Sunday, 21 February 2010

Information in Gibraltar - Freedom or Restriction?

This week the Gibraltar Chronicle reported on a debate between the Chief Minister and the Hon. Gilbert Licudi about information of companies and individuals prosecuted over unpaid taxes and social security being placed in the public domain.

It is odd (to understate the position) that the Chief Minister should use an argument based on the separation of powers to justify non-publication of this information to Parliament. One of the foundations of an independent judicial system is precisely that all hearings should be held in public: so all information used is public information.

Any prosecution of any individual or company is public information: perhaps what was being kept from entering the public domain is information relating to who was benefiting unfairly by not being prosecuted!

The right of the public to information is a much wider debate. In fact the constitution provides " ... no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom ... to receive ... ideas and information without interference ..." In virtually every democratic country there is freedom of information legislation. In England there is the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

In Gibraltar no law exists giving the citizen the right to information held by Government (beyond the very specific rights granted by the Data Protection Act). Government goes about its business without fear that it may be required to give information to its electors that might lead to criticism. The unfairness of the protection that this affords public servants is unconscionable at any time but more so in this day and age.

When will we be granted the same rights that are the norm for any other citizens in most parts of the democratic world?


  1. Fred says:

    I could not agree more.

    I would add that when the Executive is not using the doctrine of the separation of powers to withhold basic data and information it resorts to claiming that matters are "commercial-in-confidence". For this one can read: "contracts go to whom I please, especially my friends, and the public has no right to ask". All one would say in response to this would be: OEM.

    The Gibraltarian electorate has the right to hold the Executive to account, but without accurate information this is quite impossible. Perhaps the only way to hold it to account will be at the ballot box, but people are sick of politicians as a whole. The decision to make now is who the protest vote will go to.

  2. In my view a Freedom of Information Act could play a vital roll in controlling any Gibraltar Government - assuming that people use it. It would give people the ability to judge the Government (and the opposition) on the basis of all the facts, rather than those which the Government choose to put in the public domain. Even the simplest information could substantially change the way people think about the quality of government in Gibraltar.

    For example - you might be in favor of the Airport or against it. I suppose it's a value judgement - but how did our Government come to decide to embark on this process. An empirical study? A public consultation? ... no. Er......the decision of one man acting alone?...maybe? fulfilling the requirements of the Ministerio de Fomento Plano Nacional Aeropuertos 2025.......oh come on.

    But perhaps if we could compell the Government to answer the question (with facts not commentary) - how do you embark on such a project - or many other simple questions - why did it take so long to publish the King Report, who takes a decision on pursuing or not purusing PAYE debts etc. In my view it would put a very different complexion on the style and standard of Government.

    There already exists legislation in Gibraltar to this end - the Access to Information on the Environment Regulations. Not that people use it much.

    By way of example. I note a rather amusing article in today's Gibraltar chronicle "Cepsa Release Land for Sports Use" or something similar. Gosh how good of them! Now how does such a thing come to pass? Wouldn't it be nice to know...

  3. Buzzer says:

    We must not rape the constitution.

  4. Unfortunate but true 23 February 2010 10:04

  5. If the sea keeps on rising, as is happening, instead of having a 'state of the art airport' it will become an underwater 'state of the art facility' for passengers to use with submarines. Is that provided for in the Government's well-developed contingency plan? Would adaptation works cost the tax payer another £60 to £80 million?