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.

1 comment:

  1. The democratic defecit in Gibraltar is not caused by executive control of the legislature. The legislature rarely passes laws which have a day to day impact on people. (although more now thanks to Mr Feetham who, to his credit, appears to be the only proactive rather than reactive Minister...including the CM). In my view the deficit arises in relation to much more mundane everyday decisions all of which appear to be taken, or require the approval of the CM (planning control, umbrella colours, bus routes, traffic arrangements, appointment of minor civil servants). How best do we control that sort of control freakery?

    Our current Ministers (if not all, the majority) owe their position and pay packets to the CM. People have voted for the CM and also ticked the box on the other guys in the same party. It would be interesting to see how many people in Gibraltar could even name the current ministereal line up, let alone the job they supposedly do. Consequently, our Ministers do not look to the electorate for their seat in parliament but to their leader. That needs to be addressed...don't ask me how.

    Its crazy to think that just a few years ago, one Minister could have fought his corner -"if you don't give me funding for this project, I will resign from your party/join opposition/cause a bi-election"....I suppose if our elected representatives take the approach of "why risk a healthy salary for the sake of principle" we're screwed anyway. Principle???

    That said, the opposition are miles worse. MILES.