A lively debate ensued, in the main, between two commentators to my last piece, Brown Cow and Ghost on the subject of democracy in Gibraltar. Democracy is an enormous and complex subject that cannot be covered in this blog in any detail but it is worth exploring some issues of concern in Gibraltar.
Brown Cow briefly raised the subject that democracy was about not just outcomes but more importantly about process. She points to lack of information in the public domain and secrecy in process as being the main contributors to speculation and the undermining of confidence in the system of government. She argues that in the absence of a system that in some ways emulates Local Government in the UK, elected every 2 years and performing their functions in public, Parliament does not provide the necessary checks and balances to democratise small decisions that affect individuals directly. In brief that Parliament is too high a level of government to adequately protect individuals from small decisions that affect them directly. This situation can be contrasted with that which prevails in the UK where the process at local government level provides for this and that any outcome that may affect an individual directly can be infulenced by lobbying and by participation in the process.
Ghost, on the other hand, holds the view that we elect a government at elections held every 4 years, that we choose a leader (I am not sure where he gets this idea from, leaders are chosen by parties and in some parties in most mysterious ways) and that the leader has the right to defend us publicly during that period of time.
I do not think democracy is as simple as allowing elections every 4 years. 4 yearly elections are simply the method by which a government is chosen in a democracy. It is not itself the end it is only the beginning of a real democratic society.
What makes up democracy is far more complex. It includes the need of a real fear by a government that it might be defeated. The chances of that in Gbraltar, where all elected members of the government benches are appointed Ministers, is virtually nil, unless they want to lose their inflated ministerial salaries. It also requires an effective Opposition which can work also within the possibility of a government being defeated.
There is a crying need for a more extensive and more critical press and representative organisations. I recall when there was much more criticism and activity by representative bodies in Gibraltar. Why this has diminished escapes me.
I also agree with Brown Cow. There should be less secrecy and more transparency. There should be more empowerment of the people in the manner that happens in local government elsewhere. Parliament should engage in "national" affairs. Other countries have this system and indeed other countries have two Houses of Parliament. A Parliament that has to deal with both "national" and "local" issues cannot deliver democratic government or indeed efficient government.
Is there any reason why Gibraltar could not have an elected Local Authority/Government elected every 2 years with powers delegated to it by Parliament? It would not be difficult, each polling station district could be a ward from which 2 representatives could be elected with very specific rules about transparency and the taking of decisions in public ... and importantly a prohibition on parties and permissive of independent candidates for election only.
Let the party begin ...