Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Conspiracies and Opinions

The exercise of the right to free speech in Gibraltar is teaching me many an unexpected lesson. In the last week or so two rumours, or better described conspiracy theories, have reached my ears. Both place me in the worst possible light with each of the GSD and GSLP. It makes me wonder whether in fact one can hold and express an opinion in Gibraltar without being branded with the most outrageous ulterior motives.

Is it not possible for readers to believe, quite simply, that one has a mind, thinks, analyses and forms ones own personal opinions? I assure all readers that this is all that I am doing, nothing more, nothing less and without any secondary motives, like a desire to stand for election. I am NOT planning on standing for election for any of the parties at the next election. I hope that this promise is clear enough. I simply like expressing my views. I believe that by expressing one's views one can help change things for the better. Perhaps I am wrong but no one, for the present, will convince me otherwise.

If there are consequences, I am prepared to face them. I am not alone in that, either in Gibraltar, Europe or further afield, but in Gibraltar the consequences are more direct. I am now more persuaded than I was previously that there are consequences to me personally, which I am already affected by. I had previously written that I did not believe there were any adverse consequences because the defence of the right to express one's views and disagree with the views of others and have others disagree with one's own views was sacrosanct and would be protected by all democratically elected governments. I am beginning to see the naivety of that belief, especially, in the small jurisdiction and close society that Gibraltar is. The quest for power or to retain power is stronger than the protection of that basic and core principle of civil and human rights.

Getting back to where I started, what are these two rumours? In no particular order, the first is that some members or affiliates of the GSD believe that I will be a candidate for the GSLP at the next election. The second (and completely contradictory rumour)is that some members or affiliates of the GSLP think that I am writing this blog so that the GSD can find out the issues that voters oppose them on, so that the GSD can correct its policies before the next election.

Can I win no? And before anyone adds 2 and 2 up and comes up with 5, no, I will not be a candidate for the PDP at the next election either. I repeat I have no intention whatsoever of standing for election at the next general election ... please, please believe me. And no I have not been offered the position of Deputy Mayor as suggested by one commentator on an earlier blog!

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Government Advertising, Unite and Clive Golt: a Unique and Quirky Form of Democracy?

Two disparate pieces of recent news, with one connecting fact, Clive Golt, keep coming back into my mind. The first is the justification by Peter Caruana for denying the New People government advertising whilst government advertises profusely in the Seven Days. The second is the recent attempt by the union Unite to show how valid the GSD's socialist credentials are, why? I really do not understand.

Much has been said about the appointment of Clive Golt as Media Director of the Government. I do not intend to dwell on his abilities, that is a value judgment on which agreement may or may not be reached. There will be those who say he has all the attributes and those who may disagree. Only time will tell. I remain neutral and wish him well and much luck.

What I cannot help but comment on is the revelation by Fabian Picardo that the New People has for 15 years been owned by Mr Golt, who stood as a GSLP candidate in 1996 but not by the GSLP or any member of its executive, yet Mr Caruana justifies that the Government does not advertise in it because he considered it to be a GSLP party organ. Well, what does Mr Picardo reveal about the Seven Days? He says that it is owned by a GSD supporter, yet the Government does advertise in the Seven Days.

Surely. applying Mr Caruana's own criteria the Government should not be advertising in the Seven Days. I suppose the fact that the owner of the Seven Days has not actually stood for election as a candidate for the GSD is a distinction that could be drawn. There is no doubting, however in my mind, that the editorial policy of the New People favours the GSLP and that of the Seven Days favours the GSD. Does anyone disagree?

The problem is that the whole argument that Mr Garuana deploys to justify not advertising in the New People is flawed. To decide that a newspaper is a party organ or not (whether based on ownership or editorial policy) should not be the criteria by which any government should be deciding where to place or not to place its advertising. It is a subjective judgment that is not capable of objective justification. It is , therefore, fraught with the danger that any decision will be tainted with political bias, especially if the decision is taken by a politician, and so be advantageous to the person making that decision and his party. This is intolerable and unacceptable in a constitutional democracy.

The decision should be one for the Civil Service to take applying objective standards. What are these? Simple, answer two questions. First, is the publication in question a Newspaper, as defined in the Newspapers Act? Second, is it necessary and in the public interest to inform the public about something? If the answer to both questions is in the affirmative, then any government advertisement or notice should appear in any such newspaper that has a reasonable readership, after all the need to advertise is to ensure that people are informed. Informing the public is the public interest justification for such advertising. Starving the public of information and free speech is not in the public interest.

Turning now to the Union Unite. I was taken aback that it should be welcoming the appointment of Mr Golt as Media Director and in the same breath attempting to justify the socialist credentials of the GSD on the basis that GSLP executive members and ex-union officers were now aligned to or are ministers/ex ministers in the GSD Government. This logic is fundamentally flawed.

It is not the identity or passed allegiances of any person that informs an opinion or decision as to where in the political spectrum a party lies. What defines a party in terms of left and right are its policies. I believe that the GSD have undertaken certain social democratic policies. I do not consider that this allows it to be described as 'socialist". Certainly the recent budget cannot be described as left wing. It favours regressive rather than progressive revenue raising measures. In terms of capital expenditure, in the main, this is on projects more akin to that favoured by a right of centre party than a left wing party. More could have been done for the needy and for social cases, also.

All in all, I am confused. Either Gibraltar has a democracy that I find difficult to understand or it is just unique and quirky. Can anyone throw some light on all this?

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Public/Private Earnings Disparity

Yesterday I read the news that employment in the public sector was far better paid then employment in the private sector. The article in the Chronic did not mention whether the comparison was inclusive or exclusive of other benefits, e.g. pay related gratuity and pension. It must be assumed that it did not but that it was a direct comparison of earnings only.

One should not begrudge that any person earns more than another and I do not but this sectorial differential is substantial, even if no account is taken of pension benefits. The disparity becomes huge when one does brings pension benefits into account.

These public employee salaries are funded, in the main, through direct taxation paid by the private sector and indirect taxation generated also by the private sector. The private sector depends on remaining competitive in order to sustain both profit and levels of employment. It is the private sector which, in turn, generates the wealth and tax revenues that sustain the ability of the government to employ public servants.

It is inconceivable that the private sector could sustain a major increase in cost such as would be required to achieve parity with the public sector. If there were to be pressure to do so, Gibraltar would be faced with a substantial and serious political and economic problem that would require brave and innovative solutions to allow its economy continues to prosper and provide to the government the revenue required to pay its public servants and those who have retired fron public service receiving pensions.

A diminution of economic activity and employment in the private sector caused by salary inflation could force a reduction in employment in the public sector and reduce or negative the affordability by government of public sector pensions. The private sector and employment by it is already threatened by the regressive revenue raising measures announced in the last budget.

If this scenario were to develop, public servants should understand the threat this would pose to their present very secure existence and retirement. This is a phenomenon that public servants in other countries have faced and are facing today, not least in Spain where a 5% salary reduction has been imposed on all public servants and in many EEC countries in which substantial pension reforms are in process.

There is no doubt that productivity in employment is also an important contributor to any economy. There is no mention, in the Chronic article, of any comparison between the productivity of the public and private sector. Undoubtedly there are highly productive persons in both sectors. Anecdotally, there is a widespread belief that, generally, those employed in the public have an easier ride throughout their careers than employees in the private sector. Whether such a belief is true or not is irrelevant. The existence of the belief is sufficient for that factor to increase pressure on salary levels in the private sector.

The private sector cannot operate without an efficient and productive public sector. There needs to be a clear understanding of that. Public employees are "civil servants". This means that they serve and are paid for by the public at large. Brave political decisions and action will be required to redress the disparity that now exists. Those decisions cannot be such as would disrupt Gibraltar's competitive edge and its ability to survive as an independent economic unit. Further any reforms should ensure that the public sector provides an efficient and competitive service to the whole of Gibraltar in order that the private sector can operate efficiently to produce the economic wealth required to sustain the public sector.

The need to achieve a new relationship between public and private sectors becomes even more urgent in the face of the bad world economic situation. No one should proceed on the basis that Gibraltar will avoid every effect of this. Historically economic downturns in other countries have arrived in Gibraltar with a time lag of up to 18 to 24 months. There are small signs in the private sector that this is now starting.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Are there Real Freedoms in Gibraltar?

The 2006 Constitution guarantees freedom of conscience, thought, expression and freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas without interference. Until I started to write on this blog, I had little idea of how difficult the exercise of those freedoms is in practice in Gibraltar.

The extent of the subtle and not so subtle comments, threats, digs and pressures that one comes under were unexpected by me. I have to admire those who work in the press for what they do, despite my belief that they could do more. I have to admire those politicians and thinkers who swim against received and generally accepted views. Undoubtedly, I have come to learn that the establishment in Gibraltar is well entrenched and has a lot of power and influence in many areas of ones life.

I started to write this blog to get things off my chest. At the time I started, I had written several letters to the Chronic. I felt that I could not continue to abuse of their hospitality. In essence it was self-therapy. I had hopes that some people would read what I wrote. The reality is that the number is beyond my expectations. Hundreds read every piece that I write, whether they agree or not. Tens of individuals comment. I receive more comments than I can publish, because some cannot be published for legal reasons. Over 1300 persons have joined the Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Llanito-World-Freedom-Of-Speech/105526936155335. There are many who stop me in the street and encourage me to carry on writing.

I am grateful for the support without which I would not continue but instead would bow down to pressures, including being dubbed a "terrorist" by some GSD supporters, a party for whom I have voted and which I have supported, without ever having joined it. Also despite some pieces written by me in praise and support of things that the GSD Government have done.

Yesterday I received a comment that I was unable to publish for legal reasons but this part I can quote:
"It is sad to see that Gibraltar has still not acquired the capability to change its governments when it is obvious that they care little for the genuine interests of the population. Is it fear of being targeted or something to do with the size of the community?"
How true and how sad, "... fear of being targeted ..."! The size of Gibraltar renders difficult even commentary that is normal in such staid publications in England as the "Times", "Daily Telegraph" and the "Financial Times" and in BBC and ITV programs, like "Today" on BBC Radio 4 or "Newsnight" on BBC2.

My apologies for being a little self-indulgent but I had a need to get these thoughts off my chest. Two final points, first there are many comments to pieces that I write that make very valid points but because of a phrase or a sentence I cannot publish them for legal reasons, please be careful and stay within the bounds of propriety. Second readers should remember that comments made by others in this blog do not necessarily reflect my own view and opinion.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Spin and the Budget!

Well now, the Chief Minister claims that the GSD is the party for socialists in Gibraltar. Well either socialism has now been redefined (a favourite method of spin used by Mr Caruana) or I have had it wrong all my life. I really do not see where the GSD budget measure deals with the criticism (now also levelled at him by the PDP) that his budget does little or nothing for those who are really in need.

There again those in real need have no power as the number of votes amongst them is minimal. The GSD should not forget that we in Gibraltar are empathetic and kind people with a generous heart and, whilst we like to be better off ourselves, we do think of the plight of others and like that they be looked after too.

Once again Mr Caruana falls back on the age old arguments of making comparisons with the past. Historical comparisons are odious for many reasons, but not least because circumstances, for example, economic circumstances change, so a government is limited or enabled by reigning circumstances at any given juncture. Look at what is happening in the UK now, cuts and more cuts in government expenditure. Is this because the Conservative Government wants to make them or because circumstances require these cuts to be made?

The pre-1996 GSLP Government were faced with massive reductions in employment due, for example, to reductions in military spending in Gibraltar. Despite these challenges, they were able to change the face of Gibraltar (leaving aside the age old argument about tobacco smuggling and moral decline, which are criticisms that, although well made, are getting very stale now) for the better and lay the foundations for the GSD's success. Also do not forget the Spanish Pensions issue that could have had disastrous effects on Gibraltar's economy. What would the GSD have done faced with the economic problems that the GSLP were faced with and were able to overcome overcame?

It is easy to spend money when it is available. It is not so easy to create wealth. I trust and hope that the GSD predictions that Gibraltar has avoided the worst of the recession faced by other countries is based on fact and not fantasy. Time will tell but I see a few dark clouds on the horizon. It is then that the mettle of any government can be seen and measured.

The measure for the GSD Budget is not the past. One measure by which the GSD Budget needs to be judged is whether it is fair and proportionate in the circumstances that reign today. A question that should be asked and answered by each individual is, has the GSD allocated money wisely? Another is, are the revenue raising measures fair?

I have dealt with some of these issues in my earlier blog, but, by way of examples, is allocating money to office development (also having short-sightedly used up office space for a hospital) and to the construction of an oversized air terminal wise spending? If it is not, then that expenditure could have been allocated, in part, to social services to enable them to deliver a more focused and individualised solution to people in need and in part to reduce increases in municipal charges. To raise municipal charges is also not a fair method of raising revenue. It is an expenditure that is forced on people and business irrespective of the level of earnings or profits. A fair (and so more socialist) distribution is achieved through proportionate taxation of direct income.

For someone who decries spin, Mr Caruana, has spun his budget to the utmost degree. His attacking spirit is not abated. No one can be right about anything if he has not done it. To boot he announces the appointment of Clive Golt as the Government's Media Director. To think back on what each has done or said to or about the other both in public and in private leaves one gob smacked. Is this the epitome of spin or what? Let's hope the pressure of working with each other is not too great for one or other of them.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Extreme Demagoguery?

The GSD 2007 election manifesto proudly boasts "We will remain committed to open, transparent, fair and good government."  

It is instructive to see how two members of the GSLP/Lib Opposition view the reality of how Gibraltar is presently governed.  Irrespective that one must consider that they are both in Opposition, I would invite the reader to keep, at the forefront of his/her mind, his/her own knowledge and experiences, when judging the truth and accuracy of what each of these Members of Parliament say.  I quote, without any commentary of my own, from their respective Budget 2010 Addresses in Parliament last week.

First Fabian Picardo:
""Mr Speaker, I do not believe we should be calling each other names in this House, although our debate should be robust and tough. If someone cannot stand the heat they should not get into politics. I confess that I was nonetheless surprised when I was first elected to this House with the amount of meaningless insults that the honourable gentleman hurled at members on this side of the house during the course of his reply on this annual debate. I did not see the value of the endless invective hurled at us whilst the substance of the arguments we raised on policy issues went unanswered. Perhaps that is a good place to quote just one more of the gems left to us by Joshua Gabay who, when referring to the Chief Minister's repeated rubbishing of the Opposition’s political contributions, said that "Regrettably the technique institutionalised in this House by the Chief Minister and pandered to by some but not all of his Ministers, is to substitute logic by denigration and clarity by vilification."

I have joined the political dots and I see what the Honourable gentleman is doing and the exact nature of his political style.  The current Chief Minister clearly is a believer in the principle that attack is the best form of defence... He actually told the Hon Mr Bruzon that to survive in politics you need “mala leche”. Well, that may be what he needed to survive in public school and he is simply exporting the principle to our politics.  So I owe the honourable member an apology. I now understand what I have not understood before about his politics. Every time he hurls an insult he is attacking only to defend.  Therefore, as attack for him is the best form of defence, we must see such insults as he hurls, attacking us in reply to our contributions, as recognition that we have pushed him into having to defend himself. So, having been the butt of a massive attack in his reply in this debate in the past seven years, it dawns on me that I should not have been bored by the lack of substance, but mightily flattered at the Honourable gentleman's extreme compliment. Each insult, each side-swipe and each attempted denigration is a massive recognition of political punches soundly landed on the honourable gentleman's political torso.  Each apparently disrespectful, sneering, jeering remark purportedly ridiculing our contributions is a massive badge of political honour.

And then, perhaps even more apparent, is the fact that when the honourable gentleman hurls an apparent compliment across the floor, what he is doing is actually tell us that we have failed to land a punch.  So, let me apologise to the Parliament and to all those who diligently tune in to hear our debates on these estimates. I should never have decried the Honourable gentleman's replies for being full of insults, invective and failing to address the substance of the arguments we present. I should actually have recognised earlier that every insult is a back-handed compliment and every compliment is pithy ridicule and an indication of failure. So foul and fair a discourse I have not heard before. But that is the GSD way, always "say the opposite of what you mean". And therefore Mr Speaker, I want to formally thank the Honourable gentleman for what at first appeared to be a character assassination of us that he has undertaken in this debate of us at least in each of the years that I have been in the House. I am truly grateful for the recognition inherent in each insult, in each distortion and in each twisted reflection of my contribution to each years’ debate. I had not realised just how hard our rhetoric had hit. Thank you. The attempted "hatchet jobs" of years past were no more and no less than a political doffing of the hat for a job well done, and I was not astute enough to see through the bluster and recognise it. I am so sorry. I shall very much look forward to at least the same level of recognition and the same number of inverted, back-handed compliments again this year disguised as insults and accusations of ignorance. So please, Mr Speaker, I pray the honourable gentleman does not in his reply feel he can address the substance of our interventions, lest we are left to feel that we have not raised issues sufficiently serious that he might not need to avoid them. I really had not realised that the honourable gentleman's mind was quite this complex; but I have seen the light, and I sincerely am now looking forward to the insults, not out of some misplaced masochistic glee, but out of genuine political realisation: the harder he insults, the more damage he has suffered and the more he and his satellites needs to obscure through insult and distortion. What sophistry on the part of the honourable gentleman.

And next Neil Costa:
"A leader, by the way Mr Speaker, who views himself as infallible in his arguments – one only has to observe his outbursts on behalf of his own Ministers when he does not even let them reply to our supplementary questions or at times even questions of their own areas of responsibility. And this uninterrupted pathology is further evidenced in the seeming inability of the GSD to refrain from replying to any statement whatsoever the Opposition makes whether they accept the facts or otherwise. And the pathology Mr Speaker lies in an inexorable political reflex to wish at all costs and at whatever cost to control public opinion.

… This obsessive compulsive disorder to reply to every pronouncement of the Opposition Mr Speaker throws into sharp focus that the GSD is losing its grip not just on its erstwhile political stranglehold of Gibraltar’s public opinion but on reality itself. Surely Mr Speaker it is a cardinal political rule, not to keep a political issue alive that does not favour you and which you cannot but accept as true; but so clinically anxious have the GSD become Mr Speaker that their fear of losing government overcomes them and gets the better of them spouting out diatribe from all angles in the hope that their legendary and notorious mud-slinging will obscure and bury the truth.

… the GSD does our democratic traditions, our public debate and our Parliamentary dignity no good at all to continue their personal attacks on the Opposition. (It is small wonder Mr Speaker that there are not more people willing to throw their hat into the ring.) It is one thing to attack our policy statements and quite another to go for the jugular against an Opposition member personally. … The litany of insults, the disrespectful and poisonous tone and tenor of all of the press releases as it relates to Opposition members is a method of conducting politics that Gibraltar wants to be shot of and is not something that we will perpetuate once we sit where they sit Mr Speaker, which thankfully will be very soon.

Well, what do you think?

Thursday, 1 July 2010

The Budget - Is it as Good as it Looks?

I preface this blog by admitting that they are my initial reactions and preliminary views (although they may remain the same after further consideration). Also, I base it entirely on the summary published by the Chronic this afternoon, so I trust it does not contain inaccuracies.  My professional duties did not allow me to attend Parliament or hear the budget speech live.  If truth be told, just as well, because now I know that I  need to work and earn more in order to pay increased social security contributions, higher commercial rates and increased commercial salt water rates. These are all regressive taxes.  They need to be paid irrespective of whether a business makes a profit or not.
Regressive taxes are a disincentive to commercial investment and a disincentive to employment. Will the GSD be able to boast that employment numbers are only down by 59 jobs next year?  We will need to see what the effect of these regressive taxes will be on businesses in a recessionary climate.  We are told that it has affected us little but will it be the same looking forward?  The increasing value of the pound sterling and the lack of liquidity in the pockets of Spanish and persons of other nationalities must at some stage affect the retail trade in Gibraltar, at least.  The combiend effect of fewer Spanish buyers and more Gibraltarians visiting Spain to make their purchases, as Spain becomes more competitive due to the improving foreign exchange rate, could be a double hit.

I fail to understand why in a budget speech the Chief Minister lists all the capital projects.  Their relevance, save by reference to their cost, is difficult to see or understand, save for the purpose of electioneering. It would be churlish, however,  not to recognise that the list is impressive, although many items are repeats of last years projects (and possibly the year before that and before that and before that ... you get the picture I am sure).  It would also be short sighted not to realise that many of these project, when completed, will result in added government expenditure once they are completed.  Will the GSD be able to keep overall recurrent expenditure increases at 6.3%?   It is noticeable that GDP has grown by 5.5%, so recurrent expenditure has increased at a faster rate, the difference being 0.8%.   Increasing expenditure with falling GDP, if my assessment in the previous paragraph is correct, is not a good omen for the future, as the differential will increase adversely.

On personal taxation ... well the reductions must be commended.  The GSD is keeping its manifesto commitment.  From a working man's point of view part of what is given is taken away by increased employee social security contributions for those earning in excess of £12,000 per year and increased electricity and water tariffs, both essential and unavoidable expenses and so another form of regressive indirect tax.  The other point is that these measure only helps the employed or self-employed.

I see very little giving effect to any social policies,  the building of a new government rental estate is about all there is.   Is something missing from the Chronic summary?  Are there any increases for the unemployed? Or will these be announced as part of the expenditure estimates?  That would be odd because a reduction in tax is a benefit for some and increased unemployment benefits or social security payments is a benefit for those who do not earn due to unemployment, so cannot benefit from the tax cuts. Additionally, if increases in student grants are announced, why shouldn't increases in unemployment benefits and social security payments have been announced also?

The 10% corporate tax rate is also to be commended as another manifesto promise kept by the GSD.  It is an essential element in ensuring the success of the finance centre and so its ability to employ our increasingly educated, trained and sophisticated youth. If this is not done and made a success of, then GDP will also be adversely affected.

I do not agree with the belief that this reduction in corporate tax will lead, necessarily, to a reduced tax take, as suggested.  Company tax for local shareholders is an advanced payment of tax.  It is subsequently credited against their personal tax liability, so the tax receipts from such companies will only be reduced by the amount of profits reinvested in the business of the company, whic will consequently not be distributed or deemed to be distributed. Some larger tax payers that are not locally owned will benefit from the reduction to 10% but that loss of tax could likely be replaced or exceeded by tax collected from locally based exempt companies that will now start paying 10% tax.  We will need to see but if I am right, the justification for the increases in business outgoings will prove not to be right and the Government revenues will be swelled by the increases revenue from this source.

The jury is out on the proposed new locally owned and managed retail bank that the Government  has said it will try to promote.  I am not sure that any government should be involving itself in this type of venture, especially if it is intended to provide more resilience in local mortgage and business lending.  In today's climate of increased capital requirements it proves difficult to produce a profit out of that type of banking, especially if any direct government involvement, and consequently political factors influencing lending policy, is envisaged. 

The same applies to the proposal that Government will fund Phase 1 of the Midtown office development. Is this the type of project that any government should be involved in?  What is the risk?  What is the potential return/benefit?

Well there we are; this is a quick and short analysis by me ... what are your views now?