The recent announcement by the GSLP/Liberal Alliance that it will support and promote a Ministerial code of Conduct is very welcome news. What is further welcome news is today's announcement that a GSLP/Liberal Alliance Government will introduce a Freedom of Information Act. A suggestion that was made in this blog some weeks ago. Perhaps, at long last, I will be able to get a copy of that elusive letter from the CM to the Chaiman of the FSC that led to my resignation. Certainly the announcement is that past information will also be made available. May I suggest to the CM and/or the FSC that they may wish to pre-empt that happening and let me have that letter now? I still doubt they will, gosh I feel so important to be the subject of such a majorly top secret letter. Especially as the FSC has got its policy so biased, as I have explained in an earlier blog. More about that on another day, after the next FSC meeting at which I am told the policy is going to be looked at again.
Today let me go back to the issue of conduct of politicians. I have undertaken some research on this subject. In the UK there are two codes. One applies to all MPs. The other to Ministers. They are interrelated. What has surprised me is that they are both so basic. I find it extraordinary that those who govern actually need to be told such basic and simple principles. Perhaps, it is just a reflection of the world that we live in. Despite that criticism, I have no doubt whatsoever that such codes are needed in Gibraltar, more so than in many other jurisdictions.
Let me take you through some broad brush issues dealt with in the Code that applies to MPs. Importantly, it applies to all aspects of public life. The General Principles are:
1. Selflessness: the public interest is paramount, including not seeking or gaining financial or other material benefits for oneself, friends and family.
2. Integrity: they should not place themselves in a position with others that will or might influence their decisions.
3. Objectivity: choices on making public appointments and awarding contracts should be made on merit.
4. Accountability: including submitting to scrutiny.
5. Openness: taking decisions and actions openly and giving reasons for these.
6. Honesty: including declarations of interest, resolving any in manner that protects the public interest.
In addition MPs must conduct themselves in a manner that maintains and strengthens trust and confidence in the integrity of Parliament and not in a manner that brings it or its members into disrepute. Should I at this stage remind readers of the accusations of lying made by the Chief Minister of the Leader of the Opposition, followed by a soon to be debated motion against him? How this maintains this rule of conduct completely escapes me. It smack to me of behavior in a despotic and totalitarian state.
Turning now to the basic principles of the Ministerial code. The general principles are:
1. Collective responsibility amongst all Ministers.
2. Duty to account to Parliament.
3. The provision of accurate and truthful information to Parliament.
4. Ministers need to be open with Parliament.
5. The requirement for civil servants to give evidence to Parliamentary Committees.
6. Avoidance of conflicts of interest between private and public interests by Ministers.
7. Non-acceptance of gifts by Ministers.
8. Not to use government resources for Party political purposes.
9. The upholding of the political impartiality of the civil service.
I am sure I need not enlarge on where there are very apparent failures in Gibraltar. What is a concern is who will enforce any codes that may result from the GSLP/Liberal Alliance initiative? In the UK it is Parliament for the MPs code and the Prime Minister for the Ministerial code. The issue at stake in this is the sacrosanct sovereignty of Parliament (subject, in Gibraltar, to constitutional constraints because it is a subsidiary legislature, most importantly the power of the UK to ensure good governance and compliance with international obligations). If an external authority has the power then it undermines this democratically justified sovereignty. A solution is to have an appointed Independent Parliamentary Authority that at predetermined intervals, say every six months, publishes any findings, favorable or adverse, about conduct. Thereafter, it is left to public opinion to take its toll and/or the Chief Minister of the day to take remedial action to improve the chances of his or her party at the next following election. However, the solution to this question has to be carefully thought through and implemented for the benefit of democracy and good governance.