Movement for Change

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Meet some of the new faces joining our campaign to get Gibraltar back on track. Together, we can #MakeTheChange!

 

Police Independence Should Be Seen to be Preserved

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It is striking that the Government has not denied the assertion that the Chief Minister and Attorney General called the Commissioner of Police into a meeting on 12 May 2020 to discuss the execution of a search warrant over someone close to the Chief Minister. It was asserted that the search warrant had been issued in an ongoing investigation of conspiracy to defraud in circumstances where Mr McGrail also made the grave allegation that the Chief Minister “stood to gain financially from the alleged fraud.”

At yesterday’s Preliminary Hearing the main represented parties – Mr McGrail and the Chief Minister, Governor and Attorney General – were all given the opportunity to set out their positions on the allegations of fact at the heart of the Inquiry.

Mr McGrail through his lawyers asserted that: “On 12 May 2020 the same day on which the search warrant was executed, the Chief Minister and the Attorney General called Mr McGrail into a meeting. They berated him for the intervention. The Chief Minister in particular was extremely angry and used intemperate language. The Chief Minister accused Mr McGrail of acting improperly.”

The core allegation that Mr McGrail was summoned to a meeting by the Chief Minister who angrily “berated” him about the execution of the search warrant was not denied in the hearing yesterday. Nor was the fact that a meeting was convened by the Chief Minister and Attorney General with the Commissioner to discuss the conduct of an operation and ongoing police investigation in respect of someone close to the Chief Minister.

While Government lawyers have set out the different and historic reasons why they say the Governor had lost confidence in Mr McGrail it is obvious from the submissions of both sides that there was not a specific denial of an attempt to discuss the conduct of the ongoing investigation in which a search warrant had been executed.

All this is striking because it raises fundamental issues about the boundaries of constitutional duties and the exercise of power by the Chief Minister when it comes to sensitive policing matters affecting individuals. In what circumstances is it ever appropriate for a Commissioner of Police to be summoned by a Minister to discuss a specific serious investigation about an individual close to that particular Minister? Preserving the operational and institutional independence of the Police from Ministers is absolutely crucial in our democracy so it is important for the Inquiry to run its course as soon as possible to get to the truth of what happened. We note the hearing is set for March 2023. It is in the public interest and in the interests of our democratic institutions for the Inquiry to establish one way or the other what exactly happened two years ago and for the findings to be published in full with no redactions.

National Day Message from the Leader of the Opposition, Keith Azopardi

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GSD Confident About Making Gibraltar Stronger, More Prosperous and a Better Place To Live

National Day is always an opportunity to come together as a people to share our common values.
The Casemates Political rally returns this year after the pandemic years. It provides, once again, a chance for us to celebrate our rights as a people. It is an important reminder of where we have come from, of our shared endurance of current challenges and our aspirations for the future.

Big challenges remain for Gibraltar both internationally and domestically. Obtaining a safe and beneficial agreement with the EU on a future relationship is the most important post-Brexit challenge that affects our political future and can have lasting effects on our economic model and sustainability. Equally the parallel economic challenge of ensuring we emerge from the current public finances crisis is a significant hurdle to overcome. In that slipstream many people will be worse off because of the state of public finances combined with the rising inflation, eroding wages, higher taxes and fees and the resulting cost of living crisis. It is a fact that many people will have less in their pocket this year as they face the daily task of meeting their obligations and caring for their families.

National Day is not just a celebration of our rights. It is also an opportunity to reaffirm our desire to ensure that our Gibraltar is a politically free, economically sustainable place to live where there is the highest quality of life, the fullest rights as citizens, the best probity of governance with the best public services and highest standards of living possible.

In that aspirational reaffirmation it is important to note the economic divisions in our community, the pressures on some families and those who feel left behind socially or economically, the under-privileged and those whose grievances are not listened to. In celebrating what we have achieved so far we have to acknowledge that there is also much to be done and that acknowledgement is positive for our small nation.

If there is something to strive for so that we honour the commitment and work of previous generations who worked so hard to create the modern Gibraltar we enjoy it is to ensure that we do our best to raise the quality of life and standard of living of all our citizens and obtain international recognition of the rights of the people who live in this beautiful country we are proud to call our home.

National Day is not just about political rights. It is about our people and all their facets, challenges and aspirations. Together we can make our country stronger, more prosperous and a better place to live. The GSD Opposition are confident about our future and are determined to ensure we take the next firm steps to raising Gibraltar to that level which we can achieve when we are next given the privilege of leading this community.

On behalf of my colleagues, our families and myself I wish you and your families a happy National Day.

Government’s Comments on SNAG Beyond the Pale!

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Government’s reaction to SNAG is beyond the pale The GSD is disappointed, although, sadly, not surprised, by the government’s exchange of press releases with SNAG.

What the public has been treated to is the usual GSLP/Liberal’s aggressive reaction to legitimate criticism.

Once again, the government resorts to below-the-belt mudslinging, in an attempt to distract attention from their shambolic organisation of the start of the school year.

The electorate is tiring of this and fast. The government needs to properly deal with the substantive and genuine points raised by SNAG and not resort to attacking Mrs Sanchez because she was openly and democratically elected by GSD members to form part of its executive committee.

What does that have to do with the concerns raised by the group, whose entire committee of 9 members would have approved the statements? The answer is nothing, other than it exposes a crude attempt at discreditation by the governing parties.

To suggest that individuals with special needs themselves, or with children with such needs, would allow themselves to be used in furtherance of party political interests is disgraceful and goes beyond the pale and the government should withdraw that statement. Such display is not good and is hardly conducive to normal interaction between interest groups and government in a democratic society at ease with itself.

Instead of acknowledging and apologising for the deficiencies experienced in relation to the three issues raised by the group – namely (1) an astounding failure to communicate school start dates; (2) keeping SNLAs at St Martin’s; and (3) providing morning sessions for Early Birds nursery, they serve the public with nothing other than an emotive and woolly non-response. “Let us not forget that the fundamental criticism levelled is one of failure to properly announce what is going to happen in all the areas identified.

That is what needs to be recognised and addressed so that there is no further repeat of this next year. Many of these special needs children require advance planning and routine – with part of that process entailing showing images of who their teachers and aides are going to be for those who are unable to communicate verbally. Anything less than that simply gives rise to anxiety to the child and the family. This does not cost money. All it requires is better planning which the GSD commits itself to do if returned to government.” said Damon Bossino.

Disability Benefit Delays Shocking!

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The Opposition continues to receive numerous complaints about the amount of time that disability benefit applications and appeals are taking to be determined.

The system is simply not working, and this is not something that has happened overnight but has gone on for many years now.  It will be recalled that on 31 July 2020, Daniel Feetham, who has been asking questions in Parliament about the fairness and inefficiency of the disability benefit system for many years, brought a motion to parliament with key proposals to reform the system.  This was a pro-active attempt by the GSD Opposition to improve the disability benefit system and ensure that those who need help obtain it as quickly as possible. That motion was passed with amendments and those who need the help will find it extremely disappointing that little has happened since. Indeed, as part of the Motion it was resolved that “the Minister should report to this House within the next six months with the result of the consideration of placing on a statutory footing the qualifying test for the award of disability benefit and the review of the disability benefit system which is currently taking place.” This has never happened, and it is yet another disappointing blow to people who must navigate this opaque system.In July of this year Mr Feetham asked how many applications for disability benefit (inclusive of an appeal) were outstanding for longer than 1 year, 2 years and 3 years.  The answer was as follows:1 year – 552 years – 103 years – 2Mr Feetham said “it is quite frankly shocking that there are people waiting this long for their applications to be determined.  COVID is no longer an excuse.  It seems us as if the Government talks the talk about improving the system of disability benefit but does not walk the walk. It needs to sort this out and quickly.”

Start of Academic Year Inexcusable Delays Require Explanation!

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The GSD is concerned about reports reaching it about last-minute plans in preparation for the start of the academic year spanning across a series of areas. The Opposition seeks that the Government explains why they have been the subject of such inexcusable delay.

One of those areas relates to the selection of teachers from the supply list. It is hugely irresponsible and unfair for the Government to issue invitations for applications for vacancies for teaching posts with less than 24 hours’ notice. The GSD understands that an email went out yesterday afternoon, after 12pm, inviting personal statements to be submitted before 12pm the following day, i.e., today. It has to be understood that the vacancies span all the schools, including St Martin’s and both comprehensives and that the doors are due to imminently open for pupils tomorrow or the day after, depending on the school.

These vertiginous timings and deadlines beggars belief. The organisational impact, not least on time-tabling and class planning, is huge and the Government needs to explain how it has allowed itself to get into this mess.

The impact on the lives of those individuals on the list also cannot be ignored. It is wholly unfair that these professionals should have to put everything on hold during the summer months not knowing, literally until the 11th hour, whether they will be given a teaching post or not.

It is not clear to the GSD why schools are not told who is going to be filling teaching slots at the start of the summer break and allow them sufficient time to organise time-tables well in advance of the following academic year. The predicament schools now find themselves in could have been avoided.

The further issue which is equally unforgivable impacts on St Martin’s and Early Birds Nursery. Parents of pupils were, incredibly, not aware of the start of term dates until very recently. Again, as with supply teaching, we are now close to the eve of the start of the school year. St Martin’s, a school which caters for children
with special educational needs, whose needs are often more complicated and dependent on routine and careful planning should be given priority in this respect.

The GSD also fails to understand why some Learning Support Assistants have not yet been selected or told which school they are to go to at the start of term.
There are also reports of delays in respect of school/government nursery transfer applications with families not knowing where their children are to attend.

“These issues highlight the need for basic management and organisation. Our teachers and pupils deserve better. They deserve answers, transparency and accountability” said Damon Bossino for the GSD

Disaster Prevention Imperative

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It is absolutely imperative that all measures necessary are taken to prevent any environmental disaster occurring off Catalan Bay and our coastline.

Leader of the Opposition, Keith Azopardi said: “The confirmation by Government of reports this afternoon that the hull of the Bulk Carrier OS 35 is broken raises the most serious red flags that should lead to further emergency resources being deployed to combat any risk and to prevent an environmental disaster.

It also raises questions as to some aspects of the handling of the emergency so far, why the ship was advised to come so close to shore at Catalan Bay given that it had approximately 500 tonnes of diverse fuels and why measures could not be taken more promptly to ensure the fuel aboard the vessel was pumped out. Those
issues as to the management of the operation as well as to the causes of the collision will be for another day and should be part of a full and independent investigation.

At this stage all efforts should be on rolling out the most robust oil spill response contingency and undertaking the necessary phases of the salvage operation and fuel-pumping swiftly and safely. It makes sense therefore that a Major Incident [MAJAX] has been declared this evening and further emergency oil
spill response measures are being taken by the port authorities. No stone should be left unturned to prevent and minimise the environmental impact of this collision.”

Collision off Eastside

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The Chief Minister has been in contact with the Leader of the Opposition, Keith Azopardi, overnight in relation to the collision between the Bulk Carrier OS 35 and Adam LNG.

Mr Azopardi said: “Beyond the immediate concerns as the emergency arose principally as to human safety the worry now is that any risks of pollution are prevented or if any pollution does occur that it is contained and minimised to avoid any negative impact on Catalan Bay, our marine environment and the rest of our coastline.

Clearly in a case like this there will need to be a full investigation as to the causes of the collision. But the immediate focus must now be to contain the incident and all efforts should concentrate on that. Our thanks and appreciation go to the port authorities and emergency services deployed to deal with the incident.”

The GSD will continue to monitor developments.

A-Level Congratulations to Students and Teachers

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“A” Level Students have today received their much-anticipated Public Examination results.

The GSD congratulates all our Gibraltar A Level Students who attained their desired Public Examination Results. While the GSD will analyse the relevant detailed statistics published today by the Department of Education in greater detail, we take this opportunity to wish all students the very best in their applications for admissions into their preferred University in order to pursue their desired course in Higher Education. The University clearance process can, at times, be a stressful process as admissions into popular Educational Establishments can be very competitive with this year promising to be no exception according to UK press reports. It is sincerely hoped that this year’s students, who have been described as the “most disrupted students since the Second World War” as a result of the Covid Pandemic by the UK Press will get admission into courses they will enjoy and which will enhance their future employability and career prospects at the end of their studies.

According to the Department of Education’s initial analysis, although there is a slight drop of 2% in the pass rate as compared with the 2021 entrants, the overall pass rate this year of 95% appears to compare very favourably with the 2017 – 2019 results; a statistic which the GSD opposition clearly welcomes.

It is only fitting that special thanks be conveyed to the teachers, parents and carers who have guided our students throughout their academic years, from Reception Class right up to their final Year 13.

Shadow Minister for Education, Edwin Reyes, added:

“From the details of results which I have heard about so far, I feel proud of the immense resilience and manner by which our students have managed to overcome huge academic, social and emotional hurdles suffered during over two years of Covid-19 consequences. It further shows that our teachers have done a fantastic job to ensure our students excel and this has been possible thanks to their exemplary support along their, at times, arduous journey.”

Clarity Needed on Jewish Home

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The GSD has noted the interview given by Sir Joe Bossano to GBC on 15 August 2022 in which he denied the running of the Jewish Home had been privatised. In addition he confirmed that the cost of refurbishment had been met by a private investor under the National Economic Plan which raises further questions as to the nature of these financing arrangements.

Roy Clinton MP the GSD Shadow Minster for Public Finance stated the following:

“When I asked Sir Joe in Parliament on 19 May 2022 whether the Jewish Home had been privatised, he stated that it had not but then went on to caveat his answer by saying ‘it will be taken over by the Jewish Community and they will run it’. It is now evident that the service has effectively been privatised despite Sir Joe arguing to the contrary.

Of particular interest to me is how the refurbishment has been financed by private capital which to me is disguised borrowing. I would like Sir Joe to advise who is providing the financing, how much the refurbishment cost and disclose the terms upon which the financing is to be repaid? It is also questionable as to why the Chinese 50:50 Joint Venture GBIC was used for the refurbishment project when the Government has a 100% owned construction company in the form of GJBS. In this respect Sir Joe’s National Economic Plan makes no monetary sense.”

Elliott Phillips MP the GSD Shadow Minister for Health stated the following:

“Two concerns arise from Sir Joe’s recent interview on GBC: firstly, we have spent many, many years as a community, attempting to raise awareness and remove the stigma around mental health and to have Gibraltar most longstanding parliamentarian, Sir Joe Bossano, make highly disrespectfully and mocking comments about mental health provision is shocking and entirely unacceptable. I call on Sir Joe to unreservedly retract this most offensive comment.

Secondly: while we note that there may have been discussions with the Board of the Jewish Community it is important for the Government to assure people that the effective privatisation of the service is not going to jeopardise the integrity and the quality of care afforded to the residents of the Jewish Home. We ask the Government to set out in detail how it has arrived and what reassurance the Government can provide that Surgimed can meet the same high clinical standards enjoyed by elderly members of our community at Elderly Residential Services given that the Minister made clear in his GBC interview that the Government had influenced the decision as to who should be awarded the tender on purely economic and not quality of care grounds.”