Monday, 31 May 2010

Police Investigation Gaffes

Once is a lapse or a mistake, three times is indicative of a deeper ill or inefficiency pervading the Royal Gibraltar Police ("RGP") and prosecuting authority, the Attorney General ("AG") and his Chambers.  For those who think that the recent acquittal of Alfred Porro is an isolated case of a police officer being charged, tried and acquitted, think again.  He is the third in relatively quick succession.

If the RGP cannot get investigations that involve there own right, what chance do the rest of us have?  I do not mean other than those three police officers have been found innocent and are innocent, yet they have had to endure the stress and embarrassment of having to face charges and a public trial.  Does the general public have to fear the same or worse shoddy investigations and the stressful and embarrassment of the consequences?

In my book and in light of the comments made by the judge, what is unforgivable also is the seemingly bad decision to prosecute taken by the AG. He is responsible for taking the decision to prosecute. He is, thus, a final safeguard to prevent the RGP from pursuing an unfair and oppressive prosecution.

The judge, in the case against Mr Porro, said that the prosecution case had relied on "... weak and tenuous ..." circumstantial evidence,  that there was " ... insufficient evidence ..."  and, when it seems that the prosecution tried to bolster up a failing prosecution by seeking to introduce a written statement, that the statement " .... will not make a weak case stronger ...".  Surely the AG should have assessed all of this and not pursued the prosecution?  Why did he not?  Is there a systemic problem in the AG's Chambers?  Could that be the reason for such a low conviction rate?  These and more are all questions that need to be answered by the Government.  The Government is ultimately responsible for any failures in the criminal legal system.  Will the Government do anything about these events and if so what, how, when and who will be responsible for doing so?

To boot the RGP issue a press release from which I quote:

"Every investigation that is undertaken follows a rigorous pathway both in terms of investigative process and the quality and depth of the evidence available to substantiate a charge." 

REALLY? and then:

"The ultimate decision whether to prosecute in a particular case is not taken  in isolation ... but rather following exhaustive and lengthy consultations with the Attorney General's Chambers whose decision ultimately it is whether a case should or not be presented before a Court of Law for final determination. ... the process ... concluded that there was indeed sufficient evidence to substantiate a charge ..."

TRANSLATION: it wasn't me, copper, it was the AG. The RGP do mitigate a little for the AG (thank god for small mercies) and say in relation to the AG's decision to prosecute "... A decision with which the [RGP] was and continues to be in agreement with."

Then, in relation to a proposed full inspection of the RGP by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, an RGP spokesman said that the inspection is completely unrelated to the collapse of the case against Mr Porro. So, can someone explain to me how that inspection is going to do what we are told it is intended for, which , in brief, is that it will result in an objective, statistically reliable and authoritative report highlighting strengths and any perceived weaknesses in the RGP and will “place pressure on those forces falling below average in aspects of policing, to raise their game.”?

Perhaps, in context, the spokesman meant that the decision to have an inspection was taken before the acquittal of Mr Porro. Hopefully, my interpretation is correct, so the inspection and report will include an analysis of the failure of the three prosecutions of police officers (but more importantly, in view of the serious nature of the charges, the case against Mr Porro)  and the effect on morale amongst the more junior ranks in the RGP and any implications to the general public.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Why the Swing to the GSLP/Libs? - Some Thoughts

There are politicians that consider the electorate react to their policies and manifestos.  These politicians believe that the power of their intelligence, policies and rational argument make people decide how they will vote at a general election.  Clearly there are some voters who do decide based on these factors but, anecdotally, it seems to me that such voters are in fact a minority.

Speaking from observation and experience only (before mathematicians, statisticians, sociologists and students of political trends start to argue against the theory that I am about to expound on scientific grounds)  I believe that, in reality, the decision of many to vote for one party or another is not such a rationally thought out decision.  It is an emotional one.  I will explain my theory.

Undoubtedly there are those who have strong sociological (and so essentially emotional) tendencies to vote for the relative right (GSD) and those who have the opposite tendencies to vote for the relative left  (GSLP/Libs).  In Gibraltar this tendency seems to favour the GSLP/Libs who have maintained a steady 35% (at least) following at every election won by the GSD.  The GSD have clearly managed a majority in the past 4 elections, so there is no room to scorn the existence of a sizeable relative right wing vote either.  It is my belief that this basic support for each party gives a slight advantage to the GSLP/libs.

In 1996 the GSD's win was based on a major loss of confidence in and emotional reaction against the GSLP  by the electorate for well rehearsed and known reasons that I do not intend to repeat here.  Although some of this support has been retained by the GSD, it is evident from past results that it has dwindled at each subsequent election.  This loss of support is due not just to the natural wastage that prejudices an incumbent Government because people adversely affected by its decisions and acts are repulsed from again voting in favour of the governing party but also to another important factor, which is demographics.

Because the support for the GSD was not in the main ideological but rather for reasons of convenience and emotion and because older voters have passed away and a large number of younger voters are now enfranchised, there has been an "emotional" change.  These younger voters will not have been prejudiced by the decisions and actions of the last GSLP administration.  Also these young voters will emotionally favour change because change is what youth usually yearns for. The more important factor is that the leadership of the GSLP/Libs is seen to be more "local" than Peter Caruana.

The swing does not have to be big for there to be a change in Government.  The difference between the two main parties at the last election was approximately 650 votes.  If on the basis of my observations 325 have changed their minds then the vote would be even.  My belief (as supported by recent opinion polls) is that more have changed their minds, additionally if one adds the youth vote, there is an explanation for the recent poll results.

Those who believe that the power of the GSD's arguments and policies will change the result at the next election are mistaken.  It is difficult to change the emotions of a crowd by such tactics. If the GSD want to have a chance they need to make fundamental changes that will change the "emotion" of the electorate.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

A Counter-Democratic Argument Requiring a Defence of Freedom of Speech.

Recently it has come to my ears that some supporters of the GSD (read Peter Caruana) are expressing the view that this blog is anti-Gibraltar because it deals with subjects, amongst many others,  that are critical of the Chief Minister's policies and actions.  Therefore, they say, Gibraltar's dirty linen is being washed in public. Such comments are not only immature to the point of being puerile but are crassly ill-thought out, not to say totally devoid of accuracy, thought and intellect, and are a danger to democracy if heeded.

Such an argument equates a personality, namely and for the present Peter Caruana, to the the people and territory that he is the Chief Minister of, rather than making him their and its elected servant. Such propaganda precisely supports the view,  expressed in this blog in the past, that when any politician become bigger than the place they govern and its electorate, then it is time for a change, even if that change simply serves as a reminder of the democratic process, namely, the power of the electorate. A Government and a Chief Minister are not there as an end in themselves believing they or he alone has all the answers, it and he are there to serve the people to the best of their ability and with ears open to bring into account what are the needs of people.

One central ingredient of any totalitarian ruler is that the cult of personality takes over from and engulfs the commonwealth (as in common good) and so the State.  When a personality is over revered and/or feared the journey down the slippery road to the end of democracy is well advanced. Especially so if any reverence is founded on the selfish motives of sycophantic adherents rather than the interests of the State and its people as a whole.

The belief that democracy starts and ends with the right to elect a government every 4 years is mistaken.  Democracy is much, much more.  Democracy encompasses a complex interaction of checks and balances. One of the more important of these is the separation of the legislature from the executive, closely followed by the independence of the judiciary.

This separation is best achieved by the system of government of the US, where executive authority is vested in the President, who can only exercise it under laws passed by the two House of Congress.  Even this system is open to criticism but it is about as good as can be found. Closely behind the US is the English Parliamentary system in which, despite government ministers sitting in the legislature, a government has the fear of defeat by backbenchers with the Opposition.  In addition the House of Lords has certain powers of oversight.

Both systems, that in each of the US and in the UK, would not deliver democracy as efficiently without one other factor, a free press.  It is a free press, acting responsibly, that, for example:

  • gives widespread publicity and criticism to what either or both the executive and the legislature are up to;
  • helps to inform public opinion and enhances the ability of individuals to make informed decisions at the ballot box;
  • contributes to keeping politicians on their toes 
  • assist in keeping politicians from abuse and corruption;
  • reports openly publicising abuses of power and attempts by politicians to coerce or frighten persons into acts that are contrary to their wishes and/or interests. 
  • keeps a focus on the wider interests of a State or its people rather than the interests of a particular Government, which can become too focussed and narrow.

    Gibraltar has a press but how free is it?  GBC is funded by and so dependant entirely on Government,  the Chronic (which, notwithstanding, does sterling work in bland reporting of news and press releases) is heavily indebted to Government, the New People is the GSLP mouthpiece, 7 Days the GSD mouthpiece, VOX was closed down due to its heavy indebtedness (which did not seem to bother certain people whilst it was "on message"), that leaves Gibraltar with Panorama, which, despite its leanings to the left, publishes a wide range of views from different subscribers.

    In short, in my judgement, there is not much (if any) of a free press in Gibraltar. Neither the US nor the UK system of separation of the executive and the legislature exists in Gibraltar, because the entire executive makes up the government benches in the legislature. The conjoint result is that a democratic deficit exists in Gibraltar that is substantially larger than would be accepted in most western democracies. I make no apologies for anything that I have published in this blog, therefore. It is published in  exercise of the right to freedom of expression. I believe that this blog makes a valid (although, likely, small) contribution  to democracy in Gibraltar.

    More so when none of what is published is anti-Gibraltar, certainly it cannot be branded as such for the reason given, namely, that it criticises aspects of the GSD Government's and Peter Caruana's actions and policies and certainly not because it allows others to comment anonymously.  In addition I do not believe that there is a single blog published that  is critical of Gibraltar itself.  There is not a single one critical of anyone at a personal as opposed to a political level. It contains also criticism of the political actions and policies of others, aside from Peter Caruana and the GSD.  It praises Peter Caruana specifically for being a great believer in and defender of the right to free speech, indeed, had it not been for the forceful exercise of this right by him in his extreme criticism of the previous administration, the GSLP, would he have ever been elected? I note that those who label this blog anti-Gibraltar have never labelled Peter Caruana or the GSD with the same label, is this just subjective licence or partisan bias? Readers should bear in mind that the actions of an incumbent Government will always be more susceptible to criticism and so an imbalance can be and is usually perceived to exist.

    I, and all others, did not live through the closed frontier days, in defiance of Francisco Franco's (El Caudillo's) dictatorial  Spain, lacking freedom of speech, to be frightened into silence by hypocrites with commercial interests who consider themselves to be the guardians of Gibraltar but who are, by maintaining close relations and contacts with all incumbent Governments,  the guardians of their own wealth, interests and lifestyle. I will certainly not be silenced by their baseless accusations that this blog is anti-Gibraltar.  This blog is a responsible  exercise of a fundamental right of freedom of speech (sadly otherwise largely absent in Gibraltar),  without which freedom, democracy would be closer to death in Gibraltar. If exercising that freedom  leaves me open to the accusation that I am obsessed by politics, as I was accused yesterday of being by someone close to the Chief Minister, I will take that as a compliment and not an insult.

    Thursday, 20 May 2010

    Are Lawyers being made the Scapegoats?

    Recent reports of the Chief Minister's reference to the requirement to regulate the legal profession have not only given an incorrect account of the regulatory and supervisory obligations imposed on the legal profession but have also implicitly cast the blame on the profession itself  The perceptions created have the potential to make the whole legal profession the scapegoats for recent events (yet to be proven) involving the law firm, Marrache & Co.  Whether this is due to inaccurate reporting or not is unknown but one can only comment based on what has been made public.  What can be criticised is that the Chief Minister chose, inappropriately, to do this at a conference organised by the Gibraltar Association of Compliance Officers, which has nothing to do with lawyers.

    According to the Chronic (19th and 20th May 2010) the Chief Minister has said that there needs to be greater regulation on business conducted by lawyers in the field of financial services and that lawyers who are involved with financial services will have to move to compliance as have other sectors. The Chronic emphasised that the Chief Minister made a distinction in relation to their need to retain independence of the legal profession when undertaking their judicial and advocacy roles.

    Additionally, in his editorial  (Chronic 20th May 2010) Dominique Searle writes "That the Chief Minister, himself an experiences lawyer, should signal to the profession, in what were rather gentle terms, that they should look towards having more modern compliance standards, can hardly come as a surprise in the context of recent events... Here, the Government is only ruminating on issues that might well have come better as a dynamic from within the profession itself". Such a statement is disingenuous, because the Bar Council has for years been advocating better implementation and enforcement, or, at least, an ill informed criticism of lawyers.  It is also a wrong  exposition of the position in law. Unsurprisingly it comes from the quarter that has shown his bias against the legal profession by having coined the expression "barristocracy".

    The conclusion that most readers of the Chronic cannot be blamed for having reached is that the legal profession operates without laws or rules and in a privileged environment even when competing within the field of financial services, in which field all others need licensing and are regulated.

    When undertaking any financial services business that requires a licence under any financial services laws or regulations, lawyers require EXACTLY the same licence as anyone else. This means that all laws and regulations that apply to licensed persons and entities apply equally to lawyers.  lawyers licensed in this way are regulated and supervised to the same extent as any other person or entity.  In truth few, if any, lawyers are engaged in a business that requires to be licensed.  The reality is that law firms usually structure these activities by the use of limited liability companies that are licensed entities. it is these entities that fall to be regulated and supervised.

    Turning to the legal profession itself and the practice of law. The profession in Gibraltar has been licensed and regulated throughout living memory.  Licensed because only properly qualified person can join it and then only after being called, admitted or enrolled in England (in the main), which requires certain due diligence to be overcome.  A candidate also has to be interviewed and certified fit in Gibraltar by the Admissions and Disciplinary Committee. It is a committee, chaired by the Attorney General with two other senior lawyers appointed by the Chief Justice, this committee advises the Chief Justice, as the name suggests on admissions and DISCIPLINE.
    The ultimate responsibility to discipline lawyers rests with the Chief Justice who acts on advice from the Admissions and Disciplinary Committee.  The laws and regulations that govern the profession are those either made in Gibraltar (which are few)  or, where none are made, those that govern the legal profession in England. In shorthand lawyers in Gibraltar are by law required to behave to exactly the same standards and principles of conduct as lawyers in England.

    What about client accounts? These are governed by local rules, the Solicitors' Accounts Rules. These rules are very closely modelled on rules that govern client's accounts of Solicitors in England and Wales. The Admissions and Disciplinary Committee are the persons who have extensive powers of inquiry and investigation.  These rules also regulate what money can and cannot be paid into and out of client accounts. These requirements were strengthened in 2005 with the introduction of a requirement that client's accounts be audited before lawyers would have their annual practising certificates renewed, without which a lawyer cannot practice.

    It is clearly not right to say that the legal profession falls outside the reach of regulation and supervision.  To this extent the impression  created by the Chronic's report of what the Chief Minister said  is false.  It is imperative that the public should not only understand that a regulatory and supervisory regime exists but that they should not be misinformed in a manner that might be used to support a system of regulation and supervision that undermines the independence of lawyers and the principle of professional secrecy.  An independent judicial system can only exist in an environment where the legal profession itself remains independent.  A legal profession that falls under the control of a government is another step towards undemocratic rule.
    There can be no democracy without an independent judicial system and no independent judicial system without an independent legal profession.

    The causes of recent events (yet to be proved) involving the firm of Marrache & Co will need to be analysed and determined. Undoubtedly there seem to have been failures.  One of these is not that the legal profession is not governed by laws and rules.  It may be that lack of proactive application of these and of supervision may have contributed, namely failure of implementation.  Undoubtedly the system of supervision of lawyers will need to be  revamped and resourced, if not completely overhauled but with great care taken not to transgress the boundary of independence from government. 

    What is clearly not true is that it is the legal profession as a whole that has failed. .  Perhaps the intervention into the law firm would have been better and given a better impression and been better perceived if it had been undertaken by persons from outside Gibraltar and outside the legal profession of Gibraltar as was proposed to the Chief Justice by certain senior members of the profession.  .

    Monday, 17 May 2010

    SEX and Danny Feetham; Moroccans and Mohamed Sarsi

    Today, on reading a very enlightening letter in the Chronic, "Homophobia" written by Matthew Provost, I learned it was the "International Day against Homophobia".  In fact I learnt that such a day existed at all.  Also I was reminded, by the graphic examples quoted by Mr Provost, of  the suffering and cruelty of human beings against other human beings simply because of their sexual leanings.  A reminder of the suffering and cruelty of the Nazi regime against not only Jews but also other minorities, including gays:  an exaggeration? Surely only a matter of degree.

    In an environment that his own party leader, Peter Caruana, has taken the issue of the equalisation of the age of consent for decision (a foregone decision and a waste of tax payer's money) to the Supreme Court, Danny Feetham, Minister for Justice, in defiance of his own GSD party and their lack of courage in not supporting his Private Member's Bill, has bravely supported that the age of consent should not be raised.  He has marshalled and developed arguments that you will have read first in this blog ("SEX" 18th April 2010).

    One question this raises is, how can a party so deeply divided on such a fundamental social issue convince the electorate that it is a cohesive and properly functioning party?  The very fact that Mr Feetham had to bring the bill before Parliament as a Private Members Bill speaks volumes, especially when his own GSD party allowed it to be defeated.

    Reading the examples of suffering and cruelty contained in Mr Provost's letter reminded me of the matters that Mohamed Sarsi, the Moroccan Workers Association President, was reported in the Chronic (12th May 2010) of having said recently.  He reminds us of a historical catalogue of wrongs against Moroccan workers in Gibraltar, briefly:

    • The reduction in the income tax deductions for children and their exclusion from  the family allowance given to locals;
    • The discriminatory regime on unemployment benefits;
    • The scrapping  of social support given to them in the form of a reduced pension that was scrapped;
    • Deportation of Moroccan workers on trumped up allegations based on false information;
    • confiscation of passports on registering at the job centre;
    • obstacles placed in the way of Moroccan access to the job market.
    Despite this, Mr Sarsi does not preach confrontation or strikes or demonstrations.  He preaches, in the same speech, that it is crucial for immigrant workers to retain open channels of dialogue with the authorities, saying "If they close doors in your face, you will never be able to raise your voice and put forward your concerns and arguments when an injustice is committed in order to be able to reverse it".

    It is a distinct message of patience, understanding and appeasement.  It is a message that is non-judgemental of others. In fact, it is a very Christian message and probably an Islamic one too (although I say this tentatively, as my knowledge of that religion is not extensive enough).  It is a message that Peter Caruana (and indeed the GWA, who are collecting signatures on a petition to raise the age of consent to 18) might learn from and apply to the debate raging on the issue of the age of sexual consent.  As quoted in  the blog "SEX" (18th April 2010) the Catholic Catechism preaches abstinence from sexual intercourse outside marriage for heterosexuals and abstinence generally for homosexuals (male and female).  The issue of criminalising these acts is massively different, as so cogently and courageously argued by Mr Feetham. Nowhere does the catechism interfere with what the law of the land should be. 

    Mr Caruana and others in the GSD should reconsider their position.

    Thursday, 13 May 2010

    Power Cuts ... but No Strikes

    The cost to the economy of the recent power cuts must have been enormous.  All the private sector, that is so reliant on electrical power to make money, out of action for several hours;  before anyone comments so what, think about it, salaries and expenses have to be paid without any ability to earn the income or to replace it as lost hours are gone for ever.

    The reason: a technical failure in a cable.  The question: why are there no back up systems?  I don't ask it for any technical explanations, as to why it cannot be, but rather with a view to a solution because the private sector, that supports all the public sector, simply cannot afford to come to a grinding halt.

    It seems to me that having a monopoly supplier of electricity (and water but let us leave that one to one side) is not of benefit to consumers in any market. Let us not go into that argument.  Let us assume that it is absolutely necessary in such a small territory to allow that monopoly.

    What about making arrangements to have a supply of electricity from Spain?  OK, OK, lets all scream from the hymn sheet ... we cannot rely on Spain for our essential services.   Let us forget, for one moment, that in fact the fuel to run our essential services is imported from Spain, so we are dependant on Spain anyway.  Let us forget that, if Spain becomes hostile, we get left without much of an economy. A large proportion of  Gibraltar's economy is reliant on cross-frontier access.  Let us accept the political argument and imperative that we need to be self sufficient in the provision of essential services.

    Why, I ask myself, cannot Gibraltar have its brand  spanking new power station and, in addition, connect to the Spanish electricity supply grid?  Would this not mean that Gibraltar can sell to Spain, when Gibraltar has spare capacity and buy from Spain as and when need arises or circumstances require? And, possibly, I do not know, electricity might be cheaper in Gibraltar as a result. Then, if there is ever a problem with our power station, our economy can continue to function because we have an alternative electricity supply. I understand that this type of arrangement is very common in the EU.

    Tuesday, 11 May 2010

    WHAT? New Air Terminal = New Air Routes?

    A spokesman (presumably a Government spokesman) speaking about the Government visit to the 5th edition of the Routes Europe Forum is reported as having said "The Gibraltar Delegation will be having a number of pre-arranged meetings with airlines to discuss new market opportunities in Gibraltar upon the completion of the new Air Terminal next year; a new Air Terminal of which Gibraltar will be justifiably proud"  . The Minister for Transport, Joe Holliday, is reported as saying that the new Air Terminal "... will provide the Gibraltar Delegation with the ideal opportunity to promote the excellent facilities that will become available in the New Air Terminal to a wide audience airline executives."

    I do not profess any great knowledge of the travel or airline industry save as a passenger but am I expected to believe that the new Air Terminal is considered by the GSD administration to be a determinative factor in attracting new air routes to Gibraltar?   Am I expected to believe also that the failure of the air routes to Madrid, Tangier, Casablanca and Marrakesh that have been established and failed during the time in power of the present Government is down to not having a spanking brand new Air Terminal costing tens of millions of pounds?

    I always thought it was down to other considerations like catchment area, demand, competitiveness, lack of alternative destinations nearby and I imagine much more.  Past events indicate that Gibraltar has issues on many of these fronts that have not been surmounted by any government and certainly not by the GSD Government.

    Am I missing something?  Is the new Air Terminal the panacea that will cure everything that has led to such a singular failure in the past of new air routes or to attract new airlines and routes to Gibraltar?  I have my doubts but I am no expert.  I am sure that the Minister is advised by those far better qualified than me to know what a great competitive difference the new Air Terminal will make such as to attract new airlines and routes to Gibraltar.

    But one second doesn't Malaga have a spanking new Air Terminal?  Will our spanking new Air Terminal be able to compete with Malaga's new Air Terminal, if indeed airlines seeking new routes are so persuaded by spanking new Air Terminals? I hope so, because, otherwise, Gibraltar is back where it started after having spent an inordinately large amount of public funds on a new Air Terminal and, to make matters worse  taxpayers will be lumbered with enormously increased running costs without additional revenues.

    Sunday, 9 May 2010

    Change for the Sake of Change?

    In a few earlier blogs and comments, I have suggested that Gibraltar is ready for a change of government.  The reason that I have put forward in support of this view is that  Peter Caruana has become bigger than the electorate. It is worth exploring available options but, before I become the subject of criticism on this point, I do not suggest that I have covered all possible options.

    I have suggested ("The Quest for Good Governance") that change could come about by a reform of  the electoral system. Such reform is not on the cards and so is improbable before the next election.

    Before exploring other options, let me dispel some assumptions made about me, for example, I have been accused by several commentators that I am anti-GSD (if there is a party beyond Peter Caruana) and pro-GSLP/libs.  First, I do not belong to any party.  I was, about 20 years ago, a member of the GSLP.  During their second term of office the GSLP behaved generally in an undemocratic fashion, exemplified at a personal level by its treatment of my law firm, Triay & Triay. I gave up my membership the GSLP at that time. Since then, I have remained independent of any political party.  This reigns true to the present day.  With this independence comes the freedom to explore options.

    The available alternatives are limited, so my having come to the conclusion that Peter Caruana has grown larger than the electorate, what are the available choices or the choices that may become available for someone like me (and I believe that I am not alone in having to look for alternatives)?

    If the GSD exists as a party at all beyond what Peter Caruana thinks, says and does, they could improve their chances by making acceptable changes within the party and offering the electorate a renewed GSD.  One suggestion is that they should retrace their history and revert to their democratic roots, for example, by  ridding themselves of those wrong practices that they so vociferously criticised the previous GSLP administration for adopting.  I suggest that they read their own early manifestos and remind themselves of the fundamental promises they made to Gibraltar in this regard. If they do that, they may not even have to substitute Peter Caruana as leader.  The difficulty of not doing so, however,  is that they will have to climb a high mountain to convince many disaffected voters that there really has been a return by the GSD to its democratic roots.

    In the absence of change within the GSD, the only two alternative parties offering themselves for election are the GSLP/Libs or the PDP as discussed in greater detail in an earlier blog ("GSD Supporters Mutiny") .  The PDP are shown in recent polls not to be making any headway.  If that remains the case, which is likely, then the only feasible alternative (in the absence of internal fundamental and not merely cosmetic changes within the GSD) to ensure a change is vote for the GSLP/Libs.  They have a critical core of voters that makes it credible that they can get elected if there is small swing in voting patterns.  Two main changes will improve their chances, first Joe Bossano standing for election but not as party leader.  Second, if Fabian Picardo does take over as leader, an effort by him to disavow the public of a perception that he is not suitable for the post of Chief Minister.

    There are other options.  A new party coming to the fore.  The likelihood of this is minimal in the time available between now and the next election.  Even if one were to come about its chances of election success can only be measured by comparison with those of the PDP.  What could be considered but would require a massive campaign starting very soon and, even in those circumstances with a very small chance of success, is for voters to be persuaded to split their vote by voting for the best candidates irrespective of their party allegiances.  this would result in a hung Parliament, which would be a major catalyst for parliamentary and electoral reform.  It is what is happening in the UK.  We yet have to see how revolutionary any reforms that come of it in the UK really are.  These are interesting times in the UK, which could be replicated in Gibraltar.

    Tuesday, 4 May 2010

    The Quest for Good Governance

    There are good governance practices that could and should be revived.  These do not require any change of law or to the 2006 Constitution.  However, they are unlikely to be implemented without some catalyst to force their introduction.

    The first is the use of cabinet government, which in the 2006 Constitution is referred to as the Council of Ministers. The electoral system is intended to elect a government, not a President.  Yet the system, ever since the days of Sir Joshua Hassan, always defaults to government by the Chief Minister.  One reason for this occurring is the ineffectiveness of other Ministers.  They do not yield their power over any incumbent Chief Minister.  Their power lies in their individual or collective ability to either depose their leader (and so the Chief Minister) or, in more extreme situations, force the fall of a government, leading to an election.

    The fact that Ministers invariably avoid using their power shows them up as weak, ineffectual  and self interested.  Self interested because this benign behaviour, epitomised by deference to one individual, owes its existence to both the ego of each minister and their interest in retaining their highly paid positions.  Ego because, seemingly, they each enjoy their positions, their title and their preeminence too much to risk it by rocking the boat.  Salary, because how many of the incumbents to ministerial positions over the past 20 odd years or more would have earned as much in other employment?

    Secondly, the encroachment by Ministers, especially in the period of the GSLP and the GSD governments, into the administrative arena as opposed to staying within their political remit.  This unfortunate cross-over is adverse to good governance.  The ease in which this happens is worrying.  The Civil Service has its General Orders and exists to give effect to the rule of law.  General Orders and the law provide a framework to safeguard the independence of Civil Servants.  Why the Civil Service permit the encroachment to occur is unknown but the symptoms are obvious.  The cure is easy to prescribe, put the Minister in his place. The reality is that it is more difficult or nigh on impossible in practice.  A good start might be for promotion in the Civil Service to be structured in a manner that their role is better learnt and understood but faced with a powerful individual as Chief Minister, the difficulties are obvious.

    The failings in the system can be identified.  Implementing solutions without attacking one fundamental is difficult.  This fundamental is the undermining of the stability and comfort of any Chief Minister by weakening his ability to retain power.  This objective can be achieved through electoral reform.  A reversion (because it is that system that has existed in Gibraltar in the past and has delivered good government) to a system of Proportional Representation is an answer.  

    A new electoral system will increase the chances of multi-party government by maximising the chances of the election of candidates from more parties and of independents.  The inherent instability that such sharing of power builds into  a government would, in a place the size of Gibraltar, not be detrimental to strong and effective governance.  In fact it would be beneficial.  It reduces the concentration of power in one individual by compelling the sharing of power amongst Ministers.  Cabinet government will become the only way to govern. One additional benefit of undermining the concentration of power in one person is that it will revive the ability of the  Civil Service to administer Gibraltar according to the law.  

    Proportional representation will help destroy the politics of personality and encourage issue based voting. Each cross on a ballot paper will carry weight rather than (as under the present system) all of them being a vote for one person to be Chief Minister.  This process of democratisation can deliver better government and administration.

    Saturday, 1 May 2010

    Is Tolerance Enough?

    Gibraltar prides itself for being a tolerant society and so it is, with all the emphasis on the word "tolerance".  We have a habit of tolerating but not being inclusive.  It is a society that tolerates minorities by turning a partial blind eye to obvious inequalities in treatment. The obvious example is Gibraltar's Moroccan brethren and friends who have so helped during Gibraltar's dark days when it was deprived of Spanish labour and who continue to help the community at large.

    Legalities are not necessarily what this issue is about or what I will deal with in this blog.  Affordability is not what it is about either.  It is a subject about human treatment of a minority community that has helped so much.  It is about giving to that minority group full integration, inclusion, acceptance and  equal recognition and ceasing to take them for granted, for example, the ability to live with one's wife and children in decent accommodation.  Also to have their applications for naturalisation dealt with promptly, fairly and with a positive attitude.

    I can hear the screams of protest as I type this blog.  These screams say: there is not enough physical space, are we to provide more housing on top of what is built for the Gibraltarian, the cost will be prohibitive.  Unfortunately these complaints may be valid and have a basis but their very foundation is a selfish desire to provide for ourselves that which we will not provide to the Moroccan community. In this way the Moroccan community is disadvantaged  in order not to reduce the ability of Gibraltar's government to provide better lives for Gibraltarians partly funded by the tax revenues paid by the Moroccan community.

    The discrimination against Moroccans is palpable and obvious.  It does Gibraltar no credit to ignore it for any longer.  It is not commensurate with but rather belies the description that Gibraltar is a tolerant society.  It is more akin to a society that "puts up with" a minority group rather than tolerates them in the wider and more acceptable sense of that word.  Gibraltar needs to change. The economic cost of that change will need to be managed in order to mitigate the effect on the community at large.  For example, just the housing aspect could have the beneficial side effect of renovating the older more slum-like parts of Gibraltar: something which, if memory serves me right, the GSD Government said they would do many years ago.