investigations: Ensure independent, unbiased investigations.
  • No Hiding Behind Legal Privilege: Ensure transparency and accountability without excuses.

By implementing these, Guernsey can boost civil service transparency and accountability, restoring public trust and preventing misconduct.