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.


  1. LW- A good suggestion. In my opinon, the House of Assembly, sorry, Parliament's current set up does not really work as well as it could do.

    The way our Parliament (and by extension the Government of the day) is set up does not lend itself to genuine positive politics but more the acrimonious, overly defensive performances that often takes place.

    I think that Gibraltar perhaps missed an opportunity with the most recent Constitution. Seeing as the House was given a bit of an overhaul anyway, couldn't some even more fundamental changes have been made to the way that it does business? I would not have been averse to having something like the old City Council: Our representatives would be elected into a single group and entasked with the running of Gib's affairs. This would probably result in a far more democratic way to run our affairs.

    Our representatives would have to work together better in order to properly get things done. Also, another suggestion that I would make is for general elections to be held with greater frequency, say every 2 years, to encourage people to efficiently get on with their public service.

    As it is, I think that currently both sides of the House have talented individuals that are more often than not at loggerheads. This antagonistic style of politics is failing Gibraltar generally. It would be far better in my view to group them all together and get proper consensus decisions made. This would avoid excessive centralisation of decision making in any one individual.

  2. Yes, I agree with Paco that general elections should be held every two or three years. Four years is too long (in the UK it's five which is even worse). Complacency sets in very quickly if they know they're going to be in power for several years.

    There's also something that was advocated by Danny Feetham's Labour Party in their 2003 election manifesto and also pledged by Keith Azopardi's PDP in 2007: a Chief Minister's tenure should be limited to a maximum of two terms.

  3. Hi Mark:

    My problem with limiting the term of office of a Chief Minister is that it institutionalises the presidential style of government. I would rather have an electoral system that forces upon a Chief Minister a cabinet style of government that will check the power of a Chief Minister and give the electorate the say.

  4. 5 are going no?

  5. Panorama says that 5 GSD ministers are going. If that is correct the question is why? The consequences for the GSD government may be terminally disastrous.

  6. As far as I am aware the reasons could be the following: Ernest Britto has always said that this is his last term; Joe Holliday has tried to retire from politics several times but the CM has managed to persuade him to stay on - now after a string of high-profile fiascos Joe has had enough and want to go; Yvette Del Agua's firefighter husband is retired so no doubt she too wants to enjoy her retirement with him; Clive Beltran not getting any younger and never made much of an impact; Luis Montiel has known health problems (the CM and Edwin Reyes must have persuaded him to stand but one term is enough).

    But I think the most likely to leave is Danny Feetham. He's really been feeling the heat over there at No. 6 and must be regretting having given up his lucrative legal career at Hassans. Only a Granita-type pact with Caruana handing over to Danny mid-term can persuade the voraciously ambitious Danny to stay. And I can't see the Chief Minister agreeing to that any time soon.

  7. Could the CM have a replacement team ready to call an early election, if necessary...a team of GSD superheroes?

  8. Don't know whether he's a "superhero", but will Peter 'Will he or won't he' Montegriffo enter the fray - again?

  9. DA: At last a moderately intelligent article. Is LW on holiday in the Maldives and has a locum taken over? The problem with Caruana is personal and very deep rooted. He sees everything in terms of an adversarial court case and has pathological sense of entitlement typical of public school boys and other silly rich kids (but of an extremely accute nature). At least compared to most other public school educated members of the barrisocracy he is intelligent (highly so). Unfortunately not even age has particularly mellowed him and staffers at no. 6(66) are voting with their feet and leaving the civil service. Daniel Feetham has many of Caruana's better attributes but is more down to Earth. He is wasted in the Ministry of Justice and should be given a more powerful post. That is my view.

  10. Llanito World...do you have an axe to grind..??

    I have largely enjoyed the blog and hoped it would become an outlet for the serious deficit in academic critical writing in Gib. However it is becoming increasingly one dimensional ie anti GSD. little discussion about other social issues such as:

    - the state of the arts in Gibraltar. In particular how is it that all events are “highly successful” and showered with medals. Can someone be real and say the truth.

    -How about commenting on how untidy Gib has become, it looks greasy, cluttered and generally dirty with Green Bins overflowing all along Line Wall for all our tourists to see (without mentioning traffic signs, cones and scaffoldings). Before taking the easy route of putting the blame squarely on GSD administration...should the blame be cast wider ie other institutions and community at large

    - What about what we want for Gib’s future image...we are increasingly loosing the Mediterranean image of a small town with lanes and shutters etc..replaced by tall concrete buildings with plastic/Perspex balconies. Is this the way forward??

    In any event, I shall make a comment on this particular article. In short, it is misconceived. It matters not what the constitution of our Parliament is. The more MP’s the worse off the tax payers will be. Independents will never be so- either they will be put up by one of the parties or they will tend to sympathize with one party or another.

    Surely if we want truly independent institutions, it is the mode of financing these that needs to be considered. How can any Department, authority or body be truly independent when it needs to feed from the source which one is supposed to be independent from????

  11. To the last Anonymous:

    The axe that I have is simply my opinion! I do not subscribe to the view that expressing an opinion amounts to grinding an axe.

    Your criticism to this particular blog is also misconceived or at the very least odd. There is every criticism made of the institution of government in this blog. There is nothing directed SPECIFICALLY at the GSD. The point is made by reference to the previous GSLP administration as much as by reference to the GSD. It could also be made by reference to the previous AACR administration.

    Is not the blog "Is tolerance Enough?" precisely raising a highly relevant current issue in Gibraltar without any party political criticism of anyone? I believe that you are over sensitive simply because of the blog on "Bust the Myth: Caruana: God or Comedian?" 9to which no one provided a substantive reply or explanation in answer to the criticism made) and my preaching change in government at a time that a politician becomes bigger than the electorate.

    Anyway so be it but the reality is that yes I am personally sick and tired of the centralisation of power in Gibraltar in one person who today happens to be Peter Caruana ... he did promise that this would NOT happen under his administration at the time he was trying to take power from Joe Bossano. What happened to that promise. And yes, I believe that when someone becomes bigger than the electorate, it is time for change.

    This is not an academic blog the title is clear it is a "Commentary on Current and unfolding News in Gibraltar" and it is MY blog. It welcomes comments from readers on any subject that I write about.

    I have no interest in any of the subjects that you have suggested.

    Also you have not read this particular blog carefully. It does not advocate more MP's. It advocates a change in how they are ELECTED. I suggest that you read it again.

  12. Fine but a change in HOW they are elected or whether there are so called "independents" in parliament will not safeguard from a future CM exercising power as his predecessors have done.

    Would you not agree that the issue is how money is controlled and not how parliament is constituted?

  13. Yes, but I think that Llanito World's proposed electoral reform would also contribute to more democracy and less autocracy.

    By the way, in addition to Llanito World's blogs, which I think are great could we not also have an open forum where followers / fans of LlW can also post comments on various subjects?

    e.g. in today's Chronicle Dom Searle talks about the crying need for "our political class to finally address the public sector: summer hours, sick leave abuse, retirement at 55 on final-salary pension schemes..."

    He also asks: "Is a zero tax on occupational pensions really fair?" and goes on to say that politicians "need to look to the quiet people, the great 'unparited', if they want to see where the balance has to be addressed".

    Yes, Llanito World, I know that this is your blog - but if we really do want more democracy, why not make this blogspot website even more democratic by allowing followers to initiate discussions by posting on different subjects in an open forum?

  14. Hi Mark:

    I do not know how to create an open forum but one issue is that i am responsible for issues of defamation. Other than for that an insulting language all comments are published so to that extent it is an open forum.

    I cannot take responsibility for damages for defamation. even with moderation by me some comments that I let through are on the brink of acceptability. I hope you understand. If you know how to start an open forum without responsibility for defamation, i am open to ideas.

  15. I agree with Mark that there are many issues which could be discussed.

    In the grand scheme of things, I dont think that summer hours is an issue rather the quality of service provided. Sick leave can easily be tackled by incentives on those that do not take sick leave, this works well for Gibtelecom.

    However, Zero tax on pensions, student grants which are not means tested, renting of our hospital building, the grandiouse airport building etc etc is far more of concern and can only be described as a long-term mortgage for future generations to suffer (depending on the true health of our economy and weather it can adapt quickly if the gaming and corporate tax regime dies a natural death).

    Turning back to the matter at hand, how would electoral reform stop any Chief Minister acting like a president.

    I would agree with previous comments that as long as a man has overall power to pull the purse strings on government institutions, there will always be a centralisation of power.

  16. Hi Cruz:

    If electoral reform delivers greater independence of mind and action in the legislature that will provide a check and balance on the exercise of executive power. In this way executive power, whether exercised by the Chief Minister or more people, will have checks and balances because an executive can only rule by legislative authority (by the way something that is little understood and practised in Gibraltar today).

    In turn this will also provide a check and balance on the amount of money available to the executive, so in answer to this issue if there are legislative checks on money votes then that checks the executive, including the Chief Minister.

    You will have seen that electoral reform is now dominating the agenda in the UK following yesterday's election. It is time Gibraltar seriously debated this fundamental issue, which is a serious democratic deficit at present.

  17. Honney Bee says...

    Very much agree with your last paragraph LW...but what incentive/pressure is there on any of our elected members to do this, when the electorate at large are quite happy to accept that "democracy" is limited to elections every 4 years ? None, I would say. Better to keep the status quo... and the power and authority that comes with it.

  18. Hi LW

    Are you saying that legislation would/could be passed that would essentially cap the amount and the basis upon which the executive or CM can grant money to say the law enforcement bodies and government departments.

    Also do you think that Gibraltar would truly have independent candidates in Parliament or that first past the post can ameliorate the current centralisation of power.

    It simply seems to me that no matter what the distribution or formulation, in practical terms the man called the "Chief" of the ministers would continue to hold overall power, however undesirable this is.

    Only a very strong line up with the ability to challenge the leader will have this effect. Again in practice this does not happen because the challenger and any supporter within the party would soon loose his livelihood if unsuccessful.

  19. Hi Cruz;

    That is exactly what the budget is ... legislative authority for a government to incur expenditure. No expenditure can be incurred by the executive without a vote by the legislature authorising it.

    Proportional representation will deliver more parties and some independents. That being the case there is more ability to control a Chief Minister.

    I accept it is not easy but that is not a reason for not trying to improve our system of government by electoral reform

  20. Hi Honney Bee;

    I agree with you there is none unless the electorate flexes its muscle and votes to create a hung Parliament as has happened in the UK. The fact that there is no incentive is not an argument, however, not to try and introduce improvements to the electoral system, suggestions may yet bear fruit.

  21. Agree with Honey Bee that "democracy is limited to elections every 4 years". That is why I so resent politicians coming knocking on my door only once every fours years. If they truly wanted to help people they should go from door to door on a regular basis - once a year at the very minimum - to ascertain what people's real needs are and what can be done to help them. So if any politicians are reading this don't even think of coming knocking on my door during next year's general election campaign - unless you're willing to visit the electorate on a regular basis. Same happens in the UK, I know. Oh, and don't forget the Upper Town, by the way. That's part of Gibraltar too.

  22. The pressure for local electoral reform is the increasing realisation that the present system is failing Gibraltar.

    We have talented and intelligent individuals of different political persuasions who are prevented from fully realising their potential because of, in my view, a system that stifles the chance of genuine debate and balanced decison making.

    Local parties tend to have 2 or 3 outstanding candidates with the others presented for election really just making up numbers. Therefore, our electorate really votes for the party leader that they think most likely to make the best decisions over the term of the Parliament; the other members of the line-up, whilst presented as important parts of the team during an election, often then disappear to the side lines. Certainly, how often does the public get the benefit of an MP standing up in Parliament and publically disagreeing with what other members of their own party are saying?

    Also (and I say this with respect LW!), local politics seems to be dominated by lawyers with a certain perception of how things should be run. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this but there needs to be more of a balanced make up to local politics that takes other points of view into account. More plain speaking and ferwer legal positions would go a long way to resolving matters.

    Arguably contentious issues like the new airport, the ex-Theatre Royal, handling of the Moroccan workers, fast launches, etc would benefit from having had proper debate and balanced decision making by having a cabinet or committee style of Government along the lines of what you have proposed LW.

    For instance, a current issue that to my eyes is a complete waste of tax payer's money is the issue of pending legal action regarding the equalisation of consent. I don't think that it requires lengthy and expensive legal discourses to see that the age of consent should be equalised. Certainly not, for example, when 80% of Gibraltar's east side looks like company HQ at the battle of the Somme and bathing season is upon us.

    I think it more likely that if there were a Government truly run by a cross-party committee that some good sense would have been injected into the equalisation of consent debate before it spiralled into the legal morass it is developing into. Or perhaps I'm possibly missing a higher legal point here?

    A cabinet style of Government would by its very nature provide more perspective as to what issues need to be prioritised over others. Why have all our eggs in one political basket, effectively the Chief Minister of the day, when Gib has several worthy individuals who could work with each other in the public interest?

    I therefore agree that a proportional representation system with a cabinet style government should be the way to go.

  23. Political Commentarist:Someone in this Blog mentioned Granita, the restaurant where Tony Blair and Gordon Brown apparently agreed that Brown should substitute Blair after a first term in office. When this did not happen Gordon set about doing war against Blair until he finally resigned. Was there a similar agreement between Peter and Danny? Perhaps at the Jot club canteen? What will DF do if Peter does n't push off soon?

  24. Observer

    "I agree with you there is none unless the electorate flexes its muscle and votes to create a hung Parliament as has happened in the UK."

    The election mood in the UK this time round has seen an increase in voting. The UK public craved change and wanted to make sure it happened.

    Perhaps Nick Clegg expected higher votes than his party finally obtained but it cannot be argued that he is now in prime position as kingmaker and he will get to push some of his party's policies in through negotiations with either the cons or the labs.

    If memory serves, parliamentary/electoral reform was one of the PDP's first policies when the party first launched and I recall reading it in their last manifesto. This being the case and a hung parliament being favourable to us as you suggest, then it seems to me that maybe the PDP is not as redundant as some posters here suggest they are. That said, the block vote mentality needs to change for that to happen.

  25. Anon 12.17 Very unlikely for a Granita-style pact to have been struck between Pete and Danny, for two main reasons: 1) Pete will not hand over to Danny - or to anyone else for that matter. Remember he was quoted in the FT as saying he was willing to serve forever; and 2) Danny is not a member of the 'Jot' Club, as you call it, and although Pete is a former member - now a Vice-Patron of the Club - he is rarely seen there. Danny much more likely to bump into Pete in GibSoto, where he and brother Nige spend the weekends.

  26. Political Commentarist: Mark may be right as to the venue and it may not have been the Jort Club, but Peter did promise Danny the throne and unless Danny has completely lost his fizzazz (it does happen to some men in middle age, not to Peter though), he will be wanting it soon rather than later. His predecesors in line for the top job Peter Montegriffo and Keith Azzopardi slunk off BUT DOES DANNY HAVE THE STOMACH WITH A FIGHT WITH THE EMPEROR?

  27. Anon 20.01

    You say Pete "promised Danny the throne"? That's the first I hear. I thought Pete had agreed to a merge with the Gib Labour Party in order to absorb Labour votes and defeat Bossano, which worked but only just. But surely he can't have struck a Granita pact with Danny, particularly as he wants to serve forever as he told the FT.

    Joe Holliday forced Pete's hand by threatening to resign if he wasn't appointed Deputy Chief Minister (a title that, like Deputy Governor, is not in the constitution by the way). So, having been spurned as DCM - where does that leave Danny?

    My guess is that he's had enough of the Chief Minister's tantrums and will step down at the next election, possibly to set up a new law firm with brother Nige (particularly as there's long been speculation that Nige wants to leave Hassans).

  28. Any party divided against itself will be ruined and a house divided against will fall.

  29. El gobernar bien para unos cuantos, prometer mucho y bailar con excusas es muy simple y de "listillos".

    El gobernar bien para todos sin promesas falsas y sin bailes es de sabios y un reto para Gibraltar.