Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The Electoral System and the Cult of Personality

Gibraltar has had serious self-government since the 1968 Constitution. It has also had exactly the same electoral system since that date, despite endless promises from politicians over the years that they would reform it. Beyond vague references to the possible introduction of a system of proportional representation, which is not descriptive of a single system but rather a generic name for a variety of electoral systems, and vague promises to look into change, no reform has either taken place or is on the cards.

An opportunity to make a change at the time that the 2006 Constitution was under consideration was lost. There does not seem to have been any appetite either on the part of our politicians to make a change nor was it an issue, so far as is publicly known, that the UK government put on the agenda. The effect is that, once again, it is left for Gibraltar's elected politician to reform the system. They will not. It is not in their interests to do so.

It is not in their interest to do so because the existing system works in their favour and for their selfish ends and not for the achievement of the better government of Gibraltar. The 10 (previously 8) votes for one Chief Minister system means that we end up with a cult of personality, Sir Joshua Hassan, Sir Robert Peliza, Joseph Bossano and lately Peter Caruana. Most other candidates elected into government over the years have hung onto the coat tales of the personality in vogue from time to time and, guess what, they get status (the "Hon", wow!), a whopping salary and such power as the incumbent Chief Minister allows them to have.

It is not that each of these Chief Ministers have not done good things for Gibraltar. Each, in his day, has done much for Gibraltar, each has also made mistakes. The point is that one person alone cannot and does not have the ability to govern generally and have answers on every subject. Gibraltar prides itself on having excellent and well qualified individuals. The electoral system should encourage and not discourage, as the present system does, these individuals from standing for election.

Party politics means that potential candidates have to decide who they will support prior to standing for election. A decision that is not so much based on political ideology but rather on personality and on fine distinctions of policy based on the need to oppose or be different rather than policies that are designed exclusively for the betterment of Gibraltar and its people.

The electoral system that is in place at present encourages party politics. Undoubtedly party politics cannot be prohibited nor will it likely disappear. However, there are known and well researched electoral systems that encourage individuality and promote coalition politics. In Gibraltar there should be no fear of coalition government. Coalition government in a territory the size of Gibraltar with the talent that it has will promote better governance for the benefit of a wider electorate. It will provide more individual accountability. It will provide a wider choice of candidates. It will mean that elected members will choose the Chief Minister, making him more accountable. All in all it will deliver more democracy.

The belief that governance and the democratic process will be improved by imposing an eight year limit on the time that any one person can serve as Chief Minister is misconceived. Such a system institutionalises the cult of personality and is presidential in style. This is not our system of Government. It is the USA system. The USA system has checks and balances that we do not have in the form of a separate legislature and a Supreme Court with more extensive constitutional powers.

One additional change that would be necessary to improve the separation between the executive and the legislature, however, is to increase the number of MP's and place a limit on the number of ministers. This will ensure that MP's will counterbalance the power of the executive and help to prevent executive abuse.

What is strange is that the 2006 Constitution has come about without a review of the electoral system to enhance good governance. This begs the question that possibly the cult of personality also suits others better. It delivers one very powerful individual, the Chief Minister, with whom all international relations and defence requirements can be negotiated. Perhaps, the convenience of that system is what militated at the time of the 2006 Constitution against the type of change that is advocates in this blog.

Future promise by politicians that they will reform the electoral and ministerial system will not be credible unless the promise includes a detailed exposition of the proposed reform and commits to the introduction of the reforms within the first 2 years of election into government. Failure to reform the system in that time will allow the electorate to see the lack of sincerity and vote that government out of power at the next election.

I live in hope of electoral reform but not in expectation of it.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

The Police in Spain

A quick judgment about the incident in which, it is reported, two Royal Gibraltar Police (RGP) Officers went into Spain and searched a house is not called for. One should not jump to immediate and unsupported conclusions attributing fault to any RGP senior officers absent evidence showing that the operation was sanctioned (officially or unofficially) by such an officer. The Gibraltar Police Authority (GPA) have requested a report of the incident. Once this report is available one would hope that, if appropriate, disciplinary action will ensue.

That the report commisioned by the GPA is to be prepared by the RGP itself could raise questions but again patience is called for. Pre-judgment of the Report will only skew and undermine proper and prudent comment and criticism once it is made public, if indeed any comment or criticisms is warranted.

What is not forgivable, however, is that such an incident has occurred at all especially as , apparently, there are established procedures to cater for cross-border police cooperation. Unforgivable not least because of the embarrassment that it has caused Gibraltar. Embarrassment that is magnified by the reaction that there is in Gibraltar following incursions into Gibraltar waters by the Guardia Civil. At least, usually, the Guardia Civil have the excuse of "hot pursuit", however weak that excuse might be. It is apparent that the actions of the two RGP officers was pre-meditated and planned.

The Chief Minister is to be congratulated for having publicly apologised knowing how unpopular that apology will be received by the electorate. It also begs the question of whether Constitutionally the apology has come from the right person bearing in mind the Governor's constitutional responsibility for the police.

An apology was inevitable, Gibraltar has received apologies when there have been incursions by the Guardia Civil, reciprocity of behaviour was essential. Further, I trust and hope that the Spanish authorities will take the same view as was taken when the Guardia Civil landed on our shores and not prosecute the offending officers. If there is no reciprocity and a prosecution of RGP officers in Spain were to ensue, the harm it will do to cross-border relations at a local level will be incalculable.

Whatever may follow on from that incident, I remember, as a teenager and young man, that during the closed frontier era my elders considered it of the utmost importance that Gibraltar and its institutions should behave impeccably in the face of the greatest provocation. It was important, not least, because it was considered to be an example of democracy in the face of the acts of an unforgiving dictator, Franco. Spain has moved on a long way since those days but the views held by those elders still hold good today. Gibraltar and its institutions must, and in fairness usually do, behave and act impeccably,

Hopefully this unfortunate and embarrassing incident is an isolated one.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

GSLP Leader could Win or Lose them the next Election ... Choose Wisely

There is still some time before the elections; anything up to approximately 17 months. A period long enough for much to change. Opinion polls indicate a shift from the GSD in favour of the GSLP/Liberal Alliance. Anecdotal evidence, in the form of general comment and sentiment, is also indicative that this trend continues to gain momentum. There is one major uncertainty that could derail this process. No one yet knows who will lead the GSLP/Liberal alliance into the next election.

The choices are known, either Joe Bossano decides to reverse his decision to retire as party leader or he is succeeded by one of Gilbert Licudi or Fabian Picardo. Alternatively, the alliance may decide that its leader will be Joseph Garcia, the leader of the Liberal party. That the right person becomes party leader is of the utmost importance. It will have a direct impact on the electoral popularity of the GSLP/Liberal alliance and give impetus to changing opinion favourable to the GSLP/Liberal alliance. If the polls are right it will determine also who will be the next Chief Minister.

The perception and widely held view is that Fabian Picardo will be Joe Bossano's successor. He is generally seen as having both the required intelligence and charisma. Sometimes, however, the obvious choice is neither the right choice nor the outcome that in fact occurs. Intervening events and circumstances can militate towards the obvious candidate becoming the quiet and understated alternative choice.

One has to look no further than to the GSD. Probably its most unlikely and least known person at the time, Peter Caruana, became its leader and subsequently Chief Minister. The obvious choice at the time was not him. It was Peter Montegriffo. It was extraneous circumstances that conspired and favoured Peter Caruana. Circumstances that were totally unrelated to politics. So far as is publicly known, these were connected to Mr Montegriffo's professional obligations.

It is possible that history may repeat itself. If it were to, then Joe Bossano will either have the opportunity to continue for a short while or the opportunity will be grasped by Gilbert Licudi. Gilbert is known for both his intellect and his calm analysis and handling of situations.

The temptation for Joe Bossano to continue must be enormous. The polls indicate that the GSLP/Liberal alliance would win with him as leader despite the historical baggage that he carries. Joe Bossano's legacy would be wiped clean if the alliance were to win under his leadership. He must yearn for this, anyone would. Additionally, people have come to the realisation that he will not repeat the mistakes he made in the past. On the issue of tobacco, the image of Gibraltar has certainly improved but only because the methodology by which tobacco is smuggled has changed. The fact that the trade continues is palpably obvious, just have a look at the revenue received by government from this source and check out the very unsightly gatherings at the frontier.

Whatever might be the outcome of the succession debate for the leadership of the GSLP and consequently the alliance, the uncertainty is not helpful to its electoral chances of success. It is an issue that needs careful thought and attention. Thought and attention that should not be rushed but that should not delay the resolution of who will be leader for too long. The choice must be the right one. The last thing that politics in Gibraltar needs is that external events, concerning or involving the chosen individual, should negatively influence available and realistic choices of government at an election.

A government should be elected for positive and not negative reasons. A government elected for negative reasons benefits no community. It can reinforce a belief in inviolability that militates in favour of bad governance and bad decision making. It can result in an unhealthy distortion of democracy. The GSLP needs to cautiously choose its next leader, he may well be the next Chief Minister of Gibraltar or he could lose them the election.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

"National" Day

Tomorrow that auspicious annual celebration comes round again, "National" Day. What exactly has "National" Day become? It is certainly not in consonance with how and why it began. It was a highly politically motivated and charged event, started by the SDGG and adopted by the GSLP Government, to campaign in favour of self determination.

Now, the GSD Government consider that self determination has been gained by virtue of the 2006 Constitution and its adoption by referendum. The GSLP maintain that there is a road yet to be trodden before self determination is achieved, although I do not know how they define that concept. The PDP's position seems to adopt the belief that self determination has been achieved, which is in line with the GSD's position but that politics should still plays a part in the clebrations.

I am clear, the 2006 Constitution includes, as its final clause in its final schedule, a provision that permits direct rule to be imposed, which is inconsistent with self determination; in truth this shortcoming does not overly concern or bother me. I am bothered, however, by our constant references to "nationhood" in the context of self determination, which imports into that word the concept of statehood and our self delusion on this subject. We are not a state nor does it matter that we are not. We are what we are, a Self Governing Territory under British Nationality with a high degree of self government.

A degree of self government that, as the GSD Government says, is the greatest degree that we can aspire to, whilst we continue to wish to remain Bristish or, in the very remote chance that, at any time in the future, we should choose to become part of the Spanish State. There are those who believe that the end of the political journey is independance. I do not consider that this is an option, either politically or in practice, without the support and agreement of Spain.

The effect of the GSD's position is that they consider that the 10th September is not a political event for making speeches but a celebration to be enjoyed and one on which " ... we celebrate our country our society, our culture, our heritage and our prosperity as a people".

The GSLP consider that it is a politically charged day in which " ...as well as asserting our identity, our nationhood and our right to self determination, we have an opportunity to send a clear message to our neighbours ... ." I would have thought our neighbours have heard that message enough times, that this was unnecessarily provocative and not what "National" Day is all about.

The PDP say that " ...it is right that we reaffirm our political rights as a people. This would be relevant on any National Day as it is worldwide when other countries hold similar celebrations" Really, which countries might that be?

What then is "National" Day for most people? I really do not know. I am confused. A few are very certain. These are those individuals who continue the quest for independence. I do not agree with them but I admire their tenacity and principled stance. For all others, it seems to be a good excuse for a piss up, which I do not criticise one iota. It has become a day that has lost its political direction and which different political parties use for their own opportunistic electoral benefit.

Well you asked for controversey. Now I have had a go at all the political parties. I am off for my gin and tonic in order to start the clebrations. Have a good one tomorrow.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Defence Review 2010: Cuts in Gibraltar?

There is much speculation in the UK press on the subject of where cuts might fall in the UK's defence expenditure. The debate arises because of the Defence Review that is under way. Surprisingly, there is little or no comment locally. Surprisingly because Gibraltar has rarely, if ever, escaped cuts following such reviews. Many have been scathing, for example, the withdrawal of the resident battalion, cuts in civilian employees, closure of the dockyard. History teaches us that there is only a minute chance that cuts will not affect Gibraltar.

In the shorter term, cuts could come in the form of reduction or cancellation of accompanied tours to Gibraltar and replacing these with unaccompanied tours. The latter results in substantial infrastructural cost savings, e.g. housing, medical, education and suchlike. Another shorter term cut might be the resuscitation of attempts to integrate the Defence Police with the RGP, or reduce numbers in the former.

Short term cuts of this nature, if they materialise at all, will affect our economy but they can be absorbed and overcome with careful planning and policy improvements to stimulate other areas of the economy. Potential longer term strategic decisions that may result from the Defence Review 2010 may have more substantive political consequences to Gibraltar. These will require careful analysis and thought to overcome their effect.

I refer to any decision that may be taken on the subject of the future reach of UK defence i.e. does it intend to maintain a credible independent force capable of international operations or one that will only participate in operations in far flung countries as part of an international force? If the latter, then, is it not possible that distant bases, like Gibraltar and Cyprus, might become surplus to operational requirements and, therefore, an expense that is not justified? It may be that when compared with other operational expenses that may need to be maintained or increased the expense of maintaining such bases will not be such a priority.

A further debate that is being had, that may impact on Gibraltar, is whether or not the UK will finalise contracts to build its proposed two super sized aircraft carriers. If it decides to go ahead with these, will Gibraltar's airport and, indeed its base, be so necessary to ensure that the UK's defence and foreign policy objectives can be achieved?

I do not know the answer to these questions but they raise serious issues requiring careful thought and consideration by our politicians. I know that history teaches Gibraltar that it is not immune from cost cuts made to the UK's defence budget. Ignoring the possibility is not, in my mind, an option for Gibraltar. If Gibraltar ceases to be an important defence asset for the UK the repercussions to Gibraltar in the area of international relations could be serious.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Judicial Conduct in the Cayman Islands

Gibraltar is not alone in having had one of its judges removed. A judge of the Cayman Island's Grand Court (equivalent of Gibraltar's Supreme Court) was removed recently. On this last occasion, as was the case on the removal of Schofield CJ, the modern principles upon which a judge will be removed have been established. Principles that have been developed based on modern codes of behaviour and having in mind the defence of judicial independence. The advice in the case of Levers J provides greater certainty because it was a unanimous advice. It generally follows and endorses the views of the majority advice of the Privy Council in the case of Schofield CJ.

On the 29th July 2010 the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council advised that Madam Justice Levers should be removed for misbehaviour. The second judge of this seniority to be removed in quick succesion. The other being Schofield CJ in Gibraltar. Events that had not previously occurred in a British Common Law jurisdiction for over 100 years.

This last case emphasise the need for judges to be of extreme good behaviour. The advice relies on the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct. These principles form one core of the newly published (in Gibraltar) Judicial Code of Conduct and Ethics. This code, coincidentally, came into force on the same date as the Privy Council's advice on Levers J, the 29th July 2010. The Privy Council's view is that the principles contained in such codes are standards that judges need to aspire to meet but that not all failures to meet them will necessariy amount to misconduct.

What then is the test? It is that a judge should not fall " ...so far short of that standard of behaviour as to demonstrate that he or she is not fit to remain in office. The test is whether the confidence in the justice system of those apearing before the judge or the public in general, with knowledge of the material circumstances, will be undermined if the judge continues to sit ... if a judge, by a course of conduct, demonstrates an inability to behave with due propriety misbehaviour can merge into incapacity".

Interestingly, the advice emphasizes the need for appropriate consideration to be given by judges to all appearing before a court; such consideration must be extended not just to lawyers but also to parties, witnesses, court staff and judicial colleagues. Thankfully a consideration that is consistently met by Gibraltar's judiciary but one which was found that Levers J had fallen short of.