03 February 2007

Williams acts...long after the fact (Updated)(Updated 2)

[Originally posted 02 February 2007]

Danny Williams wants members of the legislature repay a $2800 bonus granted in May 2004 for the previous fiscal year.

Yesterday - after the story broke - Williams was defending the legislators as supposed victims of incompetent administration or an Internal Economy Commission that ran its own private, unquestioned fiefdom.

With such heavy public criticism, the Premier has apparently changed his mind.

Well, sort of.

First there's this little admission : "I became aware of the decision some time after the fact, and I don’t think there is any disagreement that it was a poor decision that did not reflect the values and guiding principles of our government at that time."

How long is "some time"? A day? A few hours? A few years?

If it was so obviously wrong - as the Premier now acknowledges - why did it take the public furor to have the Premier act?


Update: 02 February 2007 Premier Danny Williams scrummed with reporters today on his news release. Under questioning from David Cochrane (if the voice on the CBC Radio broadcast was right), the Premier equivocated on when he first learned of the added allowance for members of the House of Assembly.

Cochrane persisted to his credit.

Williams persisted in his evasion, to his detriment.

Then he switched to excuses: he was a new Premier with huge responsibilities and lots of stuff going on; when he heard about it he never put it in the wage freeze context; he didn't pay attention because it was about compensation and allowances and since he doesn't take a salary, then he didn't feel it right to have input on these things.

A bad story for the Premier just got immensely worse.

The Premier's evasion is done for the same reason as the vague wording in the original minutes of the Internal Economy Commission approving the allowance increase.

The Premier seeks to evade responsibility for his own actions, or in this case his inaction.

His excuses are more revealing of his mindset in seeking to escape responsibility.

The Premier's job is a tough one. It carries weighty responsibilities, not the least of which is to watch over the spending of public money. He has helpers in his task, if he lets them help. But those helpers must receive clear and unmistakable direction. Having worked in the office, your humble e-scribbler can attest to the demands of the office. Having spoken over the years with several premiers, your scribbler is also witness to the weight that sits on the shoulders of each Premier.

None would have offered excuses. The exercise of offering excuses is bad enough; it is the antithesis of leadership and fundamentally, the Premier must be a leader in good times and bad.

Not putting the allowance hike in the context of the freeze is a excuse which - by the Premier's own implication - suggests his judgment is exceedingly poor. How could he not see what everyone else apparently saw at the time and the public knows now? The allowance increase was unnecessary. It was wrong. He should have stopped it when he learned of it. He is the Premier after all.

The third is excuse is perhaps even more serious by implication than the others since it contains a serious misstatement of fact.

Danny Williams, member of the House of Assembly and Premier, collects a salary and draws down on his constituency entitlements and other allowances just like every other member of the House of Assembly and member of cabinet.

It's a matter of fact.

Nothing wrong with it.

He lives entirely within his means and there is no sign of any impropriety on his part.

Danny Williams donates his salary to his own family charity.

That too is a matter of fact.

Nothing wrong with it.

Who better - as Premier, and given his example - than to put a stop to an inappropriate public hand-out done in a sneaky way?

For the Premier to say he turned a blind eye to this allowance since he doesn't collect a salary is to mislead the public on a key aspect of an important issue. One can only believe the Premier does so deliberately since he repeats the same false comment each time he mentions his salary.

The House of Assembly story today took on a much more ominous cast for Danny Williams and it did so as a consequence of the Premier's own comments.

Danny Williams enjoys almost unprecedented public confidence in his forthrightness and integrity. People believe that above all else, Danny Williams will be accountable. That is his reputation.

The essence of accountability is responsibility.

In evading responsibility for not putting a halt to the allowance when it occurred or as soon as he learned of it, in equivocating so miserably on even when he knew, Danny Williams attacked the heart of his credibility and hence his reputation.

Danny Williams forgot the most important lesson of scandal: it is not the action or the inaction - not matter how minor - that causes a downfall.

It is the evasion that kills you in the long run.

Update 2: When did Danny know about the extra cash? Likely May 2004, when it was approved, according to the Telegram front page story in its 03 February edition.

That little morsel wasn't reported by other media.

So the guy who had enough power to order the Internal Economy Commission to let the Auditor General back into the House of Assembly in April 2004 couldn't or wouldn't deal with a bonus stipend right after he froze public sector wages for two years.


The secretive bonus was effectively hidden from view by a vaguely worded set of minutes from the meeting that approved the retroactive payment.

As for the total overspending by members of the House of Assembly allowances and assistance budget during the two years of the freeze - 2004 and 2005 - well that was hidden by misreporting - deliberately (?) - the spending in the annual budget estimates.

For FY 2004, the government estimates showed spending as dead-on budget even though the entire cabinet knew at the time the account was overspent by $479,000. The next year they misreported the spending, knowing full-well the account was overspent by $557,000

The Auditor General's reports to date have only identified 20% of the overspending for those two years. AG John Noseworthy says his work on overspending is done.