The GSD persist in advertising how well they have done over the last 16 years. The GSLP/Liberals and PDP, in stark contrast are taking the election, in part, to one place where it should be: the issue of good governance. Good governance is not about trusting who governs us, although that does come into play. Good governance is about many things. Primordially it is about systems built into the machinery of government that prevent or, usually, reduce abuse
Lord Hailsham, Lord Chancellor of England and Wales, in his 1976 Dimbleby lecture famously described the system of government in the UK as an "elective dictatorship". I believe that there is some truth in that statement but it exaggerates the reality, probably purposefully for effect. The UK has democratic checks and balances, for example an element of separation of powers, an independent Civil Service and the truly free and very incisive press. Gibraltar has virtually none. The fundamental safeguard, namely the separation of powers simply does not exist. The phrase "elective dictatorship" is a perfect description of Gibraltar's system of government.
The one and only check on government that presently exists in Gibraltar is an election every 4 years. We are now at that juncture. Is re-electing the GSD a real option? I do not believe it is because the GSD is truly and exclusively at fault for Gibraltar's democratic deficit. In 1996 it promised reforms to improve democracy, accountability and transparency of and in government. It promised these reforms ostensibly to counteract the strong feelings, then running, against the GSLP administration. The GSLP at that time had failed to provide good governance. It seems to have been an election gimmick on the part of the GSD: the GSD has given us the exact opposite. We have been given no democratic reforms. Instead, we have been subjected to a form of centralised and authoritarian government that is not acceptable in a Western Democracy.
The only brake on bad government in Gibraltar is the fear of losing an election. This brake will no longer work for the GSD if it is re-elected at the forthcoming election. The reason is simple: Peter Caruana has indicated that this will be his last election as leader of the GSD. The GSD has governed Gibraltar exclusively by and through Peter Caruana. Each reader can and will assess his manner of government over the past recent years. I believe it has been unchecked. It can only get worse, if he knows that he will not be contesting the next election, as the brake of fear of losing an election will no longer apply to him. It will not be a good place for Gibraltar to be at.
It is impossible to believe that the GSD will keep any promise about democratic reforms. It has promised these for 16 years and not delivered any at all. Why should it do so now when Peter Caruana will not need to face the electorate again? He has no incentive to do so. The argument that he will be forced to do so by his party is sterile. When has Peter Caruana been forced by his party to do anything? Not even his Ministers have ever succeeded on this front.
On the other hand the GSLP/Liberals and the PDP have grasped the issue of democratic reforms fully and are committing to major policies on this front. Will either deliver, if elected? Well, that is a risk that we all take on all promises by all parties when we elect one into government. What can certainly be said is that history shows that the likelihood that the GSD will deliver is very low. Not only has it not delivered in 16 years but Peter Caruana, if he does not stand again, does not have to fear being punished at the polls in 4 years time. On the other hand if either the GSLP/Liberals or the PDP get elected, then, they both do have to fear an election in 4 years time. Not delivering on central promises during a first term in office is frequently punished.
The argument for change in order to achieve greater democracy in Gibraltar is inviolable by the GSD's own making, namely, its omission to undertake any reforms on this front in 16 years. The counter-argument that we hear is the GSD boasting about how well it has done for Gibraltar during its time in Government. There is no doubt about this on several fronts, mainly providing stability within which the private sector has prospered. The private sector has provided the wherewithal by which the GSD has been able to do much of what it now boasts about: money.
The issue is has it spent this money properly? Well I heard Peter Caruana on GBC rubbishing criticisms about the Theatre Royal, the electricity generating station and the sewage treatment plant, as though these were minor failings. This either shows that he has a total loss of perspective and judgment or that he needs to diminishing the importance of these failures precisely because these failures are so huge. The amount spent on the Theatre Royal was massive. The lack of a power station undermines the entirety of Gibraltar's economy and provision of power by skid generators is harmful to the environment. This failure adds to the possibility of having to resolve Gibraltar's energy needs by connecting to the European grid. The lack of a sewage treatment plant, aside from its adverse environmental impact, breaches international obligations.
I want to know from the GSD what, steps, if it is re-elected, it will take, or has in mind to take, to find the money required to fund the construction of the power station and a sewage treatment plant. I want to know from the GSD in what time span it will resolve these huge problems for Gibraltar. The GSD has been in power for 16 years, so it has a duty to provide the electorate with these explanations, if it wishes to be re-elected. The GSLP/Liberals and the PDP do not have the same obligation. However, if elected, one or other of them will be left with a massive legacy problem to resolve, caused by GSD misspending. They both need to give these issues much thought. If either is elected, it will fall on one or other of them to resolve these problems, despite that they have been caused by GSD failures.