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.


  1. L.E.F.says

    The tragic situation is that most of us Llanitos are being sucked deeper and deeper into this gang warfare.

    It is time to try and break the rotten system which has corrupted our morality where we are
    prepared to accept the lesser of 2 evils.

    We vote for 1 leader and 9 hanger ons and we seem to be happy even though we would never vote for many of them if they were to stand alone.

    If we have 10 votes each and what we really want is Mr Caruana ,why do we have to vote the Nettos,Del Aguas, Montiels,Reyes etc.

    If we want Mr Picardo why do we have to vote the Liberals,Mr Bossano etc.

    Its all a farce.

    Instead I should be able to give my 10 votes to Mr Caruana or my 10 votes to Mr Picardo or my 10 votes to Mr Azopardi.

    I could give 5 votes Mr Feetham,3 votes Mr Picardo and 2 votes Mr Azopardi.

    I could vote for all 10 GSD or all 10 GSLP candidates.

    I could give my 10 votes to the GSD by voting
    4 Mr Feetham,3Mr Caruana,2 Mr Holliday,1 Mr Vinet.

    I should be able to use my 10 votes as I wish and not be blackmailed to accept mediocrity for the sake of a leader or a party.

    Each single vote we use should not be sacrificed for party political gain.

    We can carry on with the charade and believe all the spin and propaganda dished out by the Government.

    We can carry on with all the boring posturing of the opposition and in the meantime we will just sit by and wait.

    No matter all the deficiencies in our democracy. No matter all power vested in one man.No matter whatever the argument because the other side is the devil incarnate and we are better.

    Well, if we were to compare bullshit to cowshit ,which is worse.?

    Gibraltar wake up. Its our collective future .

  2. LEF you say we might be voting for 1 leader and 9 hanger-ons, and I imagine you base your judgement on the present situation, where we have 1 leader and 9 hanger-ons, but I believe the present situation to be much worse than that as there are more than just 9 hanger-ons.

    Over the last couple of years we have seen a steady move to place many persons in top jobs with water-tight contracts that could see this present administration continue in de-facto government whether they are elected or not.

  3. This is why in 2007 I voted for Charles Gomez a guy who would never form part of any sort of gang.

  4. Robert great post and the three comments above spot on!! The present situation is disgusting and disgraceful!!!

  5. i wonder why such a fierce competitive spirit exists in us.

    I don't think the gang mentality is restricted to just politics, we see it in all aspects of life here, football team supporters, clubs, associations, schools, etc. How many times has a new group been formed by a few breakaway ex-members of a similar one?

    Too many alpha-males/females? Perhaps the answer lies in our mix of cultures or in the abundance of assertiveness in our characters!

  6. The GSD came into power promising transparency and a Government for all Gibraltarians, unfortunately they soon forgot about transparency and instead became a elitist Government. Over the last 16 years, those who have not been part of the favoured, have watched as 'their' people have found grace and favour over and over again. Its only natural, therefore, for the outsiders to re-group and fight against this debarajuste of enchufes that is prevalent today.
    The question to be asked is if Fabian does get into power, will he put a stop to it.
    I agree he will have to put up with it, to a certain extent as many positions and contracts will be filled by this Government before the election is called.

  7. Anon@12:34

    If you mean that "elitist" means reducing income tax year in year out across the board, so be it, we are all part of that elite.

    As for transparency, well, Mr Picardo has urged a Forensic Audit over the OHL contract. Should be an interesting outcome is it not?

  8. Anon @ 14:52

    Elitist because high-paid jobs and lucrative contracts created by this Government go to a restricted number of persons.

    Elitist because income tax has had to be reduced in order to justify low tax rates offered to the very rich, whilst social insurance, electricity, water, rates etc have risen and these affect the ordinary man and woman on street who live in Gibraltar.

    I'm glad you agree that the outcome of a forensic audit over the OHL contract will very interesting.

  9. Anon@19:16

    Highly paid jobs and contracts, whether lucrative or not are usually reserved for the elite i.e. the ones that can fulfil them.

    Abolishing income tax for pensioners and social insurance contributions for those over age 60 is hardly a sop to the wealthy. The increase in earnings and reduction in income tax have more than compensated for the increase in electricity, water and rates.

    Finally, Mr Picardo may urge a Forensic Audit, however, he will have to make allegations of mismanagement and/or corruption before one takes place. Don't hold your breath. Perhaps he should have urged an Independent Inquiry but then it is not as mischievous as using the word "forensic", is it?

  10. anon @20:35... spoken like a true elitist.

  11. Anon@@12:33

    You started off with such a strong argument@19:16 why has it now fizzled out.

    Elitist? And here's me thinking I'm working class.

  12. anon @ 14:03 working class but secret elitist wannabee maybe?

    so it is true then, all the tax I pay less now is just to help me pay the increase in electricity, water, rates and SI. I believe that's called a stealth tax, anon @ 14:03, and one that only really benefits the non-resident.

  13. Anon@15:11

    The reduction in taxes and increase in earnings more than compensate for the increase in the cost of utilities and SI.

    As for non-residents. They pay taxes without the benefit of our services whether they be education or bin collection.

  14. Anon@15:11

    Before you use the descriptor "wannabe" in order to sound "cool" when replying to someone with whom you disagree please consider the meaning:-

    "A "wannabe" (slang for "want to be") is a person with an ambition to be someone or something that she/he is not. The term is pejorative and intends to convey the foolish nature of the desire due to the incompetence of the "wannabe" to accomplish the goal".

    I think that the Moderator should edit these insults.

    As for you, I am still waiting for a reasoned reply to my comment @15:41.

  15. Anon @ 15:42...

    Without the benefit of our education?

    Pray, tell me, on which planet do you live in?

    I suggest you sit by the frontier on a school day and count the huge amount of children that walk and drive past coming from Spain. Keep in mind too all the students in university. Go to Market Place too and watch them all come off the buses in droves!

  16. Anonymous at 19:49

    You take advantage of the privilege of anonymity, with that comes sacrifice. You cannot expect a moderator to edit a comment to an anonymous individual. You cannot be insulted or even defamed. ...

  17. Anon@20:04

    If the schoolchildren and students that you refer to are the offspring of Gibraltarians living in Spain, I, for one, have nothing against them taking advantage of the taxes that I pay so that they can enjoy the education that my own offspring have had. The majority, are the offspring of the Gibraltar residents.

  18. RV@20:46


    You are absolutely right. Apologies.

  19. anon @ 22:29 so be it but my point is these non-residents, Gibraltarian or otherwise, are enjoying the benefit of reduced taxes without having to incur high electricity, water and rates bills, so this reduction in tax only benefits the non-resident.

    apologies for the wannabee remark.

  20. Anon@22:47

    There is a risk of creating two types of Gibraltarians, namely, those educated in Spain because their parents live in Spain and those educated in Gib/UK because their parents live locally.

    Can you image a situation where a sector of our electorate has its heart closer to Madrid than to London as a consequence of their educational background?

    I do not understand what you mean by "reduced taxes" if by that you mean the Gross Income Based system it has been available to all tax payers since outset.

    So we are left with the residents paying high utility bills. May I remind you that water and electricity have been expensive in Gib since time immemorial.

  21. anon @ 9:30, that's neither here nor there.

    You advocate that lowering taxes whilst raising electricity and water does not solely benefit the non-resident because "They pay taxes without the benefit of our services whether they be education or bin collection", and my point is that there are many who enjoy lowered taxes, and enjoy the benefits of our free education, who don't have to fork out to pay the very high utility bills I do as a resident.

    It has nothing to do with where these children go to school but the fact that you are trying to sell me a Government who thinks of the ordinary man on the street by lowering taxes for all, when in fact my tax concession is covered by my increased utility bill payout. And I insist the non-resident is the only beneficiary to this quid pro quo.

    So perhaps if you are attempting to convince me this Government is not elitist, the tax example isn't getting you anywhere, nor is informing me that if the elite, and for elite read 'friends, family and supporters', get in on the latest lucrative jobs and contracts, its because 'they can fulfil them'.

    Try again, please!

  22. Anon@18:00

    Ah! Now I get your point. It is all about this Government and that elite means friends family and supporters. Had I known that you were making these accusations in the first place I would have asked you to explain where the Opposition that we pay for out of our taxes stands in all this. Have they questioned the Government on any of these appointments and contracts?

    If you think that the opinion I expressed @09:30 is neither here nor there it is because you do not want it to be.

  23. anon @ 19:15... what is wrong with you? Now you get my point?

    Go read my first post on the 12th August @ 12:34, which you replied to just after, and you will see, very clearly, it was all about this Government rewarding 'their' people, i.e. 'friends, family and supporters'!