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180+ Questions Filed by the GSD in Parliament

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The GSD have filed more than 180 questions for the meeting of Parliament that starts next Monday 16 May 2022.

The questions range from issues on the talks with the EU; frontier restrictions and Blue ID card-holders; immigration, disability, the Lishman case; the state of public finances; land agreements concerning the Eastside, Victoria Keys, St Mary’s or Rooke sites, the state of the Housing developments at Bob Peliza Mews, Chatham Views and Hassans Centenary Terraces, special needs, public counters, education; health, environment, training, transport, tourism and sport/culture questions.

Leader of the Opposition, Keith Azopardi said: “Each MP has filed important questions in a wide range of areas that concern people. We look forward to probing Government on these questions to get better information and indications of improvement for the public. It is important for these meetings to happen so Ministers can be held to account on issues in Parliament and we are keen to do that again.”

Govt Borrowing £50 MILLION Higher than Budgeted!

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The Chief Minister, in publishing the appropriation bill for 2022/3, disclosed certain financial information which is normally kept confidential until the Budget debate. Using only financial information that is now in the public domain, namely the Covid-19 Response Fund to 31 March 2022, and the details revealed by the Chief Minster, the GSD arrives at a very different analysis of financial performance for 2021/22

Shadow Minister for Public FinanceRoy Clinton MP stated the following:

“First of all let us consider the Chief Minister’s statement that the Budget deficit for 2021/22 is £55 million versus last year’s estimate of £51 million. This begs the question as to whether Sir Joe Bossano’s warning of a potential additional £40 million overspend was wrong?

“The answer is to be found in the Covid-19 Response Fund movements to 31 March 2022 that clearly shows it exceeded its 2021/22 budget by £67.5 million in supporting Government Revenue and expenditure.

“The Chief Minister gave the figure of net borrowing of £652 million after cash reserves of £120 million implying an aggregate debt of £ 772 million at 31 March 2022. The estimated aggregate debt for 2021/22 at 31 March 2022 was £722 million which already included provision for £50 million new borrowing. This means that the Government has had to borrow an additional £50 million (to £772 million) taking total new borrowing in 2021/22 to £100 million.

“This unbudgeted extra borrowing of £50 million is a number the Chief Minister has conveniently failed to highlight in his own press release and shows that the financial picture is far from that he is trying to pretend. The truer picture of the real deficit is in fact far worse than Sir Joe Bossano predicted when you consider the Covid-19 overspend of £67.5 million. Sir Joe of course was correct in pointing out that any Budget overspend would have to be met by more borrowing.

This is the stark reality of the financial position Gibraltar is in and I look forward to being able to debate this and the estimates for 2022/23 more fully in the forthcoming Budget debate.”

Picardo Can’t be Trusted on Reform, Letter to the Chief Minister

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Mr Picardo’s administration simply cannot be trusted to deliver on an agenda of cracking down on waste or abuse or to deliver governance reforms, accountability or transparency. They cannot be trusted to deliver because they have flip-flopped on reforms and made empty promises. They are now the problem and obstacle to proper reform.

What is disgraceful is Mr Picardo’s desperate attempt to cover his Government’s tracks. That will be transparent to everyone. It beggars belief that Mr Picardo should have the gall to seek to point fingers at the GSD. His administration has awarded contracts to persons close to his Government including entities related to family members of Ministers and persons politically close to him. His administration awarded a tender to a company said to be the highest bidder in a process that had closed two years before the company even existed. His Government has awarded contracts to a company in which the Chief Minister has an indirect beneficial interest. He has made systematic promises of reform and of meetings of committees that are set up and never meet. That has been the case with the parliamentary reform process where promise after promise has been made. These promises now ring completely hollow. Many of the GSLP manifesto commitments have been breached. It is under his watch that hundreds of millions of pounds of the people’s money are not properly accounted for. All these are reasons why his Government is now the problem and not the cure.

He presides over an administration where there are conflicts of interest left, right and centre and where the truth is buried. There have been big failures in standards, transparency and accountability. His narrative that he is the great reformer and things have never been better is just a hollow fiction built on false premises and promises.

Leader of the Opposition, Keith Azopardi said: “We stand by the assertion that there needs to be a systems overhaul to attack waste abuse and corruption and that the GSLP aren’t the ones to do it.

As usual when we hit a raw nerve the Government’s knee-jerk reaction is to say it is a disservice to Gibraltar to talk about it. But people see through that self-serving protestation. We won’t shut up because the truth is inconvenient. This is a Government that is now so adept at spin that it cannot be believed and that regularly resorts to spin and outright lies.

There are many reasons that show why his Government is now the problem and not the cure. That is why the GSD will not agree to bury the issues into yet another committee that doesn’t meet so that reform is held back.”

Letter to the Chief Minister

It is simply not true that Mr Azopardi and Mr Clinton “did not show up at a meeting [to discuss reform] and sent a letter afterward.” Mr Picardo had the GSD response to his invitation before the time he had suggested for the meeting. In fact, he had also seen it as is clear from the electronic transmission receipt. In this and as always Mr Picardo gets overtaken by his own enthusiasm to make cheap points and resorts to lies to make them because the truth is less attractive than his fictional story. Mr Picardo knows full well why we refuse to be taken in by his false agenda of promises on reform. Our letter to him of 20 April is attached to this PR. In our letter I invited him to respond with clear proposals. Predictably we have not had a response and still less proposals.

Download the letter from the Leader of the Opposition to the Chief Minister: https://docdro.id/eekgt2j

 

Publish the EU Draft Treaty!

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Any proposed treaty text between the EU and UK on a future relationship should be published before it is entered into so that there can be a clear public debate on the proposals. Any agreement of principles leading to that draft treaty language should also be published.

The BREXIT referendum happened nearly 6 years ago. Despite the fact that the transition period ended on 31 December 2020 Gibraltar still has no agreement on a permanent relationship. The UK agreed its own deal on a new relationship with the EU before the end of the transition period. Gibraltar still faces uncertainty. To compound the lack of clarity all that has been published so far is a vague 8-page framework on 31 December 2020. In contrast the UK’s own Treaty with the EU is an agreement that extends to more than 1000 pages. The GSD has not seen any document since then and have only had one informal briefing since the end of 2020 (in November 2021).

Momentum was clearly lost in the negotiations for Gibraltar as soon as the opportunity was missed to land a safe and beneficial agreement in tandem with the UK. 17 months on Gibraltar has still not seen any new agreement emerge and suffers an increasing backdrop of uncertainty with a fragile status quo depending on Spanish goodwill. This is clearly an undesirable state of affairs. Gibraltar needs legal certainty. Delays not only cause political and economic uncertainty but also affect people on the ground as we have been seeing in recent weeks. It is assumed that there must now be proposals in writing circulating among the delegations although tentative agreements may not, yet, have been reached. People should not be kept in the dark once a settled proposal emerges that is, in principle, acceptable to those negotiating.

Leader of the Opposition, Keith Azopardi said: “It is important to appreciate that we are at a significant moment in our affairs. We have made clear that we want a safe and beneficial agreement with the EU. But people also need to know what deals are being negotiated in their name and what specifically is on the table before this is entered into given the importance of this moment for Gibraltar’s future. This is essential so that there is clarity instead of speculation on the elements and consequences of any deal. This speculation needs to be dispelled and the draft of any Treaty text published before it is entered into so that everyone knows what’s on the table and can judge that against the prospect of no deal and its consequences. The Government should reassure people that the draft Treaty will be published for public evaluation and debate before it is signed up to.”

BVI Report Lessons for Gibraltar

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What is happening now in the British Virgin Islands is a stark reminder of how abuses of power, corruption and lack of transparency can be corrosive to democracy.

A report following an Inquiry into financial & contractual abuses, transparency and corruption was published last week in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). It has recommended the temporary suspension of parts of its constitution, the dissolution of Parliament, suspension of Ministerial Government and the assumption of control of the Government by the Governor with open talk of direct rule from London.

In the wide-ranging 900-page Report there are recommendations that highlight how Ministers were involved in direct and unaccountable decisions without the prospect of any come-back or criticism, that contracts were adjudicated without transparent processes, that corrupt financial benefits from contracts were obtained and how the system in the BVI has been exposed.

The report highlights how some members of the public were afraid to share information because they feared reprisals. It concluded that there were clear deficiencies and “the principles of good governance, openness, transparency and even the rule of law are ignored. In many important areas of government – including the procurement of contracts, grants of assistance, appointments to statutory boards, the disposal of Crown land and the grant of residence and belonger status – discretionary decisions are made by elected officials (usually Ministers) on the basis of no criteria or patently inadequate or unpublished criteria or criteria which are, as often as not, simply ignored. They can and do make decisions – which expend huge sums of public money and affect the lives if all those who live in the BVI – as they wish, without applying any objective criteria, without giving any reasons and without fearing any comeback.”

Leader of the Opposition, Keith Azopardi said: “What is happening in the BVI is an example of the effects that financial or contractual abuses, lack of transparency, the wielding of unchecked Executive power by Ministers and failures in accountability can have on a small territory. It emphasises the importance of having sufficient democratic checks and balances in a small territory, clear processes that are followed and independent watchdogs over the use of financial and administrative power so that the possibility of abuses are minimised and value for money enhanced.

It starkly brings home the serious threats to a democracy if such checks are absent or if power is misused. This not only impoverishes the quality of individual decisions but it threatens to take away the enjoyment of self-government and democratic institutions from the citizens themselves as is now happening in the BVI who face the risk of being placed under direct rule.

This is not what we want for Gibraltar. We cherish our self-government and our democracy. This reinforces the need for clear changes to deliver transparency, standards, anti-abuse protections and democratic checks and balances in Gibraltar. Independent and precise controls, financial oversight, transparency in decision-making, the objective justification of decisions taken are all key elements in any set of changes.

We have been talking about reforms like these for years to curb the abuses and deficiencies in our current system. In our view these cannot be tackled by the present GSLP Government who have presided over some of the worst excesses in lack of transparency or standards and have paid lip service to reform over the last 11 years.

We had a strong programme for democratic and financial reforms to governance in our 2019 manifesto and will have a robust set of reforms in our next manifesto. Only a few weeks ago we set out our Back on Track policy to ensure greater value for money, transparency and standards and to curb waste, abuse and corruption. These policies need to be combined with other measures to entrench controls and reforms in our constitutional architecture.

A future GSD Government will deliver a strong and comprehensive programme of reforms to ensure that our laws, processes and systems are changed so that our democracy is protected. That will require big changes to ensure Anti- Abuse and anti-corruption measures, securing transparency and independence in decision-making and making sure that persons close to the Government of the day have to declare their interests and do not benefit from their political associations. Our people deserve that our systems and laws are changed so that there are no opportunities for waste, abuse and corruption. We need to ensure value for money and democratic integrity and transparency at all levels. Gibraltar deserves better and the GSD will deliver that and these reforms.”

Shadow Finance Minister Roy Clinton said:

“The report released last week by the commission of inquiry makes for sober reading. Its 45 recommendations talk to the very heart of financial and good governance in which the BVI Government appears to have failed. In this respect the GSD has for years been clamouring for greater transparency and accountability by Government. All the GSD’s ‘Back on Track’ policies launch last month are designed to reinforce and deliver on financial transparency, accountability and value for money. Whereas the factors and situation in the BVI are not those of Gibraltar we cannot afford the mere suggestion that we do not take these matters seriously and thus it is in our collective interest to ensure we meet the highest standards in this respect.”

Worker’s Memorial & May Day Message from the Leader of the Opposition Keith Azopardi

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We commemorate Worker’s Memorial Day on Thursday and May Day on Sunday. These are two important dates in the calendar. They mark the struggle for workers’ rights and the need to reaffirm a commitment to safe, dignified working practices and good quality terms and conditions. This affects us all whether you work in the private or public sectors. At a wider level the success of our economy and of the environment for business is key to job security and to workers’ rights and the prospect of more money in your pocket.

12 months ago I lamented how the state of the public finances could affect and bring pressure on the income of workers and business and workers’ rights and aspirations. I also regretted that we still did not have a safe and beneficial agreement with the EU on a new relationship.

12 months on the Government has still failed in obtaining a safe and beneficial new relationship with the EU for Gibraltar and its residents with the consequent economic uncertainty this produces. Despite assurances given a year ago by the Government that residents would continue to have freedom of movement while the negotiations were ongoing residents who are Blue ID Card holders are not only facing discriminatory treatment at the border but are now being turned back. Measures such as those should have been pre-empted. It is no good for the Government to point fingers when it was obvious that problems could arise at the border if things lay unresolved for so long. This again can indirectly affect the economy, consumer and investor confidence and the prospect of inward investment or jobs. The only parties so far guaranteed enduring freedom of movement across the border are frontier workers who were guaranteed those rights in previous legal agreements entered into with the consent of the Government. We have, often, observed that Mr Picardo should have obtained enduring rights for residents in exchange at the same time. Our forecast that this would come back to haunt the Government is being coldly seen in the restrictions now faced by some residents. This has been a painfully slow and mishandled negotiation so far.

12 months on the state of our public finances is still bad and all indications are that the Government has not even been able to keep to the deficit it announced last year of approximately £50 Million. From public statements made it is likely that the deficit by 31 March will have been a figure in excess of a whopping £90 Million last year. We will have to see the detail when it is published. In any event the state of our public finances is dire and worsened by a reckless mismanagement of public finances over the last 10 years. This will have a further knock-on effect as to how much money there is for wage increases, tax breaks, benefits or investment in public services. How can people be seriously asked to trust Mr Picardo with that kind of record over our public finances. How can the Government ask people to tighten their belts when it cannot do so and continues to misspend the people’s money? Why should people and workers continue to bail out or trust Mr Picardo and his Government after so many failed promises?

These things are important because it affects workers, jobs, prospects, terms and conditions, salary aspirations and pension aspirations for retirement. It can affect people at all levels and of all ages. Whether they are youngsters looking for a job or people looking to retire after decades of working. It affects people and businesses in all sectors. That is why the twin issues of our finances and negotiations with the EU are so important and why trust is increasingly being lost in this Government. There is a need to put the safe management of our economy and public finances in different hands. That is the best way of protecting workers and families in the future.

Government Asked to Clarify Reports on Delayed Flight Landings

By | News

The GSD asks the Government to clarify recent reports in the Spanish press in which it is claimed that two planes were delayed entry into Gibraltar airport because our airport did not have flight controllers available.

Damon Bossino the shadow Minister for Tourism said:

“This cannot be good, if true. We ask that the government provide an explanation as to what has happened and if necessary, challenge the accuracy of the report. Either way it should give the required assurance that this latest incident (if true) is being taken up with the appropriate authorities at the highest level in order to avoid a repeat of what can only be described as an extraordinary incident. We can ill afford one of Gibraltar’s main entry points to be hampered in this way.”

CEO Appointment Welcomed but Questions Remain to be Answered

By | News

The GSD welcomes the appointment of a Gibraltarian with an in excess of 30-year track record in the international tourism trade as CEO to the Tourist Board. The party has been calling for the position – which has in effect been vacant for almost one year – to be urgently filled and by someone who should be based in Gibraltar. Tourism is a crucial sector of the economy which has suffered a huge blow as a result of the global pandemic and the delay in taking prompt action in this respect was a clear failure, which Gibraltar could ill afford. This appointment therefore comes not a moment too soon and should have occurred much sooner – precious time has been lost.

It will be recalled that the Minister for Tourism announced that the Government had decided that the individual should be based in London with responsibility for tourism, transport and shipping. Their press release is curiously silent on this aspect. The GSD opposition never understood why Mr Daryanani thought it a good idea that the leader of such an important authority as is the Tourist Board, especially during this period of economic and financial crisis, should be based thousands of miles away in London and not where he should be, here in Gibraltar. This important question remains unanswered and so the GSD re-asks the Government to clarify the position.

Given the tendencies in office of the current Minister for Tourism who is, usually, so keen to hog the limelight and attract attention to himself, it will be of public interest to understand how much discretion and authority the CEO will be given to promote the industry. This is a further aspect which has remained conspicuously silent in the statement today.

Damon Bossino the shadow Minister for Tourism said:

“Whilst these questions remain unanswered, they are matters which are wholly independent of Mr Kevin Bossino’s appointment. He clearly has tremendous experience in the industry both locally and internationally, not least in the Far East in both Hong Kong and Singapore, both destinations being successful in the tourism industry and an impressive CV which speaks for itself and which we hope will be allowed to be put to good use for sake of our economy. It is a particular pleasure to note the use of local talent, as should be the norm, and not the exception.”

Independent Investigation Needed on Departmental Failures

By | News

The GSD has now seen the full report by Gillian Guzman QC into the child grooming case at Westside involving a teacher and a pupil who was a minor at the time.

This confirms that there was a serious breach of trust of a vulnerable minor by a teacher. The Government has, since the receipt of the report, taken action in respect of that former teacher and prevented her from teaching in schools.

However the report and accompanying papers also show some serious failures by the Department of Education and individuals occupying senior posts with safeguarding responsibilities. It is apparent from the documents that officials received documented reports and evidence that highlighted safeguarding concerns in respect of the minor several months before they were known to the school’s management and failed to report this. The report notes that the Department of Education “failed in not clearly and unequivocally communicating the seriousness of the initial report made. The full report and documents were not disclosed to the school or to the Director of Education by those involved…” That meant that crucial time was lost within which prompt safeguarding action could have been taken. While the report notes that management in the department of education acted in good faith it is also clear that had information been provided earlier a different approach would likely have been taken to protect a vulnerable person.

The report has recommended that protocols and communication processes be revised with a view to their improvement given the failures noted in it. Significant lessons need to be learned from this case. The evidence that gave rise to this case was reported in March 2019 to department senior officials and the Guzman report was delivered in August 2021. The GSD notes that Government has stated that it has addressed the recommendations made on the improvement of processes and protocols and calls for the old policies and the reviewed ones to be published for all to see how these have changed. People will want reassurance that the Department’s safeguarding policies are fit for purpose and that this could not be allowed to happen again in future. 8 months on from the Guzman Report the Government also needs to satisfactorily answer how it is dealing with the departmental failures in this case.

The Government has accepted the principle that there should be a further internal investigation on whether disciplinary action should be taken and has not ruled out that this may lead to disciplinary proceedings in its public statements. But given the findings of the Report and the seniority of those concerned an internal investigation is not the right way forward. There needs to be a transparent arms-length process free from any influence. As such the Government should commit to an independent investigation into whether there should now be disciplinary proceedings following from this case. The independent investigation should also make recommendations on process and policies above and beyond any internal review that has taken place.

There would seem to be ample evidence in the report and accompanying papers to allow an independent investigator once he or she has interviewed the relevant parties to take a decision on this one way or the other soon. This would cater for due process concerns and would also allow the process to be unimpeachable. This matter has been ongoing for a long time and the family deserve some closure in this case as well as knowing that the departmental failures have been dealt with and accounted for by an independent review.

As the Report notes a “school should be a safe haven for students and for parents to have peace of mind of the security and well-being of their children.” This was a case of a serious breach of trust by a former teacher but worse still of knowledge by the department and senior officials tasked with safeguarding who chose not to pass on the information received to the school promptly. There have been serious departmental failures and these cannot be ignored. The Government needs to be much clearer and transparent about ensuring that the decisions on whether there are disciplinary proceedings or not are taken independently and promptly. It also now needs to publish the departmental policies it says have been improved so parents are reassured that there are now robust and improved safeguarding and protection regimes in place.

Back On Track

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GSD unveils its three-pronged Pathway and key commitments to Transparency, Standards and Value for Money in getting Public Finances back on track and rebuilding taxpayer trust in Government. These measures which it would implement in Government would deliver greater transparency and curb the prospect of waste, abuse and corruption

There have been plenty of examples of why these measures are needed. We do not know transparently how your money is being spent. It is clear that there is a lack of accountability or Value for Money. There are obvious deficiencies as to how certain contracts or leases have been awarded with benefit obtained by parties close to the Government or Government Ministers. This needs addressing in a positive way and the GSD would do so in Government.

Some of the big commitments being announced today include an Investigation of how monies have been spent and flowed through Government companies; a law that would prevent parties who are politically compromised and close to the Government of the day from being awarded the benefit of public contracts and a number of measures to enhance value for money for the tax-payer.

We promise the following:

  1. Transparency
  • An investigation and audit into the spending of all Government owned companies. A GSD Government will commission an independent investigation into spending by Government owned companies and the flow of monies through these. This will ensure clarity of spending and accountability. Millions of pounds are channelled via these companies and often without any clarity or explanation. It is time that the taxpayer should get that clarity.

The results of this investigation will be made public. This will happen immediately on being elected and will affect ALL Government and Gibraltar Development Corporation owned companies.

  • Transparency In Tendering
    The names of parties that tender for contracts will be published whether they are successful or not.
  • A Public Register of Interests of Government Contracts
    A robust and public Register of Interests will be established of any person or company seeking to tender for Government contracts or awarded a Government contract. There needs to be clarity of who seeks contracts or tenders. The persons behind companies or tenderers should be clear for all to see. The Register will be open to inspection.

Greater Powers for the Principal Auditor
Enhanced legal powers for the Principal Auditor to be combined with an obligation that the Principal Auditor must submit his Audit for particular financial years within 18 months of the close of a financial year. It is not acceptable that the last publicly available Principal Auditor’s report is for 2016 – 6 years ago. This means there is no effective accountability provided via this mechanism. To ensure the Principal Auditor can finalise his reports a future GSD Government will commit itself to take any supplementary appropriation bill within 6 months of the close of any financial year. Those commitments will be made legal obligations.

  1. Standards
  • An Anti-Abuse Law

We will introduce a specific law that controls or prevents persons closely or directly related to a Government Minister or on the Executive of the political party of the Government as defined in that law to tender for or be awarded any Government contract, lease or development or for any of those defined persons or a Minister to take the direct or indirect benefit of a Government contract, lease or development. These restrictions will also apply to companies and trusts the beneficiaries of which are those individuals.

  • A Commissioner for Standards

The setting up of an independent Commissioner of Standards to investigate any possible breaches of the law or rules relating to interests, public contracts or tenders. The Commissioner will have a specific remit and legal powers to investigate abuse, corruption or breach of standards by any person.

  • A Ministerial and Public Service Code of Conduct

The introduction of a clear and robust Code of Standards for Ministers and public servants. This will enhance standards in office, transparency and accountability. The Code will be made public and breach of the Code can lead to investigation and action by the Commissioner for Standards

  1. Value for Money
  • A Commitment to Value for Money

The creation of a Value for Money team accountable to the Finance Minister to audit public spending on a value for money basis and ensure that any waste, abuse or corruption are stamped out. This will deliver greater value for money to the tax-payer to the benefit of everyone. It will mean greater financial resources can be released to social priorities and to those in greater need.

  • A New Contracts Awards Panel

The appointment of a Contracts Award Panel for the award of high-value contracts the members of which will include lay persons and a person nominated by the Leader of the Opposition to enhance public and independent scrutiny.

  • Stronger Monitoring of Government Contracts & Projects

The supervision of contracts and tenders will be strengthened and enhanced by a specific Monitoring Section which will form part of the Value for Money Team. Again this will ensure a greater delivery of efficiency and curb any abuses or waste. It will also deliver better performance in the interests of the taxpayer.

These are only some of the key commitments that we will make and put into place to ensure better accountability and transparency. They will work in tandem with other measures to put our public finances back on track from the perilous state they are in.

Leader of the Opposition, Keith Azopardi said:
This is your money. You have a right to expect that your money is well spent and to know how the money borrowed in your name is being spent. You have a right to expect value for your money. You deserve that when your money is spent it is not wasted and any contracts awarded are not abused by individuals and that there are no corrupt practices. You have a right to expect that people do not benefit from politics.
The package of commitments being announced today will ensure that and will be a core commitment of a GSD Government. Enough is enough, people want and deserve transparency, greater controls on abuse and value for money and we will give it to them.”

Shadow Finance Minister Roy Clinton said:
We need to get our Public Finances back on track and this means going back to basics on transparency, standards and value for money. These are the foundation stones on which the taxpayers trust in Government is built and they need to be strengthened given the public finance crisis we are facing. The GSD has a commitment to transparency and financial accountability that is solid and proven.”

Contact

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