Saturday, 13 February 2010

Scandal in the Finance Centre

An anonymous person has commented that something should be written about recent events involving the Marrache law firm in this blog.

It is impossible and also dangerous to write any specifics about a fast developing situation, where all the facts are not yet known and whilst due legal process is pending. It is possible to write about wider issues and considerations that should have been and, in future, be taken into account, if the worst fears about this situation are borne out, or if they are not, on this occasion, were they to be borne out on another.

Incidents of this type bring into sharp focus the stresses and strains that are inherent in the regulatory and other governmental institutions of a small territory like Gibraltar. It is difficult for such a small entity to have the resources required or expected to meet and match the rigorous standards that are expected in Europe today, in the instant case, affecting the legal profession and finance. It is just an example, however, of a far wider problem facing Gibraltar's governance and institutions. Gibraltar is simply too small to generate the resources, both human and economic, required to provide the safeguards insisted upon by European and international requirements and, also that its own people should be demanding, as a scandal of this type affects Gibraltar's entire economy and so each and everyone.

The problem is clear, what about the solution? A solution is not simple but what certainly does not help to resolve the problem, but actually exacerbates it, is the headlong rush that our politicians have embarked on to "Gibraltarianise" (sic.) all its offices, posts and institutions. Political expediency or pressure should not dictate this process. Ability, the need for independence, knowledge, experience and fitness for post and job are all matters to be taken into account. Additionally where economies of scale cannot be achieved, then Gibraltar should contract services and expertise in from sources that can provide the necessary standards, checks, balances and safeguards required.

Politics, political expediency and pandering to populist but badly thought out ideals are not the only consideration when attempting to achieve good governance and regulation. Ability to deliver the expected (to internationally established standards) service levels should be the measure by which governments implement the necessary regimes. This has not been and is not the case in Gibraltar. The reality is that we try and get away with what we can and hope for the best. This is no longer good enough nor what is expected.

Any scandal, including the present one (whatever the eventual outcome), has substantive and wide ranging political repercussions that will need to be analysed, faced and resolved. Is Gibraltar inherently a large enough political unit to manage it and diminish the chances of re-occurrences? Or, should we be thinking of alternative political arrangements (without compromising the constitutional devolution achieved already by Gibraltar) so that it can deliver what every territory is expected to deliver both in the fields of good governance and good regulatory practice?

The answer could lie in joining forces with a larger geographic territory that can provide the required resources and economies of scale. If Gibraltar does not there could be a heavier and more unpopular political price to pay in the future and an even more onerous economic one.


  1. Fred says:

    Your arguement seems to be that in order to achieve sound governance and a solid regulatory framework Gibraltar has to bind itself to a larger external regulatory system.

    Given what the global financial system is still going through and the current crisis within the UK FSA, exacerbated by the resignation of its head only this week, it seems surprising that you lay so much store by bigger regulatory systems that have so obviously failed.

    Furthermore, if your suggestion is that Gibraltar should tie itself to some ill-defined European regulator dominated by Germany and France then it would seem that you are politically naive and may wish to acquaint yourself a bit better with French commercial practices.

    Ultimately, it will always be about personal integrity, and quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

  2. Uniting with a larger external regulatory framework is not the answer to everything. It does provide greater resources which will assist in delivering more effective, efficient and sophisticated controls and supervision.

    You interpret the blog too narrowly. The suggestion is not limited to only financial regulation. The suggestion made is intended for far wider application to government as a whole.

    The naive element of your argument is that your suggestion that in the end it is down to personal integrity is an argument in favour of abandoning all supervision and regulation and to place reliance on anarchy. This cannot be the solution surely. It leaves everyone with a greater exposure to ending up victims of fraudulent behaviour. Criminals will always exist. The gap through which they have to squeeze to commit crime has to be so narrow that it diminishes their chances to a negligible degree. Total prevention is unfortunately impossible.

    You should possibly reconsider your argument. No one has suggested that the solution is either the model used in France or Germany. It may need to be a highly resourced pan-European system that takes into account worldwide opinion.

  3. Fred says:

    Perhaps it is about anarchy. I am one of those who happen to think that there is not much that separates the mind of a politician, a bureaucrat, a captain of industry or a criminal. Ultimately, they all seek power and satisfaction.

    The point I was making about integrity is that I have little faith in human nature, and even less faith in the state and state system as they stand. Unfortunately we'll just keep on bumbling along, torn between the desire for power and the fear of the weak and unloved punitive sanctions in the law - a law that is shaped and controlled by the powerful.

    Why should a European system care about worldwide opinion? Should Europe defer to China or the US on human rights or financial regulation? In any case, vast European bureaucracies have a poor track record in protecting citizens and are merely another arena on which powerful national elites slug it out. Preferable to guns I guess. The lobby industry is symptomatic of that power play.

    However, if you are going to build Jerusalem do count the rest of us in, but you may wish to have us cover your back whilst you build it - it is nasty out there.

    Best of luck for when we find out who you are.

  4. Fred, Fred, Fred what cynicism! What bitterness against the world! Of course it is imperfect and of course Jerusalem will always be elusive but should we not die in the attempt to build it?

    We can but strive for improvement despite adversity or even impossibility: that is one journey the human race has been engaged in for millennia. I am not one for giving up. My opinion is only one and quite possibly not the right opinion but please defend my right to express it.

    Why do you wish me luck when you find out who I am? Is this a threat? if so, why? I do not believe that I have said anything that is so controversial or so critical of anyone such that would require me to have luck.

    I express unconventional views for Gibraltar, perhaps, but is it not time to explore different thoughts about and solutions for the different issues that face Gibraltar? I hope I will court more controversy and get more reactions: good, bad or indifferent.

    I have every intention of disclosing who I am at some time but not yet. I will write a blog about the reasons why.

  5. Of course crime occurs everywhere and is not entirely preventable. You criticise my assessment as illogical without identifying the reason. The central logic of my assessment is that Gibraltar needs to find a method of reducing the opportunity for crime by seeking the resources to improve effective government and supervision.

    I do not agree with an overriding necessity to appoint expatriate officers to the exclusion of Gibraltarians, nor do I support the appointment of Gibraltarians, if they do not have the necessary qualities for any particular post or office. I should add that I am a Gibraltarian.

    I support the inclusion of Gibraltar in larger organisations with a wider geographic spread simply because of the affordability that it will provide and the better resources that would become available.

    The Schofield saga clearly shows that the independence of the judiciary is not guaranteed by a foreign incumbent. I do not understand how you jump to the conclusion that the Chief justice should be from overseas. It is the office holder whose behaviour will be judged as being such as delivers or does not deliver the required independence. there is nothing to suggest that a Gibraltar incumbent cannot achieve this.