Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Emergencies in Gibraltar, Can we Handle them Alone?

I do not know the answer to that question or all the other questions that the incident today on the North Mole raises. Before I pose them, let us be thankful that there have been no fatalities and that few people have been injured. I wish those who have been injured, especially the Spanish national who is seriously injured,  a speedy recovery. I wish all the best to those who are risking themselves to bring the emergency under control. I pray, hope and trust that no one  else will be hurt in the process.

One question that this incident raises is, is Gibraltar sufficiently resourced to deal with large emergencies? It seems, following today's incident that it is not. Reliance has had to be placed on Spanish assets and assistance to bring the situation under control.

A second question is, can Gibraltar aspire to be sufficiently resourced or does its small size impose limitations on its ability to do so? It seems to me that our small size has some bearing on the availability of equipment and resources.

A third question is, if reliance is to be placed on Spain and its resources, are there cooperation agreements in place or does it just happen on an ad hoc basis?

A fourth question, is if formal arrangements to cooperate are needed, will they bring with them any political repercussions?

A fifth question is, what, if any, are the political implications of what has already happened today?

I am sure over the next few days, weeks and months, these and many more questions will need to be answered.  There is one more question that I have in my mind and worries me tremendously, what if there were to be major incident with a large number of seriously and not so seriously injured? Is our hospital and are our general medical services up to it and appropriately equipped? Are there reciprocal and formal arrangements with Spain in place? Everything is fine whilst nothing happens but the acid test is when something does actually go wrong.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Local or Expat?

Someone made a comment under my last blog that I should write on this subject. I promised to do so today. It is a fraught issue that will undoubtedly result in much debate and possibly heated debate. The commentator in question was of the view that

"Why don’t you ... write about the Government's policy on recruiting British Expats to lead Administrative and Constitutional Posts while the Gibraltar Tax Payer pays for their lucrative salaries and 25 % of their annual salary Tax Free bonuses each year.
For example:
Attorney General.
Chief Executive Gibraltar Court Service.
FSC Chief Executive."

I would like to start the debate by picking on a different office. My example is, why should the Governor not be a local? All the same arguments arise, so why not? I believe, that by taking the discussion to this extreme, one can start truly to debate the very real issues that arise when decisions to appoint persons to certain posts and offices, not just in Gibraltar but actually anywhere, are made. I do not pretend that I know all the arguments but, hopefully, my views will prompt the type of debate that will over a short period of time elicit a wide variety of opinions from which an informed view might evolve. I believe it is an important subject on the road of evolution that Gibraltar (and in fact any society in a small territory) has to travel and is traveling along.

The fundamental constitutional role of the Governor is to be Her Majesty's Representative in Gibraltar. This immediately defines the essential quality required by all Governors, loyalty to Her Majesty. Simple really, all Gibraltarians are loyal to Her Majesty. This has been proved over and over for years on end. We demonstrate our desire to remain British, our children serve in Afghanistan and Iraq and are honoured with the highest awards for bravery, we have UK passports etc. etc. 

Is this enough? Perhaps not because distinctions are made by the Gibraltar Government and the UK Government as to the responsibilities of governance "in right of Gibraltar" and "in right of the UK". It seems an element of split personality is a required attribute for anyone appointed to this office. This does not militate against a  Gibraltarian appointee, there can be no greater difficulty in a Gibraltarian navigating his or her way through this duality than a citizen of the British Isles. It is a question of defining responsibilities and identifying where ones loyalty is in the performance of any particular responsibility.

What about experience and qualification? Well, in the past, in the main, we have had senior military personnel appointed as governors, with two ex-senior civil servants and one ex-minister being the exceptions. I would imagine diversity of experience and knowledge both of persons and situations and how to handle both is essential. It seems to me that a Gibraltarian may have some difficulty in reaching the heights of experience and qualification achieved  by past incumbents but it is not impossible. The reality is that no one has yet achieved these. Qualification for the post of Governor is a more disparate concept. There is no specific recognised professional qualification, like perhaps there would be for some of the posts identified by the commentator who started me on this subject.

Independence is another important requirement. There is no doubting that Gibraltar has a complex and intertwined community. The threads are not just based on family ties but also on friendships, enmity, business, professions, employment, personal relationships etc. This is a difficult consideration. The Governor needs to retain some distance from people to retain dignity and independence, whilst at the same time mixing in and becoming an active participant in the community whilst he is in office. It would be difficult to argue that this is not easier for someone who is not Gibraltarian. I have seen over the years the sacrifice that some local individuals have made by reason of appointments to certain offices; two immediately come to mind and both were Supreme Court Judges, John Alcantara and Felix Pizzarello.

This leads me to the last ingredient (not least because length of posts require me to be brief on what is a massive and hugely complicated subject), choice. There has to be a group of people from amongst whom the incumbent for the post of Governor can be picked. If the choice is limited, then the likelihood is that mediocrity will creep in. Allowances will be made and over time the standing of the office will start to suffer. If the standing of the office suffers then we are on the road of decline. Decline in administration leads to decline in society. Instead of striving for the best, people will settle for less and make excuses. This is not what it is about.

Let us see what that same commentator goes on to say (and I add immediately not suggesting the office of Governor):
"I believe we have the calibre of Gibraltar born lawyers like you who would be able to discharge the posts which I have referred to above."
Well, the first question is would someone like me want to do the job? The second question is would someone like me truly have the required qualifications and experience? Thirdly, would someone like me bring the necessary independence to the post without huge personal sacrifice? Fourthly, after taking all these considerations into account will there be sufficient choice?

The answer to the first question, is, yes there probably are Gibraltarians who want and aspire to hold the various posts mentioned. I hasten to add not me! It is once that question is answered that the other more thorny issues arise. Qualification does  not mean just academic and/or professional qualifications. These, thankfully, are abundant In Gibraltar. The word qualification has to and does encompass the  concept of experience. Someone who has no or little practical experience within the field that he seeks appointment to is not qualified for the position. 

Put simply, to be Attorney General, one must have long term prosecutorial experience. To be the Chief Executive of the Gibraltar Court Service, one must have lengthy on the job experience of administering courts. To be Chief Executive of the FSC one must have experience of international regulation and supervision of financial institutions, always remembering that due to the resources available, sometime, in Gibraltar the responsibility on these shoulders exceed those of regulators in other larger jurisdictions with much larger resources.

Do I believe that Gibraltarians should fill the most senior posts in Gibraltar? Yes, of course I do. But I also believe in horses for courses and not in dumbing down. I believe that diversity and competition for jobs and posts are essential factors to ensure Gibraltar's competitiveness in the world. I believe that taking these factors out of the equation to accelerate "Gibraltarianisation" is not beneficial to the common good and has proved disastrous in other ex-colonies. 

That said there are examples of Gibraltarians having worked in various fields outside Gibraltar, who have gained more than the necessary experience to do certain high posts, yet being ignored, even for consideration for appointment. This is unconscionable. I consider that some fault lies in unofficial political interference and/or influence in selection processes. Political interference in the selection of public offices and posts is an ingredient of a banana republic. It is essential to strive for objective and independent appointments processes. Until this is achieved, there is a likelihood that lack of political independence, in the sense described above, may hamper the choice of ideal candidates to posts and offices.

I consider that the correct approach is to appoint the right people to the right post. Simultaneously there is a need to ensure that our young highly academically and professionally qualified people are employed in positions that will provide to them the necessary experience to be promoted to those posts and offices. They will also acquire wisdom  as to the level of independence (judged objectively) required with its attendant sacrifice. It will take time but no one is born with knowledge and experience. One never knows, in this manner, we might even, one day, end up with a Gibraltarian Governor!

Friday, 27 May 2011

What do we Vote for at an Election?

This headline may seem the silliest question that I have ever posed. The answer is simple right? We vote to elect Ministers. Inaccurate! we vote for a Chief Minister? Inaccurate! The consequence of what we vote for, which is Members of Parliament,  is to elect the executive arm of government i.e. the Ministers and a Chief Minister but that is not what primarily we vote for.

What then is it that the the system should deliver to us at an election? Simple really, to elect individual candidates into Parliament from amongst whom a government is formed, from amongst whom a Chief Minister emerges, who is the leader of the majority party in Parliament. Those who do not belong to the government benches join the opposition benches. The party on the opposition benches having the most seats becomes the official opposition from amongst whom there emerges a Leader of the Opposition, being the leader of that party, so we do not elect a Leader of the Opposition either.

Does the distinction that I make matter? I believe that it does because an understanding of this distinctions, in my view, will help voters to decide how and whom to vote for. The issue is one of emphasis. Gibraltar has a parliamentary system of government based on the Westminster model. The missing element in Gibraltar is that we do not have constituencies. In the UK voters elect an MP to represent them in Parliament. Although there is a party system and that pulls in electors both because of party and ideological reasons, there is also a more direct relationship with an individual person who becomes ones representative in Parliament.

The effect of this is twofold, theoretically (and it has happened) the possibility exists that persons who are earmarked for high ministerial office do not get elected into Parliament and so are excluded by the electorate from forming part of the executive arm of government. Additionally it results in the executive arm of government being chosen from amongst a large group of elected representatives being members of the party or coalition who have the majority in Parliament and so can form government. Those who are not chosen for ministerial office do not form part of the executive arm of government but become backbenchers.

It is these MPs, together with the opposition and cross-bench MPs (in the past the Liberal Democrats) who make up the check and balance in the legislature. It is these MPs who can defeat the executive arm of government. It may be rare. It may be that the whip system diminishes the chances of it happening. However, the possibility acts as a a brake. It has happened that governments have been defeated. This brake, together with the power of the House of Lords, does and has led to legislative amendment and withdrawal of both legislation and policies. The most recent example in the UK is the proposed health reforms that are now on hold for further debate and review.

In Gibraltar this does not happen. Not because the electoral system does not permit it but by the effect of the electoral system combined with voting habits that have been ingrained over the years through persuasion of voters  by politicians. The reality is that the block vote has been ingrained in us. We fail to analyse and evaluate individual candidates and vote for parties. The effect of his is, that a strong leader can manouvre himself into a position that he can put forward weak candidates, get them elected and reinforce the centralisation of power in the Chief Minister, thereby undermining democracy.

Peter Caruana has understood this over the years and used it very effectively to rule Gibraltar. The GSLP are now making enormous efforts to counteract this. First Fabian Picardo has spent time emphasising that he will engage in cabinet style government. Secondly, the GSLP seem to be gathering around themselves a stronger candidature than it has been able to gather together for a number of years. Two sound advances but not an institutionalised change in the electoral or parliamentary system. It is a change that can be and time may well reverse, especially as gathering stronger candidates becomes more feasible for the party which is perceived by potential candidates to stand a better chance of election at any given election.

The solution is, as I have said over and over again, for there to be electoral and parliamentary reform. I have made suggestions. the GSD Government have published proposals that I have already said do not go far enough. The GSD Government have asked the GSLP/liberal Opposition to put forward suggestions. The GSD Government have indicated a desire to enact and implement the reforms before the forthcoming election. To date the GSLP/Liberal Opposition has not engaged in constructive and substantive debate on the issue.

I hope this is not because the GSLP/Liberal Opposition considers itself poised for an election win and so does not want the inconvenience of systemic changes that introduce democratic counterbalances that past governments have not had to work within. In short that they do not want to create a rod for their own backs. Whatever the reforms that come about might be, they are needed and let cynicism not stand in their way. What I ask is that the reforms should provide, in a different way because, for obvious reasons, they cannot be provided in Gibraltar in the same fashion, the democratic safeguards that exist in the Westminster Parliament that our constitution has tried to emulate but only suceeded partially in doing so. I also ask that individual electors look at and vote for individuals, irrespective of party allegiances, who will be good parliamentarians and hold the executive arm of government to account.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Government Control of Information is Anti-Democratic

It has often been said that information is power. The corollary is also true. The control and retention of information and unnecessary secrecy assists those in power to remain in power. In many western democracies, certainly in the UK and the USA, access to information has been freed up by law. In the UK there are primarily two pieces of legislation that allow the public to gain information held by public authorities. Personal data can be obtained under the authority of the Data Protection Act. Information from public bodies can be obtained under the authority of the Freedom of Information Act.

There is no Freedom of Information Act in Gibraltar. There is a Data Protection Act in Gibraltar. The lack of a Freedom of Information Act is a further democratic deficit that exists in Gibraltar. It leaves the government, public service and other public authorities free to handle and manage information in a manner best suited to protect itself rather than the public, which it serves. This can result in manipulation of information that that can lead to a regressive state. It is a secretive system of government that does not sit well in a democracy and in this age of communication technology.

What is worse is a cynical introduction of legislation intended to undo lack of information and secrecy. I have complained in my previous article that the GSD proposals for parliamentary reform (none of it is electoral reform although new press releases disingenuously refers to them as such) are lacking; not just because of their content, but also because on reading the detail, they give with one hand and take away with the other. This is exactly what the GSD Government has done when it enacted the Data Protection Act, specifically as regards the manner in which requests for information for personal data are handled.

The Data Protection Commissioner ("Commissioner"), who administers the Data Protection Act, is the Gibraltar Regulatory Authority ("GRA"). This is a grand sounding organisation giving the impression of independence redolent of checks and balances. The reality is very diffferent, whilst it is described as a corporation sole, it is not a corporation at all in the sense that it does not have a commission or board or council to govern it independently or independent non-executive directors. What it is , essentially, is one person, presently Paul Canessa, who is appointed and described as the "Chief Executive Officer" ("CEO"). The CEO is empowered to conduct the affairs of the GRA and to exercise and perform such powers, duties as may be vested in the GRA.

Let us analyse the GRA. The CEO (and so the GRA) is appointed by the Chief Minister.  The CEO can be removed, on appropriate grounds (but not subject to any system of statutory appeal so there would only be resort to the expensive remedy of Judicial Review in the Supreme Court against removal) by the Chief Minister. Funding of the GRA comes from Parliament. I will repeat my constant criticism that the Government benches of and so Parliament in Gibraltar is controlled by the executive arm of government and so, in the end, the Chief Minister. In addition the GRA has to have regard, under the Act, to government policy (we all know that means the policy of the Chief Minister). We should, however, be thankful for small mercies, no member of Parliament can be the GRA. It is this that the Act establishing it considers provides "independence".

The whole point of having a Data Protection Act under which personal data can be obtained from public bodies is that one should have the right or discretion to obtain information on request exercised by an independent body. I wonder how independent the GRA can be seen to be in light of the peculiarities that I have highlighted? One should remember that what is important is perception as well as reality. It is not enough to claim independence if, objectively analysed, the system has glaring deficiencies indicative that such independence can be compromised. The archetypal example of this is the length that established international organisations and rules go to ensure objective safeguards intended to guarantee the independence of the judiciary, which are in large measure included in our own Constitution.

The system can be said to have failed if anyone is left with the feeling that he has been let down in the application of the Data Protection Act. I am in that position on the subject of the refusal by the Commissioner (the GRA) to provide me with a copy of the letter about me that the Chief Minister wrote to the Chairman of the Financial Services Commissioner.

Initially the Commissioner  refused to admit the existence of the letter at all. I pointed out to him that the Chairman of the FSC had admitted to me that the letter existed. The Chairman had indicated to me also that the Chief Minister's letter was critical of me.  In reply to a suggestion by me, at a social gathering, that I may not seek re-appointment to the FSC for a third term, he replied words to the effect that if I saw the contents of the Chief Minister's letter this was probably a wise decision.  Only then was the Commissioner forced to admit to its existence. He has also been forced to admit that it is personal data and so subject to disclosure under the Data Protection Act. His admission takes the form that he justifies non-disclosure under an exemption, for the exemption to apply the letter must constitute personal data.  I consider and have pointed out to him that the exemption he relies on is inapplicable. He has not answered my arguments and my last letter to the Commissioner remains unanswered, as does my request to the Chief Minister for him to give me a copy of this letter.

You may ask why I have not pursued the issue further, if I consider the reasons for refusal to be inappropriate? The answer is simple first, non-disclosure already says a lot and secondly the recourse against such a decision is an appeal to the Magistrates Court and thereafter to the Supreme Court. As a lawyer I know the costs in time (neither of which I am prepared to waste) and money and risk in costs of doing that. I am not prepared to risk my hard earned cash on taking such steps, when what is happening, the refusal of disclosure, so obviously leads to suspicion of what the contents of the Chief Minister's letter might be. The cost in itself, I add quickly, is, through no fault of the court service or the judiciary, another, in my opinion, a barrier, to access by citizens to information and personal data.

In the UK the equivalent body that administers both the Data Protection Act and the Freedom of Information Act is an objectively independent Information Commissioner. There is also a Tribunal to which one can appeal against decisions made by him. Appeals to Tribunals is a much cheaper and more accessible process. It is only after the Tribunal has determined an appeal that the more complex and expensive court system comes into play. There is an appeal on points of law to the courts from the Tribunal. All in all a more  independent, transparent and less costly system by which citizens can obtain personal data (under the UK's Data Protection Act) and wider information (under the UK's Freedom of Information Act) should there be an initial refusal by the Information Commissioner.

The moral of the story is that, in Gibraltar, it is not enough to have introduced the Data Protection Act. It is not enough to introduce, in the future, the Freedom of Information Act. It is essential to introduce it and change the procedure under the Data Protection Act. Changed in a a manner that they work and are seen to work independently, transparently and cheaply. They should be seen thus both at the initial stage before the Commissioner (who should be capable of being seen as objectively independent) and with a cheap first appeal to an administrative tribunal with simple procedures. This will make these Acts truly effective to provide a proper democratic check and balance on the government and the administration.

It is time that our politicians to stop treating the electorate with disdain and attributed to it a modicum of intelligence. Stop giving with one hand and taking away with the other, and be fair and reasonable. There is a moment when people react. We may not have reached it in Gibraltar but it is being reached in  more and more countries, not only in the Middle East and North Africa but also in Europe, have a look at Greece and Spain.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Give Us Substance not Form on Reforms

Let us get back to politics and issues and thank god for small mercies. The GSD have announced support for Parliamentary reforms. It has done so, it says, as a result of the enthusiasm shown by the new Leader of the Opposition and also because the Chief Minister, now, also sees greater consensus outside Parliament for reform.

The unfortunate initial response from the GSLP/Liberals is to attack the GSD proposals on form and not substance by engaging in a "blame game" argument. The alliance is right in that a Select Committee of Parliament was established by the Government two and a half years ago and the Chief Minister has not convened a second meeting of it. The alliance is also right that it is the responsibility of those in government to make initial proposals, especially as reforms were a manifesto promise of the GSD government. The alliance is also right that from a Select Committee with equal numbers of Government and Opposition now the GSD Government have moved the goalposts. The GSD Government have instead proposed a Committee of the whole of Parliament. This would give the Government an inbuilt majority if implemented but, worse still, makes the process rather unwieldy and unmanageable.

The result will likely be that either the Government pushes through its views or no agreement is reached. If the Government pushes through its views those reforms that require legislation are doomed to failure because the 2006 Constitution requires this type of reforms to be passed with a two thirds majority. The Opposition will likely vote against in these circumstances. The effect of this would be to veto any reforms, leaving us where we started with the GSD Government blaming the alliance Opposition for the lack of any democratic advance. This would be political maneuvering and cynicism of the highest degree. I would hope that this is not what happens. I hope that the alliance Opposition will engage on the substance despite this rather negative start from both sides of Parliament and the rather sour and bitter atmosphere presently pervading the relations between both Parliamentary parties.

A small positive step forward is that the GSD Government has now published a draft motion setting out its proposed reforms. Some are good, to a limited degree, and some do not go far enough in order to deliver more democracy. As is usual the devil is in the detail. The Chief Minister is very good at the detail, as we all know.

One proposal is that each Minister will have to answer questions in Parliament once a month and the Chief Minister fortnightly. This is a massive advance. Aside from increasing accountability question time will become  more focussed on the distinct responsibility of individual ministerial but also the press will be given an opportunity to report better and in more detail. Presently there are so many questions at each session of Parliament that the answers get lost resulting in the public not becoming aware of relevant and important issues. The rule limiting the duration of such sessions and prohibiting the asking of statistical questions is the detail that diminishes the effect of this reform. What is a "statistical question" is one problem that will be complicated to define and determine and could greatly reduce the effectiveness of this change.

A standing General Purposes Committee will also increase accountability. It will be chaired by an Opposition MP with power to summons Ministers, officials and others. This picks up on one of my suggestions. However, its effectiveness will much depend on the "... procedures and processes to be approved by Parliament" in which, as we all know the GSD Government has a majority. Much will further depend on the composition of this committee, which will " ... be variable for different meetings depending on the subject matter ..." and how and who will decide what that composition will be.

I was reminded recently that Parliament, or the House of Assembly, as it then was, always used to have a very effective, incisive and inquisitive Public Accounts Committee. Mr Bossano's GSLP Government abolished it . The GSD Government conveniently forgot to introduce it when it gained power in 1996. The reintroduction of this Committee to quiz Ministers and Officials on all financial expenditure should be considered. It is not  one of the reforms suggested by the GSD Government.

The newly suggested ability for Opposition MPs to bring Motions before Parliament monthly is toothless. The motion can always be defeated by the inbuilt Government majority. This is a sheer gimmick.

Reform of Standing Orders can happen forthwith so this is just a fleshless suggestion included to pad out lightweight proposals.

I believe that none of the above reforms require any legislative change or authority. I understand that they are entirely within the hands of the Leader of the House, who is the Chief Minister, under current Standing Orders to introduce tomorrow. Why does he just not do it? Not that it would be enough.

The suggestion to increase the size of Parliament and allow for backbenchers is a more substantive reform. This would require legislation to introduce and implement it. In the absence of any concrete proposals as to how many or how they would be elected, this reform could be purely cosmetic. There are no such detailed proposals included in the draft motion. Enlargement of Parliament without electoral reforms that allow "Independents" to be elected will mean that again this change will be cosmetic and make no real inroads into the democratic deficit.

All in all a major disappointment but it is a start. I beg the GSD Government not to take the electorate for a ride on the subject of these reforms. We may not be as intelligent and clever as you but we are not stupid. I urge the GSLP/Liberals not to engage in any more procedural wrangling and accusations of gimmickry. Let bygones be bygones. Seize the opportunity and put forward some serious proposals for reform. Show the proposed GSD reforms up for what they are. Show the electorate your true democratic and reforming zeal. Make a difference to improve Gibraltar by making substantive proposals . This will ensure that there is clear blue water between your policies for reform and those of the GSD. It will not harm your electoral chances. It will enhance them. The GSD keep on giving you popular ground that you can move into, do not lose the opportunity to fill this vacuum.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

A Dark and Cloudy Dawn but with a Small Hope of a Ray Of Light

In my last post I talked of a new dawn. In the first paragraph, I gave examples of a few positive signs but I am not so naive, as someone suggested, as not to know that there are also some dark clouds hiding the rising sun. In my post "Depersonlised Comments to Improve this Blog", posted on the 1st May 2011, I anticipated the controversy that the electorate will be faced with at the forthcoming election.

I wrote : "My personal sadness is that the risks of the personal circumstances of anyone elected to the office of  Chief Minister having an adverse effect on Gibraltar are heightened by the democratic deficit that exists in Gibraltar. The very fact that our electoral system results in the election of a presidential style Chief Minister magnifies that risk, should the person offering himself or herself for election to that office be found to be wanting. If the electoral system was reformed to elect a truly representative government from amongst whom a Chief Minister would emerge, the risk would be somewhat diluted."

The essence of my point is that those who stand for election need to carefully consider their respective personal circumstances and ensure that these will not impact on the reputation of Gibraltar. I cast no stone but already we have the challenger to the post of "president" of Gibraltar being questioned in his first interview on GBC about certain professional issues that he faces. I do not castigate GBC for bringing these issues to the fore. I applaud Gerard Teuma for his incisive and hard hitting interview. He has set a new standard for interviews on GBC. GBC now needs to maintain that style and standard for every interviewee, whatever his office or post. GBC's much criticised independence and credibility, going forward, depends on it doing so.

The electorate has the right to know about anything that might impact on the ability of any candidate to properly undertake his or her duties as an elected representative, especially if the candidate is putting himself forward as a potential Chief Minister. The media has a responsibility to inform. In the same post from which I have already quoted above  I also wrote "The present electoral system converts the 10 votes that each voter has into one vote for a president who is known as the Chief Minister. This fact alone militates to comparisons  being made as between one potential candidate for the post of Chief Minister and another and criticisms of each." This is exactly what has happened. Mr Picardo was asked about certain professional issues that he faces; in part defence he retorted by making certain assertions against Triay & Triay, pertaining to a period during which Peter Caruana was a partner.

Unfortunately for Mr Picardo there is no comparison between the cases he was quizzed about and the matter that he alluded to relating to Triay & Triay and so to the Chief Minister. I fully stand behind, support and repeat the statement, issued by No 6, that Mr Picardo's assertions on the Necora case are untrue and false. The circumstances of where Mr Picardo finds himself professionally are completely different and the cases involving him are still ongoing. He also said that Triay & Triay lost its libel case against a newspaper in Spain. This statement by Mr Picardo is not accurate.  The Necora case  involved the arrest in Spain of a Gibraltar lawyer who had no connection and had never had any connection with Triay & Triay. Mr Picardo should, as a lawyer himself, know that repeating statements that have been already found to be defamatory is itself defamation.

The theory that I have been preaching for a long time is that the confrontational style of politics that play out in Gibraltar do not improve Gibraltar; that this style is partly caused by the electoral and parliamentary system that Gibraltar has; that, consequently, one route by which it can be alleviated is by electoral and parliamentary reform. It is a theory that most politicians have discussed, accepted and consequently promised reforms to change the system for at least the last 35 years, which is the time that I have been politically aware in Gibraltar. None have progressed the issue, save that, thankfully, the 2006 Constitution was drafted in manner to allow for such changes to be enacted by our Parliament. I would have preferred these matters to have been resolved and included in the Constitution, leaving within the Constitution sufficient flexibility for future improvements, but it was not to be. 

Now, at long last, we have the GSD Government inviting the GSLP Opposition to achieve reforms as a matter of urgency. Now we also have the GSD Government publishing an outline of its proposals and inviting the GSLP to make suggestions. This may be a ray of light in an otherwise cloudy dawn. I know that there are skeptics that do not believe the reforms will actually come about. I am optimistic and refuse to be a skeptic on this issue. I am not prepared to believe that the two mainstream parties will be so cynical as not to progress the promised reforms. The electoral reaction to that would be too vociferous. The loss of trust and confidence in the system of government too great. The repercussions serious, in this age of internet freedom and communication.

Time will tell whether the GSD proposals go far enough. They are certainly a start. They do not deal as yet with details, such as the electoral system or the issue of  direct representation of people in Parliament. The GSLP may wish to make suggestions in this regard. We will see. I hope and trust that the issue will be fully aired and debated and that the reforms will be robustly democratic whilst balancing the need for the ability to govern not to be seriously compromised. However, if reforms are to be implemented there must be legislation before the next election, otherwise the window of opportunity will close.

One important facet of democratic government is inclusion. Inclusion helps to avoid confrontation. It helps to attract more participants. It will help to ensure that a void in government does not result. It will ameliorate the possibility of scandal affecting Gibraltar adversely. Gibraltar's success and administrative and territorial integrity are best safeguarded by ensuring good governance. The chances of good governance are enhanced by the greater participation of people and also by systemic checks and balances. Any reforms should bear these considerations in mind.

Reforms should enable more people to involve themselves in politics at an earlier age, encouraging candidates to get involved at an early age will ensure that experience can be gained and continuity of government secured. I would hope that reforms would also encourage consensus in the manner in which Gibraltar is governed. All existing parties adhere, in the main, to the centre ground of politics. It should not be difficult after any election for those elected to join together to govern in a government of unity. I do not have the depth of knowledge of political theory to design a system that will deliver these ideals but it cannot be beyond the wit of those learned in this subject to be consulted to design a custom made system to work in a place like Gibraltar for its best advantage. I urge our politicians to seek advice. There is no shame in that.

How can the electorate help? Easy, do not block vote for parties. Even though I have decided not to stand for election, for the present, the strategy that I have proposed in the past still stands. Use your 10 votes wisely. Look at each individual candidate. Analyse his or her character. Decide on his or her salient political characteristics;  believe me, in both parties there are those who lean more to the centre right and those who lean more to the centre left. Try and understand who each is as an individual. Then vote for those you consider to be the best and most suitable candidates, ignoring the party acronyms beside their respective names. If no party gains a majority so be it. Let them sit round tables behind closed doors in smoke filled rooms (possibly not smoked filled any more) and negotiate a package of policies and measures that will benefit Gibraltar. They know they can do it just force them into it. Gibraltar will be radically changed for ever and for the better if this is achieved. 

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Picardo's GSLP … a New Dawn in Gibraltar Politics?

It seems that there is some glitter of hope in Gibraltar politics that may result in less confrontational politics in Gibraltar. We have seen recently the GSLP extending invitations to the GSD that the parties should work together on issues of national interest.  The GSLP has congratulated the Chief Minister on his appointment as an Overseas Bencher of the Inner Temple; I also join in those congratulations. The GSD has invited the GSLP to participate jointly in parliamentary reform.

I hope that these signs truly reflect a new dawning for politics in Gibraltar. I hope that it not just a ploy to sow dissent amongst those in the GSLP who agree with electoral and parliamentary reform and those who may not. I hope that something positive and constructive will come from these developments. I hope that electoral and parliamentary reform does become a reality. I hope that, because it is such an important issue, that it does not get mired in party political dissent causing the new impetus to hit a dead end. 

The PDP reaction is not helpful. It militates at making the issue party political, precisely because of the views it has expressed, which will tend to polarise the issue at a party political level. The PDP are not represented in Parliament. They have to accept this distinction in status from the other three parties. This will not prevent the PDP from having an input through representations and lobbying. The PDP’s input cannot be at parliamentary committee level, put simply, the PDP has not been elected into Parliament. 

I would like to make a positive gesture following these developments. A few commentators have credited this blog with having agitated the issue of electoral and parliamentary reform in manner that has led to recent developments. I thank them for expressing that view but the reality is that the most that this blog has done is to bring the issue to the forefront of the minds of the mainstream parties. Others have also had similar views and policies.

The truth is that the GSD promised reforms in its manifesto. The Chief Minister subsequently confirmed his desire to give effect to reforms. He then put the issue on the back burner using the excuse that the GSLP did not support reforms. I do not agree with this reasoning and have so said in the past. The GSD could have pushed for reforms by publishing its policy on the subject and then criticized the GSLP had it vetoed the ability of Parliament to pass them or an adaptation into law. The GSD has now reacted to the change of opinion by the GSLP expressed by Fabian Picardo to the effect that it would support reforms. The Chief Minister has given a new impetus to the process by inviting a cross-party approach, which would now be difficult for the GSLP to turn down.

Electoral and parliamentary reforms are the main focus of my politics, which are contained in the "Core Principles" that I published. On the basis of giving both the GSD and the GSLP the benefit of the doubt that they will together enact reforms to promote democracy, I have taken the decision not to stand for election. I will continue writing this blog. My decision not to stand for election is also predicated following careful thought over the period of the recent holidays. The reality is that, although I have many offers of active help and support, these do not translate into persons willing to stand for election. Each has his or her reasons for not putting their head above the parapet. I understand fully their reasoning. It is not an easy thing to do. Often business, employment or family considerations militate against standing for election. Consequently, I would need to stand-alone. 

The chance of election standing alone, as an independent, is very limited. Additionally, as has been pointed out by some commentators, there is a school of thought that my standing for election detracts from my ability to be considered "independent" when writing this blog. It is clear that being seen to be writing "independently" provides a useful forum and catalyst for change. I believe that the move toward parliamentary reform, in part, has been stimulated by this blog and my publication of the "Core Principles". I want to give our mainstream politicians a chance to deliver the reforms, which are needed and so clearly wanted by the electorate. 

My ability to promote change alone, even if elected into Parliament as an independent, will be no greater than my ability to agitate for that change by writing this blog. I have decided that I wish to retain the strength and credibility of this blog by not standing for election whilst I have such limited chances of either success or, even if I were to be successful, of influencing the subject of electoral and parliamentary reform. I believe that the mainstream politicians will deliver some reform. Perhaps they will not go as far as I am suggesting but the benefit of some reform is that the advances it will provide will itself create the way by which further reform may come about.

What I have done, do and will continue to do on this blog is to express my political opinions. I make great efforts not to make personal criticisms of anyone in what I write. I try my utmost to moderate comments to avoid personal criticisms; I may not succeed but, when anyone points any failures out to me, I do reconsider and delete offending comments.

Neither this blog nor I have the power to promote anyone into government or remove anyone from government, as some have suggested. That power lies in the hands of the electorate alone. All that can happen is that my opinions may or may not sway voters. I trust that my decision not to stand for election will be indicative that what I do is express very much how I see politics. I do not believe that this delivers “independence”, as no one is “independent” in politics. What it delivers is my subjective analysis and view. You may or may not agree with my views, which is a right I deeply respect as a democrat.

What I do promise is that, on this blog and elsewhere, I will tirelessly pursue my campaign to achieve electoral and parliamentary reforms in order to correct the deficit that I feel exists in democracy today in Gibraltar. All I am doing by deciding not to stand for election is to have faith in the new impetus given to this issue by the mainstream parties. I am of the view that the statements made by both the GSD and the GSLP are now sufficiently robust for them not to retreat from their commitment to improve democracy in Gibraltar. The credibility of both of them will suffer no end, should they fail to deliver on these promises.

I make no excuses or apologies for vociferously pronouncing on policies and views that I adhere to and issues that I fervently believe in. I make no excuse or apologies for campaigning for greater democracy in Gibraltar. I believe we deserve it. I believe that we did not resist Franco’s Spain to accept any deficiencies in our democracy that are capable of being remedied by our Parliament. I hope that the GSD and the GSLP do not disillusion the electorate. If they do, they will not just be letting me down. They will be letting down all Gibraltar.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

More Democracy in the UK ... Less Here?

The quest for electoral and constitutional reform is not a quest that is unique to Gibraltar. In the United Kingdom the last Labour Government made substantial improvements to the constitution and consequently to improving democracy in the UK. It is important to understand that this is an ongoing process in the UK, which now continues under the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition. The UK was already streaks ahead of Gibraltar on the democratising front. Gibraltar needs to catch up  on many fronts, even if, mainstream politicians do not, at the present moment, aspire to allow the people as many democratic safeguards as are envisaged for the UK. I am personally of the opinion that democratisation is long overdue in Gibraltar.

The Labour administration made substantial constitutional changes in the UK to improve democracy during its time in power. Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales achieved greater democracy with devolution. The much criticised (by the European Courts, because it broke the rule of the separation of powers) ) office of Lord Chancellor was divided into its three constituent parts., The Supreme Court of the UK replaced the House of Lords as the highest Court in the Land. Proportional representation was adopted for elections to the European Parliament, devolved assemblies, the Greater London Assembly and direct election of mayors was introduced. The process now continues under the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition.

One area of reform that I have proposed for Gibraltar is electoral reform. This week, the UK has voted against electoral reform in the form of the Alternative Vote system. Opportunistic politicians in Gibraltar might want to jump on this bandwagon to argue that Gibraltar's electoral system also does not require change. This would be to come to the wrong conclusion. The UK has a constituency based electoral system, in which direct representation by an MP is the focus. Gibraltar elects MP's territory wide; that is the main reason and an important distinction making the requirement for electoral reform, in favour of Proportional Representation, more pertinent to and fairer for Gibraltar. My suggestion of district MPs also provides a system of direct representation of people in Parliament, which puts right another major failing in our system.

Despite the results of the UK referendum, the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition intends to embark on constitutional reforms in the UK. One part of the plan is to reduce the House of Commons from 650 to 600 members by redrawing constituency boundaries and making them the same size, numbering 76,000 electors in each. A fixed term of 5 years is also planned, which would remove the element of surprise that now exists with the power to dissolve Parliament (within 5 years) being vested, at present, in the Prime Minister.  In Gibraltar that same power is vested in the Chief Minister.

Additionally there are ongoing discussions to improve democracy by electing Members of the House of Lord, possibly to be renamed the Senate. This House of Parliament would be reduced from approximately 790 to around 300 members. The proposal is thought to be that about 80% would be elected by proportional representation and 20% appointed as is the case now. The idea behind this is to ensure that the appointed element comes from necessary professions that provides required legislative expertise, for example scientists, military men, judges, professors etc. Hereditary peers and most Bishops would cease to be members. Electing the upper house would give it much greater sway with the House of Commons by the mere fact that it becomes representative of voters. The requirement to break with the tradition of an unwritten constitution begins to come to the fore, not least, because of the need that would arise to regulate the relationship between the two Houses of Parliament.

Why do politicians consider that it is important to reform the system in the UK in this manner? Many believe that the incentive is the demands of the public. The expenses debacle in the UK undermined confidence and trust in politicians. Surveys have also reflected this public lack of confidence and trust. Does this sound familiar? Not fiddling expenses but the lack of confidence and trust in politicians? This deficit certainly comes through loud and clear from comments made on this blog.

Well, the GSD have been promising democratic reforms for 16 years and delivered next to none. The GSLP now talk of democratic reforms if it were to be elected into government. Will either deliver? Well, surely, it is too late to believe the GSD. The GSLP might deliver but there again ... Perhaps, if an enlightened electorate were to break the "Block Vote" and force a coalition government then the much needed electoral and parliamentary reforms may become a reality, otherwise I do not know whether it will happen.

The ability of any government anywhere to govern is down to trust and confidence. If that gets to an unacceptably low level, anarchy is round the corner. Its happening in North Africa and the Middle East now. It would be a disaster, both socially and economically, if any unrest were to develop in Gibraltar. It will only advantage Spain. It is time for our politicians to be mature and selfless. They must practice what they preach in their rhetoric and treat the electorate as a mature people. They keep saying we are. It was the main argument that they marshalled in support of the 2006 Constitution.  They need to give more democratic power to the people both to restore trust and confidence in the political classes and to accept the responsible exercise of democratic oversight by a mature electorate. Failure to do so could have dire consequences, not least, that the UK is still responsible, even under our new Constitution, for good governance in Gibraltar.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

All I See is Sea but Whose Is It?

The Chief Minister has again called on Spain to resolve the  British Gibraltar Territorial Waters ("BGTW") issue in the International Court of Justice ("ICJ"). Personally I am not one to favour resolution of international disputes in a court. It is, however. difficult to see how else this issue might be resolved by any alternative means. The positions of each sovereign state are so opposed that negotiations would seem impossible, especially as compromise on the fundamental issue of sovereignty is simply not within the realms of reality. The received wisdom, both within informed circles in Spain and both the UK and Gibraltar, is that the UK's case before the ICJ to support BGTW is inviolable.

One cannot but agree with the Chief Minister when he describes the actions of the Government of Spain, through the agency of its Navy, as unacceptable and not being the manner in which EU members should treat each other in the 21st century. The Chief Minister's offer of co-existence with Spain despite such aggravated provocation is a brave political statement, safeguarded by his express view that in the Trilateral Process Spain cannot expect from Gibraltar what it is not itself predisposed to concede. It is also clear that, whilst the Trilateral Process may be the correct forum to agree law enforcement cooperation, it is not the forum for the discussion of issues of sovereignty. The Chief Minister has categorically stated, now, that he is not prepared to talk about "the sovereignty of [his] homeland with Spain or any other country, inside or outside the Tripartite Forum".

Talk about buying larger boats for the RGP by both Peter Caruana and Fabian Picardo is no solution. It could be an escalation. The purchase of bigger boats does nothing to resolve the issue that Spain has brought to the fore by its actions within BGTW. That the RGP should be bought better boats and equipment to fight crime and/or to protect themselves from injury or death are both good reasons for incurring this expense. If those are the reasons then so be it, let us certainly spend the money.

Why, then is Spain behaving in this way? One can but speculate in order to answer this question. I would suggest two possible reasons, which are not alternative but rather cumulative. The first is that there is some truth in reports that Trinidad Jimenez, the Spanish Foreign Minister, does want to put the Trilateral Process into the deep freeze. Secondly, that she and her government want to provoke bilateral discussions on sovereignty with the UK.

It seems odd and awkward that Spain should want to do escalate the dispute over BGTW at this juncture whilst there is much unrest and upheaval in North Africa and the Middle East. It is a time to promote cooperation and not divisiveness to ensure that security in this part of the world is not compromised. The alternative could be that Spain believes that it is its primary responsibility to protect this region against any violent uprising in Morocco. Could it be that the UK recognises it has other geographical areas further into the Mediterranean that it is responsible for, which it has to cater for within its military capability and so it needs Spain to take on responsibility for the security of this part of the globe? Is Spain acting opportunistically at this juncture to force issues that might turn out to have wider favourable consequences in its quest for sovereignty concessions over Gibraltar from the UK?

Gibraltar needs to act carefully and vigilantly at this juncture placing continued reliance on the UK's undertakings in the 2006 Constitution. Gibraltar needs to work closely with the UK to ensure that the BGTW dispute does not escalate but rather subsides, so that greater adverse consequences do not flow to Gibraltar from the events being so overtly and purposely perpetrated by the Spanish State. Gunboat diplomacy is not the way to achieve this but undoubtedly it is a difficult diplomatic problem to resolve. I have no magic solution for it. It seems unlikely that Spain will submit the issue to judicial scrutiny by the ICJ.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Depersonalise Comments to Improve this Blog

I make great efforts to write what I consider to be topical and interesting pieces on this blog. Sometimes I succeed better than other times. I am constantly hopeful that people who comment will join in the debate making substantive argument. I do not expect or want everyone to agree with me. I give my honestly held opinion but it is not one that is right or wrong. It is just that: an opinion. I would like people to comment with opinion and good argument and prove my views wrong or convince me to change them.

More frequently than not, I get personalised views about individuals in politics. I can and do publish some of these but often they are unpublishable. I will continue to publish those that I am of the view are publishable. I would make a plea, however, that commentators should try to make substantive points and arguments. Using this blog in that fashion would make it much more interesting, constructive and useful in forming opinion in Gibraltar.

The personalised comments unfortunately reflect the personality based nature of politics in Gibraltar. This is something that I am campaigning to change with my quest for electoral and parliamentary reforms, so I find personalised comments a contradiction to that which I am seeking to achieve. The present electoral system converts the 10 votes that each voter has into one vote for a president who is known as the Chief Minister. This fact alone militates to comparisons  being made as between one potential candidate for the post of Chief Minister and another and criticisms of each. I would ask readers who comment to please attempt to avoid this type of personalised commentary.

It may well be that the prediction that this coming electoral campaign will be dirty may come true. I will not consciously allow this blog to be taken over by those who may attempt to turn it into an instrument for such a campaign. Despite the likelihood of criticism from some sectors of my readership, I will make every effort to apply this policy on this blog.My plea would be for the campaign to remain clean. This plea does not mean that facts that are relevant for voters to make an informed decision should not be made public but not through the instrumentality of this blog. It is not the purpose of this blog to do that nor do I have the resources to research and investigate any or every allegation which may be made.

Gibraltar goes to the polls, under the present electoral system, not to elect a government and opposition but a presidential Chief Minister. The Chief Minister is the embodiment of what Gibraltar is. He mirrors to the outside world the morals and values that Gibraltar represents. These are, at least, honesty, trust, transparency, openness, security, safety, good governance and a good reputation as a place to visit and to do business in and from. The continued economic prosperity and success of Gibraltar are dependent on avoiding any circumstances that may undermine these. Those who offer themselves to the electorate as candidates have the primary responsibility and duty to ensure that these values are not put at risk. If they take a decision to offer themselves up for election they should accept that they will be closely scrutinised. That alone does not make a campaign a dirty campaign.

My personal sadness is that the risks of the personal circumstances of anyone elected to the office of  Chief Minister having an adverse effect on Gibraltar are heightened by the democratic deficit that exists in Gibraltar. The very fact that our electoral system results in the election of a presidential style Chief Minister magnifies that risk, should the person offering himself or herself for election to that office be found to be wanting. If the electoral system was reformed to elect a truly representative government from amongst whom a Chief Minister would emerge, the risk would be somewhat diluted. I maintain my position that the electoral system needs urgent reform for the benefit of Gibraltar. Parliamentary reform will consequntly be needed and is needed irrespective of electoral reform.