Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Agreement on Governmental Reforms?

So parliamentary reform is now fairly and squarely on the political agenda and set to take up some of the debate at the now imminent general election. The positive step is that now all political parties are agreed that parliamentary reforms are necessary, the PDP having been the first party to publish specific policies on this subject. Electoral reform is also on the agenda of the GSLP and the PDP. It does not form part of the GSD motion that was forced through Parliament using the Government majority. The CM has simply said, on the subject of electoral reform, that this was slipped into the GSLP amended motion. The GSD has not announced any policy on electoral reforms as yet.

The negative step is that, once again and par for the course, there is a move away from the substantive debate into the game of party political accusations and counter-accusations. Yes it is true that the GSLP voted against the GSD Government sponsored motion in Parliament. However, is it true, as the PDP has said in its press release, that this vote indicates that the GSLP do not have a commitment to the reforms? The press release further implies that there was a possibility that the size of Parliament could or would be increased before the next election. In fact a 12 month period is  given to a Select Committee of the whole Parliament to consider the content of the Motion. This timetable, is indicative, clearly, that no one intended any reforms to be in place before the forthcoming election. I do not consider that events in Parliament support, at all, the suggestion of the PDP, and indeed that of the GSD implied in the CM's reply in the debate in Parliament, that the GSLP do not have a commitment to enact parliamentary and electoral reforms. The evidence points in exactly the opposite direction. 

The GSLP have already issued press releases committing to wider reforms than just electoral and parliamentary reforms. For example it has given a commitment to enact a wide ranging Freedom of Information Act, with retrospective effect. That is indicative of an opposite intent. This opposite intent is palpable, also, from a proper and careful analysis of events (as published in the local press) in Parliament and a comparison of the motions of each of the GSD and the GSLP.

In his intervention Fabian Picardo made clear and absolute the Opposition's support for most of the GSD's motion. It is abundantly clear that reform has cross party support. So what does the GSD's motion contain? 
  • It suggests more frequent question time, well this is not a reform at all, this can be achieved immediately. 
  • It proposes parliamentary committees, again there is ample provision already to allow this to be implemented immediately. 
  • It wants more frequent meetings of Parliament to allow more opportunity for Opposition motions, well this is already in the gift of the CM. 
  • Broadcasting of meetings on TV is a further proposal, well the legislation to allow that is already in place. 
  • A review of Standing Orders, again that can be done without any legislation. 
  • it proposes an increase in the number of MPs to allow for backbenchers, who would receive a "nominal attendance allowance".
So, other than for the increase in numbers of MPs, there is really nothing to the GSD Government's proposals. It is just an admission of past procedural failings that have been used by government after government to reduce parliamentary scrutiny and accountability. This behaviour has, thus, made government more opaque for the electoral advantage of the incumbent governing party from time to time. Most can be implemented without discussion or legislative change. 

As for the increase in the number of MPs, that is something that I have advocated. I stand by that proposal but it is not that simple. Thought has to be given, for example, to how these will be elected or appointed. If appointed, what criteria would be applied and what powers would appointed persons have? Additional thought needs to be given to what rules will be applied to avoid the CM from increasing the number of "Ministers". Such action would negate the effect of having more MPs in manner that would result in an element of the separation of powers between the executive and the legislature. There is much more to consider, think about and bring into argument before a bland increase in the number of MPs would resolve the issues of accountability and transparency that need resolution.

In this context it becomes difficult to take seriously some of the pronouncements of the CM during the debate of his motion in Parliament. He variously said:
  • "We know what's wrong with this Parliament"
  • "We know what needs fixing"
  • "Who is there, out there in Gibraltar, that knows that"
  • "Who is there, out there in Gibraltar, that is not involved in politics in Gibraltar that knows even how this Parliament works, let alone how it can be fixed."
Well, leaving aside the disdain and contempt that these comments show for voters and their level of knowledge, he contradicts himself. He contradicts himself because he admitted, in that same debate, that the issue of Parliamentary reform was not a priority issue for the GSD Government. He said that it  had become one due to public debate on political websites and social media sites. Well at least those participating in those debates ( and enough have in order to cause the GSD to react) must know what is wrong, what needs fixing and how Parliament works. Otherwise why did he pay attention to public opinion and react to it? Additionally all he needs to do is listen to the many conversations constantly being had on this subject in Gibraltar. It is also worthy of note that most of what the GSD has included in its proposals are issues brought to public attention on this blog ... so at least this blogger knows a little. These statements simply evidence the self-righteousness that I highlighted in my immediately preceding blog.

A worthy exercise to determine how serious each party is on the issue of reforms is to contrast the GSD motion that was forced through Parliament with the one proposed by the GSLP. First let us contrast statements made by the Leader of the Opposition during the debate:
  • "The way that Parliament works has been shaped by people"
  • "The public in Gibraltar ... should have an influence on what we do"
  • "Reforms must bring us closer to the electorate because many people see us as remote ..."
These are democratic and inclusive pronouncements, totally the opposite of the exclusive, autocratic and dismissive (of the electorate) statements made by the CM.

Let me turn now to the motion proposed by the GSLP, its main components are:
  • It proposed the setting up of the Gibraltar Commission on Democratic and Political Reform to consider and report to Parliament on electoral and parliamentary reform.
  • This Commission would invite and consider public representations and report to Parliament within 12 months.
  • Then either Parliament or a Referendum would within 3 months decide on reforms to be implemented within 6 months.
  • Electoral reform and parliamentary reform terms of reference are drafted in the widest of terms.
These are not proposals that can be said to indicate an aversion to reform. These proposal rather indicate a desire to widen the scope of the reforms. This interpretation is especially so if taken in the context of the acceptance in Parliament by the GSLP of the need for reforms. Certainly the inclusion of consideration of electoral reforms by the GSLP do widen substantially the scope proposed in the GSD motion.

The reaction of the CM to the  Commission suggested by the GSLP is mistaken. The CM suggested that it was "a retrograde step" because Parliament should decide how to conduct its own business, otherwise its sovereignty would be diluted. This is not so. The use of Commissions by sovereign Parliaments is widespread in the UK and elsewhere. The sovereignty of Parliament remains unaffected. In the end it is Parliament that debates and decides on what the final reforms will be and then enacts laws in the form that it alone decides to give effect to its own decisions, not those of any Commission. It may be that these views coincide but the sovereign legislative process is undertaken by Parliament. The objection to the Commission in the end amounts to the same self-righteous reasoning as the belief and opinion that only those in Parliament are capable of suggesting reforms to itself. This is the same error of judgment as was made in relation to the manner in which proposals to reform the Constitution were formulated. This was done solely by a Select Committee of Parliament, rather than a Constitutional Conference of Representative Bodies together with Parliamentarians

The reaction of the PDP to the Oppositions stance is predictable but also not understandable. It betrays a desire to promote a hurried and ill-thought out increase in the number of MPs, without peripheral reforms to the electoral system or thought given to the details of how this would work. The increase in the number of MPs was never going to be achieved before the forthcoming election as the PDP suggests. It is also significant that the PDP wants this change urgently. Does it perceive it as an immediate way into Parliament? I would have thought the PDP is better off not only insisting on an increased number of MPs but also on seeking proportional representation. Also this reform in isolation from other wider reforms will not give the PDP the oversight of Government that is required. I believe patience is in the PDPs interests and in its favour.

So all in all, there has been a major and positive advance towards the reform of Parliament and towards the reform of the electoral system. The advance is only in terms that all the parties having boarded the "reform train". The destination of the train is still unknown. It is that destination that is important for democracy in Gibraltar. The Motion passed in Parliament on Monday alone is not sufficient for the GSD to persuade electors of the GSD's democratic leanings. It has been in power too long, having done nothing on that front, for the electorate to be fobbed off with so little. I am afraid that the GSD will need to do better in the election campaign but its credibility will be tainted by the paucity of that Motion. I wonder how the GSD will be able to counteract the effect of and if the GSLP roll out a programme of democratic reforms during the election. It seems to me that the GSD has lost the initiative on this issue. The initiative has been taken by the GSLP, although, in all fairness, the first and main proponents of reform have been the PDP.


  1. Dear Robert, I hope that the Christian v Secularist debate does n.t bugger up this blog like it did the last one.

  2. Oooooooh, how exciting! Let the battle commence, It’s a disgrace that some these rat bastard politicians are putting their own futures first rather than attend to the serious problems facing Gibraltar, gerrymandering should be a crime against the people.

  3. Anonymous at 21:18

    I have learnt my lesson now. I need to follow Charles Gomez's example and become fundamentalistic on moderation ... a strict policy of relevance to the central argument and no propagation of fundamentals propaganda that sidetracks from the important political issues and Charels do not reply because that is it! If you want a forum to propagate your extreme views please start your own blog. This is unashameedly a liberla to left wing blog.

  4. This sounds very democratic. The ruling party giving itself a bigger majority? Totally healthy for democracy.

  5. It is soooo satisfying seeing GSD wiped out . Not long now before they become the irrelevant political rump they deserve to be...

  6. Apologies to Robert and other members (especially Anon @ 21:18!) for buggering up the other thread. No more secularism from me (unless it's a blog on secularism!).

  7. Calpetano

    Not primarily your fault ... I allowed Charles Gomez to hijack the thread. I will not let that happen again. he has done it over and over again on the same subject ... the gay age of consent. He cannot seem to come to terms that he lost the case. He also seems to have developed a fundamentalist Catholic agenda, which is fine but his attempts at imposing it on others are not.

  8. GSD will say anything to get power and then be too divided to come up with any decisive policies, vote them out NOW.

  9. GSD will say anything to get power and then be too divided to come up with any decisive policies, vote them out

  10. A reform package that does not include proportional representation is like Hamlet without the prince.

  11. Parliamentary reform, Constitutional reform or whatever you want to call it must be a redistributed power to the voter, at present redistributed power is only between the elites, not between elites and the people.

    The existence of constitutional rights and freedoms is irrelevant to most citizens unless breaches of these can be cheaply and easily enforced.


  12. 666 please feel free to elaborate....


  13. El Calambre: Good that we are back to politics but in fairness Robert it was you who brought up the subjects of age of consent, catholicism and secularism when you wrote "This is proven by the fracas that arose from the attempt to change the law on the age of consent for sex. The basis of the objection was on Catholic religious teachings, which are fine but it is for adherents of Catholicism to keep to them, as is the requirement not to sin. This theology, however, should not be imposed on the community at large by a secular government" Maybe the question of religion in soviety has bacome a political issue. On now to Peter, Fabian, Joe, Big Joe, Dr, Joe etc

  14. El Calambre

    Yes that is so but it was not the main thrust of the piece. It was also why I did not edit out the comments in question. The point is that the thread should not be hijacked.

  15. One principle on which there could be immediate improvement without reforms, as it applies as a matter of law is for governments to abide by the Rule of Law. I have referred to this over and over again in many blogs. Today (with a little help from a friend) I have found the most succinct yet most accurate definition of the Rule of Law. It is a quote from the late Lord Bingham, considered to be the England and Wale's premier judge of recent history.

    He said the Rule of Law is ' ... that ALL persons and AUTHORITIES within the state, whether PUBLIC or private, should be BOUND and entitled to the benefit of laws publicly made, taking effect (generally) in the future and properly administered in the Courts". The use of CAPS is my emphasis.

    He defines all aspects further in his recently published book "The rule of Law" but one further quote is very apt for Gibraltar ' ... MINISTERS and PUBLIC OFFICERS at all levels must exercise the powers conferred on them in good faith, fairly, for the purpose for which the powers were conferred, without exceeding the limits of such powers and not unreasonably".

    One important point (because there are many) is there must be a LAW passed in PARLIAMENT empowering the exercise of any power. This is often not the case in Gibraltar.

  16. Supremacy of the law is a fundamental concept in the western democratic order. The rule of law requires both citizens and governments to be subject to known and standing laws.
    The supremacy of law also requires generality in the law. This principle is a further development of the principle of equality before the law. Laws should not be made in respect of particular persons. As Dicey postulated, the rule of law presupposes the absence of wide discretionary authority in the rulers, so that they cannot make their own laws but must govern according to the established laws. Those laws ought not to be too easily changeable. Stable laws are a prerequisite of the certainty and confidence which form an essential part of individual freedom and security. Therefore, laws ought to be rooted in moral principles, which cannot be achieved if they are framed in too detailed a manner.

    The idea of the supremacy of law requires a definition of law (to which the above principles may go some way). This must include a distinction between law and executive administration and prerogative decree. A failure to maintain the formal differences between these things must lead to a conception of law as nothing more than authorisation for power, rather than the guarantee of liberty, equally to all.

    The rule of law ensures that individuals have a secure area of autonomy and have settled expectations by having their rights and duties pre-established and enforced by law.


  17. Llanito rule and law 09-09-11

    To succeed in the long run, rules must have a moral or practical basis and the support of the people. If society says that you may do one thing and not another, there must be some rationale or the rule will be flouted. There is no legitimacy in officials writing rules as they choose simply because they have the power to do so. Such is tyranny.

    The Founding Fathers recognized this when they took that great leap to create our democracy more than two centuries ago. They provided for checks and balances, recognizing the need to limit power and to control it. To many people, power is of little consequence, just as many people care little about beauty or riches. But to those who lust for power, of what use is acquiring power unless they can abuse it? In this, the philosophy of the power monger is no different from that of the cancer cell, which mindlessly seeks growth for the sake of growth until it overwhelms its host.


  18. From my perspective Robert your post fails to highlight the fact that it was the GSD who firstly introduced reforms on their manifesto where others did not. It was the GSD who spearheads the constitution which gave way to reforms and the two thirds majority and it was the GSD through CM that handed the opposition an olive branch on Tue so that they could all agree on a way forward. Afterall the opposition agreed with all the points in the CMs motion. What came out lout and clear was bit the oppositions democratic intentions but their desperation to wriggle out of any commitment of agreement with the GSD. You talk about democracy without once considering the fact that the opposition has nott once participated in democracy for 16 years and prefers to abstain or wriggle out if positions where there opinions matter and are accountable. Play to the gallery is something they do excel in though, I just never thought you'd fall for it. Get real Robert.

  19. Anonymous at 23:10

    Your comment is not worthy of a response beyond saying SPIN and EXCUSES that reality and facts do not support. I will let readers decide for themselves because I have no intention of wasting time in replying to such a banal reply!

  20. Robert, Read your own post if it is spin that you look for. Really man, who are you trying to kid.

  21. Anonymous at 08:33

    You force me to argue the point? OK I shall.

    1. The GSD certainly did raise the issue of democratic reforms in its manifesto first. it then promptly forgot about it for 16 years and did nothing to implement its manifesto promise. i know i asked the question of PRC at the main GSD meeting in John Mac Hall at the 1996 election, was promised by him reforms and then ... IGNORED, nothing was done.

    2.THE GSD did spearhead the 2006 Constitution, that was the place to enact democratic reforms. it failed to do so. in mitigation the 2006 Constitution did allow some leeway for reforms but none have been implemented. the CM has admitted as much in Parliament.

    3. i have made my criticisms of the GSD Motion in my blog. in brief the Reforms proposed are not fundamental at all, most are in the immediate gift of Government and/or the CM but none have been abided by.

    4. it is undemocratic to pass a Motion that straddles a General Election. no reforms are incuded to take effect before the General Election. THE GSLP position is defendable. take the issue to the electorate at the General Election as the GSLP are clearly doing with wide-ranging democratic proposals that go well beyond the substance of the Motion.

    5 The very presence of the Opposition in Parliament is participation in democracy. This comment is ust not sustainable. it is any party that is in Government that does not act democratically because inbuilt into the existing system is the lack of any separation of powers, so executive decisions can become law without proper democratic consideration. This has led to disdain by government after government of the sacred principle that the Rule of Law governs all including the Government, Chief Minister and Ministers..

    so yes you spin and make excuses for the GSD on a failure by them to keep a manifesto promise.

  22. Robert
    Your post is exactly what Happened in Parliament and Anon 23.10 as you say is only trying to spin the issue. Not only that it reflects reality. Well done.
    By the Way to anon 23.10 who I think can be someone who was actaully in Parlaiment on the government a seat, The Liberal Party who then were the GNP advocated electoral and parlaimentary reform before the GSD in 1996. Also for your information they also advocated freedom of information act. The reality is that like the issue or fracaso! of the Theatre Royal the GSD have failed miserably in 15 years to do any thing to reform Parlaiment.
    I must congratulate you Robert because I know that you have always taken a neutral line on this blog and I do not consider you to be partisan. You have stood your ground and on the issue of reform you have even been willing to stand for election if it was needed.
    Therefore your blog has been very effective in promoting these reforms. The GSLP via its leader has truely taken the bull by the horns and has gone much further. Whistleblowing legislation, Ministerial Code, Electoral and Parliamentary reform, Freedom of information act retropective to 1988. This will once and for all dispel any doubts about the GSLP when in Government but will also do likewise to the current GSD govt. 20 year rule, Civil servants being able to air their views on issues that are not appertaining to their own work or departmentwithout any fear of repercussion, and very importantly a collective cabinet type of govt which will allow all members of the executive to have a say on issues and actually be allowed to take decisions. And all this with time limits.
    A true breath of fresh air.

  23. To those who have written to the Government and not even been graced with an acknowlegment of receipt (common courtesy I would have thought and indicative of the little respect given to the 'general public') of their letter, nevertheless a response, the GSLP's statement of their intention to have a defined period for answering is a very welcome proposition! I only hope these are not more unkept promises along the lines of the promised GSD reforms if the GSLP do get in to Government - and will the Freedom of Information also open up the files of unanswered mail?

  24. In their quest to finish the playgrounds,the mid harbor project,the new air terminal and all the other project being finished on a 24/7 basis,all before the elections,giving them prime material to produce the mother of all political broadcast.
    The GSD has not given enough importance to the issues now being discussed.Perhaps not knowing the basic rule in martial arts of: never to under estimate your opponent...........or knowing it and thinking that the super hero that PRC has proved to be in many occasions for GIbraltar is beyond defeat.
    Churchill was also a super hero and lost the first elections held after the war.
    What cannot be denied is that the GSLP and the PDP has forced these issues and now forcing the GSD to wake up,more overtime at number 6.
    Has the GSD locked themselves in a time capsule?
    Inactive website.
    YGSD too late.where have they been the last 15 years?.........sorry most of them were only 14 then.
    Little or no use of the most powerful medium ........the internet.
    La verdad es que ,the two hour waiting time to go into Spain has nothing to do with the tobacco,...........they are looking for the missing kryptonite which has gone missing from number 6.

    Sin duda it's time for change.
    Let's have our freedom back.

  25. I've just read the CM's SEVEN sentence message to his people on National Day and I am shocked and very disappointed.

    For a moment there, I thought the Chronicle online had just printed part of it, like they used to, but I see its all there and he just wasn't bothered to write very much at all.

    It is obvious National Day is such an inconvenience for him.

    Que verguenza de llanito. I agree anon @ 18:14, sin duda its time for change!

  26. Tyrone Duarte says:
    Robert, unsurprisingly, I agree with your comments and analysis.

    I think that Mr Picardo is serious about parliamentary reform, and the Alliance are right to involve the electorate in the process.

    It is highly unlikely that Mr Picardo has lied to his friends or the electorate as regards reform, and to state otherwise is political posturing from the gutter.

    It is wrong for an end-of-regime parliament to even entertain the idea of passing any reforms so close to a general election as it would shackle the next legislature. The Alliance is right to demand that the competing reform agendas be taken to the electorate.

    To suppose that the current executive is best placed to enact reforms is wholly misguided.

  27. Tyrone and RV are spot on, in my humble opinion of course.

    I guess we can agree for once Mr Duarte :)

  28. FIRE Safety

    Do we have any fire safety guidance and legislation in Gibraltar?

    The effects of a fire can be devastating in terms of lives lost, injuries, and damage to property. Most fires are preventable, and can be avoided by householders and those responsible for commercial and other Communities and Local Government public buildings taking responsibility for and adopting fire safe behaviours and procedures.


  29. The rule of law is a foundation for both our liberties and for order. The rule of law respects us as equals. It allows us to organize our lives, plan our futures, and resolve disputes in a rational way. There are those around the world and throughout history who have fought in great struggles for the rule of law.

  30. It's brilliant that we have "independents" who claim not to side with specific political parties and are politically astute as this gives the general public an unbiased opinion as to what is really best for Gibraltar e.g. In this case of parliamentary reform as it is all too easy for people to unknowingly assume that HE who speaks last and with such eloquent parlance must be right especially when 2 out of 3 political parties unite in opinion due to their own ulterior motives i.e. Convincing the electorate to re-elect them or to hastily increase the members of parliament to increase their chances of getting into the same.

  31. Robert

    To date 29 comments and very few that contribute anything of any value towards Parliamentary Reform. The only, vaguely relevant, comments have come from the "copying and pasting brigade".

    It makes me think that Parliamentary Reform should, indeed, be left to politicians.

    Happy National Day.

  32. Anonymous at 10:32

    Methinks that your analysis is superficial and wrong. The blog is about the debate in and out of Parliament as to whther and how to achieve reforms. It is not about what the reforms themselves should be. Let us see what the consultation process so urgently and belatedly begun brings about. The mere fact that the GSD Government has included a public consultation in its own Motion belies the statements made by the CM about the inability of the public ...

  33. The Government motion was about Parliament agreeing to six core principles, which included enlargement of Parliament to allow for backbenchers, reforms of question time and others. None of this could or was intended to happen before this General election. The consultation process would have allowed people to suggest additional areas or points of reform. On enlargement and backbenchers it would have allowed people to suggest ways in which, for instance, those extra seats were elected. Supporting those core principles (ie the motion) and asking the public to contribute was not incompatible at all as you suggest.

    For it's part the Opposition agreed to all the points in the motion except for enlargement of Parliament to create backbenchers.

  34. No TV coverage of the National day events at Casemates. Political sensorship at its best. Couldnt find any forums where I could air this anon.

  35. L.E.F. says,

    Robert seeing the GSD is in such a rush to introduce reform , I hope they take my advice on how to increase the numbers in Parliament, in a fair manner.

    I suggest we use the GIBBOVISION formula and that Mr Christian Santos head the committee for reform.

    Each estate will vote for a representative based on his singing and acting skills. This is totally necessary to act the part and continue the charade that our Gibraltar Parliament is today.

    Good show .Congratulations Mr Santos.

    Happy National Day to all Gibraltarians.

    Each estate to present

  36. Anon@12:41

    "Political Censorship"?

    The Casemates event was covered by GBC in the evening together with all other events.

    Slight attack of paranoia perhaps?

  37. not to worry anon@12:41 next year it will be live, for the present we'll just have to put up with being covered in the evening together with all the other events.

  38. Anon@10:17

    Interesting comment.

    Has the GBC published next year's programme schedule already?

  39. GSLP re-establishing national day?

    two international political imperatives do remain that not only affects our identity, prosperity and survival as a people:

    a. UN delisting, international status and recognition

    b. the Spanishing Government dropping its sovereignty claim and respecting Gibraltar's jurisdiction: land, sea and air

    but these two aspirations also carry international obligations and responsibilities which Gibraltar must continue to embrace and uphold firmly in its daily governance and in protecting its reputation and image - locally and internationally

    is the GSLP up to it?

  40. anon@11:12 does it need to? If the proceedings continue to be televised live then Casemates will feature live too.

  41. anon @ 11:37 mas hace el que quiere que el que puede.

  42. Anon on 10th@11:37

    I agree with you entirely.

    The GSD wants and has proposed Parliamentary Reforms and the GSLP has rejected them and voted against.

  43. Anonymous at 18:25

    That is such a simplistic view that it makes me believe that you have either not read or not understood my blog on this subject. It is just NOT so!

  44. Tyrone Duarte:

    Off the subject, but I gassed quite happily about the lack of GBC coverage, or even a mention of the SDGG rally, on Twitter. I told Gerard Teuma that if it was about entertainment then he should join a circus. I got a very kind response from Mr Stephen Neish. I suspect that some in GBC did censor the event, but the real journos lacked resources to do two live events at once.

    On the question of reforms perhaps attention should be given to how to establish a truly independent GBC.