Ostend Port and the fuel suppliers felt that having Transeuropa's debts secured against the failing ferry operators assets was a sensible and prudential thing to do. By doing this they were able to force the sale of Transeuropa's ferry the Gardenia and share in the 750,000 euros raised at auction last week.
Thanet Council, obviously had better ideas than Ostend Port and the fuel suppliers, but they refused to share them with me. Rather than provide an answer to my enquiry, the Chief Executive delegated the response to another officer who e-mailed me saying that the "Council confirms that it holds relevant information but declines to disclose that information to you". The letter writer went on to quote the Freedom of Information Act to justify why The Chief Executive had not been open, transparent and accountable about her role in the management of this appalling , secretive gamble with £3.3 million public money which went horribly wrong.
Incredible as it may seem, at the same time that TDC officers denied my request for information about debt security, they had actually provided journalist from Kent Online, who were asking for same information as me, with a press statement detailing why the Council failed to securitise its £3.3 million debt. So it would now appear that senior officers of Thanet District Council are free to withhold information from elected councillors, but provide that same information to the press! This is an extremely sad day for local democracy in Thanet.
But it gets worse! Let's have a look at the reasons why the Section 151 Officer decided that there was no reason to mitigate financial loss by securing a charge on Transeuropa's assets. Well if Kent Online is to be believed this decision was made because the Council as port authority has a legal right "to seize Transeuropa assets in the port to cover any debts" therefore "a secured status was not sought at the time the (debt deferral) arrangement was set up". So why did Ostend Port who has similar rights to Ramsgate Port insist on having additional security through charges on Transeuropa's assets. Perhaps because ferries are able to move from A to B making it easy for them to escape the clutches of unsecured creditors such as TDC.
But would Thanet have ever dared to exercise its right to seize Transeuropa's assets to cover the debt? Apparently not! When the debt stood at £1million they did not move to seize Transeuropa's assets. When the debt stood at £2million they did not move to seize Trasnseuropa's assets. When the debt approached £3million and Transeuropa and its erstwhile Italian investors had, despite their agreement to do so, not paid a penny in re-payments for over 6 months, the Council still unbelievably refused to seize it assets! In fact the Council is on record as saying "seizing the vessel at this time would have sent Transeuropa into liquidation". This can only mean that the Council was happy to stand by and let the debt grow bigger and bigger and gamble with more and more of your money without taking any action to safeguard its financial interests. Where would it have ended? A secret debt of £4, £5 or even £6miillion paid for by you!
What sort of financial management is this? I've said it before and I'll say it again, the Transeuropa Ferry issue is a major public scandal. Senior politicians and mangers have, in my opinion, grossly mis-managed pubic money. There should be a full independent investigation into this scandal and some prominent careers should be swiftly and robustly ended. Sadly Labour and Conservative party councillors have spinelessly followed the orders of their party whips like so many frightened sheep and voted to cover up this scandal.
But I remain confident that the truth will eventually come out. The District Auditor has contacted me to tell me that he is still investigating my complaints about the Transeuropa scandal and hopes to advise me of his findings by November. I am waiting for the Information Commissioner to get back to me about having access to all the secret Transeuropa papers. If he agrees I will publish them so you can make own minds up about what happened
I must say I am becoming increasingly frustrated by the appallingly bad political and managerial culture at Thanet District Council. It reminds of the political corruption and dishonesty of 1930s Chicago City Hall. Thankfully 2015 is not far away and I sincerely hope that the good people of Thanet will take that opportunity to rid themselves of this thoroughly rotten political regime and some of its less than inspiring civil servants .
Here's the Kent On Line article