Monday, 23 August 2010

Toll Solution? It is in the Hands of Madrid.

In life, often, it is better to find a practical solution to a problem rather than enter into protracted and unnecesesary argument, contention and aggravation. I believe that there may well be a practical solution to the threat of the Mayor of La Linea to impose a toll on all cars leaving Gibraltar, despite that calling it a "Congestion Charge" is a travesty of reality and language.

A "Congestion Charge" has as its main objective the avoidance of congestion. This is not the aim of the La Linea Mayor. If it was then he would impose it as cars entered La Linea. He cannot because they enter on what is (we are told) a National Highway. What he plans is not a "Congestion Charge" but an "Extortion Charge". He wants to allow cars into Gibraltar, then, because there is no other way out, other than the frontier road into La Linea, he can extort a payment from each of those drivers trapped in Gibraltar thus enanbling each to return home or to their destination of origin. Sicilian Mafia tactics? ... maybe not ... I think that it beats anything that that Mafia could have thought of.

The solution? Well, if the Government of Spain is to be believed, in that they proclaim good intentions toward Gibraltar, both specifically on this issue and generally under the Cordoba Agreement and the Tripartite Process, then the solution is entirely in their hands. We have been told that the road to the frontier is a National Highway and not a La Linea ayuntamiento road. If that is so (and, as I believe the case to be, the frontier area comes, also, under the responsibility of the National Government) then all that needs to happen is that traffic is diverted away from the road controlled by the La Linea Ayuntamiento, on which they are undertaking preparatory roadworks in order to implement the toll. This is the road that is just beyond the exit of the frontier perimeter next to the La Linea frontier taxi stand.

This diversion can be achieved very easily by turning outbound traffic to the left, just beyond the Spanish Custom House and behind the Taxi Stand, rather than in front of it which puts traffic onto the La Linea Ayuntamiento road. This traffic will then join the National Highway that is used to access the entry into Gibraltar. Thus the La Linea Ayuntamiento cannot charge a toll as that road is not locally controlled. Those who want to contribute to the well being of La Linea, beyond all the help that Gibraltar already gives La Linea by employment and cross-border business, fro example Mr Reggie Norton and his supporters, can volunteer to go via the La Linea local road and pay the toll.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Democratisation or Democracy Agenda ... the Same Thing?

Gibraltar's aspiring leaders, Fabian Picardo (GSLP) and Keith Azopardi (PDP), in recent interviews published in the Chronic have supported and espoused the need for greater democracy in the manner in which Gibraltar is governed. Such promises have been made in the past without results. Following the introduction of the 2006 Constitution, which increased the number of members in Parliament and introduced provisions allowing Parliament to increase its own membership, there was talk of having backbenchers. This has not materialised. Instead we have more ministers and so a larger executive that is identical in make up to the legislature, thus providing no separation of powers.

Fabian Picardo in his interview in the Chronic published on the 4th August 2010 said "Now I have a strong pull to be much more democratic and modern in government than we have seen hitherto, either from the GSD, the GSLP first administration or the AACR . I really think that people need to be much more involved in the civic and political life of our community and that government is not the preserve of the 10 ministers. I am keen to see some of the things that were in my early political work, in Joseph Garcia's early political work and in Keith Azopardi's early political work in relation to increased "democratisation" make their way through into the reality of a modern post-GSD Gibraltar political life to make us much, much more accountable to citizens. I will call this the "democratisation agenda" ..."

Keith Azopardi in his interview in the Chronic published on the 16th August 2010 said " ... there is a stream of good people out there who aren't involved in politics. Some because they don't want to, some because the system in Gibraltar does not allow for their participation. For example, if you look at parliament there are plenty of people who could voice opinions and have constructive suggestions to make on legislation, without wanting to be a minister. The current system does not allow that - to have people sit on the backbenches and contribute ideas. One of the main policies we have is our democracy agenda which we would like to implement in government. This includes looking thoroughly at the way we are governed, to improve it, so that we have better participation of the citizen, so that we have more accountability of ministers and the government, so that we have a better way of influencing the way day to day decisions are taken."

So one has a "democratisation agenda" and the other a "democracy agenda" -two politicians in opposing parties in agreement on such a fundamental and important subject as making Gibraltar more democratic. Forgive me for expressing some cynicism. I have been observing politics in Gibraltar for 34 years. I have heard it all before. High sounding principle is no substitute for hard nosed, clear and specific policies fully developed and included in an election manifesto. The party or candidate, who has the courage of conviction to do this, will carry the necessary credibility to gain popularity from the electorate. General statements and platitudes and vague promises will not do it. I suspect strongly that voters share my cynicism of such general promises of democratic reform.

Any system that is developed has to balance two opposing but critical considerations. On the one side, the need for stable and strong government, on the other, the need to ensure democracy and the necessary checks and balances. This is not an easy conundrum to resolve. It is a problem that needs careful thought and specialised expert advice.

These two opposing requirements also need to be balanced with a need for more direct representation of individual voters. Gibraltar's voters have no individual who can be approached and directly represents them. This in itself is a factor that militates in centralising power in a Chief Minister. Voters will continue to perceive (rightly so) the incumbent of that post to be the only person that can help to deliver their very personal needs. This is not a very wholesome situation and is susceptible to corrupt practices.

One thing, at least is certain, if the GSD has not reformed the system to make Gibraltar more democratic in the many years that they have been in Government, it is hardly about to start doing so, even if it so states in its manifesto. So for the GSD, I suggest that it only has one path that it can tread. They either do reform the system in the next few months or voters will know that they do not have any intention of doing it, despite its past references to having an intention to reform the system to provide greater representation.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Sanchez: Don't Bite the Hands that Feed your Constituents

There is no doubt that the La Linea Ayuntamiento has substantial financial problems. Problems that if it does not resolve will result in social unrest and possibly worse. What is not a solution is to take steps that will not ameliorate but will rather worsen their problems. La Linea is a net economic beneficiary of Gibraltar's economic success and wealth.

If Gibraltar did not employ residents of La Lines, its residents would be worse off and less able to pay their municipal charges. If the people who work in Gibraltar did not rent, buy, drink, eat and make merry in La Linea, people there would be even less able to pay their municipal charges. If people cannot pay their municipal charges the financial state of that Ayuntamiento would be a lot worse than it is already.

It is not enough for Sanchez to say that his proposed toll is not aimed at Gibraltar and Gibraltarians but at the Government in Madrid, whose economic problems are known internationally. It may be that his intention is to get heard by Madrid but the affected community is not the Madrid Government, it is Gibraltar. In a hostage situation it is not an excuse for the hostage taker to say that he does not wish to harm the hostages but rather the persons that he is making demands of. Sanchez's logic is equally distorted and disingenuous.

Irrespective of what Sanchez says or the excuses he makes Gibraltar must react. A complete boycott of La linea is called for. I would go so far as to say that tobacco should not be sold for a week. It would be the fastest way to get a reaction. I wonder whether tobacco suppliers would join in that type of boycott? A short sharp economic lesson would bring some sanity to the situation that Sanchez is provoking.

Monday, 2 August 2010

To Power Up or not to Power Up? Where should Electrical Power be Sourced?

A new debate was started last week by an odd source, the Chamber of Commerce has bravely suggested that Gibraltar should purchase some of its electrical power from other shores. Opposition to this suggestion has come, also from an odd source, the Environmental Safety Group (ESG).

Despite the oddity of the origins of this debate, it is certainly one that needs to be had. The alternative options available, including purchasing from abroad, are matters that Government, Opposition and others should give careful and pragmatic thought to before rejecting any on political, emotional, populist or opportunist grounds. It is not a subject about which I can profess any expert knowledge but one to which I have given some thought, over a period of time, as a layman. For what it is worth, here is my contribution to the debate.

Presently there is an adequate supply electrical power. I understand that there are issues arising from increased demand, the sustainabibilty of the present generating capacity and its compliance with environmental requirements. The long and the short of it is that a new supply needs to be found.

I understand one consideration to be that, by 2013 or thereabouts, there is a requirement that 20% of electrical supply must come from sustainable cources. The ESG discard wind power and suggest that our government should look at generation of electricity by harnessing tides. Whatever the solution might be, this all sounds like a costly affair for such a small territory.

The other major cost is the outlay that is needed to actually build an oil powered generating station; in the the articles that I refer to it is put at approximately £100,000,000. This is a massive expenditure for such a small territory. I must say I have sympathy with the Chamber of Commerce on the arguments that they make in this regard.

I see the ESG's arguments centring on the fact that the present generating capacity is not compliant with environmental norms. I have no reason to doubt them but nor am I an expert that can give that statement any credence. I base my argument accepting the truth of the ESG's factual exposition. The ESG seems to have cottoned on to the fact that the Chamber of Commerce has suggested continuing with the existent non-compliant generating capacity. I do not believe that this is viable; one day or another compliance will be sought.

Another argument is a strategic one. It goes that Gibraltar should not become reliant on Spain for such a basic commodity as its supply of electricity. This argument is historic and outdated. Gibraltar's economy is greatly reliant, already, on an open frontier and on cross-border telecommunication. These are reliant, in turn, on having a modern relationship with Spain based on principles of law and comity applicable throughout Europe. We must retain our confidence in such arrangements in today's world.

More so when in reality our electrical power in essence comes from Spain today. I can already hear the gasps of incredulity. Yes readers, I understand that the fuel that runs our power stations is fuel that arrives from Spain. Based on that analysis our electrical power is relaint on Spain already.

Agreed, today in a crisis situation, I imagine, there will be fuel reserves to tied us over it whilst alternative seaborne fuel can be imported. If there were to be full reliance on Spain for electrical power in the future that would preclude us from having this alternative source. This is something that needs careful thought and serious consideration.

My answer (and electrical engineers may want to correct me) is that, surely, it should not be beyond the wit of engineers to devise a power supply for Gibraltar to supply average consumption that would be smaller and cheaper than the projected new power station. Any excess production of such a power station during periods of low demand could be marketed and sold to the European Grid. The revenue from such sale could be used to part pay for power bought in from that same source when there is peak demand. It may even be possible to buy in this supply from sustainable sources and in this manner meet the 2013 deadline at an affordable cost.

This solution leaves Gibraltar partially exposed to the strategic downside of placing some reliance on Spain. I would have thought that it would be possible to make contingent arrangements to have additional power capacity, in the form of temporary generators, imported by ship to cater for that eventuality, were it to transpire. Such an arrangement would tide Gibraltar over until a permanent solution could be found in the unlikely eventuality that any crisis is provoked by Spain at any time in the future.

Some people have been asking for a more interesting piece from me. I hope this meets these requests. I would remind everyone that we are in August and have just finished July, which is the silly season, so it is difficult to find topics to write about.