Thursday, 28 January 2010

Tender or Direct Allocation?

There is often a lot of press about the political repercussions of the grant of public contracts to the private sector. Often the criticism is political criticism of the government about who has obtained a tender or how it has or has not been performed.

It is odd to the extreme that such criticism is made at that level. Any political criticism should surely be directed at the process and not at the detail. If criticism at the detail has to be levelled it can only be because there is too direct an involvement by the political government in the selection process. It is this that needs to be criticised not mistakes made and resultant disasters.

What seems to have been forgotten is all the criticism made by the GSD of the GSLP government for direct allocations of public contracts whilst the GSLP was in power. What seems to have been forgotten is the promises made by the GSD that all this would end when they got into power. The promises of transparency and independence of such matters from interference by the political government.

Why is there so little comment about these things? Why do politicians not criticise this system over and over again? Is it that this is the system that is preferred by all politicians in case they are elected into government? Well that should not be the primary consideration. The primary consideration should be what is good for Gibraltar and its people.

Remember the money that is being spent belongs to all of us ... it is not money belonging to the government. They are entrusted to use it properly for all of us.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Complaisance, Complacence or a Struggle for Improvement?

There is often much comment in Gibraltar that in the GSD we have the better of two bad choices for government. The theory goes why elect the GSLP/Libs (the only alternative under the present electoral system), if the GSD has done overall much better than the GSLP/Libs ever did or could do. In this way the GSD is forgiven its ever increasing failings and failures and electors caste their votes in favour of the GSD.

This argument has historically justified dictatorship, totalitarianism and consequently evil. Many a regime that has committed atrocities, not least the Franco regime in Spain, has had their existence justified on such opportunistic, expedient and cowardly argument. It is a fundamentally flawed argument born of lazy indifference and usually made by those benefiting financially from the system that it seeks to justify and support. A system must not be justified or forgiven because it delivers second best.

It is an argument that favours mediocrity. If there are failings and failures the demand should be for reform of the system. Reform that will deliver excellence by correcting that which is wrong. The reform that is crying out to be made in Gibraltar is a reform to the electoral system such as will deliver two things. First encouragement for more people to stand for election and give the electorate a greater choice. Secondly a backbench to counteract the power of the executive.

If evil and wrongdoing is to be avoided there is a need to separate the executive and the legislature. This will allow the rule of law to operate as it should. The executive can only act under powers given to it in laws passed by the legislature. This allows the legislature to act as an overseer of the executive and prevent what can be a quick descent into rule by virtual diktat. A fanciful thought? It has happened in what were previously British colonies, not least in Malta under Mintoff and not so long ago. Thankfully the ultimate check and balance in a democratic system, elections, usually make any such descent short lived but prevention is invariably better than cure.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

GSLP/Libs Continued Folly on the Airport.

Why are the GSLP/Libs undermining Gibraltar's case on sovereignty? In an attempt to make local political capital in their quest for votes and power they give to Spain arguments that they could and would not use against Gibraltar. This a a bad addiction that they do not seem able to overcome.

Why do they say “It would be totally unacceptable to have a building on the Spanish side which is called the “north terminal” or worse still “La Linea airport” and in the same breath, by restating the obvious, bring into doubt that the airport is ‘Gibraltar airport’ and built on British soil. Even worse that “It is obvious that Spanish politicians are under the impression that what has been described here as expanded use of Gibraltar airport is actually some form of joint use."

In the same way as anything built on Gibraltar can and will be called whatever Gibraltar decides, cannot Spain call whatever they build on their own sovereign territory anything that they want? The only answer to this is of course they can. Whatever semantics Spain uses to describe their building cannot affect the sovereignty arguments that Gibraltar has. What the GSLP/Libs do by raising the issue is to cast into doubt that which is undoubted. This is emphatically made worse by even suggesting that anything that has or is being done can be "joint use" of the airport.

The GSLP/Libs should be more mature than to cast doubt on matters upon which there is no doubt. Gibraltar's position on the airport and, indeed, on all the territory that is Gibraltar is quite clear. What Spain does on its own sovereign territory can and does not have any effect or impact on Gibraltar's position.

The GSLP/Libs should be less selfish in their quest for electoral success and seek to defend and not undermine Gibraltar for their own and no one else's benefit. Mr Bossano opportunism has got you nowhere. It is only real politics and policies that will get you somewhere. You have been in politics long enough to know this.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Electoral Reform - Some Further Arguments

How often have people commented that what Gibraltar needs is a government of the best brains? This is undoubtedly over-ambitious and impossible to achieve. Additionally there is no absolute measure of who would fit that description.

Those who say it are not so much meaning it literally, rather they are expressing frustration because they know that a few additional suitable persons might be encouraged to stand for election if the electoral system were to be changed. A change that would get away from the strict two party system delivered by the existing first past the post system.

Opponents to change argue that, absent a system that results in a clear governing majority, the consequence is weak and unstable government. This is shown, in practice, to be untrue. It is not what occurs in large countries that use proportional representation electoral systems already. What does happen is that it results in governments that are more representative and have greater consensus.

In Gibraltar where ideological political differences blur into insignificant and, on major issues, there is a large measure of agreement, the chances of weak and unstable government would be insignificant.

The reality is that an appropriate system of proportional representation would mean better and more diverse governance. More importantly it would improve democracy that additionally and, as argued in the blog immediately preceding this one, would enhance the sovereignty vested in the people of Gibraltar.

Monday, 18 January 2010

The Thorny Subject - Sovereignty

The GSLP/Libs have declared that the sovereignty of Gibraltar is not a matter for negotiation or discussion with Spain. This essentially repeats a mantra that has been the central plank of Gibraltar's foreign policy for ever, so far as this blogger can remember. It is a mantra shared by all parties and subscribed to by the overwhelming majority of Gibraltarians, and quite rightly so.

There is a need to to dissect and study what is meant by the phrase "... the sovereignty of Gibraltar ...", quite simply and not least because the concept of sovereignty has been changing dramatically in Europe since the last two world wars. In the main leading to a shared or co-operative concept of sovereignty. Unfortunately, this is too massive a subject to go into in any depth in a short blog.

Certain salient sovereignty related issues specific to Gibraltar are worth highlighting, not least to stimulate debate.

A point of note is the use of the word "of" in the phrase. This imports into the concept of "sovereignty" a foreign element that admits, by necessary implication, the existence of a colonial arrangement between the sovereign power, Great Britain, and ourselves. This blogger agrees that the relationship continues to be a colonial one, despite efforts by the present Government to propagate that the 2006 Constitution is non-colonial. Just read the last paragraph of the schedule to that Constitution to be disavowed of that propaganda.

The essential importance of this observation is that, absent sovereignty being in the hands of the people of Gibraltar, save by reversible inclusion of undertakings by Great Britain in the Constitution, which is English law made by Order in Council, in the end and extreme analysis the decision to negotiate Gibraltar's sovereignty with Spain rests with the colonial power. On this analysis the options (if one accepts the impossibility of integration which has been denied to Gibraltar by the British Government consistently) open to Gibraltar are to continue under the colonial relationship (admittedly modernised) granted under the 2006 Constitution or seek independence.

Unfortunately, independence is not feasible for Gibraltar because, amongst a myriad of other reasons, of its size, dependence on external influences to have a vibrant economy and the manner in which Europe is evolving. The option that remains is to secure against abuse the high degree of devolution that Gibraltar has achieved under the 2006 Constitution.

The biggest danger that Gibraltar faces in maintaining that position for a decent amount of time is not the danger that Britain might negotiate away our sovereignty. This is an extremely remote possibility, both because Britain keeps its word and also (possibly more importantly) because of the defence needs of the western World.

The greatest danger is internal. It is the possibility, or even probability, of bad governance leading to a need for British intervention, which could change the dynamics enabling a British Government to justify a change in sovereignty to Spain. The danger is the democratic deficit enshrined in the 2006 constitution and indeed its predecessor. It does not include sufficient checks and balances, additionally there is no desire on the part of the Gibraltar Government to introduce, for example electoral reforms, to improve democracy. The result is a presidential style of government that is open to abuse at any time. Gibraltar has already experienced that. There is nothing to prevent a repetition.

Improved democracy will protect Gibraltar from a change in sovereignty to Spanish sovereignty. It is difficult to understand why all political parties are so reticent to move towards greater democratisation. It will strengthen Gibraltar's hand. It will ensure that sovereignty in reality and in practice will rest with the people of Gibraltar (as is the case in most independent European states) and not lie with Great Britain, as the colonial power. The Constitution might say different but empowering the people more will dilute, in practice, the colonial attributes of the 2006 Constitution.

Empowering people more is not greatly difficult. It can be achieved by electoral reform that will encourage a more diverse system of government than the two party system that the existing electoral system gives rise to . An appropriate system of proportional representative will deliver this.

Proportional representation will give rise to a more diverse and representative Parliament. It will encourage a greater probability of backbenchers being elected who will be drawn from amongst people who do not stand for election presently by reason of the need to conform to a party regime. It will provide additional checks and balances because not all supporters (in a coalition scenario that proportional representation would encourage) of a government would yearn to be Ministers, leading to a greater separation of powers between executive and legislature. After all, there is little divergence of opinion between all our present politicians beyond personality clashes, rhetoric and the urge and race for power, without sufficient regard for what is best for Gibraltar and its people.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Finance Centre - but not the Best!

The smaller finance centres of the world,and Gibraltar ranks amongst them, are extremely competitive. There are more than are needed and, in the post credit crunch world, there is even less financial services business to go around. Finding an edge is important but it is more important to meet the minimum requirement that is expected of them. We meet many but not all. We constantly pretend to ourselves that we are the best. If we were we would be the biggest: that is far from the truth.

Two areas that need attention are, efficiency and the court system.

Gibraltar has major competitors that roll out the carpet and give a speedy and great welcome to potential investors. Gibraltar fails at this. Gibraltar needs to become not only more welcoming but also more efficient. The resources that Government provide to what is a major contributor to the economy are insufficient. This should be improved. Gibraltar will reap the benefits.

As to the courts, whilst they work well (and it could be a lot better) at a domestic level, there is no doubt that for international financial and commercial disputes they are not as efficient as is needed. This is not down to the quality but to the quantity of judges and registry staff. It is not enough.

The word in London amongst influential members of the legal profession, including Queens Counsel, is that if you have business in Gibraltar write into your contracts an "arbitration in London" clause. This does little for our reputation and even less for our economy: not only does it stop international financial and commercial business setting up in Gibraltar, in the first place, but it also means that lucrative dispute resolution business is lost to London.

It is neither difficult or expensive to put these things right. The huge benefits will quickly far outweigh the cost. Why, then, the reticence to make the investment?

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Judging Judges

Interviews to appoint a new Chief Justice are imminent. The Judicial Services Commission have to undertake this important function. It will decide who will be Gibraltar's Chief Justice until the chosen appointee is 67 or perhaps even 72.

Substantial judicial experience is a necessary attribute before someone is appointed to this senior judicial post. Relative youth not only lacks this experience but also builds in a tenure that will be excessively long. Holding a post of such importance for too long is not conducive to the vitality and impartiality that are requisites of the judicial process.

More importantly, however, Gibraltar having just been through the tortuous and unsettling process of removal of the last incumbent should aim to appoint someone who will bring stability to the judicial system. Experience and the confidence born of experience is what is needed to achieve this.

Of course Gibraltar should aspire and indeed aim to appoint Gibraltarians to this post. It should not rush headlong to do so just for the sake of achieving such a laudable ambition.

Judge Anthony Dudley has done excellently well during his tenure as acting Chief Justice. Undoubtedly the time will come for him to be appointed to that post but has that time arrived yet? He is relatively young. His experience over the last 2 years has been enormous but to be appointed now could be premature. Certainly to be in that post potentially for in excess of 25 years is daunting. It is unlikely, also, to be conducive to a vibrant judicial system.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Politics, Police and the Police Authority

It is a sad day when a retired senior police officer (Superintendent (Rtd) Leo Olivero) writes "... while there may be a somewhat clear cut division between the policy versus the operational control of the police by the Government, in rhetoric, ..., the reality is that things are quite different... there is a growing perception amongst many that there appears to be, in certain high profile policing activities, much more than a smidgeon of political interest or involvement ... " This was said by him in an article in Panorama newspaper (08-01-2010) in which he also refers to the recent incident involving 4 Guardia Civiles. An incident about which this blogger has written much already.

The New People (07-01-2010, Montis Insignia Calpe) expressed concerns in these terms "... the Head of the Royal Gibraltar Police who ... took it upon himself to "decide" that the "Guardia Civil Officers" - who invaded Gibraltarian Territory and Waters - should not be prosecuted, performed a "function" which is not vested in the office that he holds - but in that which is held by the Attorney General of Gibraltar! ... he must have been "instructed" to act as he did - and the only "one" who has "authority" to issue such "instruction" (or has he?) is Peter Richard Caruana ... ".

One basic safeguards that protects democracy from evolving into absolute rule is the existence of a truly independent police force and prosecuting authority. The 2006 Constitution has provisions by which the RGP is within the domain of the Governor subject to the Police Authority and prosecution decisions are only to be made by Her Majesty's Attorney General for Gibraltar. The sequence of events that surrounded the recent incident referred to earlier indicates that this division of power has not worked in practice.

If the fears expressed by a senior retired RGP officer, by the New People and by this blogger are correct (and they have not been denied in any credible manner), a major failing in the practice of actual and existing constitutional safeguards will have occurred. What assurance is there against a recurrence of such an event in what could be more malicious circumstances? At present: none; surely this calls for further enquiry and a public reassurance?

What might happen in other areas in which no constitutional safeguards exist is of concern, and perhaps some awe.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Keith Azopardi's PDP - a new Generation Leader?

It is extraordinary that someone who was a senior minister in the GSD has the gall to preach changes intended to deliver greater democracy. This begs the question: why did Keith Azopardi do nothing, in the two terms he served as a minister, to deliver the reforms to the electoral and parliamentary system that the GSD promised, before they were ever elected to government? Why should anyone believe that he will deliver now?

His primary complaint is that Mr. Caruana and Mr. Bosanno have both been at the head of their parties and so dominating the Gibraltar political scene for too long. His solution: to limit the term any person can serve as Chief Minister to 8 years. Is this because he cannot win an election and so he wants an advantage?

This is a fallacious solution born of accepting that Gibraltar has and should accept a US presidential style of Government without the essential separation of powers that exist under the US constitution to ensure that the executive (the President) cannot dominate the legislature (the two houses of Congress). This separation of powers sadly totally lacking in Gibraltar) is what guarantees democracy and avoids dictatorial government. The added safeguard is the existence of two legislative organs, The House of representatives and the Senate and not one Parliament dominated by government benches entirely made up of ministers who make up the executive in Gibraltar.

Adopting in Gibraltar a rule that regulates the length of time that the President of the US can stay in power is simplistic and does not provide a solution to the failings in democracy that exist in Gibraltar. Its effect is to institutionalise a presidential style of government that is the very root of the problem that Mr. Azopardi purports too resolve. Indeed nor is the solution to import necessarily other very person intensive solutions that exist elsewhere. A tailor made solution is required.

To arrive at a unique solution requires an analysis of what the root of the problem is and where it lies (too lengthy an exercise for this blog). The core of the problem is that in Gibraltar there is no separation of powers between legislature and executive. All MP's on the government benches are also ministers. ministers get paid more than MP's. Why then cause the downfall of a government that one forms part of with the result that the person in question will lose position and a healthy salary for the sake of principle? The result: an omnipotent Chief Minister who rules by diktat. How many times has one heard different Chief Ministers say: If I cannot do that I will change the law?

The solution lies in the size of Parliament and in the electoral system: the present system delivers to the incumbent or aspiring Chief Minister a method to achieve total executive control without legislative oversight. A change that would encourage multi-party candidates and give them the ability to be elected will deliver more democracy and inclusive government with greater checks and balances. It will encourage more talented persons, who may not wish to serve in the executive but simply to participate in the legislative process, to offer themselves and their ability to Gibraltar and its electorate. This should be encouraged in a small jurisdiction like Gibraltar.

Keith Azopardi is right when he says "It is important to govern in a more inclusive, democratic way. Enough of the divisive and negative acrimony". The solution that he provides, limiting the time anyone can be Chief Minister to 8 years, does nothing to achieve this objective. All it does is to institutionalise the presidential power of a Chief Minister. This is to the detriment of democracy and and inclusive government.

It is time for more fundamental change. Gibraltar deserves better than it got under the new Constitution in 2006. In that Constitution those who were institutionalised in Government (the GSD, GSLP and the Liberals) made a bed for themselves to their shame and to the detriment of democracy in Gibraltar.

Mr. Azopradi, you were a GSD government member of the Select Committee of the House of Assembly that came up with the 2006 Constitution. Where were your inclusive and democratic ideals then? Why did Gibraltar get such a raw deal on this front in the 2006 Constitution? Despite this, you continue to ask the electorate to trust you to make the needed changes? Every party that has stood for election in the past 35 years has promised change and delivered none. The historic evidence is that you and the PDP will do the same.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

The CM and the New Year

Hay ke darsela al Chief Minister ha echo, without doubt, much bien, the economy, the beginning of the repositioning of the finance centre, improved traffic and parking, modernisation of public amenities, new proposed power station, new airport (demasiado caro y grande), new courts y mas but entre lo good nos metes los goles.

What are they?

Pues mira, el Theatre Royal: de pronto no lo van a hacer, en el boquete va un car park y encima un square y un green area. De un desastre nos saca un beautification! Pero que ha y va a costar? Oye que its our money not yours.

Los delays en affordable housing ... don't worry be happy GJBS los vas a terminar! pero porque nadie pregunta why the original builders could not finish. Tiene que esta algo fundamentally mal si dan tenders a precios que resulta en que no se terminan las obras. Cuanto le cuesta ese fracaso a nosotros los taxpayer?

Y ahora we find out the pensions problem has not gone away. Cuantas veces are we going to have this problem. Y ke hay un magic wand ke a los nuestros le vamos a dar todo y a EU workers no? We will see what the EU tendra que decir of that!

Y lo del CJ se lo apunta el! I seem to remember que era unos lawyers who started and finished that ... y a ellos no se lo pago el taxpayer, tuveron ke costearselo ellos de su bolsillo para hacer un public good. Suddnely it is the Governmnet and "OTHERS" who have been vindicated y no los abogados ke se quejaron or maybe ellos son the "OTHERS" pero no eres big enough para darle las gracias. Caruana eres grande! Penasba ke solo te montaste en el bandwagon ke esquibocado lo hiciste tu todo!

Y ahora the Civil Guard incident was a "... serious and unacceptable incursion ..." but, what, el Chief Minister fue el que los dejo de ir when he was asked to by a Spanish Minister in Madrid. Ya he escrito bastante de eso ... if you want to know read earlier blogs.

Yes Chief Minister you do many things well but like all human beings you make mistakes. No te crea que el pueblo no se da cuenta when you "spin" them into good news and try to disguise them. Ten cuidado que te van a cojer ... el pueblo no es tonto ni tu tan intelligente. No te haces big favours behaving asin a bit of humility and admission of mistakes can get you votes. Piensatelo bien ...

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Employment y El Campo de Gibraltar

Hoy we read en el Chronicle que los Councils de Spain miran a Gibraltar como parte de su estrategia to reduce unemployment by promoting financial recovery. Pues estamos bien ... el euro a 1.10 por libra (con suerte) y nosotros al rescate!! Y de mientra ni dan cuartel en el frontier.

You know what I say ... po ke "yes" let our economy help pero el PP se podria quedar callado on what it says about us. Si no, que hagan gargaras por que they cannot give the bad and have the good. We are either amigos or enemies but let them decide once and for all.

In the same way que los Spanish Councils estan "factoring in" Gibraltar para ayudar sus economies, que ellos hagan lo suyo para parar idiotas politicos del PP de decir rubbish. They cannot have it both ways ... todo lo bueno para ellos y lo malo para nosotros!

Y, if worker's conditions en Gibraltar son buenos para los llanitos, pues que se conformen. What is good for the goose is good for the gander ... o no? Para los Spanish son "labour abuses" para los nuestros son "normal working conditions" ... donde estamos? when you go to Rome do as the Romans ... o no?

Y si hay abuse by the employer pues que no se metan in ASTEG que se metan en el TGWU ...

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

El Airport y La Linea

El acuerdo sobre el airport esta. No one will change it. Con que no vamos a calentarnos la cabeza with whatever los politicos de La Linea are saying. Lo que sera will be. No vamos a poner in doubt que el airport es British: lo es.

La cosa es: van a venir mas aviones?

No hay duda que la carretera nueva por Eastern Beach is much needed. It is less than third world tener que crusar el landing strip to come into Gibraltar. We will see how pedestrians will get in! Seguro ke el gobierno lo tendra solucionado.

Lo que parece una barbaridad es the size of the new terminal. Tantos vuelos are coming? It seems dificil to believe, going by what has happened en el pasado.

If the bad weather carries on, will Easy Jet want to fly to Gibraltar or will they say Malaga is near enough. Si pasa eso ke vamos a hacer con tanto terminal? Mas shops and restaurants? Ocean Village ya sta vacio ... ke vamos a hacer con mas?

Mas importante, cuanto va a costar limpiar y mantener el terminal tan grande y quien pagara? El taxpayer otra ves? Eso no es State Aid? Porque si las rentas son mas baratas para los negocias en el terminal seria unfair competition para Main Street y otros sitios.

Ya veremos ....

Friday, 1 January 2010

Expediency and Constitutional Strictures

Some, including Paco Oliva, of the Chronicle, have excused and gone so far as to praise the expedient handling of the recent Guardia Civil incursions on grounds of reducing inter state tensions. There is no excuse in any situation for anyone to ride roughshod over constitutional and legal safeguards: processes exist for the greater good and not to be arbitrarily ignored for political or diplomatic ends. This has been shown by the recent protest made by the British government to the Spanish Government over the recent Guardia Civil incursions.

The jump to the conclusion that any incursion is not politically motivated by Spain brings with it the setting of dangerous precedents liable to abuse by the Spanish Government in the future. We will see how this develops.

Do the Guardia Civil now have a free reign to do it again? If they do it again, what will Gibraltar's authorities do? React the same way or assume again that in the heat of "hot pursuit" other Guardia Civiles have lost their way again? The Guardia Civiles knew at all times where they were. Any person with basic boating skills will know that. They skilfully avoided all harbour walls and entered through the harbour entrance, hardly indicative of not knowing where they were headed for.

One wonders how the Gibraltar Police reached the conclusions that they reached on this incident so quickly? How many witnesses did they interview?

Expediency is never a good excuse to ignore proper legal process, even if it produces a good and obvious conclusion. Expediency can and will bring adverse consequences in the future in other areas that will be of more concern to the citizen.