Wednesday, 14 December 2011







Friday, 2 December 2011

Here Ends this Blog

I consider that I have written about all that I wished to see happen in democracy and politics in Gibraltar for the present. I was a very early user of the World Wide Web for political purposes in the exercise of the right to freedom of speech. It cost me my position on the Financial Services Commission. There are now several Facebook sites dedicated to free political discussion, which provide the important venue for the voice of people to be heard and heeded. 

The recently published Manifestos of each of the GSD, GSLP/Liberal Alliance and the PDP contain in varying degrees political reforms that I have been advocating. This is good to see. I believe that, today, democratic politics in Gibraltar is in a better place than it was before this blog started. I hope that the manifesto promises are not cynical promises to be broken. 

Political parties should by now realise that voters will punish them for broken promises by exercising their rights to freedom of speech on the World Wide Web. The party that is elected into Government on the 8th December 2011 should remember that, as should all opposition parties who aspire to govern. The face of politics in Gibraltar and elsewhere is changed for ever.

I wish all the parties contesting this election the best of fortune. I urge them always to remember that they are each the servants of the people of Gibraltar. I pray that, in varying degrees depending on their respective roles, all will serve Gibraltar with the ambition of taking the collective that is Gibraltar always to a better place. Improvement is constantly available and possible. I pray that whoever is elected will put any bitterness and aggression that there may have been in the past behind them. I pray that whoever forms government will look positively to the future and govern to the best of its ability within the parameters permitted in a democracy and by the Rule of Law.

Finally, I will now quietly write the book that this blog has become. It may never be published but it will keep me out of mischief for several months. I thank all the readers and contributors to this blog. I never expected to get many readers. I wrote much of it to get my own thoughts off my chest for therapeutic reasons :) little expecting that I would average 1000 hits a day. I trust that I have provided a beneficial service to Gibraltar, although, some may not think so, I believe that I have. Thank you all readers, without you this blog would have been a sterile exercise.

However, for the next few days I will be giving my views on the election campaign on so see you all there. 

Sunday, 27 November 2011

An Illegal Air Terminal?

I have no doubt that Gibraltar's Air Terminal needed improvement. I also have no doubt that before spending 75,000,000 Euros, the GSD Government should have resolved Gibraltar's energy problems. Energy, in the form of electricity generation, is the lifeline of Gibraltar and its economy. No electricity equals no economy, today we are relying on skid or "emergency" generators. I have asked the question, how is this to be resolved, over and over again without a reply being forthcoming from any political party but importantly not the GSD Government who have been in power for the past 16 years. 

Now, to add to the issue of bad prioritisation of expenditure, I wonder how people will feel if I were to suggests that the new Air Terminal has been built illegally? That is what I will argue in this blog because it is a prime example of a lack of good governance in Gibraltar. It would be right to say that an argument of illegality on many projects could be made against most past governments of Gibraltar. There is now one major difference: the new Constitution. In the past Governors have had more power, under the new Constitution, the GSD Government have been the first Government to have had more power: with power comes responsibility.

There is a basic requirement under the British system of government that everything must be done according to law. This requirement applies equally to a government, by which I mean the executive arm of government. In Gibraltar (because we have a subsidiary Parliament) this means that an Act of Parliament is required to authorise a government to do anything. The additional layer to this rule is that "... government should be conducted within a framework of recognised rules and principles which restrict discretionary power." (Wade - Administrative Law 5th Edition). All of these are the core principles that underpin parliamentary democracy. It is the basis of the principle of Parliamentary Supremacy, which in Gibraltar is only curtailed by the Constitution. 

It is only by this principle of the Rule of Law that power flows back to the people through the medium of an election and so underpins democracy. It is only by the strict adherence to this most basic of rules that a government is accountable to the people who elect it. It is through parliamentary debate and questions that Minister are brought to account in a democracy. The only other remedy is recourse to the Courts because governments and Ministers are equally liable for injury as any citizen if they act outside their powers granted by  law. This is known by lawyers as acting ultra vires.

Let me now turn to the issue of the new Air Terminal. Armed with this very basic knowledge of Administrative and Constitutional law, which any lawyer worth his salt will know, I decided to research how the construction of the new Air Terminal had been authorised by law. Lo and behold I have discovered that there is no law that allows the Government to build an air terminal. It seems to have been built in exercise by the GSD Government of a power that it does not have in law. Its construction has never been authorised by Parliament. It seems to have been built on the basis of Ministerial diktat worthy of Soviet Russia or maybe even Franco's Spain.

Having come to this conclusion, I decided to consider the potential repercussions of this situation. The first, undoubtedly is that it undermines all the principles of democracy because it sidesteps the democratic safeguard provided by Parliament. The second is that it is palpable and incontrovertible evidence (if any further evidence were to be needed) of a breach of the 1996 GSD promise of open, transparent, accountable and democratic government. The third is an analysis of the potential financial consequences of such a huge mess.

In order to unravel this huge mess I went first to the new Constitution. Government Finances are dealt with in Chapter VII of the New Constitution. This deals with the requirement that all government revenues (except as authorised otherwise by an Act of Parliament)  have to be paid into the Consolidated Fund. No money can be withdrawn unless charged on the Consolidated Fund by the Constitution or an Act of Parliament or as permitted by an Appropriation Act. Neither the Constitution nor any other Act of Parliament charges the expenditure to construct an Air Terminal on the Consolidated Fund. Therefore this throws us back to an Appropriation Act.

Section 69 of the Constitution requires the Minister for Finance to prepare and lay before Parliament "... estimates of the revenue and expenditure of Gibraltar ...". It is this provision that founds the basis of an Appropriation Act, which is what authorises withdrawals of government expenditure. I went, therefore, to the Appropriation Act 2011. Sure enough, no mention of expenditure for a new Air Terminal, but there was an "Improvement and Development Fund" amounting to £95,887,000. One assumes that the cost of the new Air Terminal is included in this figure.

The question that then arises is, is this appropriation sufficient legal authority to permit the GSD Government to construct an Air Terminal? I can only answer this question with a "NO". First an Appropriation Act only authorises withdrawal of expenditure and not the doing of any act. Second, I would refer the reader to the words that I emphasised in bold in the immediately preceding paragraph. Only expenditure that is "... of Gibraltar ..." can be authorised by an Appropriation Act. How can the  expenditure on  the illegal and so ultra vires construction of an air terminal be " ... expenditure of Gibraltar ..."? It cannot be precisely because if it is illegal it is not "... for Gibraltar ...". If I am right (I believe that my legal analysis is correct), then, the inclusion of any expenditure in the Appropriation Act for the Air Terminal is an attempt to fund an unconstitutional act and so also illegal and ultra vires.

What are the repercussions of this illegality? In my view the first is that, under section 74 of the the new Constitution, the Principal Auditor has the exclusive and unfettered duty to audit and report on the public accounts of Gibraltar. An audit includes a requirement to ensure the legality and vires of any expenditure. In this regard those who have had anything to do with any illegal expenditure should bear in mind the provisions of section 68 of the Public Finance (Control and Audit) Act. This section makes any public officer personally liable for improper or illegal expenditure, if the Financial Secretary considers that it has been incurred negligently, carelessly or by the default of any public officer. Readers should bear in mind that Ministers are also public officers.

The second repercussion is that under the new Constitution the responsibility to ensure good governance in Gibraltar lies with the UK Government and is exercised through the office of the Governor. I ask myself, can it be good government to be governed outside the Rule of Law? If my argument is correct (I believe it is) it cannot be good government for the construction of an air terminal at a cost of 75,000,000 Euros to have been undertaken without the authority of a law. At the very least it undermines Parliamentary Supremacy and so democracy.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Gibraltar- An Elective Dictatorship?

The GSD persist in advertising how well they have done over the last 16 years. The GSLP/Liberals and PDP, in stark contrast are taking the election, in part, to one place where it should be: the issue of good governance. Good governance is not about trusting who governs us, although that does come into play. Good governance is about many things. Primordially it is about systems built into the machinery of government that prevent or, usually, reduce abuse

Lord Hailsham, Lord Chancellor of England and Wales, in his 1976 Dimbleby lecture famously described the system of government in the UK as an "elective dictatorship". I believe that there is some truth in that statement but it exaggerates the reality, probably purposefully for effect. The UK has  democratic checks and balances, for example an element of separation of powers, an independent Civil Service and the truly free and very incisive press. Gibraltar has virtually none. The fundamental safeguard, namely the separation of powers simply does not exist. The phrase "elective dictatorship" is a perfect description of Gibraltar's system of government.

The one and only check on government that presently exists in Gibraltar is an election every 4 years. We are now at that juncture. Is re-electing the GSD a real option? I do not believe it is because the GSD is truly and exclusively at fault for Gibraltar's democratic deficit. In 1996 it promised reforms to improve democracy, accountability and transparency of and in government. It promised these reforms ostensibly to counteract the strong feelings, then running, against the GSLP administration. The GSLP at that time had failed to provide good governance. It seems to have been an election gimmick on the part of the GSD: the GSD has given us the exact opposite. We have been given no democratic reforms. Instead, we have been subjected to a form of centralised and authoritarian government that is not acceptable in a Western Democracy. 

The only brake on bad government in Gibraltar is the fear of losing an election. This brake will no longer work for the GSD if it is re-elected at the forthcoming election. The reason is simple: Peter Caruana has indicated that this will be his last election as leader of the GSD. The GSD has governed Gibraltar exclusively by and through Peter Caruana. Each reader can and will assess his manner of government over the past recent years. I believe it has been unchecked. It can only get worse, if he knows that he will not be contesting the next election, as the brake of fear of losing an election will no longer apply to him. It will not be a good place for Gibraltar to be at.

It is impossible to believe that the GSD will keep any promise about democratic reforms. It has promised these for 16 years and not delivered any at all. Why should it do so now when Peter Caruana will not need to face the electorate again? He has no incentive to do so. The argument that he will be forced to do so by his party is sterile. When has Peter Caruana been forced by his party to do anything? Not even his Ministers have ever succeeded on this front.

On the other hand the GSLP/Liberals and the PDP have grasped the issue of democratic reforms fully and are committing to major policies on this front. Will either deliver, if elected? Well, that is a risk that we all take on all promises by all parties when we elect one into government. What can certainly be said is that history shows that the likelihood that the GSD will deliver is very low. Not only has it not delivered in 16 years but Peter Caruana, if he does not stand again, does not have to fear being punished at the polls in 4 years time. On the other hand if either the GSLP/Liberals or the PDP get elected, then, they both do have to fear an election in 4 years time. Not delivering on central promises during a first term in office is frequently punished.

The argument for change in order to achieve greater democracy in Gibraltar is inviolable by the GSD's own making, namely, its omission to undertake any reforms on this front in 16 years. The counter-argument that we hear is the GSD boasting about how well it has done for Gibraltar during its time in Government. There is no doubt about this on several fronts, mainly providing stability within which the private sector has prospered. The private sector has provided the wherewithal by which the GSD has been able to do much of what it now boasts about: money. 

The issue is has it spent this money properly? Well I heard Peter Caruana on GBC rubbishing criticisms about the Theatre Royal, the electricity generating station and the sewage treatment plant, as though these were minor failings. This either shows that he has a total loss of perspective and judgment or that he needs to diminishing the importance of these failures precisely because these failures are so huge. The amount spent on the Theatre Royal was massive. The lack of a power station undermines the entirety of Gibraltar's economy and provision of power by skid generators is harmful to the environment. This failure adds to the possibility of having to resolve Gibraltar's energy needs by connecting to the European grid. The lack of a sewage treatment plant, aside from its adverse environmental impact, breaches international obligations. 

I want to know from the GSD what, steps, if it is re-elected, it will take, or has in mind to take, to find the money required to fund the construction of the power station and a sewage treatment plant. I want to know from the GSD in what time span it will resolve these huge problems for Gibraltar. The GSD has been in power for 16 years, so it has a duty to provide the electorate with these explanations, if it wishes to be re-elected. The GSLP/Liberals and the PDP do not have the same obligation. However, if elected, one or other of them will be left with a massive legacy problem to resolve, caused by GSD misspending. They both need to give these issues much thought.  If either is elected, it will fall on one or other of them to resolve these problems, despite that they have been caused by GSD failures.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Trust, Change, Real or Fictitious?

It is over a week since the 2011 Election was called. The period for campaigning is the minimum possible under the 2006 Constitution, yet the campaigning has not started. The initiative on policies has been taken by the GSLP/Liberals but not on the announcement of its candidature. The Alliance has for various weeks been issuing press releases setting out its stall on governmental reforms and good governance. Thus it has been filling a massive void left during the 16 years of GSD Government. A void that exists despite the GSD manifesto promises to tackle this central and important subject. The GSD promised to do this in 1996. They have failed, so KEEP TRUSTING?

Let us have a quick tour of party bylines. The GSD's is "Keep Trusting". The GSD site is full of boasts of what it considers to be its achievements over 16 years. Its glossy publication, distributed recently, also does the same. This strategy is weak. It is paternalistic. The slogan says it all. We know what is best for you, so just vote for us, go home and do not worry, we will deliver, but deliver what? That is the core question that the GSD needs to answer if voters are to flock to vote for the GSD. In this regard, the GSD have greater difficulties than the other two parties. It has been in government for 16 years. Elections are about the future not the past. What is the GSD going to do in the next 4 years? Why has it not done it in the past 16 years, especially those policies that it promised to do in its past manifestos?

The GSD manifesto at the last election promised everything but has it delivered? In my view, it has not delivered on many fronts. I list a few, wrongly prioritising capital expenditure, i.e. a beautiful (cannot be denied) but expensive to run, man, illuminate and cool air terminal in preference to an essential power station and sewage treatment plant. Additionally throwing money at social services without a root and branch review of the system to tailor make it for Gibraltar, which should be possible due to its size. The GSD's failure to deliver democratic and governmental reforms. The centralisation of power under the GSD conjoined with the scant regard it pays to Parliament. The lack of regard paid by the GSD to fairness in the grant of contracts, employment and promotion and in appointments and removal from public positions. These are all breaches of central promises made by the GSD in 1996 and subsequently.

One interesting development manifested itself on Main Street on Saturday. One constant criticism of the GSLP by GSD diehards is that the GSLP has extremist (and in GSD eyes unsavoury) elements amongst its supporters. Well is the GSD immune from this? Clearly not, Mr John Culatto, a self-confessed GSD supporter, has taken it upon himself to make the most outrageous and extreme assertions about the GSLP/Liberals. I will not waste words by repeating what he is preaching, most of you will know already.

Mr Culatto's views may be an extreme manifestation of GSD religious and reactionary beliefs. However, I am not prepared to accept that, in slightly moderated terms, it does not reflect, in part, the religious thinking of many GSD supporters. This extreme Christian influence within the GSD was very evident from the stance of the GSD on the gay rights issue. Whatever one's religious beliefs might be, the only place these should have in lay government is as a guide to moral standards. Such beliefs are not the holy grail of religious sectarian politics. Criminalising certain acts is not a solution. Criminalisation can be the cause of much hardship and suffering. Let us not forget the English Catholic martyrs who were put to death due to a bad law.

The slogan for the GSLP/Liberals is "Change you can Trust". The retort from the GSD is no change for the sake of change. I agree with this retort. Change has to be because it is needed and it is right. Right because there is a need to re-invigorate government. Right because complacency and security in office has led to failures of implementing manifesto promise. Right because the manner of government requires those who govern us to be reminded that we live in a democracy. Right because the policies it espouses will improve Gibraltar. Right because the candidates that a party fields promise more than those of another and all candidates promise delivery of policies. It is not for me to tell anyone what is right. I can but suggest what type of factor, in my opinion only, should be looked at before voters decide who to vote for.

The matter of candidature is important for the GSLP/Liberals, so I will proffer an opinion on this subject. There is a danger that we may fall into the trap of criticising that the GSD Government is too centralised in one person, Peter Caruana, and yet shying away from voting for the Alliance because of personality politics arising from a prejudiced view of its leader, Fabian Picardo. This is hypocrisy at its best. It is visiting the sins of the GSD upon the Alliance, without evidence or giving them a chance. Simultaneously the sin of the GSD are forgiven because of a negative perception that the GSD is an evil but the lessor of two. If this is the state of democratic politics in Gibraltar, it is an unbearably sad state for Gibraltar to be in, after it fought so bravely for democracy during the closed frontier years 

One should and must take a holistic view. The Alliance is promising wholesale governmental reforms. It is promising Cabinet government. Yes it is possible that the Alliance will not deliver this but that failure will not be down to one person, Fabian Picardo. It will be down to a collective failure of the entire candidature of the Alliance. It is this failure that has manifested itself in the GSD. In order to avoid a repeat with the GSLP, one has to look at its individual candidates. If they come through as strong characters, that is the greatest safeguard to, first, avoiding rule by Fabian Picardo (so the issue of personal mistrust is mitigated) and secondly ensuring that those policies that are promised are actually delivered.

The slogan chosen by the PDP is "The Real Change". Unfortunately, a highly optimistic slogan for two reasons. First, its policies do not sufficiently distinguish it from the GSD to actually make it the real change. Secondly, the current electoral system does not militate towards that type of change becoming a reality. So does having the PDP with a full candidature improve democracy? Undoubtedly, in my mind, it does. It does because, in the worst scenario, it stimulates debate and ideas and so agitates innovation in the other two parties. It does so, further, because the PDP provides a home for voters who are disillusioned with the GSD but cannot find a home in the Alliance. It does so because the PDP increases the choice of individual candidates for those of us who wish to vote for persons and not parties. It does so because it shows that our democracy is vibrant. I have nothing but praise and respect for those who are standing as candidates for the PDP in the knowledge that the party's and each candidate's chances of success under the present electoral system is minimal.

So there we are, keep trusting, change real or fictitious? That is what the parties think is the core of the forthcoming election. Keep the past or trust in the future? Well bring on those party manifestos, so that we can decide on policies and not solely on personalities, rumour and innuendo. Gibraltar deserves to be governed by the best of the available choice. Gibraltar deserves a better electoral and parliamentary system and to be governed by the Rule of Law. I want to vote for the people who, I believe, will deliver that. I do not believe the GSD has delivered on democracy despite its promises in 1996 to do so. It is sad for them because it should have delivered on this promise. If it had it would not be faced with the nigh on impossible task of having to convince the electorate that it will do so in the next 4 years. The evidence is that the GSD cannot be trusted on this core and centrally important issue for Gibraltar. I make no apologies for being a democrat. I am repelled by the use of that word in a party name , if in practice it fails to deliver democracy, especially after it has so fervently promised to do so.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Caruana, Lights, Shadows and Picardomania

On Thursday 1st November 2011, coincidentally just days before the election was called for the 8th December 2011, the Chronic, which publishes under the banner "The Independent Daily", printed F. Oliva's opinion about each of Peter Caruana (Caruana: Lights and Shadows) and Fabian Picardo (Picardomania). His views merit some comment. Both of Paco's pieces, in my opinion, contain bland conclusions without sufficient analysis or argument. I will provide as examples a critique of the opening sentences of each piece. One should bear in mind that, importantly, opening sentences of any publication set the tone.

About Peter Caruana he opens his piece with praise. "The lights speak for themselves" referring to what Paco views as Peter's successes. Well, actually, the "lights" do not speak for themselves. For there to be "lights" they must be switched on. For the credit for switching them on to be attributed to someone, there must be evidence that it is that particular person that switched them on. It is not enough to say there are "lights" in Gibraltar as Paco seems to do.  According to Paco, it seems that it has been Peter Caruana and his GSD Government who switched those "lights" on. However, he does not show by argument that that is the case. It may have been others or events beyond government's control or just inevitable circumstances that switched on those "lights" or contributed to them coming alight.

Paco goes on to write, "Gibraltar is more stable, prosperous and overwhelmingly, residents enjoy higher standards of living than at any other previous time in our history ... ' I agree with all of that. However, he then goes on to write, "This is an achievement that has not happened by coincidence and should not be underestimated.I do not agree with this statement, if that comment is intended as an allusion to all the successes he mentions being exclusively or primarily due to the works of Peter Caruana and his GSD Government. In making this broad brush statement, Mr Oliva has not asked himself and so does not answer a fundamental question: what factors have led to all this happening? He implies that the successes that he alludes to are entirely down to Peter Caruana and his GSD Government.

It would be churlish not to admit that the ending of the fast launch saga set the background for the success of the private sector. It is also true that, albeit forced to by public opinion, the legislation that brought this about was enacted by the Bosanno GSLP administration in 1996. I just hope and pray that the present day cross-border tobacco trade, that is now so rampant, does not have the same adverse effect on Gibraltar and switches off the "lights" that Mr Oliva attributes to Mr Caruana having turned on. It must also be said and emphasised that stability provided to date by the GSD Government has been fundamental to Gibraltar's success and the success of its economy. It is for this reason that I have voted at all elections for the GSD, sadly no more.

However, I would like and would challenge Paco to tell us what specifically Peter Caruana and his GSD Government has done to give rise to the "new" Gibraltar that he refers to? It is only if he can answer this question that he may be able to convince readers that Peter Caruana did, indeed, switch the 'lights" on. His bland and unsupported by argument writings are not convincing enough for me. I actually believe that Gibraltar's turnaround has been achieved down to the efforts and innovative activities of the private sector. This has been based on an economic model the foundations of which were laid by the 1988-1996 GSLP administration. It has been the success of the private sector that has resulted in Gibraltar creating jobs and wealth. In turn this increased employment and wealth has resulted in higher tax revenues to the government. Once there is more revenue, governments have the necessary wealth to spend more extravagantly. 

Thereafter the analysis has to be, has this revenue been properly spent by the incumbent GSD Government led by Peter Caruana? I have argued in past blogs that much of our money has not been spent or prioritised properly by Peter Caruana and his GSD Government. It has been spent primarily on projects that were perceived to be electorally advantageous, especially in the months leading up to the election.

Much has been spent on projects that substantially increase recurrent government expenditure. I dread to think what, for example, will be the annual recurring expenditure required to run the new air terminal. A terminal that is unlikely to generate much income for the government. Additionally, how much will it cost to maintain all the new housing (rentals being decidedly low and an opportunity to increase, the Mid Harbours Estate, having been missed by reason of electoral opportunism) and all the new playgrounds etc etc? I dread to think but know that the resultant recurring public expenditure, together with the cost servicing the public debt that has mostly paid for the GSD Government's largesse, will over time reduce ability of future governments to undertake essential projects.

One important such essential project is the electricity generating station. All economies rely on the ability of each to provide energy to its businesses and people and Gibraltar is no exception. Gibraltar's longterm energy needs have not been catered for at all by Peter Caruana's GSD Government. Gibraltar is reliant on what, in a home or business, would be classified as "emergency" generators, for spin purposes called "skid" generators. Without power Gibraltar has no economy. I would like to be told by all political parties what they will do to provide Gibraltar with a sufficiently large electricity production capacity. I want all the parties to tell me how Gibraltar will pay for it too. 

The GSD (and so Peter Caruana) has the prime responsibility to explain itself on this core policy failure during its 16 years in government. This omission could have disastrous consequences on Gibraltar and its economy. We may even be forced to connect to the European Electrical Grid, via Spain, (not that I personally object to that but most do) as a result of this act of negligence by the GSD Government. The environmental excuse used by it is no excuse at all. The "skid" generators are far more environmentally unfriendly than any power station that might have been built, whilst money was available to do so.

The sewage treatment plant, which is a EU requirement, is a further failure. I would like to know from all the parties, how each intend to fund the construction of such a plant. I specifically want to know this from the GSD. It is Peter Caruana's GSD Government that has failed, over many years, to provide such a plant despite it being required by law and for environmental and health reasons,

It is all very well for the GSD to boast in glossy brochures about everything that it has spent our tax money on. However, what is important is not what it has spent it all on but rather what it should have spent our money on and has not. So Paco, what "lights" has Peter Caruana's GSD Government switched on in regard to electricity production and the treatment of sewerage? I fear none but he has left a massive legacy problem for Gibraltar. I sincerely hope it can be resolved in the best interests of Gibraltar. Government is about issues like energy and environmental policies not simply about projects that are considered, subjectively, to be electorally opportunistic.

So what does Paco have to say about Fabian Picardo? Well his opening paragraph sets the tone of antipathy:"He [Fabian Picardo] has long realised that the GSLP in its current format was unelectable" This about a party that in the 2007 election failed to get elected by approximately just 600 votes. This differential means that if 300 voters had shifted their allegiance from the GSD to the GSLP/Liberals then we would have had a completely different government.

Paco goes on to make his dislike known, "With Bosanno having become a type of Michael Foot of local politics leading a sclerotic party that had its roots in the Gibraltar of the 1960's with outdated dogmatic intransigence with Spain and a style of government as centralised and authoritarian as anything ever seen locally ..." All UK parties and those of most democracies were founded scores of years ago and have their roots moons ago. The depth that comes with years of political experience within parties is widely considered to be beneficial and a sign of a developed democracy, not a ground for adverse criticism. The nub of Paco's issue with the GSLP it seems is its policy on Spain, which is expressed by Paco in judgmental and pejorative language. But hey Paco, open your eyes, it may not be what some of us advocate but it is the wish of the vast majority of Gibraltarians. To cap it all he then accuses the GSLP of having exercised centralised and authoritarian government. It may be a justified criticism of the GSLP but, hey Paco, where have you been over the last 16 years or even since the 1968 Constitution?

Mr Oliva is then, very early on in his piece, churlish of his praise of Fabian Picardo, he writes "[including Joe Bosanno in the GSLP/Liberal candidature] ... would ultimately turn out to be too unpalatable, even costly in political terms, given that the inescapable paradox for the champion of change, who may have voluntarily planted his own combustible Trojan Horse right at the core of his message for renovation. Clearly Bossano's eagerness for acting as a 'hand-break' [sic, Paco it is "brake"!] since ousted from office in 1996 could in this context begin to acquire a new political meaning, whatever the outcome of the election." Well, well, well, Paco, already condemning Fabian to failure due to your speculation of a schism between him and Joe? Well some consistency, please, I thought that one major criticism was that Fabian was Joe's chosen successor? Maybe I have got that wrong! Your condemnation that Fabian will fail to deliver change is unsupported supposition and speculation on your part. There is no extrinsic evidence whatsoever to justify that criticism. The relevant policies have been publicly announced and, certainly, Joe has not voiced any opposition to them whatsoever. In addition you fail to factor in that the GSLP, both in and out of Parliament, consists of more people than just Joe. The paradox may only be in your mind, Paco.

It is possible to go on and on analysing the two pieces written by Paco but I believe that by commenting on the opening few sentences of each piece I make a strong point and argument. I would commend all readers of this blog to re-read Paco's pieces again. The conclusion, of subjective influences having come into play, that I came to is, I believe, inescapable. "The Independent Daily", I wonder? Fortunately, no newspaper that publishes more than just facts can be independent. I approve of editorial policies. I approve of full freedom of speech. I therefore agree that the "Chronic" should publish opinions but readers must be circumspect when reading opinions and come to their own conclusions and views. My reservation is that those who read a newspaper should be very aware of those realities, especially when a staff journalist writes an opinion. 

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Party Funding: a Defective System?

There is no law or rule that requires any political party to disclose the source of any funds provided to it for any electoral or pre-electoral expenses. In my last but one blog I raised the issue of how timing electoral propaganda expenditure could

"... very adeptly sidesteps the rather archaic rule that any expenditure incurred prior to 30 days before the election does not fall to be calculated within the limits imposed on candidates by the Parliament Act. A reading of section 14(2) is also indicative that, if any expenditure is incurred on materials and services before the prescribed period, then it is not to be taken into account, even if used within the prescribed period (although this depends on the interpretation of the word "expenditure" and "incurred")."

It is also true that the only further control that exists on electoral expenditure is an absolute limit (section 14(1) Parliament Act) of £3,000 per candidate. This limit only applies during the prescribed period stated in my quote above. 

What these rules do not deal with at all is, first disclosure of who is making donations to any political party in Gibraltar. Secondly, the perception that arises that any individual or business that makes a substantial donation to a party does so in anticipation that he/she or it will receive an appropriate favour in return. In the UK there is a requirement for disclosure of any donation made to a party in the sum of £7,500 or more. Making rules to oblige disclosures in Gibraltar needs to be looked at urgently. Obviously the minimum amount that would need to be disclosed needs to be appropriately scaled down from the UK amount, in line with the limit on expenditure per candidate.

Expenditure by the GSD in an effort to get iteslf re-elected has already begun. It seems to be very lavish. Who is providing these funds to the GSD? Soon other parties, the GSLP/Liberal Alliance and the PDP, will be incurring expenditure. The public is entitled to know who is making donations to each political party to enable it to fund its election and pre-election campaign. For example, it would be very telling if the same individual or company were to be funding both major parties. It would be evidence of large favours being expected in return for the donation. There would be no other explanation for a desire to fund both main parties.

The issue of political donations to parties has been debated for years in the UK. The Committee on Standards in Public Life is now looking into it, once again. It is recognised, now, that the current system of allowing donations has to be discontinued. The only alternative is public funding. The debate is how the level of such funding can be determined? The favoured option seems to be to base funding on a per vote levy. The levy may or may not be what is introduced. Any system adopted will have its detractors but that is no reason for not finding a solution to such a palpably obvious defect in the electoral process. The same issue of finding an alternative method of party funding exists in Gibraltar. It is time that it be carefully looked at and debated with a view to resolution. Perhaps, waiting for the solution given to the problem in the UK may be wise. Waiting for the UK to resolve the election funding issue in order to follow it's example does not mean that making compulsory disclosure of donations public in Gibraltar should be delayed.

There is no doubting that putting a cap on expenditure has some small effect. A cap has always existed in Gibraltar. It does not exist in the UK at present, although one may be introduced. However, the cap does not resolve the issue of how funding affects politics nor unfair expenditure for the period immediately preceding the announcement of an election by the Chief Minister. However, what can or could influence policies and decisions is the source and level of largesse shown to a political party (especially if, as in Gibraltar, both factors remain secret), a cap on expenditure does little or nothing to prevent this but funding parties from public funds would.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Suspension of Blog During Election Campaign - CANCELLED!!

The main reason that I have concluded that it is best to suspend publication during the election campaign is that the primary purpose of this blog has been to stimulate new ideas in the political arena and also some debate. It is pleasing to me that many of the ideas put forward in this blog are now actively in debate in the political arena. Many have also been adopted as policy, primarily by the GSLP/Liberals but all the ideas published in this blog were available for all and any politician or political party to adopt. None were the exclusive domain of one party as against another. 

Publishing during the campaign will involve making partial value judgments on policy statements and policies of one or other party. This will result in acrimonious exchanges between persons who comment. I do not wish to participate in that divisive exercise. I will leave that to those politicians who are fighting the election. I will make one exception to the suspension of this blog, that is reserving my right to comment on any dirty or vicious campaigning, because Gibraltar really does not need that. If that sounds patronising, so be it

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Glossy Propaganda and Social Issues

This is the week that the GSD governing party published its booklet "Celebrating 15 years of success for Gibraltar". The timing of its publication must raise eyebrows. It is not illegal but its timing certainly smacks of sharp practice. The only person who knows with exactitude the date of the impending General Election is the Chief Minister. It is his party who makes this publication available on the eve of it being called.

Timing it in this manner very adeptly sidesteps the rather archaic rule that any expenditure incurred prior to 30 days before the election does not fall to be calculated within the limits imposed on candidates by the Parliament Act. A reading of section 14(2) is also indicative that, if any expenditure is incurred on materials and services before the prescribed period, then it is not to be taken into account, even if used within the prescribed period (although this depends on the interpretation of the word "expenditure" and "incurred"). This loophole must give the incumbent government from time to time some advantage. 

The content of the GSD booklet says much. It certainly says that an enormous amount of money has been spent on tangible assets. It boasts that "Our economy has tripled in size, the number and quality of jobs has grown very significantly, our income tax rates have fallen dramatically, standards of living and take home pay have risen sharply ... We have invested most heavily in modernising and upgrading the most important things: our health service, our care services, our education and housing". Undoubtedly an impressive past record.

However questions need to be asked as to who has made it possible government or private enterprise? It would, however, be churlish not to recognise all the progress that has been achieved by Gibraltar, whether with or without the intervention of Government. It may be that those readers with specific knowledge of each "achievement" will reveal that all that glistens is not gold. I will leave that to them. It is also true to say that elections are fought and won on policies about the future not just past performance.

I will concentrate in this blog on a specific social issue. The issue that I want to focus on is the issue of housing and its impact on unsocial behaviour. It is an area in which I have anecdotal knowledge only, from reading the English press and watching current affairs programmes on TV for the last 40 odd years. My clear recollection from these sources is that high density housing, which is the only type of housing of general availability in Gibraltar, gives rise to many a social evil. These evils include vandalism and criminality, especially (but not limited to) amongst the youth. There is much comment  in Gibraltar that unsocial behaviour is growing, certainly the Magistrates and Juvenile Courts seem to be increasingly busy.

In many parts of the UK one solution found was to demolish what has come to be known as "sink estates" and to rebuild more "user friendly" housing. In the UK this has often been found to be prohibitively expensive. In Gibraltar, expense aside, space limitations completely preclude this alternative. What I do not know (but it cannot be beyond the wit of man to discover) is what other solutions have been found in the UK where expense has precluded demolition and redevelopment? My belief is that if future governments of Gibraltar do not give this growing social problem attention but simply carry on building high density estates, the day will arrive when the problem will be beyond reasonable and affordable management.

In part some assistance in solving the issue could be found in an educational policy, that does not only encompass academic achievement, but also is empowered to teach moral and social values. Educators will also need to be armed with adequate discipline and disciplinary powers. The carrot alone is not enough, however, there must be a stick and that stick is already sorely missing.

I refer to the need to provide a facility to which the courts can refer juveniles and children for corrective therapy. I am being overly polite, what is needed is an appropriate "boot camp" to send offenders to, so that they can have education and discipline instilled in them. Many suggest the reintroduction of compulsory military service. This is neither permitted nor feasible. It also affects and imposes upon youngsters who are positive and beneficial members of society without need, rhyme or reason.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Pre-Election Party Posturing ... Where Might it Go?

In this blog, I will review what each party has said so far on the eve of an announcement of the General Election. The future looks bleak for the GSD according to Opinion Polls but the GSD has not yet been defeated at the ballot box. Many commentators on this blog and word on the street is such that the GSD is not being seen as a potential winner at the forthcoming election. Most polls support this view. It would be foolish, however, to discard the GSD so early on.

PRC is a wily, cunning, intelligent individual and a politician with experience. The GSD will run an aggressive election campaign aimed at having a ruthless effect. All the signs of this are there, just read the 7 Days if you doubt that. The GSD has the advantage of an electorate that is conservative in its voting habits. The GSD has the advantage of having been in power 16 years and having spent our money generously. 

The GSD has made at least one massive political error: it has left itself open to be crticised for that which it criticised the GSLP in 1996, namely, lack of open, transparent and democratic government. The other two parties, the GSLP/liberals and the PDP have piled in to fill this void. The GSD has no answer. The GSD has made a second massive error: to beleive that by last minute profligacy with our money it will redress its electoral deficit. I believe that voters in Gibraltar are not so gullible: many see it as a final ego trip for the CM. Let us see what alternatives are on offer from the other parties before returning to the GSD "offering".

The PDP have been at the forefront of preaching reforms that would lead to greater democracy since its inception. In fact long before that, because Keith Azopardi was a GSD Minister. He is the person in the 1996 GSD manifesto who was advocating democratic reforms. Also Nick Cruz was a member of the GSD Executive before the schism. It seems neither was able to deliver on the democratisation front but an analysis of the reasons for the schism may provide a clue. They disagreed with the opportunism of an absorption of the Gibraltar Labour Party and the lack of democratic processes for leadership change within the GSD.

The PDP has indicated its five key pledges for the forthcoming election:
  • A new style of politics- accountable, inclusive, responsive and constructive;
  • Lower personal tax and better economic management;
  • Better opportunities for young people;
  • Better quality of life for all and sustainable use of our environment;
  • Better public services.
All very laudable sound-bytes. We now need the PDP's manifesto to understand and assess how it intends to achieve these pledgesm and what the detail of these is. They are achievable with strict and proper prioritisation. What I believe in and commend the PDP for is playing the longer game rather than the short game that was played by the Gibraltar Labour Party. If the GSD were to lose the forthcoming election, then the PDP would be perfectly poised to become the second party in politics in Gibraltar for the next but one election. It is difficult to see the GSD surviving an election defeat: it simply is not a party in the sense of the word as I understand it.

Preparation for the forthcoming General election by the GSLP/Liberals has been more precise, specific and focused than the general pledges of the PDP. The first move was to amicably replace Joe Bosanno by Fabian Picardo as leader of the party. The second move has been the reinforcement of that change of personality with a marked change of politics and attitude. This change is best summarised by quoting Fabian Picardo from the GSLP/Liberal press release "Democratic and Political Reforms" of the 1st September 2011:

"Democracy is principally about the people and not just about politicians hence it is vital that every person who has a view is heard, not just the GSD government and the political parties ... we [GSLP/Liberals] have to  ask what parliament should be, what it presently is and what it should be in the 21st Century, democracy governed by the rule of law and a commitment to openness and devolving government to the people. ... in a true democracy a Parliament is is the voice of the people ... [and] about holding government ... to account ...

These are words backed up by specific policy announcements:
  • immediate monthly meetings of Parliament;
  • dedication of funds to Parliament;
  • full time Speaker with a Deputy Speaker and adequate staffing;
  • independent website to broadcast meetings of Parliament;
  • personal emails for all MPs for direct access by constituents;
  • better public, media, staff and MP facilities;
  • the appointment of an Independent Commission on Democratic and Political Reform to report on ALL aspects of the electoral and parliamentary system.
In addition the GSLP/Liberals have made the following policy announcements:
  • a Ministerial Code;
  • a Freedom of Information Act;
  • a 20 year rule for publication of "secret" papers;
  • a Whistleblowers' Protection Act;
  • greater access to Civil Servants by the public; 
  • a Citizens' Charter for Responsive Government;
  • reform of the planning system with true and greater public participation;
  • support for the call for a Financial Services Ombudsman;
  • a stand alone anti-bribery and anti-corruption law.
Impressive stuff from both parties opposing the GSD at the forthcoming election but what is the response of the GSD to date? Well it is certainly not any indication of a change in Leadership. Why would that be important? I leave aside the issue of personality, as each person will have his/her own opinion on that subject. Lack of change of the leader of the GSD is an important consideration because the failure of the GSD to change the style of government to date, by introducing more democracy, transparency and openness, must rest fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the GSD's leader. 

Why should anyone believe that the GSD will make any change on democratic reforms under his leadership, when for 16 years the GSD has reneged on its promise? In fact we know already that it will not. The GSD has forced a Motion through Parliament setting out its parliamentary and democratic reform agenda. This programme, outlined in the Motion, not only fails to deliver much of what is desired but, as an additional criticism, most of what it covers has been in the power of the CM to implement without legislative change throughout his term of office. Why should anyone believe that he will now deliver on any of it? Harsh criticism? Perhaps but, think about it, is it valid and deserved?

So what are the pre-election signs for the GSD so far:
  • rush to provide public toilets;
  • rush to provide playgrounds;
  • rush to provide more parking;
  • rush to to finish the Mid-Harbour Housing Project;
  • rush to finish the air terminal;
  • failure with airport tunnel/ring road.
The question on many people's lips is: how much is all the above costing us, the taxpayer?

What else does the GSD offer to date:
  • reminders of long past pre-1996 events as a reason to keep the GSD in government;
  • personal attacks on Fabian Picardo, not least in the 7 Days Newspaper;
  • Motions in Parliament against Fabian Picardo are ruled out of order as containing "unparliamentary" language, which exemplified the GSD's undemocratic attitude to politics ;
  • boast after boast about what has been 'achieved' in the past at the cost of taxpayers;
  • a trilateral process that is no longer working;
  • questions about the propriety of the last minute application of taxpayers' money to enhance electoral chances;
  • no future policies.
What is the GSD byline for the coming election? "Gibraltar has never been better - keep trusting". Certainly the money that has gone into the coffers of government and more that has been borrowed has been spent with great alacrity. You will need to decide whether it has been spent applying the appropriate priorities. "keep trusting" ... well we would have to in the absence of democratic, parliamentary and electoral reforms, wouldn't we?

What is the GSLP/Liberals byline for the coming election? "Vote for Change". I agree with the GSD that change for the sake of change is not a good reason to change a government but that is to miss the point. The point is that if what is promised is policies that are good and with which voters agree, then it is change for a better alternative. Well look at what the GSLP/Liberals has promised already, in that alone it is highlighting issues promised by PRC's GSD and not delivered by it. Look at the manifesto when it is published. Then and only then decide whether it is change for the sake of change or change for the better.

What is the PDP byline for the coming election? "The Real Change". Well, I repeat everything that I have said about change in the previous paragraph. My problem is that it is little change in fact. It is a reversion to what the GSD should have done but did not do. This does not reflect well on those members of the PDP who were Ministers or members of the executive of the GSD: they all failed to change anything on the inside of the GSD. They need to persuade voters that they have the strength that they lacked on the inside to change things from outside of the GSD. It is a party that will initially attract disaffected GSD voters who do not want to shift across to the GSLP/Liberals. It is a party that may prosper, as I have already suggested, if it plays the long game. It has indicated that it will by discarding the possibility of a pre-election merger with the GSD.

Well the election has not been announced yet but the battle lines are being drawn. There will be a lot more to go on to decide who to vote for once the manifestos are published and each party's candidates are announced, but already there is enough to start making one's mind up. Elections are about the future not the past. What has been done in the past can be the subject of praise or criticism but voters already have the benefit or harm of what has been done or not done that should have been done. I know the GSD are not often amenable to advice but my advice to them is: come up with new policies because boasting about the past will not win you the election. Coming up with new policies under the same leader is a difficult, if not an impossible call, but the GSD may succeed in achieving it.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

The Polls: What do I Think they Mean?

The most interesting aspect of the recent GBC/Chronic opinion poll is, not so much that it predicts a GSLP/Liberal win, but the poll related to issues that people consider important. This merits some thought and discussion, both in regard to the general replies and the specific replies on a party allegiance basis. In this blog I make first observations on what people consider to be the important issues and then on the poll that predicts the possible election results.

It is a salient feature, in light of anecdotal historical evidence, that "relations with Spain" comes fourth in importance after "style of government" (first), "employment" (second) and "health" (third). What this does not make clear is whether it means that people want a continued dialogue with Spain on the basis of the trilateral talks or the other end of the scale, namely, a wish to continue a rejection of any rapprochement with Spain. In that sense it is a meaningless statement. The only hint that there may be a desire for rapprochement with Spain is that GSD supporters place this issue third, after "style of government" (first) and "employment" (second). This is indicative of support by GSD supporters for the trilateral process pursued by the GSD, whereas GSLP/Liberal supporters do not include this option in their three top priorities.

The most important revelation in my mind is that "style of government" comes first in importance by a full 2% differential. Again "style of government" is not a very precisely defined issue but it is precise enough to gather that there is general disappointment in the manner in which we are governed. This is a major criticism of the GSD administration. In 1996 it promised more open, transparent and democratic government. This result shows that people consider that it has failed to deliver on this promise. Undoubtedly the prior GSLP administration also failed miserably, in my view much much more miserably, but that is no consolation for those of us, me very pointedly, who expected a change in this regard. That change is now promised by the GSLP/Alliance. What is significant is that GSD supporters put "style of government" as the most important issue; that is also an indictment. I would suggest that this is one important reason for some defection of support from the GSD. The GSD now persist on offering too little too late. Perhaps, it should rethink on this issue before the election, if it is to offer the electorate any hope of real change.

I could go on about the poll that classified issues in order of importance in the opinion of voters but it is also worth putting some aspects of the poll on election results in perspective. I cannot agree with the CM's argument that the methodology used to undertake the poll on the election result is flawed. 
  • First, it reproduces the accurate views of those asked their opinions: that cannot be flawed. 
  • Second, it asked a sample of 3% of the electorate: that is a huge percentage compared to the sample used e.g. in the UK. 
  • Third, it is as flawed or as little flawed as the Chronic poll that had the GSD ahead (well received by the GSD) shortly after a Chronic poll that gave the GSLP/Liberals a lead. 
  • Fourth, the Panorama poll has the GSLP/Liberals ahead as have several other polls including the Vox poll: one might be flawed (the Chronic one putting the GSD ahead, which is the odd one out of 4, perhaps?) statistically it is unlikely that the majority will be flawed. 
  • Fifth, it cannot be as flawed as the anecdotal evidence that the CM uses to support his comment that "We don't believe the poll accurately reflects the feedback that we get at all levels of the community": perhaps it is they who are seeking the views of sycophants. 
  • Sixth, the CM never comments on polls, he has this time: a sign of concern, perhaps? 
  • Seventh, the CM's criticism that a 12 point lead (or 16 point lead depending on what figures are taken into account) is not a good result for the GSLP/Liberals is clutching at straws: that size of lead for an opposition party in the UK is unheard of. A 2 to 3 point lead is the usual margin of error. Even if there is an unheard  of 50% margin of error (in statistics), namely 6 to 8 points the GSLP/Liberals would be ahead.
  • Eighth, arguing, as the CM does, that change has to be for the better is to argue a truism. Another truism is that to vote for stagnation is also not an option, so the GSD had better come up with new ideas. It cannot just promise, again, to do fundamental things that it has failed to do in 16 years. It cannot rely on boasts of what it has done. I think that the GSD has a more difficult task to convince voters that it should remain in power than any other party has to demonstrate beyond doubt that change will be good, which is the challenge made to other parties by the CM. This is one thing that comes through on an analysis of the poll on issues.
  • Ninth, to make the comparison of the past in terms of what 16 years of GSD government has meant compared to the pre-1996 GSLP administration is negative, stagnant  and stale politics. Everything has moved on but one problem for the GSD is that debating anything else might be to highlight what it promised to do and has not done.
What all recent polls on the election results show is a clear trend. A trend that favours the GSLP/Liberals and should worry the GSD. I can agree with the CM on one observation that "We [the GSD] believe that it's all to play for" but the GSD are not the favourites to win right now. That the GSD is reacting is palpable. Belatedly it has discovered the power of the internet in politics. I am glad to have been a pioneer of politics in this medium by writing this blog. A pioneer in the use of the internet in Gibraltar for the expression of opinion by the public. A pioneer in breaking the hold that exists in Gibraltar of the rather staid press. 

A pioneer also in making my views so openly and widely known without fear but, unfortunately, with personal repercussions to me. I believe that these consequences are to the shame of the Government and the FSC; to the FSC because of it's biased retrospective rules on political involvement developed following receipt of a letter from the CM that has been kept secret. These are crafted to avoid repercussions to other local members but to capture my blog. For those who are interested, weeks ago I provided to the FSC a 5 page critique of those rules. This week, I received the FSC's reply which informed me that the FSC had decided not to change it's rules and that accordingly it was not necessary for the FSC to comment on my criticisms at all. I have replied to the effect that I understand the FSC's inability to justify its decision. I used the word inability advisedly meaning that it is unable to provide a coherent explanation. I now publicly invite them to do so.

It is my belief that the now widely used and accessed political sites and pages on the internet dedicated to political comment and debate has had a marked and positive effect on policies that will be pursued by political parties, a fact admitted by the CM as being beneficial. It will also ensure that parties promise what they can deliver and no more and that they will deliver to us what they promise in their manifestos. Irrespective of reforms to Parliament and the electoral system politics in Gibraltar have already been revolutionised in this manner. This statement is not an excuse not to undertake meaningful and not superficial reforms. Internet punishment will follow if reforms are not effected. I am glad to have been one small cog in this small revolution. The CM has admitted that he and the GSD are now reacting to it.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

The Politics of Economic Success and Social Conscience

On several occasions I have written about the need to help the needy and disadvantaged. I have referred to prioritising expenditure accordingly and thinking hard before spending on luxuries. The basis of my belief is that in a wealthy society like Gibraltar, and we are constantly reminded that our economy is buoyant by the GSD Government and the Chief Minister, we should be able to devise a social care system that is accurately aimed and pinpointed at resolving specific problems faced by specific persons and families. Social deprivation should be capable of being eliminated in situations where there is no substance abuse. 

On the substance abuse front credit must go to the GSD Government, specifically at a political level to Hubert Corby, for funding much needed facilities. Also to all those who are involved in helping those who suffer from addictions. I do not wish to concentrate on this problem, although it may well be that more needs to be done. I am, also, in writing this piece not being party political or critical of any party. My intent, based on my limited anecdotal knowledge, which I admit to immediately, is to try and offer constructive ideas, stimulate debate, bring the issue to the fore and hope that adequate solutions and measures can be found by those who are so much more knowledgeable than me on the subject.

There is, however, one factor that needs to be understood, it is that without a successful and growing economy, money is not available to dedicate to the less advantaged or for necessities. In my last blog, I identified the various "natural advantages" that Gibraltar has and can exploit to increase the wealth of our society. In order to ensure the success of those sectors of our economy, there is a need to encourage the availability of certain facilities. Two of these are luxury housing and office space. It is easy to criticise any government for getting the mix wrong. or supposedly wrong, but without such investment there would be a reduced ability to provide affordable or rental housing, health services, social care services etc. etc. It is the provision of certain physical facilities that allows our economy to grow.

Another essential element is to provide adequate and properly trained human resources in the public service. Adequate training comes with education and knowledge but also with experience. It also requires a helpful and positive attitude. A major government expenditure is the public service, in which there is much room for improvement. Unfortunately, despite the massive effort made by some public servants in certain sectors, it has to be said that the overall impression that this service gives is one of overburdening, unhelpful and reluctant bureaucracy. 

Leaving aside that savings and therefore better prioritisation of resources could be achieved, an improved service will help to stimulate and accelerate economic activity. A service improved by more and better knowledge and specialisation and also by the public sector giving a better and more helpful impression. It can easily do so by providing a speedy cheerful service. Remember most of what the public service does is to administer entitlements (as opposed to discretionary privileges) that people have in law, so much can be achieved by a change of attitude that assimilating this fact would bring about.

The public service is largely paid for by the private sector. The more activity that is permitted in the private sector the more wealth that will be available for distribution. This wealth can them be applied for the benefit of the wider community and more importantly the needy and disadvantaged. This alone is not enough. It is in the application of the money that decisions are taken by governments. My belief is that in the longer term education and employment are central to reducing the call on social services. In the interim the need is to have a very focused social care system, in which I include any payments or rent reliefs given to individuals and families.

I cannot believe that it is beyond the wit of persons engaged in helping the needy and disadvantaged within society to individualise the social care system in Gibraltar keeping 2 aims in mind. First the relief of poverty and hardship. Second to reduce the call on public moneys by preparing these same people for and finding them employment. Giving people money is the first stage only. That is "nanny state" stuff, which is a necessity but cannot be the end objective.

Gibraltar employs thousands of non-Gibraltarians, so it cannot be impossible to find all Gibraltarians jobs. Please let us not get into the EU freedoms debate again. That is not where I am going. I do not agree with giving preferences, what I agree with is not to encourage the choosy job culture that exists amongst many in Gibraltar. There is no shame in working at any job. It is worse not to work. Any individualised system of "hand outs" has to have safeguards and restrictions. These should be aimed at encouraging the taking up of employment by, aside from providing help, the punishment, by partial disentitlement, of those who refuse to work for no discernible good reason.

It is this point that brings me round to education as the longer term road to reducing the call on social services. I notice that from a political viewpoint education seems to concentrate on statistics: statistics that revolve around exam passes and grades. The education system seems to be directed at academic results. Undoubtedly academic prowess is the primary and most important objective but not, as seems to happen today, to the exclusion of a broader educational experience.

That wider experience should include the moulding of social skills and the encouragement of aspirations tempered by individual ability, then complemented by appropraite training. The teaching of what one's duties and responsibility to society are and of discipline. Yes many an educationalist will say that this is all the responsibility of parents. I agree, primarily it is, but it is also the duty of society to fill in the gaps left by how this is done in any particular home.

I realise that there may be a great deal of idealism in what I write but, absent initial idealism, usually a practical solution to a problem will not be found. It is likely that I will be criticised by both social care and education professionals for what I argue. I hope that I will be; it will mean that a debate will kick off. Then, just perhaps, our politicians will be helped to put together a specific solution to a specific problem in a small jurisdiction that fortunately has the wherewithal to do so, namely a buoyant economy.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

"Its the Economy ... Stupid!"

I have been asked to desist from writing again about the "democratic deficit" and reforms to correct it. I have been asked to write about something else. I have a commentator who keeps on telling me that its all about "the economy ... stupid!". So I will write about the economy. This subject takes me outside my comfort zone, which revolves around the law.I must quickly admit that my limited knowledge of theoretical economics is based on an "A" Level (actually "S" level that in my days, 1969-1970 school year, was one step higher than an "A" Level) in economics and politics. My practical experience is down to closely following current affairs and to having run and helped run law firms and related businesses.

Anyway, here goes. I will argue that the politics of our economy revolves around expenditure and not around the potential other area from which Gibraltar generates its wealth for the simple reason that certain factors reduce the room within which governments can manoeuvre.

There is a tendency in Gibraltar to use the word the "economy" interchangeably to mean what is in fact the economy, meaning how wealth is generated in Gibraltar and what should be termed "government finances", meaning the monies that the government receives and spends. Undoubtedly the health of government finances is directly related to and dependent on the health of the economy. Conversely, the the need to raise public revenues combined with the knock on effect that need has on the level of direct and indirect taxation impacts on the health of the economy. The reason is simple. Gibraltar's economy, like most economies relies on its competitive edge. The competitive edge of Gibraltar's economy is reliant on fiscal leverage. In simple terms this means low direct and indirect taxes because Gibraltar has no natural resources. However, it does have some 'natural' advantages.

First is its geographical location. This helps in the main 4 sectors of our economy: ship repair, port facilities, bunkering and tourism. Other than, possibly, for port facilities much of the competitive edge on the other of these 4 sectors is achieved by fiscal leverage. Comparatively lower indirect taxes on oil makes bunkering a feasible activity. Comparatively lower indirect taxes makes Gibraltar attractive to masses of day tourists who are the core of the tourist sector. I am not sure that geographical location alone is sufficient to maintain current levels in these sectors.

Second is legislative agility. Legislative agility is a double edged sword because, just as it can be used to benefit one sector, business, company or individual, it can equally be used to detract from another. Therefore, directly tied to this advantage goes the requirement for political stability and trust. It is of utmost importance that Parliament, Government and Opposition are seen and believed to be stable and to be avoiding any whimsical or impulsive behaviour.

Appropriate behaviour is required in order to portray the stability that is needed for all sectors but, primarily, for the other two major sectors of the economy: financial services and gaming. It is, however, this legislative agility that permits Gibraltar to develop these 2 sectors by being able to speedily react to situations and external factors, thus allowing Gibraltar to become an attractive jurisdiction or retain its attractiveness as a jurisdiction. One essential requirement to ensure continued growth in these two sectors is a competitive tax environment.

What this simple analysis reveals is that it is most unlikely that new areas of economic activity will be found or can be developed. So there is little or no politics to be played out on this aspect of the economy. Gibraltar has what it has and can exploit only what it has. What our government from time to time can do is maintain the fiscal leverage and use legislative agility. What our government from time to time can do is ensure prudence in expenditure and to prioritise different areas of expenditure. It is in these two aspects of economic policy that politics can be played out by the different political parties.

Too much expenditure results in too much borrowing, which in turn gives rise to revenue commitments that become fixed. In the absence of an ability to refinance or increase borrowings, which in the present international economic crisis is likely, the demands on recurrent government revenues to service capital and interest repayments continue. It can result also in the Government's liquidity being reduced.

The cure is either to reduce expenditure, which can result in austerity measures, like those being faced by many European countries, or to increase taxation. Increased taxation will adversely affect our economy which is reliant on competitive fiscal leverage. Both are options that do not bear thinking about. Additionally, the belief, encouraged on some occasions by the Chief Minister by his pronouncements on economic growth, that the international economic crisis will not touch Gibraltar is to believe that Father Christmas exists.

Lack of money in other countries, which is one aspect of the crisis, will result in less consumer and business expenditure. It will lead to a reduced demand, at a minimum, for our tourist and finance centre and other services. In time these factors can result in reduced government revenue. This reduced economic activity could lead to a downward spiral, which has to be avoided at all cost. It can only be avoided by prudent expenditure policies.

It is important at the forthcoming election to closely look at, not only policy statements contained in manifesto relating to expenditure, but also at immediate past behaviour. It is palpably obvious that the present Government is on and has for a long time maintained a spending spree with our money. I has done so to both retain power and to see if it can recover some electoral advantage. I would suggest that this behaviour, in the present international economic climate, is irresponsible and unsustainable. What we should look for is policies that espouse prudence and are not profligate, even if this course will seem a worse political offering in the short term. Prudence will stand Gibraltar in good stead in the longer term.

We should also look at the prioritisation of expenditure on necessities and not luxuries. This means prioritising expenditure that favours the needy and disadvantaged. One measure by which a society is judged is by how well it treats its people. I urge voters to be a little selfless in how they choose the next government. If they do so they will be helping others. They will also be helping themselves, in the longer term, to maintain a standard of living that will continue to be envied.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

November Election? Some Current Considerations.

According to a story in Panorama the Chief Minister has indicated, on a Spanish Radio programme, that the election will be held before Christmas. Leaving aside the bizarreness of the Chief Minister having ignored his own constituency in Gibraltar by making this statement in Spain, this announcement will agitate more and more speculation. Speculation about who may be leaving politics, who may be standing for election, what pre-election coalitions might be formed and who might win the election. 

What is extraordinary about the whole process is that, weeks before a General Election, the electorate  do not know yet who many of the candidates will be. It just seems to me to be an oddity that political parties should consider that retaining this mystery is in any way an advantage. To me it is further proof of the deficiency in party organisations. These deficiencies contribute to reducing the effectiveness of democracy in Gibraltar. It is also another factor that further helps to propagate the belief that a General Election is an election of a Chief Minister and a Leader of the Opposition. Thus rendering the election presidential in style rather than what it should be, an election for individual representatives to Parliament. It is from amongst those elected that a Chief Minister and Government is formed. 10 votes essentially become 1 vote. 

The added reason for this effect that I term the "presidential effect" is that the combined lack of constituencies/wards and each voter having 10 votes means that no individual actually elects a single identifiable MP who can or will be his/her personal representative in Parliament. This is an added aspect of the existing system that contributes to the "democratic deficit". It is a further aspect of the present electoral system that needs to be looked at. Personal representation in Parliament needs to be improved. How? I am not presently sure, but solutions must exist. Resolving this issue will also reduce reliance on the Chief Minister to resolve individual problems. This will reduce the opportunity for deification of that office.

I do not believe that speculation of the nature that I have alluded to really helps to unravel what may happen at the forthcoming election. What does help is to analyse known factors. Let us look at some of these. First, we know that Peter Caruana will lead the GSD, Fabian Picardo will lead the GSLP and Keith Azopardi will lead the PDP. The leadership of each, meaning not the personality but how each leads his team, will be an or even the crucial deciding element for many in this election. Personality, however, cannot be totally discarded. It always plays its part.

Keith starts from the disadvantageous position of leading the least (by far) supported party. It is for this reason that the PDP needed a charismatic leader. It does not have it in Keith. Keith does not have it in him to enhance the electoral chances of the PDP. It must, consequently rely on two factors to do that. First its policies. Secondly its other candidates. On the first front the PDP's choices have narrowed because the other two parties have adopted democratic reforms as policies, which is what the PDP was majoring on. The result is that, now, the debate will be on detail of these reforms rather than the overall concept. On the second front, all we know to date is that the PDP has a full slate of candidates ... that Nick Cruz and Gigi Vasquez are likely candidates and little more on the identity of its candidature ... not very helpful. One would have thought that a party totally lacking in representation in Parliament would want to announce its candidature early in order to give its candidates as long a time as possible to create a public personae. It seems that this is not to be. There may be a game plan in that strategy but it escapes me.

Fabian, in the perception of some of the public, carries some personal baggage, but who does not? It is in the style of the GSD to pinpoint such baggage. I have doubts that it will impact sufficiently amongst most voters to undermine the GSLP/Liberal's chance of election. If the GSD dedicates its efforts to personal criticisms of Fabian, this has the disadvantage of distracting from real issues. I believe that the important debate is on issues. In this regard, whilst the GSLP/Liberal Alliance (not Fabian alone)  must not ignore personal attacks, it must rebut them robustly, it must not do so in a manner that detracts from policies and substance.

In this regard the GSLP/Liberals have made an excellent start. It has identified the "democratic deficit" issue. It has seen the GSD's failure on this front. It has stepped into a void that the GSD had no need to leave open, nor did it have the right to do so. It promised reforms and never delivered them. There are skeptics who (a) do not believe that the GSLP/Liberals are serious on reforms and (b) say that this policy will not be central to voters' decisions on who to vote for. 

On the first argument, It would be political suicide for the GSLP/Liberals not to undertake reforms having been so explicit on some e.g. freedom of information and having publicly announced its intention to reform the electoral system and Parliament following recommendations from an Independent Commission. Ignoring the Commissions report totally would also be political suicide. The process announced by the GSLP/Liberals also has the advantage that it is likely to deliver broader reforms.

On the second argument, of course there will be many other important issues and debates, but the reform one is equally or more important, certainly in the view of a large number of voters. It is also important for a completely different reason. The GSD persists with its attempts at discrediting the GSLP by constantly regurgitation the pre-1996 state of affairs but what better way to counteract the attempt to create the impression that the GSLP has not changed its spots, than to have policies that would preclude the possibility of that happening? Improved and more accountable democracy is the best check and balance to avoid a return to behaviour similar to that of those disagreeable pre-1996 days. That is not exclusively a problem attaching to the GSLP. It is something that, in the absence of systemic checks, could happen with any party in Government.

The other manner in which the electorate can be convinced that the pre-1996 image of the GSLP is finished and gone (aside from the contents of its manifesto and policies) is the standard of its candidature. One achievement is the change in leadership. Another is that most of its candidates have been in Parliament and for better or for worse are a known quantity. A third is that the standard of potential candidates so far announced is good. We have Dr Norbert Borge, Joe Cortes and George Mascarenhas who may be candidates, subject to selection. All are well respected members of the community, so long as this is the standard of candidates, such persons would not permit themselves to be in any way identified with pre-1996 style GSLP government.

What about the GSD? The massive advantage that it seems to see is that it has been in Government for 16 years and it has achieved a lot in that time. No one will deny it that. Its main achievements, however, are the reversal of the adverse image and reputation that Gibraltar had garnered before its election. However, Gibraltar will not lose its reputation ever again for similar reasons. The lesson has been learnt by all politicians in Gibraltar.

Apart form cleaning up Gibraltar's image, the reality is that the economy has been built up by the GSD on the strong foundations laid by the GSLP pre-1996 administration. This is not a criticism. It is, first, a fact and, secondly, it is necessarily so because Gibraltar's economy can only be built on opportunistically taking advantage of its limited resources: the port, its location (for tourism), size (that delimits requirements) and speed of action on fiscal and regulatory policies. The other reality is that, whilst the government has money coming in and the ability to borrow, it can spend and has the GSD spent! Let us hope that it has not been profligate to a level that the present international economic crisis will not impact badly on Gibraltar's ability to attract revenues. Otherwise in time we will realise that the GSD have bitten off more than what Gibraltar can chew.

The GSD has some electoral problems. The first is undoubtedly wastage. It will over 16 years of Government have upset individual and groups of voters. This is inevitable but makes it more important that the GSD finds other new supporters to vote for it. It will  not do so by attacking the GSLP/Liberals. It will not do so by boasting of past achievements, the electorate has these in the bag already. it will only do so by having new policies and creating a new identity. It has not done much to achieve this. The perception is that it is a party lacking in continuity and in ideas. That it is a party resting on its laurels and those laurels belong to one person: Peter Caruana. It has also failed to react to changing demographics: the passing away of older voters and the advent of the young, who will have very different views from past GSD voters. The GSD are now reacting but it may be too little too late.

Additionally the one individual Minister who can be said to have worked tirelessly to positive effect in his ministry is Daniel Feetham, may not stand at the next election. He has revised and reformed large swathes of law relating to justice. I am  not sure that in practice some of those reforms will not cause issues and too much expenditure for a small jurisdiction like Gibraltar but this is possibly an inevitable cost that we will need to face. I understand the reasons for his not standing; to be stabbed in the presence of his and other children is traumatic. That the stabbing happened because he was Minister for Justice is obvious. That his family and, probably, he feels the risk involved in public office is too great is obvious. My sadness both relates to the event that may force him to resign but also because he has done and behaved in his ministry as I consider an elected Minister should act and behave. He has innovated and held policies, fought for them (including the age of consent law, where the Supreme Court upheld his view), taken them to Parliament and enacted legislation. He has carved out an individual political character for himself to the benefit of his party, the GSD. He is the only person to have done this in the 16 years of GSD Government. The general perception is that all the rest that has been done by the GSD is down to one person: the Chief Minister. 

Therefore the forthcoming election becomes a plebiscite on the Chief Minister. I say that because he has acted in a manner that makes it that way. I hope the other party leaders do not follow suit. I would hope that what we have seen developing so far as the election approaches continues. We have seen the PDP and the GSLP/Liberals announce and debate policies. I hope it continues that way. If the GSD attempts to reduce the election to personalities, in the main, the other parties should  leave the GSD alone to get on with that tactic. I believe it is counterproductive. I believe that voters do not like it. I believe sticking to the issues and to substance will deliver more votes. The GSD may want to ponder on that suggestion too. The GSD have also made the same error as the other parties in not having announced which, if any new candidates it will present to the electorate. 

When do I think the election will be held? Well the 19th October is Gibraltar day in London, so, unless the Chief Minister compounds the error made by his statement about the election on Spanish radio, by announcing the election in London, it will be announced after that date. The election cannot be held before the Electors List is closed on the 31st October. Christmas is fast approaching that leaves only a few Thursdays on which the election can be held, namely, 24th November or the 1st, 8th or 15th December. The 8th is the Immaculate Conception, which is a Catholic Holy Day of Obligation, thus it is an unlikely date, the 15th is too close to Christmas, so we are down to two dates ; we will see.

What do I think will happen at the election? Well I do not disbelieve that so many polls will have got the result too wrong. I also believe in anecdotal evidence, namely natural wastage and demographic alterations. Change is clearly visibly in the air and the GSD are doing little to put a brake on change. All in all I would predict a GSLP/Liberals win by a small but significant margin but all say that a week in politics is a long time ...