On Tuesday of this week Gibraltar's Governor, H.E.Vice Admiral Sir Adrian Johns KCB, CBE, ADC, was interviewed on GBC. His comments on the 2006 Constitution were in line with what would be expected. His interview contained also some interesting tit bits that were not enlarged on.
What was to be expected is that he described the 2006 Constitution as being absolutely right for Gibraltar. To be expected, because, after all, it was agreed between the FCO and the Government and approved in a plebiscite. No one in the position of Governor could conceivably criticise it in those circumstances.
He also described it as turning 300 hundred years of British rule or influence on its head. My interpretation of that statement is that it achieved a transfer of control over Gibraltar's affairs to Gibraltar (and I use this word deliberately as opposed to saying to the people of Gibraltar) whilst retaining British sovereignty. A more robust interpretation would bring into play factors and consequences that do not bear thinking about. I refer to the provision of the Treaty of Utrecht that gives Spain a first option were British sovereignty of Gibraltar to cease.
The unexpected tit bits, which I hasten to say I applaud and with which I fully agree, were his statements to the effect that the 2006 Constitution was moving in the right direction, was still bedding in and that there was plenty of work to do. This indicates that there is room for improvement. It may and is likely to be that the reasons for my applauding this view and agreeing with it are not consonant with the reason why the statements were made.
For a long time, my position has been that, whilst the 2006 Constitution advanced our self-government (not self determination or independence) a great deal, it did not provide the governmental safeguards that a constitution could have done and should do. I made this view known vociferously during the "NO Campaign". For example, the 2006 Constitution did not provide any separation of powers between the legislature and the executive. It provides a semblance of institutional separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary, which could have been much improved, so one has to suspect why there is so much influence of the executive on appointments to the Judicial Services Commission.
The GSD Government indicated that the increase of members on the government benches would allow for backbenchers. They indicated that they would look at using the additional two members or increasing the numbers in Parliament to allow for backbenchers. They indicated that they would review the electoral system having in mind a more democratic one. These were some of their "selling" points at the time of the referendum.
To date nothing has been done on this front. Quite the opposite the two additional members are also Ministers. They cost the tax payer more in salaries, whilst taxpayers actually get less. Less, because due to the lack of checks and balances and of any separation of powers between the executive and the legislature more and more power is concentrated on one person who sits at 6 Convent Place, doing more and more with no legislative authority in some case.
What, for example? Well we have a new air terminal being built at a cost of in excess of £50,000,000, can anyone point out to me where the Act authorisng and empowering the Government to do that is to be found? I am sure that that there has been an appropriation for the expenditure, as required by the 2006 Constitution, but where is the legislative authority to build?
Many might say, does it matter? The Government has a majority and can pass the necessary legislation to correct the position. It is precisely that which proves the failing in the system that there is no or no sufficient separation of power between the executive and the legislature. All Government Ministers (who as such constitute the executive) also equate to the legislative majority in Parliament (and so the controlling element of the legislature).
There is an added aggravating feature, which is that there is no incentive for any ruling political party from time to time to make any change to the system to enhance democracy and ensure that it will really exist in Gibraltar. Our democracy is limited to voting once every 4 years, demonstrating, petitions, the strength or weaknesses of representative bodies and the free press (yes, all right where is that?)
So yes I applaud and agree with the Governor. However, will those who have the power now under the 2006 Constitution really move it on and do the work that is necessary, or will Gibraltar simply be taken by its governments from time to time the way of some other colonies when they achieved the degree of self-government that Gibraltar has now or some of those that have achieved independence?