Saturday, 25 June 2011

Further Reflections on the Chief Minister's Interview

The second theme that comes through in the Chief Minister's recent interview in the Chronic is that he has an ability to sound plausible yet to contradict his own statements in a very short space of time or to make them seem very acceptable when the position adopted by him is not so acceptable. I do not know whether this is a necessary attribute for a politician, I do, however, remember the ability of Sir Joshua to start answering any interview question with the stock phrase "Well yes,no ..." or "Well yes but no ...". At least in his case the ambivalence was obvious. In the case of the present Chief Minister the ambivalence is less clear, yet it is there.

He is quoted in the interview as saying, "I am not obsessed with my own political personal longevity" I am sure there are some who could and would disagree with this statement on their personal knowledge and assessment of Mr Caruana. They do not have to, as Mr Caruana provides the answer himself in reply to the selfsame question from which this quote is taken. Just a few lines further down he says "If the people of Gibraltar ...  entrust me with the governance of Gibraltar for another four years, that would be a fifth term." Well. we all know that no other Chief Minister has ever been entrusted with a fifth term, that alone exemplifies "political longevity". The significant statement is the use of the self-obsessive  "me" in terms of governance and not to refer to his party, the GSD.

That is not, however what is principally significant. What is principally significant (and so says much about Mr Caruana's personal ambition and focus) is the reason he gives for not going on any longer, beyond a fifth term. He explains, "It is pretty inconceivable that carrying on beyond that is consistent with either what the people of Gibraltar are likely to weather, or indeed with the views I have expressed about my concern for orderly succession and passing the baton to the next generation" [this rather leaves Mr Holliday out of the running]. Well, well, well, his view has come about because he feels he may not win a sixth term (the people will not "weather" me) but, obviously, he feels he can win a fifth term.

I have already questioned (in the immediately preceding blog) his new found desire to achieve succession and continuity for his party but this statement itself belies that desire. What chance remains for his successor to succeed at the next but one election in forming government, if Mr Caruana remains as leader of the GSD? A very small one, I believe. The plain reality is that any successor to Mr Caruana would be better off with an election loss at the forthcoming election, with a view to re-grouping and seeking electoral success in the next but one election.

Mr Caruana then goes on to argue that "I ...  mean a renovation of candidates so that the people will see that, to the extent they would welcome a little bit of change in the political scene, that the GSD is delivering change ..." . This may well be his spin but, unfortunately and usually, voters do not believe that "... a little bit of change ..." is actually in the realms of possibility, especially, in a government in which the perception is that a centralised, all powerful individual, the Chief Minister, is exercising the vast majority of power. The recent conversation amongst ministers mistakenly transmitted by GBC is evidence of this, if any were needed, he rules whilst there is no electoral or parliamentary reform.

That is not the central point. The central point is that if there was sincerity in the offer of "... a little bit of change ...", then there must be an inherent risk in that change, namely the "untried" element of the new candidature, yet he contradicts himself by arguing against a change by election of  the GSLP because it offers "...untried risk".  That is the best argument that I have ever heard against democracy. The very essence of democracy is that, on a change of government, the new government is by definition "untried". Was the GSD not "untried" in 1996? The reality is that a change in the GSD candidature does not offer the electorate any change at all whilst Mr Caruana is at the helm. That is what Mr Caruana is actually saying by his obfuscatory statement.

Mr Caruana believes that "When they elect a Chief Minister, the people are not electing the most popular person. They are not even electing the nicest person, electing someone they want to be their friend. What they are electing is somebody who they believe to be the most competent, reliable, safe option to run their affairs and to give them and their family the best quality of life possible and the greatest degree of political security possible." I hate to disappoint Mr Caruana but voters do not elect a Chief Minister: voters vote for Members of Parliament. The Chief Minister is chosen form amongst MPs of the party with a majority in Parliament. Some parties extend the democratic process by electing its leader, others do not.

That said, I do not argue with much of the substance of what he portrays, save that popularity can and should be courted even whilst delivering those objectives that he identifies. Popularity is a matter of attitude and charisma in the manner that even unpleasant decisions are delivered. There is much room for improvement on this front. It is an important factor that voter do take into account at an election.

He then goes on to say "I think people will be hard put to point out a case in which I have imposed my personal view on Government let alone the community". Well which is his real opinion?  This or that he is " ... somebody who they believe to be the most competent, reliable, safe option to run their affairs and to give them and their family the best quality of life possible and the greatest degree of political security possible " which implies single-mindedness and decisiveness and that he is who decides what is best and governs acoordingly : It cannot be both.

It is his next statement that caused me the most surprise because in this same context, he goes on to say "The nearest that we came to [imposing his personal views] was with the reducing of the age of consent, and even then, I allowed my colleagues in the Government a free vote and did not impose any view that I might have on them." He "allowed" ... good god, what character trait does that indicate? The character trait of someone who is " ... not obsessed with my own political personal longevity".

What allowing a free vote did was precisely to lead to an illegality that shifted legislative  responsibility to the judiciary from its rightful place, the legislature: that is to surrender responsibility to the wrong arm of government. It is to impose one's religious and moral view by omission, The responsibilities of government include the responsibility to understand and reflect the changes in moral values of society from a secular perspective. It is the responsibility of parents, educators and religious leaders to teach religious and moral values. It was simply not good enough for the Chief Minister to "allow" a free vote. It was simply not good enough for the ministers as a collective to permit the Chief Minister to do this. They should have supported the policy promoted by Danny Feetham, the Justice Minister. They should have imposed their will on him, but will this "change" be brought about by "..a renovation of candidates ..."? If it does not, as I suspect, new candidature will be no change at all.

I  accept that the Chief Minister or, better still, the Government should be circumspect and not develop "... an obsession with tomorrow's headline or this afternoon's blog [thank you for this recognition]  but not  "... because it leads to bad decisions and bad governance".  The Chief Minister or any government, totally ignoring these is to ignore alternative opinions and to be self-absorbed, which begins to be indicative of lacking democratic credentials. The press and blogs do not deliver "... bad decisions and bad governance". It is adopting bad ideas and opinions that does so. It is through heeding the press and blogs that criticisms, opinions and ideas are heard and can be assessed as good or bad. These can enhance and improve governance and not hinder it. The press is the fourth estate and freedom of speech essential to democracy; you ignore it at your electoral peril. The Chief Minister has himself recognised the worth of the press and blogs by saying, "... the 'third limb' ... parliamentary reform is something we did not pursue as enthusiastically during this term as we set out to do", an issue that this blog has persistently campaigned for and recently brought to the fore. 

Friday, 24 June 2011

Reflections on the Chief Minister's Interview

It would be very easy to sit here and take a swipe at what the Chief Minister has said in his interview in the Chronic of 21st June 2011 but, perhaps, that would be to fall into the very trap that he accuses his opponents of falling into, criticism for the sake of it. Unfortunately one reality of adverserial politics is precisely that, criticism of one's opponents . The party in government will always be subjected to criticism by those wishing to get into government and vice versa. This is precisely one of the attributes that delivers democracy.

There is no doubting one thing: in 15 years the GSD Government has transformed Gibraltar. It is not my intention to be churlish but there is also no doubting that the  GSLP government did lay the foundations of much of what has evolved. Also, it is the result of the entrepreneurial skill that exists in the collective that is Gibraltar. In the fields of the finance centre and gaming the first burst of activity came during the GSLP's term of office. Co-ownership of affordable housing was pioneered by the GSLP administrtaion. The reclamation on which much has been built was undertaken by the GSLP government. Unfortunately the last years of the second term of the GSLP was a disaster. After all the good it had done, it allowed a culture of hooliganism arising from illicit tobacco activities (and other illicit acts camouflaged by tobacco) to develop. Gibraltar quite rightly was not prepared to tolerate this and did not do so.

One great ability of the GSD has been to grab the bull by the horns and immediately deal with the fundamental problem that Gibraltar was faced with at that time, reputation and image. It took a short while but as the Chief Minister says   " ...  a repositioning and salvaging of Gibraltar's international image and reputation [was achieved]...  an environment in which the Gibraltar economy could succeed with a high level of reputation [was created]..." All things need to be said, however, the truth is that these accomplishments essentially reinstated what are the fundamental morals and principles of society in Gibraltar. It has been accomplished because it is what the people wanted. Prior to the election of the GSD administration, the people came out onto the Main Street in their thousands and vociferously demonstrated against the destructive culture that developed at the latter end of the GSLP period in government. It was a perfect example of democracy at work. The success of the GSD has been to project this true image of Gibraltar abroad and generally.

Reputation and image are fragile and can easily fall apart in no time. Already the incidence of illicit tobacoo trade is evident and increasing. It may be less "in your face" and  more under cover. It may be  more controlled. However, it is there. The potential for that to be exploited against Gibraltar exists. It was the GSD who promised to rid Gibraltar of this activity. Is the revenue from this source so necessary to enable governments to keep manifesto promises to provide so many projects and benefits? If that is the case then our politicians have to think again, mitigate their promises that require excessive expenditure and agree to provide what Gibraltar is capable of affording without the revenue stream from tobacco. It is called living within one's means and one's means should not include revenue from illicit activity. It is an aspect of Gibraltar that needs careful thought and action.

Moving on to a new topic, I share the Chief Minister"s belief that a change of government for the sake of change is to be avoided. Change of this type is not something that I advocate. What I do advocate is that those who put themselves up for election should offer the electorate something positive, be it intangible or tangible. They should have manifestos that set out values and goals as well as specific policy aims. They should not harp on about the past successes. Those are in the bag already and such behaviour smacks of being bereft of new policies or ideas. Also they should not harp on about the past failings of other parties.

Democracy demands and requires a choice. It demands and requires that the electorate be given a real choice, not a choice between the best of two bad lots. That is not to be critical of all or any party offering itself for election, it is simply a reflection that an electorate tires of the same old faces. It gets tired of staleness and seeks innovation. The Chief Minister put it very well "  ... elections get harder to win the more you have under your belt. That is normal in a mature democracy." I believe this is actually a reflection of the centralisation of all focus on one person the Chief Minister, whoever he or she might be at any time. I maintain that this focus is, in part, due to the electoral and parliamenary system that exists in Gibraltar. In this regard I am glad that the Chief Minister has seen fit (and if all be said, has been big enough) to admit that " ... the 'third limb' ... parliamenary and electoral reform is something we did not pursue as enthusiastically during this term as we set out to do". I find this a reassuring statement. I believe, now, that this might well happen if the GSD government is elected for a fifth term. It will certainly not behove them well if it does not happen. What remains to be seen and judged is what the extent of these reforms will be.

Another matter on which I must also agree with the Chief Mnister (Cousin Robert agreeing rather often!) is that being Chief Minister is more than a full time job and requires enormous energy, commitment and dedication. There is no room for distractions. It is not within the realms of possibility that anyone faced with even giving evidence in court can or should contemplate taking on this office. In this the current Chief Minister's view is a correct view, when he says that " ... Gibraltar cannot afford a Chief Minister  ...  embroiled in court proceedings in one capacity or other as a witness, helping the authorities with their inquiries in the UK or Spain." Fabian owes it to democracy to openly and transparently reveal all and to what extent these issues might take up his time. Time which he will not be able to afford (but will have to make, to the detriment of his ability to be Chief Minister)  if his party is elected and forms government.

Gibraltar cannot afford to have an absent Chief Minister or one who is distracted or preoccupied with matters unrelated to his duties as Chief Minister for any length of time. Fabian also owes it to his party to be clear on any issue affecting his ability to dedicate the entirety of his time to the office of Chief Minister. It may be that Fabian's professional issues have other repercussions. One does not know. It seems that they can only complicate the argument against him being Chief Minister rather than in favour of his being so. The incumbent Chief Minister argues this issue on the basis of "judgment" or rather lack of it. This is a dangerous argument for an incumbet Chief Minister to rely on. Examples and criticisms of bad judgments and mistakes against anyone who is in government will always be more abundant than for those who have been in opposition. There are better arguments than this based on the circumstances faced by Fabian.

One issue on which I must disagree with the Chief Minister is his statement "It is generally known that one of the things that I attach importance to in my own political journey, is to ensure that the GSD has an orderly succession, so it does not suffer the fate of other political parties, where, it having been seen as the political vehicle of one individual, it then dies with the political career of that individual." This may be what he has had hidden in the recesses of his mind but it has only come into the public arena now. I would simply mention two names in reaction to this statement, Peter Montegriffo and Keith Azopardi. What is salutary is that he has now said this. I believe it is an important commitment. It is more important that it should come to be and actually happen. The process has to be seen to be happening and evolving. If it is seen to be happening the electoral chances of the GSD will be enhanced but part of the evidence is to see the existence of an actual party with a wide membership and party meetings.

All in all an interesting interview. One which gives some insight into various important considerations. One which, to a small degree, starts to demarcate the battleground for the next election. One that, however, does not include or contain any new ideas. The Chief Minister said "As a result of having been so ambitious, four year terms end and you just do not have time to do everything in your manifesto and then your political opponents ignore the 80% that you have done  ... and attack you on the 20% that you have not done, and perhaps if we had been less ambitious and instead of putting in 100 things, we had put in 80 things, we would have completed." This throws up two other problems for the GSD. First it has to be seen to be admitting not to have done things that it promised to do. Secondly it leaves very few new policies for inclusion in its next manifesto but only time will tell... anyway I will be a happier man if Gibraltar gets adequate and appropriate electoral and parliamentary reforms. These reforms will enhance the ability of people to participate in politics at a different level and will carry with it the benefit of throwing up potential candidates to hold the office of Chief Minister in the future.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

To be or not to be ... a Colony?

We are again in UN 4th Committee and UN C24 season. All the politicians roll out their different shades of thin slicing  political argument (to give an impression of difference and greater nationalism) on the issue of Gibraltar being delisted from the UN list of the 16 remaining non-self-governing territories. Where does this actually get us?

So much that is said is so irrelevant to today's Gibraltar. So much of what is said is for internal consumption to gain electoral popularity. So much of what is said is sterile and boring argument between politicians on issues that are of no or little concern to the electorate. For these reasons, I decided to take a look, once again, at what  this subject is really about. I decided to go to the core documentation to enable me to come to my own conclusions on the issue of Gibraltar and its UN classification as a non-self-governing territory. It is not an issue that one can be right or wrong on. It is an issue on which one can have an opinion. For what it is worth I write about what is now my view.

What struck me first is that the UN Charter does not define or refer to "colony". It deals with "non-self governing territories". Article 73 talks of nations  " ... which have or assume responsibilities for the administration of territories whose peoples have not yet attained a full measure of self-government " and of the UN recognising " ... the principle that the interests of the inhabitants of these territories are paramount"  and the UN accepting "... the obligation to promote ... the well-being of the inhabitants of these territories ..." It is self-evident that the thrust of the duty imposed on members of the UN, which includes Spain, relates to inhabitants and not to issues of ownership of or sovereignty over the territory itself. How does the UN say that "... a full measure of self-government ..." is attained? Well the answer to this is provided in General Assembly Resolution 1541 of 1960, which provides three methods, independence, free association or integration.

Well we all know, now, that independence is not, in the eyes of the UK, possible without Spain's agreement because the UK consider that it is bound by the option of first refusal in favour of Spain contained in the Treaty of Utrecht. In my view this position of the UK is the determinative of this option, albeit that it is not accepted by Gibraltar. This raises an interesting thought, that it is not the UK that is the member of the UN which is preventing delisting Gibraltar but rather Spain. Spain argues that the road to delisting is not independence but rather integration with Spain. This suggestion, however, breaches the fundamental  duty imposed on Members of the UN by Article 73 that the duty is towards inhabitants and not territorial ownership or sovereignty. Spain should not be permitted to use the UN to advance its sovereignty claim, that is not within the remit of the UN.

It is interesting to see the evolution of this concept of caring for inhabitants. It is vocalised in General Assembly Resolution 1514. It asks UN members to be mindful of human rights, the dignity and worth of humans, equal rights, social progress and better standards within larger freedom. Further to be conscious of the need for stability by respecting equal rights and self-determination, of observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms without discrimination. They further recognise the desire for independence and are aware of the conflict and threat to peace that this desire brings, whilst recocgnising that lack of self-government prevents economic cooperation and impedes social, cultural and economic development.  It affirms the right of people to freely dispose of natural wealth and resources. It talks of "liberation" to avoid serious crises and to end segregation and discrimination and the right to "complete freedom".

So where are we on this list of wishes?  I think we can all agree that protection of fundamental, human and equal rights is included in and protected by the 2006 Constitution, which binds the UK. Gibraltar is stable and peaceful. There is no conflict or threat to peace through lack of independence. There is such sufficiency of self-government in Gibraltar as allows for economic cultural and social development. It  allows us full control of our means of "production" and economic prosperity. We are "liberated", save from ourselves due to our lack of desire in our own elected political classes to reform the  electoral system and Parliament to provide greater accountability. There is no discrimination or curtailment of "complete freedom" in the modern 21st century accepted sense and as available in any other territory or nation.

Does that mean that we are decolonised? To me, it most certainly does, especially in light of the reigning realities of how Gibraltar is run and governed as reinforced by the modern relationship that exists with the UK and the respect shown, in practice, by the UK towards Gibraltar's institutions and government. I have no complex whatsoever on that subject. I do not feel at all self-conscious about Gibraltar's relationship with the UK.  What I describe is my view of the reality of today's Gibraltar. which is not a "colony" in the sense of an oppressed or disadvantaged people that have no or few rights.

Does it mean that we have exercised our full and complete right to self-determination? No, unfortunately there is a reason why this cannot be and is not so to the ultimate degree but it is important to understand that this is a matter of degree. The reason is the continual reaffirmation by the UK of Spain's option under the Treaty of Utrecht combined with Spain's intransigent emphasis on its territorial claim and not the rights of the inhabitants of Gibraltar. These territorial aspirations in disregard of the inhabitants are contrary to Spain's obligations under the UN Charter. It is these factors that lead to the restrictions on absolute self-government that are included in the 2006 Constitution that I have repeatedly written about, namely the Governor's powers and the reserved right of the UK to impose direct rule. This does not detract from the practical reality that today Gibraltar is for all intents and purpose and in practice a self-governing territory.

Do these constitutional restrictions matter in reality in manner that detracts from self-government? I think not because the Governor's powers on defence, security and international obligations are matters that Gibraltar could not deal with effectively and their application by the UK are, in any event, circumscribed by international law, convention and practice. The UK's right to ensure good governance under the 2006 Constitution is a safeguard to democracy and so inline and consonant with the objectives of the UN as expressed in its Charter and applicable resolutions.

Additionally, avoiding interference by the UK on the ground of breaches of good governance is the responsibility of and totally under the control of our elected government and the manner in which it behaves and exercises its powers. The ability to improve on the delivery of good governance lies with Gibraltar's government and Parliament through effecting electoral and parliamentary reforms. It should effect these soonest.

I really do not believe, nor can I conceive that Gibraltar's lack of ability to exercise a final right of self-determination by arrangement with and act of a member of the UN, Spain, renders us, applying 21st century concepts and principles, a non-self-governing territory or a colony. This is so clearly outside the mischief that the UN has vocalised in its resolutions, as briefly explained above, that it wants to prevent. I hold the view that this fine distinction between being a "colony" and not having exercised the absolutist's and purist's view of self determination can be drawn in today's world. If it does render Gibraltar a non-self-governing territory, the finger must be pointed at Spain and not the UK.

It is Spain's politics,arisng in part fro Spain's opportunistic use of the UK's adherence (for reasons of its own and never fully explained) to outdated historical treaties, that is prohibiting an advance that the UN seeks should be achieved. The UN requires this advance to meet its stated aim, importantly, for the benefit of inhabitants and not physical territorial aspirations of a third party nation, Spain. The 2006 Constitution deals with the vast bulk, not to say all, criticism that could be levied in terms of the considerations of the UN on ridding the world of non-self-governing territories as summarised above.

In this scenario one should consider the stance adopted by the  UK at the UN 4th Committee in 2009. Briefly the UK states that it has a modern relationship with its UKOTs. This relationship is based on partnership, shared values and self-determination. It is not based on an imposition of independence. If independence is an unconstrained option it is willing to grant it, so long as the relevant inhabitants so desire but whilst the link with the UK is relished, so be it. Surely the UN cannot possibly be critical of this? The UK emphasizes its commitment to good governance, political and economic transparency, enhanced security and reduced vulnerability to natural and man-made disasters. In summary, the UK's fundamental aims are "... high standards of probity and governance .. ." with " .... no wish to micromanage its relationship with ... " the UKOTs. Its commitment is " ... allowing each to run its own affairs to the greatest degree possible ... "

This brings me to the recent controversy, to go or not to go to either or both of the UN 4th Committee and/or the UN C24?

One thing I am sure of: the reason given by the GSD Government for not going to the UN C24 is no reason. It is not accurate to say that the UN 4th Committee deals with sovereignty and the UN C24 with decolonisation, both committees deal with decolonisation.

The answer seems obvious to me, whilst there is any doubt in the minds of the UN as to Gibraltar's status, we must go. We must go to put our case to both committees, namely that we are not an oppressed people  but a free people under a good constitution and that we are self-governing. We must go to support the arguments of the UK. These seem to me to be eminently sensible, simple and in line with what the UN has identified that it wants to achieve and to  avoid in so called non-self-governing territories. We must go to tell the UN that if they want Gibraltar to achieve absolute self-determination it is the position adopted bythe UK (its adherence to the Treaty of Utrecht) and the opportunism applied by Spain, relying on this right under the Traety of Utrecht, in furthering its claim before the UN that prevents it but that if given a choice between one or the other, we are happy with our lot, our constitutional advances and our treatment by the UK.

We should not go and act in manner that will worsen our relations with or to confront the UK. This will simply please Spain. We should not go in order that our politicians make speeches that are mere electoral posturing for home consumption. We should not go to highlight internal or external conflict. It is easy really but why is it not done?

Sunday, 12 June 2011

The Governor, the Chief Minister, the Mayor and Colonialism

The Governor writes in the Pennant, the Forces Pension Association journal, he is quoted in the Chronicle and the Mayor takes umbrage  publicly in a letter to that newspaper. The Chief Minister arrives in an official car at the Queen's Birthday Parade and the programme includes an instruction to guests to "stand" on his arrival, which they do. These occurrences give rise to questions, which have prompted me to analyse and comment on them.

One particular statement of the Governor, in his article, sharply drew my attention. It expresses such an obvious and simple explanation of the role of the Governor that it annoyed me that I had never myself analysed it in that way or thought of it. I refer to his explanation of the functions of the Governor vis a vis his duties to the UK and those to Gibraltar, with their inherent potential for conflict. This has always eluded me but, no doubt without the experience that comes from performing the role, it is not an easy concept to think through in the manner that the Governor has explained it

The Governor expressed that relationship in the following terms:

"The Governor's job is largely a two-way facilitation and communication: it involves in one direction promoting (but not delivering) HMG policy in Gibraltar and at the same time representing the position of the Government of Gibraltar and the interests of the people of Gibraltar back to HMG."

What grabbed my attention is the fine distinction made by the words (in bold) chosen.  The use of the word "promoting" clearly casts the role of the Governor in the same light as that of an ambassador. One role of an ambassador is to promote, in the country to which he is sent, the policies of the government that he represents. An ambassador does not have the power of "delivering"  on such policies. This distinction so clearly adopts and explains the changed emphasis of government that the 2006 Constitution brought about. It shifted competencies from the Governor to the elected Parliament and Government of Gibraltar.

There are exceptions, which Sir Adrian Johns, refers to in his article. These are those areas of competency which are in the hands of the Governor under the 2006 Constitution, namely security, defence and external affairs. In exercise of these competencies the Governor's job includes "delivering".  What slightly surprised me is something that he left unsaid, but the reasons for the omission I believe are  obvious, including, the length, context, readership and objective of the article. The omitted subject is one that I have highlighted in earlier blogs: his constitutional role of ensuring good governance.

This role is vested in the Governor, alone or to be exercised with the Minister of State, by virtue of his powers of disallowance of laws passed in Parliament by reason of them being "... repugnant to or inconsistent with ..." the 2006 Constitution. He also has powers of disallowance if any laws are " ... repugnant to good government or incompatible with any international legal obligations." (Section 33(2)(a) and (b) for those who wish to check this power). In fairness, in another part of his article he did allude vaguely to this power, by saying that the Governor is "...  the Queen's representative in the Territory and is thus the de facto Head of State as well as being a constitutional part of the overall government of Gibraltar."

Who then is responsible for "delivering" HMG policy in Gibraltar?  The only answer there can be to that is HMG itself through the appropriate Ministry, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and its Ministers. They too need to work within the boundaries established in the 2006 Constitution. Only in extreme circumstances can (or rather perhaps safer to say "should") HMG deploy its ultimate safeguard. This safeguard is the much ignored (in Gibraltar) constitutional ability and right of HMG to " .... make laws ... for the peace, order and good government (including ... laws amending or revoking the Constitution)." (paragraph 8 of Annex 2).

The Governor's article has prompted a reaction from Anthony J. P. Lombard that is critical of aspects of it . Mr Lombard is the current Mayor of Gibraltar. Constitutionally the Mayor performs functions of a civic character. Thus he is the "civic" representative of Gibraltar, elected by MPs, who represent the people. This renders him the "civic" representative of the people. Should the "civic" representative of the people be embroiling himself in criticising the views of the Head of State? I would suggest not. Even less if his criticisms are, on closer examination, not as fair as they might seem on a cursory reading.

His first criticism is that the Governor highlights the well known position of HMG, as included in the Despatch to the 2006 Constitution, that independence for Gibraltar is not possible without Spain's agreement, whilst, in the same breath, not stating that this view is not shared by the Government of Gibraltar (GOG). A position adopted by GOG, which, Mr Lombard says HMG accept, contrary to my own understanding of HMG's position. I do not believe that Mr Lombard's criticism is merited. It is certainly nitpicking.

The Governor in his article is undertaking his role of "promoting" HMG's well known view on this point. This aspect of Gibraltar's relationship with Spain that is highlighted by the Governor is a matter of external affairs, which is in the constitutional competency of HMG. It is for GOG to promote and argue its own view, which is what GOG reserved in the Despatch to the 2006 Constitution. GOG's reservation is expressed, in the Despatch, precisely just as being that, its own view that it does not accept that the Treaty of Utrecht is a bar on independence. The Governor would expose himself to possible criticism from GOG for stepping into GOG's political territory had he made reference to that subject. The article is not a political piece, so a statement to the effect suggested by Mr Lombard would have been out of context and needful of fuller political (which is not the remit of the Governor)  explanation and contextualisation had it been made.  The context, length and readership did not merit such political comment. Lastly it is a matter of detail that does not interest readers of that type of article outside the confines of Gibraltar.

His second criticism is that the Governor has suggested that the Gibraltarian identity has been forged in the 42 years during and since Franco's 1969 Economic Siege. Mr Lombard does not accurately reflect what the Governor wrote. The Governor wrote that Spain "... unwittingly defined the present day Gibraltarian identity." Undoubtedly the overall Gibraltarian identity has been forged over a much longer period of time. The statement by the Governor is, not only qualified by the use of the words in bold, but also because it appears in the context of the argument that this siege forged the determination of today's Gibraltarians to remain British. In context it is an argument deployed in the article to explain and emphasize why Gibraltar will remain British and how this desire is deeply ingrained in the character of Gibraltarians today.

His third criticism is the Governor's statement that there is " ... nothing like the White Ensign to make the point of ownership" is ironic in light of its absence in recent incidents with Spain in the Bay. Well, the Governor said ".. make the point ...", in todays diplomacy this is what is important, making points not inflaming situations which only brings more serious and widespread repercussions. This must be  especially so as between military allies. The Governor precisely makes the White Ensign point in the context of the Bay incidents. He confirms that "the Royal Navy has a key part to play in all of this in representing and protecting British sovereignty here."  I would have thought this was quite a reassuringly powerful statement that should be welcome not criticised.

Well, turning now to the Chief Minister. Briefly made the point is that we should be wary of substituting colonial behaviour towards Britain with a form of home grown colonial behaviour towards our own elected and unelected officials. Of course they should be accorded the respect and deference that their office demands for them but that respect and deference is to the office not the individual.

I thought it inappropriate that any Chief Minister should make an entrance at the Queen's Birthday parade and that guests should be asked to stand for him. The parade is for the Queen. We accept, by having voted to adopt the 2006 Constitution, and agree that the Queen's representative in Gibraltar is the Governor. He appears at the parade as the Queen herself appears at the equivalent parade in London. The UK Prime Minister was there. He made no grand entrance. That was reserved exclusively for Her Majesty and, to a lesser degree, her family. That seems to me to be the correct form.

Before anyone accuses me of being a colonial lackey, I will refute that suggestion. What I attempt is consistency between, on one side, my behaviour and views and, the other, my British Nationality and desire to remain British. All Gibraltar wishes to remain British and have continually expressed this desire. The majority of Gibraltar voted in favour of the 2006 Constitution that guarantees this, whilst giving us a greater degree of self government.

The referendum for the 2006 Constitution was not an act of self determination but it rather restricted self determination. It accepted reference in the Despatch to Spain's veto, as explained above, and our continued British sovereignty. Inclusion of the Spanish veto was a good reason for not having had the Referendum but the GSD Government knew better: it oddly decided to have the Referendum. It compounded this odd decision by selling the Referendum to the people as an exercise of the right of self determination. Weird, I have certainly never understood that reasoning. It seems that even the current Chief Minister now admits, by his Andorra comment, that we have not, as yet, exercised our right to self determination.

My behaviour will continue to be to defer to and respect the office of Governor and treat him as one would treat Her Majesty, were one to have the honour of meeting her in person. This is not behaving as a colonial lackey but rather as a loyal British National without any inferiority or other complex in a territory that continuously reaffirms its British sovereignty. It is no more or less than a British National of the UK would do in the UK.  It is worse, in my view, to overly defer, in the manner of a colonial lackey, to our own officials, especially on occasions when such deference is not due to them. After all they are our servants, especially the elected ones. This is not to suggest that one should not treat them with the utmost respect and deference but that should not present anyone with a problem, if one, as a matter of good manners, treats all humans with respect and deference, which would include volunteering to stand on the arrival of a Chief Minister anywhere.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Port Authority of New York and New Jersey- Can we Learn from it?

Two recent events have reminded me of a suggestion that came to my attention about 25 years. The first is a recent visit that I made to New York where I saw numerous signs advertising the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The second is the recent fuel tank fire at North Mole. They may seem unrelated and disparate events but the reason why I made the connection is because of the subject of inter-state cooperation. 

One subject on which everyone seems agreed is that, whether in Gibraltar or elsewhere, the resources available in any individual locality will not be sufficient to deal with all emergencies. There will be emergencies of a size that will require assistance from services from other localities. In a large country, this is usually not a problem, the services of a nearby town or county can be relied upon to help. In Gibraltar such assistance is only available from a foreign state, Spain. A foreign state that has a sovereignty claim on Gibraltar.

There is no doubt that Spain will and has helped, as evidenced recently. The question is not that it will or will not help. The question is, what agreed fixed arrangements are there in place to deal with these situations? It seems, from the little that I have heard, that such arrangements as exist are informal and ad hoc. They seem to depend on personal connections and relationships established between individuals within each of the emergency services. The problem with such arrangements is not that help is not forthcoming but the political repercussions of having to rely on informal arrangements. This is especially so in light of Spain's sovereignty claim. Spain will always have a political propagandist angle that it will exploit, perhaps not at a national level but certainly at a local level. These incidents and the lack of formalised arrangements gives Spain ammunition that it may not have were formal cooperation agreements to exist.

The Trilateral Talks Communique of the 21st July 2009 included six areas for agreement on cooperation. One of these was:

"We have sought to ensure a high level of environmental protection in Gibraltar and the whole region, especially the Campo de Gibraltar, by proposing co-operation in areas such as pollution from maritime activity and traffic, bunkering operations, industrial emissions and water discharges, waste disposal and land reclamations, among others. This co-operation is intended to take the form of liaisons, establishment of contact points and urgent means of communication, rehearsed co- operation in co-ordinated incident response, and other means... We are committed to reaching agreements in these areas as soon as possible preferably by the end of the year , and in any event by next year's ministerial round."

Undoubtedly this intention is sufficiently widely worded to include cooperation agreements on mutual assistance to be provided by the emergency services of Gibraltar and the Campo de Gibraltar in the event of need in an emergency. Formal arrangements reduce, if not eliminate, the ability to use such events as propaganda against Gibraltar. However despite the expression of desire to reach agreement, none have been reached as yet.

However, why limit cooperation in this manner? Why not go one step further and cooperate to enhance the overall exploitation of the port and airport resources of the Bay of Gibraltar for the economic benefit of the whole area? That is what New York and New Jersey agreed to do in 1921 when by inter-state agreement they created the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.  I quote a brief description from and provide a link to an online encyclopedia: 

"Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, self-sustaining public corporation established in 1921 by the states of New York and New Jersey to administer the activities of the New York–New Jersey port area, which has a waterfront of c.900 mi (1,450 km) lying in both states. In 1917 the governors of New York and New Jersey appointed a bistate commission to study the problem of coordinating port and harbor development for the two states as a whole in an attempt to resolve the many disputes between the states concerning such matters as boundaries, marine police jurisdiction, and freight rates. Out of this group's recommendations grew the idea for the authority, and in 1921 a compact was signed (the Port Compact) that defined a single Port District and provided for its administration by a Port Authority that was to coordinate terminal, transportation, and other facilities of commerce. Originally called the Port of New York Authority, the name was changed in 1972 to reflect the joint administration of the port.

Read more: 
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey —"

I do not suggest an identical copy of what was created in New York and New Jersey. I believe that it is an example from which we could learn. There are similarities and there are differences. The obvious difference is that both New York and New Jersey are part of the USA. The similarity is that they are each separate and distinct states within a federation, with separate and distinct governments and administrative competencies and that by a cooperation agreement issues of dispute between them were resolved. I am sure that the resources available on each side of the frontier between Gibraltar and Spain could be used to enhance the overall offering of the Bay of Gibraltar. This becomes increasingly important, now, when faced with increased competition from the new Tangier port across the Straits of Gibraltar.

I believe it may be a controversial suggestion but one worthy of thought and debate. It may well be that it is a non-starter. If that is the case, let that be so, after consideration and debate, not because no one has thought of it or because it is rejected out of hand without due analysis and proper thought and consideration. Innovative ways forward need to be considered if Gibraltar is to move on and improve itself especially in today's world. Expansion of the economy and opportunities on both sides of the frontier  will be enhanced if available resources are shared across the border and future investment is made wisely thus avoiding duplication.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Reforms- Has the Political Ping Pong Game Started?

On Thursday the Leader of the Opposition's reply to the Chief Minister on the subject of democratic reforms was made public. The reply is inconclusive and unspecific as to the Oppositions ambition on reforms. On these grounds, my initial reaction has to be one of some disappointment but there are grounds for some optimism in the reply. However, I have some insight into the thinking of Fabian Picardo on this subject from conversations he has had with me over an extended period of time, the outline of which I will reveal below. This insight leads me to be more hopeful than I would be if I were to base my reaction solely on his reply to the Chief Minister.

The Leader of the Opposition's letter emphasises something that has been a continuing theme in this blog, that "... there are serious problems with the way democracy is working." That is a major admission that must lead to a little optimism. We now have both the GSD Government and the GSLP/Liberal Opposition convinced that reforms to Parliament are necessary but neither have said anything about electoral reforms. The PDP have  acknowledged the need for electoral reforms and parliamentary reforms, although the latter do not go far enough, nor do those of the GSD go far enough. The GSLP/Lib Alliance still have to formally announce theirs, so the jury is out on them.

The acknowledgments by all the parties that democratic reforms are needed are significant as they are important. They together amount to a common admission that the system of government in Gibraltar, since a degree of self-government was first achieved in 1969, have fallen short of requirements of democracy. That is a massive admission to have obtained from the very "culprits" who have taken advantage of this democratic deficit. I refer to the very politicians who are in power. It is this that allows me to retain some optimism for the future. The issue of reform is now high on the political agenda. Failure to deliver by existing politicians on this front or to adequately reform the system will leave open a huge political void that can be filled by individuals like me, not at this coming election but at the next following election.

The second disappointment in Fabian Picardo's reply is precisely that, delay. He wants the issue to be brought back to the Select Committees and to be fully and properly considered following a full and detailed public consultation. In fairness this is what was promised by the Government, who have failed to deliver to date. It is also clear that the matter is far too important to be rushed. If, and it is a big if still, reforms are to be delivered during the term of the next parliament, then it is best to get them right. There will not be a second bite at the cherry. Delay, if used constructively, is not a bad thing but let politicians not forget their solemn promises to the electorate, already made, on the issue of reforms. I believe that if the void that I refer to earlier is left over, it will be filled by the next but one election. I will certainly work towards ensuring that it is filled. My recent decision is not to stand for election at this forthcoming election. It does not extend beyond that.

It is salutary to see in his reply to the Chief Minister the extent of Fabian's commitment to democratic reforms. He confirms that there has been no change of policy by the Opposition. He reiterates the need to reform Parliament. He confirms the need to open up Parliament to the people in a manner that improves the quality of democracy. He agrees that the people must have the ability to hold Government to account. These are important and powerful commitments but it is rhetoric at this stage. One will only be able to assess whether these heady objectives can be achieved when the actual proposals are published.

From my discussions with Fabian, I am hopeful that progress will be made. Will his proposals be enough? The devil is in the detail. I will hold back on answering that question until he formally announces his proposals. In the meantime, I will limit myself to reporting what I know of the proposals to date.

I understand that Fabian does not agree with restrictions, proposed by the GSD Government, on  the number, time or subject matter on which Ministers can be questioned in Parliament. I agree with him.

He believes that much time could be saved if statistics, on which questions are asked regularly and repeatedly, were to be published. I agree with him, so should the GSD Government who have always promised "open and transparent" government.

He proposes the appointment of a Deputy Speaker, to help deal with more frequent meetings and some additional parliamentary staff. Although I agree with this suggestion for purely practical reasons, it is a purely housekeeping matter that does not enhance democracy.

He agrees with GBC broadcasting Parliament but suggests online broadcasting also. Again a minor point that opens up Parliament to public scrutiny. It is hardly earth shattering in the delivery of greater democracy. The same goes for suggestions to speed up the deliver of Hansard and making past and future Hansards available online.

The important issue is the issue that I have emphasised over and over again, the separation of powers between the executive and the legislature. My suggestion has always been a combination of electoral reform and an increase in the size of Parliament  such as would allow for and deliver backbench MPs. Fabian does not agree on the valid ground that he does not believe that this will deliver the required scrutiny, transparency and accountability of the executive. He may or may not be right on this argument. It all depends on his actual suggestion as to how the separation of powers will be achieved.

My view is that without some separation of powers, sufficient parliamentary scrutiny, accountability and transparency of the executive will not exist. In his conversations with me he continually alludes to the possibility of achieving an "independent" voice in Parliament by other means. He has not been specific in his proposals on this issue. If this aspect of the democratic deficit is not resolved satisfactorily, nothing will have been achieved by giving effect to his other proposals. The exercise would have been a complete waste of time. The void that I allude to will be created and I believe that there are people who will step into that void, possibly by a negotiated joining of forces with the PDP, who are more receptive to the democratisation agenda.

All in all, following the recent announcements by the GSD Government and the GSLP/Lib Opposition, on the subject of parliamentary reform, there is room for measured optimism. The fight to achieve more democracy has only just begun. I am taken a little aback at the progress made in such a short period of time, the main one is having got the issue on the political agenda and the main parties to accept the need for reform. The fight will not be over until, first, the politicians announce what they propose in detail, secondly until and if they heed the public in the suggested public consultation and lastly until acceptable and sufficient reforms are enacted. Until then we must remain vigilant and prepared to fill any political void left by any failure of the GSD and/or the GSLP/Lib alliance to deliver proper and adequate reforms.