Sunday, 17 January 2016

You dont have to take no as an answer from bureaucracy

A little over a year ago the Jersey Climate Action Network started a small campaign to push the States into divesting from fossil fuel investments.  The price of oil has halved in that time, and many of the associated exploration and production and integrated major companies have fared just as badly.  As far as I can tell, the States never acted on our recommendation to divest, so I tried to get a bit on information to identify what they were invested in.  Since oil and gas producers make a large part by capitalisation of the FTSE 100 and they are big dividend payers it is a fair guess they make a notable part of the portfolio.

This resulted in a FoI request, whose response in part I challenged, with an interesting outcome.  Since my original questions are repeated in the initial response, I'll skip that.

I cannot say I was overly surprised by the response in most respects.  However it raises some questions.  How can the States make statement of the ethical quality of its investments unless it goes into detail of what those investments are in?  And if it does go into that sort of detail, it ought really to be able to give a recent estimate of the amount in fossil fuels, nuclear etc?  Who is on the TAP, how frequently do investment managers present to them, and who sets the ethical criteria?  Is there any public or elected representation?  When was the last time a States members, or PAC or anybody reviewed the ethical criteria?

The one aspect I felt was unsatisfactory was the response about the report.   So I challenged it.

The proper response to a challenge (other than to plead mea culpa and release the info!) is an internal review.

And yes I did get a copy of the report, though it gave no particularly revealing insights relating to the actual ethics of investment policy.

The response tries to argue that everything was right, but clearly it was not.  The initial response was that reports are only shown to addressees, the review does not elaborate or provide a FOI complaint response for withholding the report, not does it refute my contention the report is covered by FoI.  I didn't think there was anything to be gained by pursuing this further - the information I wanted insofar as it existed was forthcoming.  But it might stand as a useful precedent in future should anyone try to gain access to a report denied on the grounds that we on only show them to addressees.

One other pont worth making here; just because a decision is made on ethical grounds doesn't make it a poor financial decision.  Indeed as in this case had the Island puled its fossil fuels investments a year ago as called for, we might now have who knows how many more millions in the Island's funds.

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