Jubilee on Jersey
As much as a small island with 90,000 people can, Jersey feels a lot like home in London. House prices are astronomical. There are large numbers of big and fast cars, though the maximum speed is 40mph. Many residents come from outside, whether elsewhere in the British Isles, Portugal or Poland. There is large inequality. The Royal Family spend more time there than in other parts of the Kingdom. The economy is dominated by banking, lawyers and finance, though the welcoming locals I meet are well removed from any stereotypes of stuffy bankers.
I am here to talk to people about the recent story which has again brought Jersey to the attention of international media. A vulture fund, FG Hemisphere, is suing the Democratic Republic of Congo in Jersey, claiming $100 million for a debt it bought for $3 million.
On Monday night I speak at a packed out public meeting hosted by Christians Together in Jersey. There are big differences in how people see the finance sector on the island, and whether or not Jersey is a tax haven. But everyone who talks is in support of the island passing legislation similar to the UK which could stop FG Hemisphere in its tracks. Similarly on Tuesday I’m interviewed live on BBC Radio Jersey, and messages of support for action come in whilst we are on air. The Jersey Evening Post has called for urgent action.
The Jersey Parliament – or “the States” – has recently had its elections, and on Tuesday morning I listen to them in session, electing parliamentary committees. My host and I are alone in the public gallery, but for reporters from the Jersey Evening Post and BBC Radio Jersey. Being busy following the elections, this is my only chance to see from afar Ian Gorst, the newly elected Chief Minister, who has been receiving thousands of messages calling for Jersey to take action on vulture funds.
The case first came to our attention over one year ago, since then we’ve been asking Jersey to bring in the same law to limit the activities of vulture funds as we achieved in the UK in 2010. It took until September 2011 for the States to launch a consultation, which closes on 8 December.
Over lunch I meet with the Attorney General and two of the Chief Minister’s advisors. The Chief Minister has been bombarded with correspondence from Britain and elsewhere calling for action on vulture funds; one aide tells me they are not used to such attention.
Apparently the lunch date is the only time available as the States are in session. Positive noises have already been made by the government. But I get the impression that even if the government does pass a law, this may not be done quickly enough to impact on the Congo case, where the final appeal before the UK Privy Council could be heard as early as April 2012. I leave the meeting feeling there is a danger a law could be passed, but too late.
I had never been to Jersey before, but my Great Auntie lived on the island for many years, back in the days when it was still a major tourist rather than financial escape. Her husband was the gardener at one of St Helier’s parks, where I managed to stop by late on Tuesday afternoon.
An alternative destination would have been ‘Millennium Park’, which is nearing completion 11 years after the event it was supposed to be named after. I am warned by locals that the park is an example of the slow pace at which Jersey authorities can operate. Apparently alternative names now being discussed include 'Jubilee Park', to mark the Queen’s celebration next year, especially if one of the ubiquitous Royals marks the occasion with a visit.
The original meaning of 'jubilee' in the Jewish scriptures had nothing to do with royals and everything to do with cancelling debts. The States of Jersey could play a part in furthering Jubilee, but only if the wheels of government turn considerably quicker to bring in a vulture fund law than they have with the ‘Millennium Park’. If they do so, a park opening in 2012 could celebrate more than one Jubilee.
TAKE ACTION: Write to Jersey Chief Minister Ian Gorst >>