Monday, 29 August 2011

Political Conduct

There is now an acknowledgment by all political parties that there is a need to improve conduct in public life. The PDP recognised as much by proposing reforms of Parliament and of the electoral system. The GSLP/Liberals have not only recognized the need for such reforms but now have put codes of conduct on the political map in Gibraltar. The sadness of all this is that it was the GSD that was elected into government in 1996 with a promise to clean up Gibraltar's image and of good governance. 16 years on, the best that it comes up with is minor proposals for reform and an admission that they have failed to carry out this central and core policy that was promised by them to the electorate. Yes, it may be that in terms of the fast launch saga Gibraltar's image has been cleaned up by 16 years of GSD administration. This cannot, however, be a good reason to keep them in Government. This sorry episode was ended, never to to be resumed by any future administration. There is a new issue on this front today that needs to be tackled. 

The image of a jurisdiction is greatly dependent on the image of its government. It is not realities that produce a good or a bad image, although realities play a big part. It is perception that goes to the root of image. Perception of the GSD Government on this front is fast becoming tainted. It is irrelevant whether there is good or bad reason for this. I would think that its record of omission on the subject of parliamentary and electoral reform is such as would give credence to the image of the GSD Government that is evolving. The central question is what good reason could there be for this failure? I shall leave the reader to come to his/her own conclusion. 

In the course of my research on the subject of a "Ministerial Code", a subject which has now been made topical by the recent press release issued by the GSLP/Liberal Alliance, I came across the following: 
"Our new government has a particular and historic responsibility: to rebuild confidence in our political system. .. people have lost faith in politics and politicians. It is our duty to restore their trust. It is not enough simply to make a difference ... the key principles [are] freedom, fairness and responsibility ...we must remember that we are not masters but servants. Though the British people have been disappointed in their politicians, they still expect the highest standards of conduct." 
The sentiments expressed in this quote are of equal application in Gibraltar. They are sentiments expressed in this blog week after week. It is taken from the Rt Hon David Cameron's Prime Ministerial Foreward to the Ministerial Code of the UK. 

 The question in Gibraltar is how does it best seek to achieve a result at the forthcoming General Election that is most likely to deliver this objective? The choice will be to block vote or to show disapproval of the political system by breaking that block vote. Voting for individuals irrespective of party allegiance and delivering to party leaders a low personal poll is a very direct expression of discontent. Party leaders cannot have it both ways. If they choose to exert autocratic power they must also take the blame for failures personally.

If you cannot break away from the block vote, what to do? Well that is a choice for you. I will simply leave you with one thought, the GSD have promised open, transparent and good government. They got into power on the back of this promise in 1996 in a background of wholesale breakdown in law and order. Certainly there have been improvements in Gibraltar but have they delivered on systemic changes that will continue to deliver to Gibraltar open, transparent and good government in the future by ALL administrations? I do not believe they have. I believe that that in complete disregard of and in breach of sacred promises to the electorate, there has been a complete and utter failure by the GSD to deliver any such systemic reforms. This is the primary reason why I shall not be block voting for the GSD at the forthcoming election, contrary to how I have voted in the past 4 elections. I will vote for worthy individuals. I urge you to do the same. The alternative is a vote for the GSLP/Liberal Alliance or for the PDP. The PDP have promised systemic changes. The GSLP/Liberal Alliance is now making very interesting promises on this front. The GSLP/Liberal Alliance has historic baggage. It is time for the electorate to discard this consideration and move on. We owe as much to the survival of democracy in Gibraltar. If a GSLP/Liberal Alliance does not deliver on its promises, in 4 years, we can return a GSD Government who will, by then, have learnt the lesson of having ignored and treated the electorate with disdain on this issue.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The Self Determination Delusion

We are right in the middle of silly season in politics. Many are on holiday and so political activity and interest is at a minimum. It is, however, a good time to reflect on political issues, especially those that become accepted folklore without further scrutiny, analysis and criticism. With scrutiny, analysis and criticism new roads towards ultimate objectives can open up. One illusion that the GSD is responsible for creating is the belief that the 2006 Constitution together with the referendum was an act of self determination. As I have argued frequently, it was not. It was a welcome step on the road to greater self government but no more. My question is, can we use that advance to accelerate our journey to self determination?

Before I answer that question, I shall briefly explain (again and with apologies to those who have read this before) why the 2006 Constitution was not an achievement of what was intended (and some in the GSD advocate) that it would achieve: self determination. First and importantly the Governor and the UK Government retain substantial powers. They are responsible that laws are made for the "... peace, order and good government ..." of Gibraltar. The Governor with the consent of the FCO MInister has powers to make laws on matters that are within its remit. These are external affairs, defence, internal security and certain appointments to public office. The Governor and/or the FCO Minister may refuse to assent to any law passed in Parliament that is
  • repugnant to or inconsistent with the Constitution (which read with the fundamental rights chapter and the good governance reservation is a wider power than may, at first sight, seem to be the case); or 
  • repugnant to good government; or
  • incompatible with international obligations (i.e. EU Laws and treaty obligations).
Lastly but importantly HMG retains full legislative powers, including the power to amend or revoke the Constitution.

It is also a fact that the Treaty of Utrecht, which is now enshrined in the Despatch to the Constitution, circumscribes the ability to achieve independence. It provides that Gibraltar goes to Spain should it cease to be British. Independence is therefore not an option without Spain's acquiescence, which may be an unpalatable thought but a real one. Irrespective of the Treaty of Utrecht, independence without that consent is impossible. Gibraltar's membership of the EU is by reason of its ties with the UK. For Gibraltar to remain in the EU as an independent state would require Spain's approval. If Gibraltar were to leave the EU in order to achieve independence, the imperative for the frontier to remain open with free movement would disappear. Absent an open frontier Gibraltar's ability to remain an economically viable unit is grossly diminished or, in my view, destroyed.

How, in the bleak scenario that I have painted, can I believe that it is possible to advance on the road to self determination? Simple really, we have to navigate a path of good democratic governance within the constitutional bounds, thus making it difficult or impossible for any UK interference in our affairs. It will also help to reduce Spanish influence and argument. As confidence grows in our ability to maturely govern ourselves well, so will the UK's apprehension reduce and more freedom of government will be achieved. In the meantime changes in Spain and Europe will over time open up new avenues that can be pursued by future generations. The progress to fuller self determination will consequently be enhanced and the panorama will widen.

The main brake to out ability to achieve good democratic governance are the very democratic systemic failings that were, intentionally or unintentionally, built into the 2006 Constitution. A Constitution that, in blatant conflict of interest, our politicians conspired to craft to gather power to themselves, in a manner that concentrated it in the office of the Chief MInister. Two effects of this arrogation of power is that it allows external players, in our case Britain and Spain, to assess and so "manage" one person: the Chief Minister. Another is that it undermines the effectiveness of the exercise of that power because it is known to lack democratic credentials beyond a 4 yearly election based on a purposely stilted electoral system.

An overhaul of the parliamentary and electoral system such as will empower Parliament and make it more representative will ensure the strength of the democratic support for arguments marshaled by our politicians. Arguments with wider democratic credibility are far more difficult for external players to defeat. Any attempt to do so will be viewed as an authoritarian act incapable of justification on democratic arguments. This is not the case if the argument is essentially the argument of one individual who could more easily be accused of acting in contravention of the constitutional requirement of good governance, especially if the Rule of Law is not strictly adhered to. In those circumstances interference from external players is more easily justifiable. Also the "management" or "manipulation" of one individual, the Chief Minister in whom power is presently concentrated,  is also more feasible, whether by argument, incentive, persuasion or coercion.

In brief, my argument is that advances in self determination are more achievable by democratic means, evolution as opposed to revolution and patiently waiting for developments within the EU. It is not achievable by forcing the pace of time within a negotiation involving Britain and Spain. It is unlikely that Spain will change its attitude to advance our quest. Our advantage over Spain is ingrained within international law, namely that sovereignty was ceded by Spain to Britain under the Treaty of Utrecht. This treaty is respected and recognised by Spain, albeit reluctantly. Spain seeks a return by negotiated agreement, so faced with Britain's well-known promise to us, it has the difficult, if not impossible, task of changing public opinion in Gibraltar. All in all let us be ourselves, let us put our democratic house in order, let us debate maturely on substance (both in Parliament and out of it), let us leave emotion or hatred out of the equation of politics, and let us convince each other, by rational argument, right and wrong paths to follow. This slow road will achieve progress. It is these arguments that convinced me not to join the SDGG at its first and inaugural meeting, to which I was invited, many years ago. 

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Politics or "Gang" Warfare and Personalisation

I referred to politics in Gibraltar having been reduced to "gang" warfare in a reply to comments made under my last blog. I was referring to the existence of such a war between the two dominant "gangs" of politicians.  I also made reference to the general tendency that exists to personalise issues. There is an interrelationship between both observations. It is important, in my mind, to make a sustained effort to elevate politics out of this mire. It is this consideration that drives, in part, my desire and campaign to reform our electoral and parliamentary systems. I fear and predict that, if nothing is done or nothing intervenes to avoid it happening, this next general election will descend to levels of cross-party sniping and insults that will surpass those reached in the recent past.

At one time I described politics in Gibraltar as "tribal". I am now of the view that this description applies more to diehard party adherents than to politicians themselves. Politicians seem to have formed two "gangs". These "gangs" fight each other. However, they maintain their respective dominance of politics by both "gangs" following vague and unwritten rules. These rules are selfish and not aimed at enhancing democracy or the rights of individuals. One "gang" is called the GSD. The other is called the GSLP/Liberal Alliance. I leave the PDP out of the equation because they are also victims of the two dominant "gangs". I do not exonerate its leader Kieth Azopardi, however. He was one of the architects of the 2006 Constitution that laid the foundations for the "gang" mentality that I suggest dominates politics in Gibraltar.

Let me explain my theory briefly, the Westminster Style of government, which Gibraltar has adopted, has three basic (but non-exclusive) principles. One is that Parliament has sovereign law making powers. Another is that the Executive can only govern under the Rule of Law, which is much ignored in Gibraltar. Yet another is that Parliament has the supreme right and duty to oversee, question and criticise the exercise of power by the Executive arm of government. The Chief Minister and all Ministers should be answerable to Parliament, which should be supreme.

Unfortunately, as I argued in my last blog, this ability of Parliament to oversee the Chief Minister and Ministers has been turned on its head. One reason is that where and when Parliament meets is exclusively in the discretion of the Chief Minister. The only rule that binds him is that under the 2006 Constitution he must hold at least 3 meetings in any year. Without set times for more frequent meetings of Parliament, it is the Chief Minister and so the Executive that retains supremacy rather than Parliament. This fact when it is conjoined with a lack of the separation of powers conspires to undermine Parliament's supremacy and its oversight of the executive arm of government.

The reason I refer above to "certain vague and unwritten rules" between the two dominant parties is because the 2006 Constitution was conceived and given birth to by a Select Committee of the House of  Assembly. Both dominating parties or 'gangs" reached agreement on the 2006 Constitution. You will recall that the GSLP/Liberal Alliance endorsed the acceptance of the 2006 Constitution at the referendum. Therefore, intentionally or unintentionally, it does not matter which, both the GSD and the GSLP/Liberal Alliance cooperated to develop a constitutional system that has resulted in the supremacy of Parliament being undermined. Consequently, so has the Rule of Law been undermined. Then effect of these two deficiencies is that once in power the Chief Minister or "gang" leader and his Minister's or "gang" members rule supreme. The other "gang" then has to do its level best to gain that power, whilst the "gang" in power uses all methods to hand to retain that power.

What is odd, in the extreme, is that the public had no participation in crafting the 2006 Constitution, other than it had the right to make representations to the Select Committee.  This was not the case for the 1969 Constitution. Prior to that Constitution, a conference of all representative bodies was involved in the process. The absence of direct public representation in the process that led to the 2006 Constitution has meant that only those who had an interest in the outcome, namely the two dominating parties, were involved in the process. An example of a greater conflict of interests would be difficult to find anywhere. The 2006 Constitution in its democratic aspects was crafted by politicians to suit politicians and not democracy.

One can only assume that there was a reason for the GSLP/Liberal Alliance's endorsement of the 2006 Constitution. That reason may be that, together with the stilted electoral system, there was a certainty in the minds of the GSLP/Liberal Alliance that at some stage they would be elected into Government. Once in Government those very same aspects that disadvantaged them in Opposition would be converted to their own advantage, to be used against the party which had previously formed the Government. The latter would then simply have to wait for their own turn to come around again, whilst simultaneously resorting to "gang" warfare tactics to recover its lost power. It is all a very convenient arrangement with little thought given to constituents. The disadvantages of the system fall entirely on the electorate. The electorate would have been the net beneficiary of enhanced democracy, if a better constitutional and electoral system had emerged in 2006. The benefit and advantage to constituents has been ignored by the two dominant parties, perhaps on purpose and perhaps arising from the conflict of interests that led to the the 2006 Constitution being devised as it was.

This "gang" warfare that I have described is a game played at a high level, in blissful disregard of constituents, between the two dominant parties. It is fought by exchanges of press releases and in infrequent (ate the behest of the Chief Minister) meetings of Parliament. These releases and meetings are, on the whole, only understandable by the politicians or "gang" members of both dominating parties. This general lack of understanding in the main arise from general boredom which results in few persons or no one reading these press releases or following debates and other events in Parliament. This boredom comes about because of the irrelevance of what "gang"members are doing and the introversion and length of those press releases and reports of events in Parliament, both being, on the whole, about inter-"gang" conflicts and issues, which interests no one else. Press release and parliamentary interventions also become exchanges of insults and personalised attacks, in part due to the constant desire to remain in government or take over government. None of this behaviour by our politicians or "gang" members advances or enhances democracy, quite the opposite. It is simply  a war as between two "gangs" the aim of one is to cling to power the objective of the other is to wrest power from the first. 

The electorate for most of the time are ignored and disregarded. People and democracy are forgotten. In the meantime this "gang" warfare continues. The people are only remembered every 4 years just at the time that the election campaign comes around. At this juncture both dominant parties need votes, so both promise the earth whilst ignoring whether these promises are actually good for the commonweal. Responsibility is forgotten and promises of lavish expenditure and electoral gifts are offered in return for votes. Responsibility and real politics fly out of the window. The prize that is sought is power. After the results of the election are announced the "gang" war starts again without regard for constituents. The forgotten people, until the next election, are the voters, despite that democracy is designed for the benefit of precisely the people as a collective and irrespective of what "tribe" or party each may belong to. It may be that in part the present economic crisis in the Western World has been caused by the consequences of overgenerous electoral promises financed by borrowings. Borrowings that now there is difficulty in repaying. This behaviour, in my book, is not what democracy and government are or were ever about, both require responsible conduct and actions from all politicians, whichever party they belong to. Democracy should never be an excuse for bad governance and bad management of public finances.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

A Further Democratic Deficiency of Parliament

Substantial criticism has been made in Llanito World about the democratic deficit that exists in Gibraltar by reason, in the main, of the lack of any separation of powers and the disregard for the Rule of Law. The deficiencies do not stop there, as a review of the Standing Rules and Orders of the Gibraltar Parliament reveal ("Rules"). The bias of the Rules favours the majority party in Parliament (the Government) and the Chief Minister. All the deficiencies highlighted in Llanito World are magnified further, to the detriment of constituents and good governance, because Gibraltar's Parliament is unicameral and not bicameral. In a unicameral system, democratic safeguards need to be more robust. In Gibraltar not only are they not robust they are virtually non-existent. 

Essentially the only safeguard that exists is an election every 4 years in which the choice is limited to those who stand for election. Many do not stand for a variety of reasons, many of these reasons are peculiar to a small jurisdiction. This lack of volunteering and participation in the political process in turn reduces the effectiveness of the electoral safeguard available every 4 years. The most voiced opinion that I hear at election after election is to the effect that the choice for the electorate is as between the lesser bad of two bad choices, which can in turn be exploited by any incumbent Chief Minister in Mugabesque (sic) manner. This being the the case, there is something drastically wrong with the system In Gibraltar. The system needs to be changed radically. The radical change must include reforms that will eliminate the fear of repercussions that many have that prevents them participating actively and openly in politics. A brief analysis of some of the Rules further reveal that the democratic deficit is rather deeper than a lack of separation of powers. 

One of the fundamentals of Parliamentary democracy is that the Chief Minister is not chosen by direct plebiscite but is chosen by the party or coalition that has a majority in Parliament. It is also true to say that the acts of any Chief Minister fall to be scrutinised by Parliament. It is Parliament alone that can dismiss a Chief Minister, as in order for an electorate to dismiss him/her the electorate has to turn against the incumbent government and elect an opposition party in its place. The power of a Chief Minister is greatly enhanced by this factor. It is further enhanced by his ability to choose the timing of meetings of Parliament.

Under the Rules, it is the Chief Minister, alone, who decides where and when a meeting of Parliament is convened. Admittedly he is forced by the 2006 Constitution to hold at least 3 meetings in any calendar year. The control that his ability to decide the timing of meetings gives the Chief Minister is excessive. Parliament is charged, amongst other duties, to oversee the performance of a government and a Chief Minister. Timing is often of extreme importance in influencing the immediacy and relevance of any issue or incident and delay of embarrassing debates favour the Chief Minister and his Government. It is detrimental to democracy that the Chief Minister can delay a meeting of Parliament when burning issues should be debated close to the occurrence of any subject requiring debate. 

This ability to pick the time to hold a meeting of Parliament is a curb on democracy. Even if the Government has an inbuilt majority, parliamentary debate is of the utmost importance in forming public opinion. If  the Opposition is prevented from debating issues close to a relevant occurrence its ability to form and influence public opinion is curtailed or eliminated altogether on occasions. In turn this reduces the effect of the only democratic safeguard that exists, namely the decision to oust or not to oust a government at a general election. 

Additionally reducing the number of meetings of Parliament to the limited number required by the 2006 Constitution has the effect of concentrating a large amount of business to a limited number of days in a year. Press reports of proceedings become too compressed and detailed. Editorial decisions have to be made to determine the importance of what stories to run with and which to drop. Stories arising from questions or debate about issues or events that are dated take second place and frequently are buried in the morass of issues that have overtaken that event or occurrence. All these factors have the effect of reducing, in  numbers of persons, the reach of important stories and  reports which come to the ears of the public. The importance and impact and pernicious effect on democracy of the Chief Minister's power to decide on timing should not be underestimated. 

Parliament should have a fixed and regular timetable so that the Chief Minister cannot control when important issues are debated in Parliament. Regularity of meetings is also important to ensure currency of debates. The right of the Chief Minister should be limited to recalling Parliament outside those times if he/she considers that to be appropriate. This will mean that important issues can and could be debated at the current, relevant and immediate time, press reports will be easier to follow and more closely connected in time to the issue in debate. Importantly it will force politicians to be what they are, politicians, not administrators. 

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Financial Services Commission and Politics

Last Friday I visited the FSC website to see whether the much awaited statement on “Policy on Public Comment and Political Involvement” had been published. I found a tab on the site with that title but the page in question would not open. I then emailed the FSC to enquire about my inability to access the relevant page. I received a reply by return from Marcus Killick, the CEO of the FSC, to the effect that there was a glitch on the webpage, which his team would proceed to repair. He kindly emailed me the policy. I have raised a variety of issues and questions on it directly with the FSC. The policy can now be found on: 

My concern is not that I resigned from the FSC. I did not wish to remain on the FSC in disharmony, due to my continuing to write this blog.  Especially in circumstances that the FSC felt it should have a restrictive “Policy on Public Comment and Political Involvement”. I took this view, even though, throughout my appointment, I had publicly participated in public political comment on TV and the press. I had also campaigned prominently in the 2006 Constitution referendum as part of the "No Campaign".  I undertook all this public political involvement without complaint from anyone in the FSC or elsewhere. The primary reason for my resignation was that it was intended to open up the way for the FSC to introduce an objective, fair and transparent policy and allow me to continue blogging unhindered by any restrictions contained in that policy. I fear this has not been the result. 

The FSC “Policy on Public Comment and Political Involvement” seems to have been designed to conveniently cater for very specific circumstances and so, in my mind, fails to achieve that which I understood and was told was intended. The overall impression that I now have is that, intentionally or unintentionally, the policy permits FSC members to speak publicly in favour and in support of the Government but not against it. This cannot be right.

The overall focus of the policy that I have read seems to be to prevent the exercise by FSC members of the right to freedom of speech unhindered, save if any comment is made in support of the Government. This is, in my view, the most undemocratic ingredient of the FSC’s policy. To make matters worse, the policy does not deal with the core issue of “political involvement” of FSC members, beyond the extreme case of prohibiting a member from being an MP or holding an elected public office.

An FSC member is permitted, oddly, to hold a position within a political party so long as such position is not a particularly sensitive one or a high role in the party; further and in addition, so long as the position does not involve a member making public statements. Unfortunately this does not work. If an FSC member forms part of the Executive of a political party, he cannot disassociate himself from any public statement made by the relevant party. Additionally how can it be seriously argued that a person who is or has been a member of the Executive of a political party and an election agent is not engaged in or seriously connected to a political party and so involved in politics? If the party in question is in Government, it does not ameliorate the situation, it worsens it.

My view is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to find a half way house on the subject of “Public Comment and Political Involvement” by FSC members. The policy must be either an absolute prohibition (difficult in a small jurisdiction like Gibraltar which is littered with business, employment and family connections and with interlocking friendships) or not exist at all. The FSC functioned when there was no policy on the subject in question without any complaints of political bias or partiality. The reality is that the integrity of the members of the FSC’s and its mixed composition had the effect of balancing out views.

The effect of introducing a policy, on the terms published by the FSC, is that it has the attributes of the proverbial horse designed by a committee, which is a camel. I believe that the FSC needs to revisit this policy and decide what it wishes to achieve. Its aim and duty, as a regulator, is to be objective, fair and transparent. If this requires it to revert to having no policy or no prohibition at all on this subject, so be it.

There is one peripheral but related issue that I feel needs to be dealt with by the Government. The issue of whether the FSC should have a “Policy on Public Comment and Political Involvement” was prompted by an inquiry by the Chief Minister of the FSC Chairman. This inquiry in turn arose out of the FSC’s reaction to a criticism made by me in an email, circulated to and in defence of lawyers, expressing my view on events prior to the “Marrache affair” coming to light. In these and the overall circumstances, I suggest that it may be appropriate for an independent public enquiry to be held to inquire into all aspects of how and why what transpired in the “Marrache affair” was not uncovered earlier. It is likely that it is proper that the enquiry could and should not commence until after any criminal proceedings are finalised. However, there is no reason for the Government not to publicly announce, now, its intention to hold such inquiry.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

A Vision Statement for a New Government of Gibraltar

This past week in conversation with a good friend it occurred to me that a party trying to get into government has to portray a short message containing its vision for Gibraltar. It is not enough for it to publish a lengthy and detailed manifesto just a few weeks before an election. Elections are won by convincing, in as brief a message as possible, the middle of the road voter that another contender will provide beneficial change. The detail has to be explained over time and individually.

It is not easy to achieve the communication of a vision, especially when faced with visual evidence of actual achievements by a Government in power. The Government in power has this very real advantage. The effort to sell a vision by a party trying to get into Government has to be that much greater. It has to be focused and effectively explained in a manner that captures the imagination easily and does not cause boredom.

I have undertaken an exercise in which I set out what I consider to be such a vision communicated in bite-sized pieces. In doing so I have not tried to invent the wheel, so in that regard it is simple, what I have tried to do is, explain what my vision for a party that I would vote for might be. For what it is worth here it is:

Political philosophy
A left of centre party, committed to a British Gibraltar, having a deep belief in the well being of individuals, especially the more needy in society, and of the community as a whole. 
A party committed to the empowerment of people through a truly representative Parliament, reinforced by working strictly under the authority of laws enacted in and by Parliament (the reinstatement of the “Rule of Law”). 
A party that does not govern under executive diktats or by any single member of Government rather a Government having collective responsibility.

Good Governance
To govern within the Rule of Law, which will require that the Civil Service should be strengthened by motivation, training and by recruitment policies in line with and building on societal and educational advances made in the last 25 years; advances achieved by the progressive educational policies followed by successive governments.
To establish an independent Anti-corruption Authority.

Empowerment of People
To promote electoral reforms.
To promote both substantive and procedural parliamentary reforms having the aim of ensuring an element of separation between the legislative and the executive arms of government.
To promote additional checks and balances and more accountability.
To permit greater access to information. 
To introduce legislation to authorise the holding of more frequent referenda.

To enact legislation to put the construction of housing and the co-ownership scheme on an open and transparent statutory footing.
To undertake a review of the Housing Allocation Scheme with the aim of improving fairness in the allocation of rental and co-ownership housing.
To allow 18 year olds to sign up.
To assist Gibraltarians wishing to return to Gibraltar.

Public Real Estate
To ensure a fairer and more transparent management of public real estate so that, such as has no social significance, is disposed of at the best price achievable for the benefit of the common purse and so that it is exploited for the best long-term economic advantage that will stimulate employment and improve the Gross Domestic Product.

To continue with all policies that encourage free education and attendance at post-schooling training and secondary education (inclusive of selective post-graduate education), 
To invest in an improved and holistic career advisory services, which in addition to general advice would strive to advise students to understand the career and employment advantages and disadvantages of courses that they wish to pursue.

To encourage the employment of adequately trained and qualified locals in our health services.
To abolish means tested sponsored patient rules.
To permit access to medical notes.
To make the health services complaints procedure more independent.
To actively promote healthy lifestyles to help to reduce illness.
To improve the infrastructure for and care of the mentally ill.

Social Services
To undertake a root and branch review of the social services system in Gibraltar with a view to providing bespoke packages tailored to meet individual requirements of the needy and less adequate members of our society with the ultimate aim being to  integrate them into mainstream society and to make as many as possible productive members of society in employment.

To return the emphasis to meeting the real needs of pensioners equally and fairly, including, by eliminating the tax privileges advanced to those pensioners who are less in need, at the expense of working taxpayers whose own pension expectations are reduced in light of admitted non-affordability.

Disabled Persons
To undertake a root and branch review of the facilities presently available for the disabled persons in close cooperation and consultation with representative organisations of affected individuals in order to increase accessibility and facilities for them.
To ease the additional burden suffered by disabled persons.

Economy and Business
To continue a non-discriminatory progressive fiscal policy that encourages inward investment and an attractive environment for work and business.
To cease all profligate expenditure of public monies and endeavour to reduce the public debt.
To take steps to reduce the scope of cross-border unfair competition.
To reduce the scope for abuse in the tender system and the allocation of contracts with a publicly funded element.
To innovate in order to encourage business start-ups and increase investment in the promotion of “Gibraltar PLC” (including tourism, port, financial services and World Wide Web based businesses) for the collective benefit of all, without favour or advantage, and in that manner to increase the number of jobs and improve job prospects for those already in employment.

To promote the employment of locals within the permissive bounds of applicable laws on good but affordable terms and conditions.
To encourage good industrial relations by working in close consultation and partnership with trade unions and employers and trade bodies.

Energy and the Environment
As soon as is affordable:

  • To construct an environmentally friendly power station, providing Gibraltar with a truly self-sufficient energy policy without reliance on Heath Robinson and temporary facilities.
  • To build the much delayed obligatory sewage treatment plant.

Generally to closely heed and introduce, as may be feasible, environmental considerations and requirements into the decision making process.
To empower people in the planning process.

Youth and Sport
To continue funding leisure and sporting facilities.
To promote their use.
To assist our youth and sportsmen in the international arena.

Law and Order
To adequately (but reasonably) fund the law enforcement agencies and to fully support them.
To ensure an adequately (but reasonably) funded judiciary so that it is able to better undertake its constitutional function and duties independently and in accordance with internationally recognised principles and standards.

Fundamental Rights
To fully abide by the obligations imposed on all administrations by Chapter 1 of the Gibraltar Constitution Order 2006.
To accept responsibility as a Government for so abiding, without shirking its legislative responsibility by surrendering its obligations to the judiciary.
Consequentially, to repeal the anomalous legislation allowing Government access to the Courts on questions relating to fundamental rights.
To establish an independent administrative Commission modeled on the Canadian equivalent to advise on the constitutionality of laws. 

To continue to welcome the MOD presence in Gibraltar warmly.
Not to lose sight that Gibraltar’s international importance and attraction is founded on its very desirable strategic geographical location at a trade route choke point.

Not to permit issues with Spain to overshadow any policies or objectives.
It is clear that Gibraltar wants continued British sovereignty but, within that, enhanced democratic self-government, so any dialogue with Spain, beyond that envisaged at the level of co-operation within the Trilateral Forum, is presently doomed to failure. Such dialogue is not a good use of time or effort by any of the participants in the Trilateral Forum.

There it is. It is not set in stone so have your say and tell your politicians what you are looking for from them by making a comment.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

MOD Presence, Transferred MOD Properties and Tendering

Undoubtedly one factor that the CM considers important, following the recently announced MOD Lands Deal, is the continued MOD presence In Gibraltar. It was vocalised by him in terms of both political and economic importance. There is no doubting that the presence of the MOD in Gibraltar is generally warmly welcomed. It will continue so to be. The repetition by the Defence Secretary of Gibraltar's continued strategic importance is also reassuring. It is this that requires our attention. The allusion to the tightness of money in the UK as well as the need for the UK to obtain value for money is less reassuring albeit understandable. In this context the emphasis on the political and economic importance of the MOD has other connotations, which require careful consideration to avoid unwanted repercussions.

Statements about the political importance of the MOD presence in Gibraltar should be measured and tempered. Gibraltar's continued British sovereignty should not be or be seen to be inextricably tied to that physical presence in Gibraltar. The British sovereignty of Gibraltar needs to be seen as separate and distinct from military requirements. The march of recent history has indicated one relentless destination. The MOD presence in Gibraltar, for a variety of reasons, has been reducing substantially. One day, for whatever reason, the presence will be negligible. What will remain always, however, is Gibraltar's strategic location. It is this advantage, together with the evolution and development of a social and political civil society, that is the negotiating strength of Gibraltar.  It is not a count of the number of MOD personnel physically located in Gibraltar that is any basis to interpret Gibraltar's international status.

The political argument ties in closely with the economic argument. Gibraltar is now (subject to prudent public expenditure and debt management) self-sufficient economically. We have economic self-sufficiency even  without MOD expenditure. This is not to say that MOD expenditure is not welcome. The ability of Gibraltar to remain British for so long as the people so wish, for it to remain a separate political unit and make progress toward self-determination, however, should not be intertwined with an MOD presence.

The ability to continue remaining a cohesive and separate political entity cannot be viewed as dependent at all on MOD use of Gibraltar. It is more directly related to Gibraltar's ability to retain a sustainable economy based on irreproachable business practices; practices that are acceptable and meet international and generally accepted standards and are not parasitical. It is of concern that, however much the boast of Gibraltar's good reputation is trumpeted by our politicians internationally, some such business practices do not meet these standards. Any shortcoming in standards makes our economy more susceptible. 

Public expenditure must be tempered by longer-term aspirations and needs. There is presently a tendency to be profligate with public moneys in the belief, hope and expectation that the economy will continue to perform as in the recent past. Expenditure is being incurred on luxuries at the expense of essentials. Gibraltar is not immune from the international financial and economic downturn. Accordingly, prioritising essentials is more and more necessary, precisely whilst the economy is performing well,. The urgency will increase if the economy is affected by the downturn in the world's economy and/or any attack on Gibraltar's core economic pillars, for example, presently, the potential for increased regulation of gambling in Europe, closely followed by taxation at the point of consumption, is of concern. 

One immediate economic impact is that the transfer of MOD lands carries a direct and indirect cost. The direct cost is that the Government is obliged to construct 90 houses for the MOD. The indirect cost is that accepting built and properties without buildings on them mean that there will be additional costs of security and maintenance. The Government have already announced that homes that are to be transferred will either be sold by tender or under the "right to buy" scheme, in order to raise money to meet the direct and indirect cost,in order to raise money to meet the direct and indirect cost. 

The question is, will sale of properties by tender provide the Government with the best return? It would be right to argue that in certain defined circumstances there are social as well as economic considerations that a government must have when disposing of housing. The issue does not relate to those houses where social considerations are more important than economic considerations. However, economic considerations have a major bearing when there is a direct cost to the Government, in the form of the construction, for the MOD, of 90 houses.

I am not convinced that selling houses by tender actually results in either the best price being obtained, or the process being entirely open and transparent. It is certainly the method that governments have for decades used to sell real estate in Gibraltar. That does not make it the right method. Perhaps, an open auction would deliver to the Government a better return. It may also prove to be a fairer and more open and transparent manner in which to sell houses. The Government would need to set a reserve price and then each person would bid openly for the house of his choice. The revenue to Government may increase substantially if sale of housing were to be done by auction.

Aside from housing, real estate of other description has been released to the Government by the MOD. Gibraltar's real estate assets, unless or until there is more reclamation, are limited and will be so even with reclamation. It is of the important that such land as is available and is suitable for economic activity should be utilised to its best potential. In this manner it will stimulate economic activity, increase employment opportunities and grow our GDP. I have no magic formula but I would urge that careful thought and planning go into what use each piece of real estate is put to and how it is sold. There is a need to make sure that it is all used to its best advantage and for the best economic benefit to Gibraltar. 

One huge asset that Gibraltar has is day tourism, via cruises and the frontier. It may be economically beneficial to consider using some of these newly transferred real estate assets to provide Gibraltar and them with additional attractions. This will entice these tourists to leave that extra bit of money in Gibraltar. US tourist destinations seem to be very good at achieving the expenditure by tourists of little tranches of money that fund employment and economic activity. It may be possible to learn from their experience and ability to enhance the tourist product.

So all in all the MOD Land Deal is good news. Now it is up to those who govern us to use the released properties to Gibraltar's best economic advantage. Frequently short-term answers or solutions are not the best way forward. Unfortunately electoral expediency and opportunism frequently deliver short-term answers and solutions with adverse longer-term repercussions. It is best for Gibraltar that acting in this short-term manner should be avoided.