Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Fear and Loathing

The conflict between the Australian Chess Federation and the ACT Junior Chess League that I referenced here, has been resolved. Through sensible negotiation, through the willingness to see both sides of the story, or even through simple organisational competence? Sadly, no. It was resolved by the personal payment by former ACT Junior Chess League President Libby Smith, of the outstanding moneys. She certainly did not have to do this, but I suspect it was done because she didn't want the flourishing ACT junior chess scene hobbled by the ACF's willingness to use threats against the participation of ACT junior players in national and international events. That she would cough up almost $2000 of her own money, and that the ACF is happy to use junior players as a bargaining chip, says a lot about both parties.
Interestingly enough I had quite a long conversation a couple of days ago with an (unnamed) ACF council member on this very issue. The conversation was off the record, so no names or direct quotes (and to protect the person concerned). Nonetheless I drew a couple of interesting conclusions from the conversation.
Probably the clearest one is that members of the ACF council seem quite afraid to release information. In the case of this issue, the ACTJCL had requested past information of the Schools levy, in order to put forward their case. The ACF refused to provide any information, even down to the people who voted for or against various motions on this matter. (Apparently the ACTJCL was told "privacy concerns"). Various other communications from the ACF have included such caveats concerning whether the issue can be discussed as there hasn't been ACF "permission" to talk about it.
(Indeed to sidetrack slightly, my own questions concerning this remained unanswered, although a lively discussion did begin on the identity of various anon posters. My own identity was clearly hidden in plain sight).
It is not clear why the ACF wishes to hide away as much information as possible, but my own theory (based on my conversation with anon ACF official) is that are scared about who actually will get the information, and what they will do with it.
The other conclusion from the conversation I drew (and from this whole affair) is one of basic managerial competence. Is it possible that the ACF can say "We have managed this issue in the best possible way"? To me clearly not. One of the points of contention was that the ACTJCL submitted a letter to the ACF on the 25 April 2006, and received no official response until just recently. However it apparently was discussed by ACF officials soon after it was received, although there was no communication with the ACTJCL.
Nonetheless there apparently was a willingness on the ACF's part to negotiate this, although it was revealed to me the process was simply to ask the ACTJCL to present a figure (which was rejected) and then ask for another figure (which was again rejected). At no stage did the ACF attempt to offer a compromise above and beyond "Give us the money or your junior players get punished".
The other concern in this area is that of ACF finances and auditing. As this is an outstanding payment I would have assumed that the auditor would have queried the treasurer about the debt recovery process. Organisations just can't keep debts like this on their balance sheets, without making an effort to collect them. And yet it took a couple of years before the ACF got around to making any effort to receive payment. The problem with the finances from Mt Buller was another example of lax financial management of the ACF.
So the ACF has received their money from a process that a former ACF President described as "not thought through" and "full of loopholes". A process that in part came about through the desire of some at the 2001 ACF National Conference to minimise the amount of money that the Schools levy would provide to the ACF.
And somehow I think this sums up the issue. Those who wished to do as little as possible for the growth of Australian chess ended up punishing those who tried to do as much as possible.

(* Disclaimer: I am paid by the ACT Junior Chess League for coaching services *)


Kevin Bonham said...

Shaun, I find it interesting that you attribute all the blame for the prospective imposition to sanctions to the ACF for asking the ACTJCL and none to the ACTJCL for failing to pay up (or even to offer anywhere near the amount owing) in a timely fashion.

Concerning communication I have made a point in the relevant thread on chesschat (http://chesschat.org/showthread.php?p=206228) . The ACTJCL was at the time an associated body of the ACF entitled to attend phone meetings and National Conferences. Given that it didn't put itself in the loop (which other Associated Bodies were well and truly in) I'm not sure why it's so hard to figure out that given a bill was sent, and the bill was not revised, then the money was still owing.

As for your claim that "the ACF wishes to hide away as much information as possible" this is simply a melodramatic generalisation from a very small number of examples. There are plenty of others that contradict it.

There is something I could say that is factually relevant to the question of whether any compromise should have been offered by the ACF. There are many things I could say that are factually relevant to the question of whether the ACF should have agreed to the ACTJCL's requests for specific information. However I will not do so at this stage as to do so would breach the confidentiality of the ACTJCL's emails on the matter - although it is quite obvious there are some with no shortage of willingness to breach the ACF's.

This post represents my own opinions only and not those of the ACF.

Libby said...

Hi Kevin

At the time of the April 2006 letter ACTJCL had arrears for 2004 only. We had just been billed for the 2005 levy and the 2004 figures were re-stated in that correspondence.

So I can make a concession (unlike some) - we were behind in the payment of the 2004 money but not in the payment of any of the other money.

Payment of the other money, and future monies, was the subject of the April 2006 letter. Given it was responded to in April 2008 (and described as "in limbo" it doesn't seem fair to point the finger at the ACTJCL on the question of acting in a timely fashion.


Alex said...


I think your article nicely sums everything up. Indeed, lack of transparency and accountability from the ACF is the primary culrpit in several debacles they have had. Its also the primary reason they hate OzChess so much.

Please keep up the good work.

Best Regards,

Alex Toolsie

Kevin Bonham said...

Libby, I accept your point that only the 2004 account was overdue at the time the 2006 letter was sent. What I am querying is the apparent logic in which a letter querying a bill that has been sent, receiving no formal response (although inaccurate assumptions that the ACT situation was unique were certainly corrected as a result), is somehow considered to have had some effect on that bill and others of a similar nature that might arrive in the meantime. Can I try that one out on (insert company here) sometime?

I also note that my comment about the ACTJCL's right to be in the loop at the time (which it wasn't exercising) has been entirely overlooked.

As for the ability to make concessions, perhaps we should wait until that ability is tested by the rejection of a *realistic* offer before contemplating anyone's attitude to that subject!

Didn't think Alex Toolsie could keep his nose out of this one, although I'm quite sure his presence in the debate is considered detrimental by all sides, except for the loosely assembled and ideologically incoherent "side" of convenience that consists of his fellow trolls from the misleadingly named "Ozchess". With friends (for the sake of a troll (v)) like Toolsie and David Beaumont, the ACTJCL won't be needing enemies.

Toolsie's board makes less than zero contribution to transparency and accountability because such attacks on the ACF as appear there are more or less invariably a hodgepodge of factual errors, ancient irrelevant grudges, personal obsessions, ineffectual arguments and flat-out trolling (like Toolsie's post on this thread). If the ACF was truly a secret society as some have exaggeratedly claimed, it could not wish for a more hopelessly and haplessly compliant set of opponents than Beaumont, Toolsie, Sweeney, Donnelly et al. The reason these posters are held in contempt by many has nothing to do with the fact that they are critics of the ACF - indeed there are plenty of critics who are not held in such contempt - but with the incompetent and reprobate manner in which they perpetuate their campaigns. Fortunately, in a sense, these geese are indeed a byword for transparency - but only in the sense that we can always see straight through them.

Shaun Press said...

The status of the ACTJCL hasn't been "overlooked" just at this stage "unconfirmed".
I asked an ACF councillor whether the ACTJCL were entitled to receive a copy of the minutes from the ACF meetings and was given an emphatic "no". I was told that only the ACTCA delegate would receive the minutes and the ACTJCL would have to ask him if they wished to see them.
Now the ACF Constitution states the following
"Minutes of each Council meeting shall be sent to at least every State Association and Associated Body. The minutes must include every substantive motion that is passed, every special motion that State Associations are to vote on and the date when their vote is required."

Of course the ACTJCL may have been an associated body then (and not now), so I have sent an email to the ACF Secretary Jey Hoole requesting information on whether the ACTJCL is still an associated body. I am awaiting a reply.

Kevin Bonham said...

Where you write "I asked an ACF councillor whether the ACTJCL were entitled to receive a copy of the minutes from the ACF meetings and was given an emphatic "no"." are you referring to a current request for current minutes, or to a current request for minutes that are not entirely current?

To be in a position to receive minutes an Associated Body must be financial and must nominate a recipient. Certainly at the time some Associated Body representatives were receiving minutes and indeed this is still the case.

Kevin Bonham said...

PS I'm sure this will be corrected if it is incorrect, but my understanding is that the ACTJCL is not financial as an Associated Body anymore and has not been so for some time.

Libby said...

Hi Kevin

I am about to disappear - I promise!

"I also note that my comment about the ACTJCL's right to be in the loop at the time (which it wasn't exercising) has been entirely overlooked."

It was "overlooked" because there really wasn't any point in rebutting or commenting on it. Over the period where the levy was first proposed, then passed & first applied, the ACTJCL had an effective 100% turnover in committee personnel. A long-standing group of people ran the Aus Juniors & retired as they all had children of similar age etc and were ready to move on.

I was completely new to the whole scene myself (both in chess and in terms of understanding the structures, organisations and responsibilities). The ACTJCL struggled to even hold an AGM and the number of events held was negligible.

So we were not well placed to keep ourselves informed and to lobby on any matters. That's just where things were. We tackled it as an issue when we did come to understand what was happening.

"As for the ability to make concessions, perhaps we should wait until that ability is tested by the rejection of a *realistic* offer before contemplating anyone's attitude to that subject!"

What would have been a *realistic* offer Kevin? Is there a ballpark for that? The offer was approximately 1/3 of the fee charged. Perhaps ACTJCL wanted some of the information it requested from the ACF to have some hope of making a *realistic* offer?

If ACTJCL know (and these are completely made up figures for the purpose of an example only) that SA pays for 25 teams who play in Division 1 competitions but has 250 teams in their events then they are paying for 10%. If WA is paying for 50 teams and has 100 in their events, then they are paying for 50%. ACTJCL could use that information to make a *realistic* offer on the grounds that they met the same as the minimum/maximum charged elsewhere, or met an "average" figure.

But if the only *realistic* offer was going to be to pay 100% then this wasn't a negotiation.

And my experience in handling "bills" is that if a matter is formally disputed (a credit card charge, a reading on an electricity meter, a speeding fine) you are not usually expected to pay it, or be penalised over it, until it is actually reviewed by that company/entity and you are equally formally advised of the outcome. I don't recall ACTJCL ever acting as if the charges would "disappear."

Kevin Bonham said...

Libby, what you say about procedures for disputed bills may well be true for state authorities and some companies; I'm not an expert in this area. But I have just re-read the ACTJCL submission of 25 April 2006 and it nowhere disputes that the fees that had been levied to that point were in fact legally valid and due, which is quite a different thing to disputing a speeding fine on the grounds that said fine is legally invalid. The submission simply stated that it considered the amounts in question unfair, and called for a reduction and a revision of the way the fee is applied. The latter is ultimately what occurred, and not all that much later.

What is also interesting is that although you reacted with apparent horror to my suggestion that the ACTJCL could have restructured its competition to reduce the levy if it saw fit, the ACTJCL were obviously thinking along very similar lines since the submission in question threatened (not that it was a threat that caused anyone the slightest concern or that even merits any criticism in the circumstances IMO) to do exactly that. Did this restructure actually occur?

As for what is a realistic offer, I am not going to comment on my view of that except that evidently I don't consider around one-third to be it. Nor am I going to be dragged into saying that I consider a specific x% (where x<100) to be reasonable in a situation where no offer I consider realistic is on the table.

Shaun Press said...

"although it is quite obvious there are some with no shortage of willingness to breach the ACF's."
At the time I thought this was an odd comment, especially with no evidence to support it. However I think I now understand what you were getting at (although feel free to correct me if I am wrong).
In the past week I've head of claims from 2 separate ACF officials (one claim made directly to me) that the email(?) from the ACF to the ACTJCL spelling out the sanctions that were to be applied to it, was in confidence. Apparently the ACTJCL was told the sanctions but were not supposed to tell anybody else. I am assuming that the "anybody else" included myself, the players affected by the sanctions ("You can't play in the ASTC." "Why not?" "Sorry we can't tell you"), and I guess anyone else who might have a stake in what was going on (parents, schools etc). There is an implication that the ACTJCL is at fault, for presenting the letter to its committee meeting on the 10th August 2008, where the details of the ACF motion became public.
There was also a further claim that my publishing the ACF's motion scuppered any attempt at compromise on behalf of the ACF, so if I have ruined over 2 years solid hard work from the ACF on this mere days before an agreement was reached, I apologise.

Kevin Bonham said...

Shaun writes "There is an implication that the ACTJCL is at fault, for presenting the letter to its committee meeting on the 10th August 2008, where the details of the ACF motion became public."

How so? Does the ACTJCL committee meet in front of a public gallery of hundreds with eager chess journalists from overseas sites sitting in rows upstairs transcribing every word to share headline billing alongside Ivanchuk's win in the Tal Memorial? Unless it does, then is some strange new meaning of the word "public" that I have certainly not encountered before. The idea that the details became public when a letter to the ACTJCL was discussed at an ACTJCL committee meeting appears to be nonsensical or at least artificial at the best. The details really became "public" when they were published on this here blog without ACF authorisation.

As for the problem of not being authorised to disclose the contents of an email when explaining the situation to those outside the ACTJCL committee (your "You can't play in the ASTC." "Why not?" "Sorry we can't tell you"), that problem only comes up if the bill isn't paid. No one has disputed that the bill is legally valid, and no one has provided any valid reason it cannot be paid in full by the due date, so there is no point even considering a hypothetical that is premised upon such an assumption. Essentially what your question boils down to is: 'supposing the ACTJCL was to refuse to abide by an ACF requirement, it would then place itself in a situation where explaining its action would mean it was failing to abide by another ACF requirement'. Funny, that.

As for the claim that going public on this site has harmed chances of a compromise solution, that claim was not mine, but all the same I don't think Shaun accurately represents it. As I understand, it's been argued that had the ACTJCL finally responded to the risk of imminent sanctions by quickly agreeing to pay an amount that was considered realistic by the recipients, some would have been happy to leave it at that - but might not be so happy about a legitimate demand for prompt payment of severely overdue amounts being turned into another Shaun Press free speech campaign and exercise in public ACF-bashing. Again, this was not a claim I made, but I do think I've now represented it more accurately than Shaun's somewhat sarcastic version above.

Charles Bishop (President ACTJCL) said...


You have stated that your posts are those of a private person but continue to use information you only have available to you as an ACF councellor. This is an effective political tactic used by many organisations around the world to discredit another group who wont publicly comment as they are trying to reach agreement.

I have stayed out of debate where your points were accuratly portrayed but they are not in some of your comments on this blog. As a councellor people will assume that even though your views may not be the views of the ACF the facts you refer to must be correct. Therefore as President of the ACTJCL I feel I must make some clarifying points but will maintain our commitment to not go into the detail of exactly what was communicated between the parties.

1. All of our correspondance indicated we recognised a debt but felt the outstanding amounts (2004-2006) were calculated unfairly.

2. We have offered to pay immediately in each of our correpondances which included an ACTJCL sponsored compromise position (4 correspondence to date).

3. The ACF has not offered the ACTJCL a compromise position to any of our correspondence. Each suggested ACTJCL compromise was met with a request to pay the full amount.

4. When in financial dispute with an entitiy (eg with a a builder, car dealer, statutory body etc) to pay what they request and then seek to get your money back if they agree they were wrong is not normal practice. Normal practice is to dispute the amount, reach agreement, pay agreed amount (and in some instances this will be the full amount originally under consideration).

5. The ACTJCL committee does meet in public. We meet at Campbell High School on development squad days and all parents are welcome to attend. Additionally our minutes are avaiable for all members of the ACTJCL.

6. In correspondence, the ACF has not requested that we keep any information on this issue private. Indeed the ACF has managed that aspect themselves by not providing a range of information on this issue that the ACTJCL has requested. This has been done on the basis that the ACF believes the information we requested is immaterial to the discussion.

7. The motion in question on Shauns blog was passed to us as having been recorded in the ACF minutes. If there is an ACF bylaw that says minutes released to outside groups are not to be made publicly available we should have been informed of that and the ACTJCL committee would have discussed it as a closed group. This would have created complications as a number of parents had already paid for trips to Adelaide in Term 1 prior to the ACF imposing sanctions but we could possibly have managed it until we reached some agreement.


Charles Bishop

President ACTJCL

Kevin Bonham said...

Actually Charles, I have just stated that my posts represent my own opinions only (rather than those of the rest of the ACF Council); I don't recall using the term "private person" anywhere.

I am a little puzzled at the reference to (unidentified) factual errors on my part since I don't see that any have actually been demonstrated (unless they were actually Shaun's).

Your comment that your group "wont publicly comment as they are trying to reach agreement" is surprising to me, given that your group did not prevent the public appearance of the ACF's letter on this blog, when this surely could have been avoided by considering the matter in closed session.

It could even be said by cynics that this tactic of allowing information to be published by others while maintaining some impression of confidentiality was "an effective political tactic used by many organisations around the world" but I am not going to go in for that sort of argumentative fallacy, and in this case I doubt it was effective for anyone anyway.

Concerning point 4, I already addressed this in my replies to Libby. That it is normal practice to withhold payment while disputing the legality of a bill is irrelevant, since no-one is disputing it. This is more akin to a case where someone buys a product, much later finds out that Jones down the road got a much cheaper deal on a similar one, and then tries to argue their original price should be reduced.

That doesn't sound like "normal practice" to me - at least it certainly isn't mine as a consumer, and if someone tried it on me as a supplier (which, from time to time, I am) I really wouldn't have a lot of sympathy. I do, however, realise that you are in the position of dealing with the consequences of decisions made by previous officebearers, some of them a fair while ago.

Concerning 5, I don't consider making minutes available to your members and making observer status available to a defined set of persons to be the same thing as meeting "in public".

My understanding is that the first sentence of 6 is not quite literally correct and that following the unapproved publication of material on this site, ACF emails on this matter now carry a disclaimer.

Lastly concerning 7, again, the inconvenience to parents was only an issue if there was an intention to incur sanctions by not paying in full by the date requested.