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Notre Dame down to the wire

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The GSD notes with concern today’s report in the Gibraltar Chronicle regarding contingency plans for Notre Dame First School and the reported comments by the Minister for Education, John Cortes.

Since the Government made the surprise announcement last October on its new school projects, departing with minimum consultation from the plans shown to the electorate during the last General Election, Opposition Members have been raising legitimate and genuine concerns regarding the plans, the timescale and the cost.

The Government have been adamant with the timescale, repeatedly assuring Parliament, teachers and educational staff that the plans were achievable within the parameters set. Consequently, all those involved have been working tirelessly, even through the summer recess towards these target dates. The fact that the Government is taking the decision as to whether the first of its schools will be ready on time down to the wire is unsatisfactory.

Additionally, it is demonstrating a huge disregard to the work of the professionals by undermining the preparations made ahead of the move, which may go out the window.

GSD spokesperson Lawrence Llamas said today

“The Government have remained headstrong that the target dates announced from the onset are achievable, despite the actual construction of the first school to be delivered being so obvious to all as being behind schedule. Whichever way the Government decides to go next week, whether it is back to the old school, or into the new one, there will inevitably be additional health and safety works required just to make the school safe and questions whether they will be able to provide an adequate environment for those students and staff alike to teach, learn and play!

The lack of planning and foresight deployed by this Government is endemic, with a constant shooting from the hip attitude in everything it does. The “data protection” at night beach webcams is a prime example. The community simply can no longer trust a Government which is so blatantly taking them for a ride or planning so badly on issues of real concerns. The fact that they have undertaken traffic and transport impact assessments after construction for the new schools had begun is yet another example of resolving problems after they arise, rather than providing for them because you can see them coming. As at the last Parliament question and answer session last May, the assessments were still a work in progress

The construction of new schools must be dealt with responsibly and sensitively, something the Government has not been able to convince the majority of this community it is in fact doing”

Edwin Reyes

The GSD congratulates students on their A Level results

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GSD Shadow Education Minister Edwin Reyes said:

“This is a testament to the hard work of students and teachers throughout the year and the support of parents. Once again our children have done us proud in obtaining excellent results. To those who have obtained university places we wish them all the best as they enter the next phase in their education. To those who choose to enter the job market we wish them success in the future.”

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GSD on Government’s Drug Testing Initiative

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The GSD notes the Government’s latest policy implementation announcement for drug and alcohol abuse testing within the RGP, together with, the Government’s intention to extend this policy across all Government departments, agencies and authorities.

The GSD remains of the view that random testing should be carried out in essential services and public sector posts which are in direct dealings with vulnerable persons, including young children. It also advocates that such random testing should be fully independent and free of any potential interference, it should therefore be implemented via a computer programme, in order to ensure the process is fully independent, open and transparent.

GSD Shadow Minister for Health, Care, Drugs and Rehabilitation, Lawrence Llamas said “We agree there is a need to identify and support persons with substance and/or alcohol abuse issues, this must happen under a strict confidential set up where employee’s privacy is fully protected.

Additionally, we believe there is a need to build this framework independent from Government, in order to manage cases where employees have displayed behavioural issues or when employees are not performing to a satisfactory standard, which may or may not be attributable to substance/alcohol misuse as there are other equally important factors such as mental illness, bullying or personal issues which may equally require the additional care and support. We will therefore remain cautious and vigilant with regards to the subjective “testing with cause” as it is implemented.

We do nevertheless welcome the other two policy criteria set out for the RGP and civilian staff, however, we believe particular prioritisation should be given to care workers and nurses who provide services to the elderly, persons with disabilities, sick persons and children, who are not employees of the Government. It is important to ensure that these workers are included in the alcohol and substance misuse programme, together with ensuring new entrants are subjected to testing upon entry.

We would therefore urge Government to refine the criteria in consultation with all the unions and publish when ready the list of identified posts which will be included in the programme.”

Mr Picardo desperate and ridiculous in his refusal to account for £275 million

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The GSD notes that Mr Picardo is unwilling to be subjected to any form of scrutiny on how he is utilising £275 million of net cash raised from mortgaging the six housing estates and instead choses to treat Parliamentarians with contempt and attack them personally.

Roy Clinton the shadow minister for public finance said:

“Mr Picardo’s display of contempt for my person is as lamentable as it is laughable. Being unwilling to explain where the £275 million has gone, for which he is responsible as Minister for Finance, he now tries to undermine my credibility as he might with an expert witness in court.

For the record then, I am a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (FCA), a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Bankers (FCIB) an Associate Member of the Association of Corporate Treasurers (AMCT) and a member of the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment (MCSI). I also have a degree in Commerce (BCom) and a degree in Financial Services (BSc). All of which I think proves me far more qualified in finance than Mr Picardo or anyone in his cabinet with or without honorific titles.

He suggests in his press release that in Viewpoint last year I said I would have done the Gibraltar Capital Assets £300 million transaction myself and that it was good money. Mr Picardo may have wished I had said that and puts words into my mouth to that end in a cheap trick, but what I said could never be construed in that way and Viewpoint on 16 February 2017 on the £300 million can be watched on replay on GBC’s website (see minutes 08.47; 21.58; 39.21 and 45.25).

As regards mixing capital and expenditure this is all that I said on Hansard on 2 July 2018 as regards the University:

“..the accounts for the University of Gibraltar for 31st July 2017 are not finalised – and yet we are being asked to approve a tripling in its budget to £1.5 million in 2019 – a tripling, and we have no sight of their financial statements.”

It was in fact his Government who mixed the recurrent expenditure on the consolidated fund with that of capital already expended through the Improvement and Development Fund. So much so, since I had no right to reply, that I tweeted during the Budget session on 3 July 2018:
“Minister for the University needs to attend one of its accountancy courses. Doesn’t know difference between capital spend and recurrent expenditure. Last years capital spend was £1.4 million and £500,000 recurrent expenditure. This year estimated recurrent spend is £1.5 million!”

Mr Picardo is wriggling on his self-made £275 million hook and the more he struggles to bury me and my public finance questions the more desperate and ridiculous he becomes. This is transparency and democracy Picardo style, Gibraltar deserves better in a Chief Minister.”

Roy Clinton

Chief Minister again avoids answering the £300 million question

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The GSD notes that the Chief Minister is again doing his best to avoid answering what he has done with the £300 million raised by mortgaging the six housing estates.

Roy Clinton the shadow minister for public finance said:

“I am becoming accustomed to the Chief Minister avoiding answering any simple questions in respect of public finance such as what has he done with the net £275 million raised from the mortgage of six housing estates or even how he proposes to pay for the new schools for which only £1,000 was provided for in this years Budget.

The Chief Minister has however now conceded that the £300 million is a “structured liability” in other words a loan and thus not an “investment” as he once claimed. The Chief Minister cannot deny that if Gibraltar Capital Assets Limited defaults on its obligations the Government will defacto have to pick up the bill. This crushing debt burden will be borne by future generations thanks to this Government’s reckless thirst for borrowing none of which was mentioned in their 2015 manifesto.

The Chief Minister has also admitted that the 3% annual rent increase was part of the financial modelling underlying the financing deal. This confirms what we were told at the meeting with his technical experts on 6 February 2017. It is not insignificant because compounded over a 31 year period a 3% annual rent increase would result in £61.5 million of additional revenue to the company which would be needed to repay its debts.

I have no need to lie or pretend otherwise and I challenge the Chief Minister to make public the private placement memorandum on the issue of the company’s loan notes as well as the put option agreement.

We still do not know what has been done with this money or how much of it remains and I again ask the Chief Minister to answer the £300 million question namely what has he done with it? The people of Gibraltar deserve complete transparency on these important matters which the Chief Minister continues to refuse to provide. The Chief Minister falls well short of what we should expect of a Finance Minister and I regret we will only know the whole truth once we have a change of Government.”

Accounts Filed but Government fails to explain the use of £300 million

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Mortgage Company Files Accounts but Government fails to explain use of £300 million

The GSD notes that following questions and pressure in Parliament the Government owned company that mortgaged the six housing estates for £300 million has now filed its full 19 page audited accounts at Companies House.

Roy Clinton the shadow minister for public finance said:

“I am pleased to note that following questions in Parliament on 31 May 2018, Gibraltar Capital Assets Limited has now filed full audited accounts at Companies House replacing the single page previously filed.

These accounts show in detail how the housing estates have been mortgaged for 31 years at a transaction cost of £4,642,420 and that the annual rental income of £3 million representing 3,083 flats is collected by the Government and paid to the company. It also confirms that the Government underwrites the £300 million loan notes in the event of a default by the company under the terms of an option agreement that the Government will still not disclose to the Opposition.

The Government cannot deny that this £300 million mortgage is a debt of Gibraltar and will crush any future Government’s ability to spend under the weight of this debt burden.

What I find particularly worrying is that the Chief Minster has still not disclosed what the net proceeds of £275 million are being used for as this does not come before Parliament in the Budget. Indeed the only information that the Chief Minister gave in the last Budget session was that £30 million had been used to inject more capital into the Gibraltar International Bank. The remaining £245 million remains unaccounted for in what can only be described as a disgraceful state of affairs and a complete lack of transparency.”

Government Reaction Completely off the Wall

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“If the GSD were in government at this crucial point when we are facing the unprecedented need to renegotiate our relationship with the EU we would have formed a cross party negotiating team. Our offer to assist the Government in the public interest was genuine and constructive. If the Government want to go it alone it is their prerogative. There was no need to ridicule the offer.” Said GSD Leader Keith Azopardi.

It is now increasingly clear that Mr Picardo thinks he is infallible. That is a dangerous feature in any politician and precedes a downfall. The Government’s latest press release on Brexit is just one of a pattern of press releases where its standard reply to criticism is that everyone else except it is wrong. The GSD analysis on the latest Brexit developments was measured, largely directed at the UK and entirely reasonable given where Gibraltar is right now. In reply the Government has reacted so defensively and nervously that it must be worried it is exposed.

Additionally the latest comment ridiculing the GSD offer to present a joint negotiating platform on Brexit as “pretentious” or adding nothing is the height of arrogance and shows how far the Government is willing to go in taking risks with Gibraltar’s future rather than present a united front at such difficult times.

Mr Azopardi said: “United fronts are not new. Politicians of different parties came together in the 1960s when Gibraltar faced threats at the United Nations, the 1970s in talks with Spain and when the 2006 constitution was negotiated. This is no different or important a moment. It is a recipe for disaster but regrettably no longer surprising that Mr Picardo is singularly unwilling to listen to other political voices.”

As we have repeatedly said we have expressed our willingness to assist. If the Government do not wish to take up an offer it is up to it to carry the can if things go wrong. We cannot help if we are never shown any internal papers or invited to have a genuine participation in negotiations alongside Government as a real and effective partner. One sided briefings are not the equivalent of real participation. We are in the final stretch and the reality is that beyond the platitudes the UK have given we have received nothing concrete to make us think that our future has been secured. We hope that despite all that Gibraltar emerges with an appropriate and effective long-term arrangement at the eleventh hour. At this stage, however, and two years after the referendum we have precious little to show for it. It would be more productive if instead of hitting out at the Opposition the Government focussed its energy on the UK Government and put more pressure on it. They should in the words of Nick Clegg, the former Deputy Prime Minister be “ferocious” in defence of Gibraltar. Instead they are looking like Mrs May’s poodles. We cannot imagine the GSLP of Sir Joe Bossano ever facing that criticism. If there is a Party that is a shadow of its former self in that regard it is the GSLP.

Redibike, an Expensive Flop

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The GSD has today expressed disappointment that the Redibike scheme has performed so poorly in its first year of operation. The party has been monitoring the schemes usage throughout the year through questions in Parliament and while the figures were consistently low, accepted Government’s view that Redibikes should be given some time to be assessed.

Figures published last week showed that the average daily usage averaged fewer than five journeys per day which at a cost of £12000 per month cost nearly £90 per journey, a figure which certainly does not represent value for money to the tax payer.

Trevor Hammond, GSD spokesman for the environment and transport said “Government withdrew the previous Gibibike scheme claiming that it was an expensive mistake and then announced their own Redibike scheme before the last election in 2015. They said they would be ready by early 2016 though it took until May 2017 to become operational. The Minister, from the very beginning was at pains to point out the scheme was sponsored, never mentioning the costs and thus implying that these were negligible. It now transpires that the scheme is costing £12000 a month and it must be asked, in view of the extremely low uptake, whether this is value for money.

“Minister Balban has regularly pointed out how the previous Gibibike scheme was a failure, despite its similarity to the current scheme and despite giving that scheme less than a year to mature. It is hard to see how the Redibike’s which he has introduced after much delay having tried to distract attention from the cost can be described as a success when it is clear that they have proven to be an expensive flop.

“The success of the schemes such as these depends on a holistic approach to a transport policy and continuity between administrations, bringing together many elements at the right time. The GSD is committed to implementing other aspects such as the introduction of cycle lanes, improved awareness and incentives for alternative transport.”

Chief Minister found to have misinformed Parliament

By | News

A judgment of the Court of Appeal this week shows that the Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo misinformed Parliament in a debate that led to the passing of the Housing (Amendment) Act 2013, which the Court has declared interferes with constitutional rights.

This law extended the rent control regime to a wider but limited number of tenancies. It reduced rents of these few tenants from £500 to between £100 and £150 per month, a reduction of about 70%.

The Judgement finds that, in the parliamentary debate, the Chief Minister:

* said that certain provisions “should have been repealed as they were superfluous”, which contradicted an earlier finding of the Supreme Court;

* did not explain the reason why the Government was promoting the change in the law contained in the amendment;

* did not say why he wished to remove the difference between properties built between 1945 and 1959;

* did not clarify why in the Government’s view the amendment was for the benefit of the public;

* was not being accurate when he implied to Parliament that the amendment would ‘put matters right’;

* did not explain what social policy underlay the amendment;

* did not spell out the only effect of the amendment in manner that “a transparent democratic practice would usually require.”

The GSD acknowledges that it supported that change in law based on the Chief Minister’s explanations. It transpires that these were inaccurate, fell short of clarification and lacking in sufficient debate.

The GSD recognizes that Paul Balban, an affected tenant and then Minister for Housing, is said not to have participated in any decisions involving this change and to have voluntarily not taken up the reduced rent.

While Mr Paul Balban appears properly not to have sought to take the benefit of this measure, it calls into question why the Government thought it was wise to proceed with it when it could expose itself to the very criticism that the Court of Appeal has now made to the effect that “It is worrying that one of the limited class of people who could (emphasis added) benefit from this windfall was the Minister for Housing.”

This is pertinent when the amended law reverses the earlier decision of the Supreme Court against Mr Balban, on an Appeal from the Rent Tribunal, by which he had sought, in 2008 (before he was a Minister), to have the rent of his flat reduced to a controlled fixed rent.

These matters are at their core about good government and as to how the Government should exercise its powers.

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GSD – Government Consultation Process on Abortion too Hasty

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The GSD notes that the Government intends to produce a command paper on abortion probably by the end of the summer. The Government has stated that that command paper will consult on amendments to the Crimes Act.

It remains to be seen to what extent the Government are envisaging changes to the existing law on abortion.

This is an issue that requires the utmost care. The recent judgment of the UK Supreme Court which seems to be motivating a desire by Government to contemplate changes in the law was hardly a unanimous endorsement that there should be wide-ranging changes in Northern Ireland. The judgment was mixed and only reached by a slim majority of 4-3. The judges also recognized that the Northern Irish law pursued a legitimate aim of protecting the life, health and welfare of the unborn child. Only in very restricted and defined extreme circumstances of fatal foetal abnormality, rape or incest did the court, by majority, think the law was too restrictive in Northern Ireland. The Judgment is not an endorsement of abortion on demand.

The GSD does not consider that decisions on this issue should be taken by Government or by Parliament in haste. The production of a command paper within a short period of weeks is far too accelerated on an issue such as this.

The GSD has been considering this issue for some months. It is undertaking its own consultation process to conclude its own policy consideration in this important area. The GSD has already met the Pro-Life Movement and has requested to meet the Pro-Choice lobby to consider the views of both groups. GSD Leader Keith Azopardi has formed a sub-committee of the Party which will table recommendations for the Party’s Executive. It will also consider any Command Paper issued by Government and any changes in the law the Government is contemplating.

“This is an issue deserving of the most serious and careful consideration. We make no apologies for thinking this process should not be hurried. At this stage we have not yet reached the point at which we are ready to make any policy announcements but we will do so in coming months as necessary. Additionally we make clear that if what is eventually proposed by Government is not, in our view, appropriate or in the public interest we would not support such changes” said Keith Azopardi.