Election Timing Free of McGrail Cloud
Mr Picardo is running scared from the McGrail Inquiry and the calling of an election for a period that does not coincide with any hearings of the McGrail Inquiry is no accident. Mr Picardo’s statement that the McGrail Inquiry “cannot come soon enough” for him is stunning given that his own lawyers made clear to the Inquiry chairman that Mr Picardo had asked them to raise a concern about the “appropriateness” of the Inquiry going ahead during a general election. That was widely reported in the press when this was said in July this year. The implication is clear namely that Mr Picardo did not want the McGrail Inquiry to be the backdrop to his re-election campaign.
The link to the hearing of 19 July 2023 is here: https://www.gbc.gi/news/mcgrail-inquiry-timetable-could-be- impacted-general-election-raised-fourth-preliminary-h
Subsequently given the ongoing criminal investigation into allegations that witnesses against Mr McGrail received inducements the Chairman has, in his own judgment, postponed the hearing. This has left the calendar free of any McGrail inquiry hearing till at least the end of October
GSD Leader, Keith Azopardi said: “Mr Picardo has chosen a date for the general election that is free of any McGrail Inquiry hearing. That is a fact. Presumably that is what he would have wanted when he expressed concern about the “appropriateness” of an election coinciding with the McGrail Inquiry. That is not an attempt to muddy the waters. It is also a fact that he goes into the election with clouds of allegations of improper conduct hanging over him. That is unprecedented for a Chief Minister.
He can say what he likes but we are asked to believe that the timing of the election has nothing to do with the McGrail Inquiry having no hearings till at least the end of October. The GSD does not believe the timing is coincidental given the previous indications from Mr Picardo’s lawyers. He clearly didn’t want an election to coincide with any hearing in the McGrail Inquiry because he is running scared from the political damage caused by that Inquiry. That is also part of the election backdrop whether he likes it or not.”
Increasingly Desperate GSLP Lies on Andorra
Fabian Picardo is increasingly desperate. In one of his election press conferences he is continuing to peddle the nonsense that Keith Azopardi is soft on Spain and according to him that it is dangerous to elect Mr Azopardi for that reason.
We have set out clearly how Keith Azopardi specifically and unequivocally rejected an Andorra solution for Gibraltar in a 2011 debate at which Mr Picardo was present and nodded in agreement.
Keith Azopardi said: “How many times is Mr Picardo going to lie or mislead people on this issue. He knows I said in 2011 that:
“My view is very specific on Andorra. It is not a solution for Gibraltar….the Andorra solution is never going to be a model for Gibraltar. Let me make that very very clear.”
If it is true that Spain avidly read what I say then they will know that I ruled out an Andorra solution for Gibraltar. They would also know we think Mr Picardo’s 2019 Tax Treaty was a shoddy concessionary deal.
This is the same tactic the old GSLP tried with Peter Caruana in 1996 and that Mr Picardo rolled out in 2011 against Sir Peter Caruana. This is just the same old card from the old tired GSLP playbook. And it is a disgrace of course that people who know me will not believe. After 30 years in politics people know where I stand on Spain. I was there and worked very hard to defeat joint sovereignty in 2002. Where was Mr Picardo then?
This is just a smokescreen. The reality is that he has a litany of failures in his wake. High debt, an inability or worse still an unwillingness to control waste, abuse and corruption and a track record of failure on Brexit. He can’t deliver the basics to people – clean streets, affordable housing on time or services that work efficiently. All he has left is to distract from the issues. We will not allow him to do so.”
Time to Reflect on Our Future
It’s been thirty years since the first political rally in Casemates Square. National Day is always a moment to mark our identity as a people and reflect on where we have come from and where we are going. This is as much about promoting our collective rights as a people as it is about the vision that we want for a sustainable, free and fair Gibraltar.
Soon you will have a chance to decide who governs Gibraltar for the next 4 years. It will be a time to decide whether you want more of the same or whether you wish to change how things are done.
There are big unresolved issues. On Brexit and after 7 years of trying the Government has not delivered a safe and beneficial Agreement with the EU. On public finances the debt is higher and mismanagement continues. The economic pressures on many families have intensified with public sector workers given election handouts instead of pay rises in an attempt to silence growing discontent. In the private sector businesses have had to endure the pressures of creaking bureaucracy and higher levies that ultimately affect the wages private sector employees can take home. If there had not been a decade of financial recklessness things could have been different.
Over the last few days we have been treated to a torrential shower of glossy pictures of future plans from a Government desperately trying to stay relevant and fighting for its political survival. Their track record suggests that projects announced can often die at the glossy picture stage and never become reality. There is only so much empty or late promises that people can take. Many people will rightly take the view that all this is now too late and that they do not deserve 4 more years given so many failures.
It is time to imagine a different and bright future. One where we agree a safe and beneficial agreement that recalibrates our relationship with the EU and opens new horizons for our people. A future where we finally manage our public finances and introduce new controls on waste, abuse and corruption. A future where we deliver better public services and have the long-term vision for a sustainable, well-planned future. A Gibraltar of individual rights and respect. A Gibraltar where people are not left behind and there are opportunities for all. That’s the future we want and that the GSD will set out in detail when we unveil our programme for Government very soon. We are confident we can achieve all those things and with your support deliver the changes Gibraltar badly needs.
National Day is not just about celebrations. It is also about reflecting on what you want for our future. We are ready to deliver for you and your families.
On behalf of myself and all my colleagues I wish you all a peaceful and happy National Day.
Bus dispute needs to be resolved
The GSD calls on the parties to the dispute regarding the bus service to resume talks as a matter of urgency. The bus service is a hugely important mode of transport which is relied upon by many of different ages, not least the elderly and school children.
The GSD is not informed of all the detail surrounding the dispute other than information that has been given to it confidentially and is otherwise in the public domain. The focus here has to be to ensure that the bus service is resumed as a matter of priority and that the drivers can get back to their lives based on fairness to them and to the taxpayer as well as ultimately, they are the ones who pay these salaries.
“What is unacceptable is for the Chief Minister to treat employees of the bus company in the way he did, as recorded by public television in which he stated emphatically that he would not speak to one of them. This undignified behaviour needs to stop, temperatures brought down a few notches and dialogue re-opened for the sake of all parties and the public.” said Damon Bossino.
Pre-Electoral Announcements Mask Land Allocation & Value Issues
Some of the glossy frenzy of pre-electoral announcements and openings mask value for money, conflict of interest and accountability issues which are now the hallmark of Mr Picardo’s Government
Beyond the opening of St Mary’s school is the reality that the Government entered into arrangements by which the tax-payer would pay around £1.1M a year to rent the school and that the developers are guaranteed 14 years rent because the option to buy does not kick in till then. If the option to buy is exercised at the 14 year point it will cost the taxpayer another £28.9M to buy the school which means the total deal will have cost the taxpayer in excess of £44M.
The delivery of Bishop Fitzgerald and Governors Meadow schools came about because an entity was awarded the high- value Bayside/St Anne’s plots even though that entity had not even participated in the tender to those sites. As a quid pro quo they built these schools with the Government making a reduced contribution of £8M. But the allocation of the high-value Bayside/St Anne’s plots was a direct allocation in practice. The fact that the entity was ultimately owned by the same people who had made a donation to Government to underwrite the ballooning costs of Campion Park and that a sister entity was awarded the £1 Billion Eastside project also without putting in a tender for the site is of course also part of the overall facts.
Opening schools for our children and educational infrastructure improvements are of course welcome. But it is also important to remind ourselves how these things came about, how a cash-strapped Government is funding these things and what the consequences to the tax payer are. It is also important to remember the serious tendering, transparency and value for money questions that arose with the allocation of these high-value land assets.
Additionally there are overall questions of the unaccountable and impossible to verify presentation of overall Government spending on schools. The Chief Minister in his 2023 budget speech claimed that his Government had spent £160 million on new schools. Unfortunately there is no way to independently verify this statement as there is nothing recorded in the Government’s own estimate books. Furthermore there is nothing to show how much of this was borrowed money by mortgaging the housing estates and whether the schools were built on a value for money basis or to meet electoral timetables both before 2019 and now.
With no transparency on expenditure or reports from the Principal Auditor the Chief Minister cannot prove any of his statements as to money spent or indeed value for money. as we have indicated today there are serious issues of value for money, tendering and accountability that arise beyond the electoral photoshoot.
The long queues at the frontier today provide a sharp contrast to Mr Picardo’s affirmation this very morning in an interview published by the Chronicle that he expected “Spain to maintain its commitment on fluidity as we have seen until now.” Gibraltar remains at the whim of Spain and all that the Government can do is resort to reciprocal measures because there has been a failure to land safe permanent rights so far and concessions have been made along the way.
The backdrop to the current situation lies in the failure to land safe lasting arrangements with the EU. Despite promises that there would be a status quo of frontier fluidity during Treaty negotiations this ceased for Blue ID card holders some time ago and now measures are being escalated by Spain to complicate free flow at the border further. Seven years after the BREXIT referendum there is still no agreement on lasting arrangements to achieve freedom of movement (mobility) at the frontier even though from time to time the proximity to an Agreement is dangled in front of people.
Years ago during the talks the Government agreed to provide permanent rights of freedom of movement for frontier workers but failed to negotiate equivalent rights for Gibraltar residents. The GSD has been warning about those lost opportunities for some time and now the consequences of those failures are starkly being seen.
Leader of the Opposition, Keith Azopardi said: “Is the prospect of a permanent Agreement even on the cards or has the Government abandoned any hope of landing this? Only in July Sir Joe Bossano speaking for the entire Government made clear that a permanent agreement was unachievable and that the only Agreement that could be achieved was a four-year deal.
The reality is that this Government has run out of steam and of ideas. Despite repeated promises it has not delivered on achieving a safe and beneficial Agreement. Even though they like to say that they are hawks on the issue of Spain the reality is different. During the process of the negotiations the Government gave rights away for no equivalent rights in return. It entered into a harmful and concessionary Tax Treaty with Spain in 2019 on the basis that we would be taken off the Spanish blacklist and Gibraltar is still on it. If that is the best this GSLP/Libs Government can do then why should they be re-elected. They have had 7 years and have little to show for it despite their protestations.
I do not underestimate the difficulties of achieving a safe and beneficial Agreement with the EU but our policy in Government would be to seek to achieve one. The reality is that this Government have had 7 years and have not done so. Along the way they have given away plenty of things with little equivalent lasting rights for our people. Why back failure again?”
Government cannot spin out of mismanagement of tourist sitesWeak and ineffective deflection and spin by the Government will not dissuade the GSD opposition from continuing to highlight the core point, which is that Gibraltar needs to have a much more ambitious programme to properly utilise its heritage and touristic assets in the most effective way. Raising value for money considerations in respect of the management of some of Gibraltar’s most iconic sites is not an exercise in bullying but one of an Opposition exposing what appears to amount to an ineffective use of public funds. The GSD is of the firm view that Gibraltar‘s tourist offering is lacking and is not being effectively, efficiently and sensitively exploited for our economic benefit. This is a failing of the Gibraltar Government and not a private company and is something the GSD will be determined to address immediately upon entering office in a few months time. Insofar as Parsons Lodge is concerned, the Government’s response amounts to little more than playground politics which fails to address the very serious points made by the GSD, which is that the site has been used to store “rubbish” in the removal company’s own words. “No amount of deflection and spin will get the Government off the hook as ultimately it is their and no one else’s responsibility.” said Damon Bossino