Possibility of a major reform of disgraced body. Last year there was a damning auditor's report on the Caldicot and Wentlooge Levels Drainage Board. I urged that they should be absorbed into Natural Resources Wales. Then I wrote:
I am greatly concerned by the abuse that took place under the old regime on the Board. I was delighted to see that a former Chairman and long-serving member of the Board has now resigned.
The picture that was presented of the grotesque abuse is one that rightly has caused outrage. The extraordinary position that remains is that there is reluctance to pursue Mr. Jackson-John’s repayment for the sum that he was paid unfairly and possibly unlawfully. I understand that his maximum pay under the Lincolnshire rules should have been £60 000. At one time he was paid £83 000. When the increases to his pension-pot are included I understand that the over-payment is likely to be between £100,000 and £115,000.
At their meeting on Monday 15 October 2012 the Board was informed that recovery of this money was a major priority in the opinion of the auditor. The board delayed a decision and decided to seek additional legal advice on whether pursuing the claim against Mr. Jackson-Johns would be sensible. The point was fairly made that the legal charges and costs might well be higher than the sum that might be recouped. I am concerned about this position. The likely decision of the Board at their next meeting may well be to take no action.
There is another, more important, consideration in that a failure to pursue Mr. Jackson-John sends a very dangerous message and precedent to others that may be in similar situations. The reason that prosecution may fail is because of the chaos of management when Mr. Jackson-Johns was General Manager. The minutes were at best inadequate and at worst nonexistent. It would be difficult to win a case on hearsay evidence alone.
There is a more serious point. If no attempt is made to retrieve the money, the message that this sends out is that the public purse can be looted at will as long as no record is kept of the events that are being taken place. This is an encouragement both of embezzlement of public money and an incentive to create a chaotic system on records and minutes.
Another matter that should be addressed is work carried out by the board on the property of members of the board and management. These may have been done below cost or at nil cost. One egregious example of this is work on Mr. Jackson-John’s home, which was outside the regulations because his property is not situated on the levels. Repayment should be sought for this and any other work that was undercharged.
There are other outstanding matters. The conditions that led to the situation described in the Audit Report have changed greatly under the new General Manager. However I remain concerned that many of the elements that led to the abuses remain. Although Mr. Neville Walters, and others, have resigned there are many elected and appointed members on the board who were in part responsible, by commission or omission, for the disgraceful situation that existed. While they remain there is a danger that continuity of the previous lack of scrutiny may occur.
The board is to provide figures of the levies charge. The auditor is concerned that non-agriculture dwellings may have been overcharged and agricultural land property undercharged. While both groups benefits from flood prevention work, landowners benefit to a far greater extent that owners of small homes in the urban areas. It is believed that this matter can be addressed at marginal cost.
A further lesson is the inherent danger of cronyism developing in micro-quangos when a large proportion of board members have a vested financial interest in the work of the organization. On the CWLIDB there is a theoretical majority of appointed members from local authorities. Because of the demands of council duties and the lesser significance of CWLIDB’s work, meetings are always dominated by the landowners’ interest. There seems no alternative but to disband these bodies and pass their duties over to a larger body. I am aware of the current consideration of alternative proposals. The worst possible choice for the future is the status quo.