The sudden announcement that the Financial Secretary is standing down at the end of the summer raises more questions than answers. We are told that he has worked hand in glove with the Government and the Chief Minister in particular not just on public finances but on the BREXIT negotiations. On previous occasions the Chief Minister has lauded his work on both. However the contradictions are striking. We are still without a BREXIT deal, are told we are in the delicate final stages of those negotiations and that the Financial Secretary’s work has been crucial to those. We are neck-high in debt at a time of our worst financial crisis ever, a huge financial deficit and on the cusp of a potential global recession and worsening state of public finances. And yet we are led to believe that it is a convenient time for the Financial Secretary to leave?
Is this more smoke and mirrors from a Government that has made spin the default move in its playbook? Given all the above it begs the question whether it is actually because the financial plans are going wrong and the Financial Secretary despite his best efforts has been unable to instil financial discipline among the political Government that continues its reckless management of our public finances. Is it that the Financial Secretary is, in effect, abandoning the sinking ship of this Government?
Compounding the strange timing of the decision Gibraltar is being told by the Chief Minister that the departing Financial Secretary who will return to legal practice will continue advising the Government.
To have also had the departing Financial Secretary sign up to a statement where he talks up how Gibraltar is poised on its recovery as “we maintain the discipline on spending and revenue raising” and how he looks forward to working with the Chief Minister in future is self-serving and inappropriate for someone occupying a seconded civil service post and contemplating a potential future professional client. It clearly crosses the lines of neutrality and impartiality which the civil service should maintain and demonstrate with the political Government of the day. Additionally, talk of great discipline on spending will be understandably galling to all those people who will have seen precisely the reverse of discipline in spending from the Government and will be financially worse off because of the mishandling of public finances by this Government over the last 11 years. The Financial Secretary has been in post for 8 of those years. During many of those years and as we have repeatedly pointed out there has been recklessness by the Government, ill- discipline and an inability to address issues of waste and abuse which are impacting on our state of public finances today. We are clear that the responsibility for that lies with the political Government and not the Financial Secretary.
The GSD have received reports by concerned citizens regarding the failure to reopen and therefore re-establish the Mortuary service at the Hospital. The GSD calls on the Government to issue a statement explaining in detail, the circumstances surrounding what now appears to be a permanent closure of this important service to the public.
It is understood that those families wishing to spend time with their loved ones before the funeral, currently have to visit their deceased relatives in hospital fridges. It cannot be right for grieving families not to have access to an area which is respectful of their loss and their faith.
Shadow Minister for Health, Elliott Phillips MP said:
“The Mortuary has always been a respectful place where loved ones can sensitively and with space grieve and mourn the passing of their loved ones.
We as a community have always prided ourselves on providing a sensitive and compassionate environment for family members and friends to mourn. We all understand the demands placed on the GHA service during Covid, but we must ensure a safe and efficient return of this service so that families and friends can bid farewell to their loved ones in a dignified and respectful environment”
The recent government statement on rental housing is nothing other than a weak and ineffective attempt at deflection from the obvious reneging of their now twice repeated manifesto commitment to build extra housing for government rental.
Last week’s GBC interview with the Minister for Housing was clear – he said that the government was not committing itself to rental housing and would only build for the elderly. The 2011 and more importantly, 2019 manifestos committed them to constructing more rental housing stock both for the elderly and the general housing list. This glaring departure from what was promised at election time to what is being said now has quite properly been exposed by the GSD.
The government has been given an opportunity to apologise and correct the record. What it has done, however, is confirm that they are U-turning big-time from their twice repeated manifesto commitment. They are clearly saying they WILL NOT be building new rental housing stock for those on the general housing list despite their original commitment to do so.
Damon Bossino, the shadow minister for Housing said: “The government cannot get away from the fact that this is a significant change of tack and they should have the decency of at least admitting the drastic change in policy so that a mature political debate can be had on a proper and honest footing and not on the basis of falsehoods.”
The confirmation by Sir Joe Bossano on the GBC Viewpoint programme that people will suffer further increases in social insurance contributions this year and next year as part of “reforms” to the social security system will come as a further blow in a year of rising costs, mounting inflation, eroding wages and higher taxes fees and charges
These increases revealed in the Viewpoint programme were not announced in the budget and will layer further pressure on employers and employees.
Even if the increases are small [at 1% this year and next year] they cannot be seen in isolation but instead need to be appreciated against the wider backdrop of higher taxes, fees and charges. The combination of all these with inflation will mean that some families will have 10-15% less money in their pockets this year as a result of the overall effect of these budget measures.
The Government have not only abandoned their pledge to build rental housing, but have starkly pretended they never had a promise to start off with.
In a GBC interview the Minister for Housing Steven Linares has said “we have not committed ourselves to rental housing” pointing to the 2015 and 2019 manifestos and saying that the commitment was only to build rental housing for the elderly.
This is simply untrue and symptomatic of the fast and loose relationship that the GSLP/Liberals have with the truth and what they say to the electorate.
Page 137 of the GSLP/Liberal Election Manifesto for 2019 says:
“Our plans currently provide for almost 300 such units for rental by the elderly. We nonetheless accept that there is likely to be a need to build more rental stock for the Government. We have, for now, built rental stock only for the elderly. We will therefore look to construct more Government rental stock BOTH for the elderly and for the general housing list. We expect to build between 300 and 500 units for rental. This combination of property developments – alongside more affordable housing for 50/50 sale – will enable us to finally deal with the delays in the housing waiting list.”
Indeed in their 2011 manifesto they had also promised:
“Families need homes in which to prosper as a unit. We will therefore build more really high quality homes for rental and sale at truly affordable prices for all our people so that even Gibraltarians who have been living abroad for many years will be able to return to their home.”
Clearly the Government has failed to deliver as not one brick has been laid for rental housing for the general housing list in their time in government. To make it worse they are now pretending they never promised this in the first place! This is a stunning display of contempt for the people they serve.
Shadow Minister for Housing Damon Bossino MP added: “One thing is for a government to U-turn on a pledge which is, in itself, unacceptable but it is quite another to try and pretend that the pledge never existed in the first place when the contrary is demonstrably the case. The government cannot create an alternative reality which bears no resemblance to the truth, just because it suits them. The undeniable fact is that they did commit to build rental for housing.”
The government’s response to the GSD’s raising of concerns with regard to the news that St Martin’s school is full to capacity is nothing other than futile party political bluster. They delve into the petty party politics which they themselves say we should not be descending to and which we would agree is the way forward.
Does the government not see the basic point that the school has been to full capacity from inception? Do they not think they should be adopting a more humble and apologetic approach, accept political responsibility for this mistake and explain what it is precisely they intend to do to address this issue? The ability to add a floor cannot be the answer, at least not one that can be conveniently done quickly and with little disruption.
“The government needs to get real and respond more seriously and maturely to what is a growing and pressing need.” Said Damon Bossino
St Martin’s School – More Planning Needed for Special Needs
The report in today’s Gibraltar Chronicle regarding the lack of capacity at St Martin’s school comes as no surprise to the GSD. The Opposition has, from very early on, been advised that the school would not be able to properly cater for the number of children in need of its facilities. The GSD hears of reports of rooms which were not built as classrooms being adapted for that purpose – a sure sign of resources already being stretched.
It is inexplicable to the GSD how the government, who over the last 11 years has been able to inform itself of likely needs in this area, could have had such a lack of foresight in building a school which is not catering for the growing number of pupils attending it.
These dire and unwelcome state of affairs could have been avoided and certainly ameliorated with proper and more adequate planning. After so many years of having to rely on inadequate add-ons in the form of portacabins to act as class-rooms in the old school, it is incredible that similar capacity issues are already being faced after the investment that has been made in building the new school. This was an opportunity to provide educational resources for a generation and not to go back to the drawing board after such a short period of time. There is a clear political responsibility here.
GSD MP, Damon Bossino said “Gibraltar needs to think less about electoral cycles and focus more on sophisticated planning and thinking so that tax-payers’ money is used appropriately to properly cater for much needed services. We also need to have a wider debate on what the effect of the growing intake of St Martin’s school children will mean for the future of other services such as at St Bernadette’s, Dr Giraldi, domiciliary care, supported employment etc., when these children reach adulthood.”
The GSD expresses surprise at the fact that arrangements were not made for the European Scrutiny Committee to meet and exchange views with the official Opposition. Indeed, the GSD was not even aware of the visit of the UK MPs until it learnt of the reason for the adjournment of the committee stage reading of the Appropriation Bill on Tuesday.
“It is odd that the Opposition was not advised of the visit nor invited to meet the Committee which, ironically, is, in itself, a cross-party parliamentary group.
Moreover, we have since learnt that time was found for the visiting delegation to meet with the GFSB and Chamber of Commerce but yet no time was found for Gibraltar’s parliamentary representatives, other than those on the government side,” said Damon Bossino.
From a Gibraltar perspective, this omission represented a lost opportunity to put forward an alternative viewpoint on the important issue which is Gibraltar’s post-Brexit future.
The ending of the reciprocal healthcare arrangements by Spain brings into sharp focus the handling of the BREXIT negotiations since 2016 by the Gibraltar Government.
For years the GSD have been saying that they mishandled the negotiations by giving away rights to frontier workers with no equivalent rights in return for people resident here. People will be concerned that on top of everything else they will now have to worry about taking out health insurance for Spain because they are not covered for emergency healthcare.
Leader of the Opposition, Keith Azopardi said:
“As we have stated repeatedly the GSD has no issue with frontier workers having continuing rights as part of permanent arrangements. The issue is that we consider that the opportunity should have been taken to secure rights of freedom of movement across the frontier or access to services like healthcare when these were given to frontier workers. In fact, under the Withdrawal Agreement the Government agreed to provide these rights to frontier workers but did not secure permanent rights for all our people. It is now coming home to roost. They have not secured better arrangements since. And that is why it is now the case that our population is no longer entitled to emergency healthcare benefits in Spain while the nearly 15,000 frontier workers working in Gibraltar before 31 December 2020 have rights to healthcare in Gibraltar on a permanent basis.
The comparative numbers are relevant. This is not the case of a few thousand frontier workers acquiring rights and being subsumed in a country of 30 million people which might be the case with several Member States of the EU. Given that the pre-2021 number of frontier workers is just under half of our population it is a unique situation which should have been catered for at the same time.
To fail to secure simultaneous rights for frontier workers and our people as a whole was a failure in the negotiations and the effect of the agreements entered into by Mr Picardo’s government.
Worse still if no permanent Treaty is agreed then there is no certainty of reciprocal healthcare arrangements being restored. Conversely the 15,000 frontier workers will have secure and permanent rights to access healthcare here for life.
We repeat that our issue is that our population which is insignificant in national Spanish terms and could not possibly be a burden on the Spanish healthcare system should have secured those rights at the same time as frontier workers. This was yet another failure by Mr Picardo and the failures are mounting up and increasingly becoming obvious.
The GSD has noted the decision by the Financial Action Task Force to place Gibraltar on its ‘grey list’ pending the resolution of outstanding action points with deep concern. The GSD is fully supportive of a diversified and high quality, well-regulated finance centre. It is critical to ensure that financial services remain a strong and robust pillar of our economy. The GSD are entirely committed to this goal.
Roy Clinton the GSD Shadow Minster for Financial Services and Gaming stated the following:
“For a very long time Gibraltar’s finance centre has fought to maintain and be recognised as having the required international standard of measures for the prevention of money laundering and the financing of terrorism.
It is thus disappointing to find Gibraltar as being grey listed in the two areas of the pursuit of regulatory sanctions and confiscation judgements. The comments by the President of the FAFT Dr Marcus Pleyer who in his press conference singled out gate keepers to the financial system in our legal profession and gambling industry can only be described as troubling and seems to provide an insight into the FATF thinking. Questions will inevitably be asked as to what more Government could and should have done to deal with any mistaken assumptions and perceptions of the FATF that led to this grey-listing. It is therefore a real blow that despite all the hard work Gibraltar now sees itself grey-listed with a range of countries with whom it would not wish to be compared in the financial services world. It is unclear what practical damage this will do on the ground while we are grey-listed.
Given the seriousness of this outcome, the GSD feels that it is only right that the Minister for Financial Services and Gaming, the Hon Albert Isola MP should make a Ministerial Statement to Parliament this week. This would enable the Opposition and Gibraltar to learn more about how the Government intends to resolve these action points within the one year timeframe. It is particularly important to understand how the demonstration of court judgements can be achieved given this is necessarily outside political control. It is not clear whether capacity building or new legislation is required to try to meet this objective, and thus, we would welcome further clarification from the Minister in Parliament this week.”