Monday, January 31, 2005

EU Commission investigates possible breach of Free Movement Rights

Pensioners rights in Gib and Community Care

The European Directorate-General for Employment has been contacted by former Spanish workers working in Gibraltar -pensioners at present - with a similar case to that of the British pensioner who was seeking Community Care funds (Dominique Searle reports).

The British pensioner’s claim was rejected last week although the Commission questioned the compliance with free movement of workers and people’s rights.

The Commission has confirmed that its services have had several exchanges of information with the UK authorities and say that the information received gave a clearer indication of the issues involved and that the relevant services of the Commission have started to analyse the whole issue under the scope of the Community law on free movement of workers and the social security systems.

The Commission told the Chronicle that it has not yet taken a decision. Nevertheless, the Commission stressed that it has the right to take action in this field if the outcome of its findings reveal an infringement to Community law.

“We are not yet at that stage, as the thorough analysis of this is going on.”

Property market set to adjust, says local expert

Finance Centre & Govt Housing

Properties designed for high net worth individuals – the so called luxury market – will stop their furious price hike and stabilise as that market adjusts to the apparent shrinkage of the finance centre. That is the view of veteran property expert Momy Levy who also says that local property prices, those aimed at the Gibraltarian market, are currently over-priced.

The recent news that exempt companies are being phased out in the next few years and that there is pressure from the EU
for change will not have a direct impact on housing for Gibraltarians but Mr Levy believes that artificially high prices on the local market combined with the much awaited Government backed ‘affordable’ housing plans will now cause a drop in prices currently being asked by the agencies. Even building societies which lend mortgages have been participating in the sale of properties at what has been an unprecedented rise in sale values.

The luxury market such as Queensway Quay, Ocean Village and the new Marina Bay complex are, says Mr Levy, likely to see less demand as outside investors wait to see the direction the finance centre takes.

However Mr Levy said that the Eastside development will be a major positive factor for Gibraltar if it goes ahead as planned.

This will change the character of Gibraltar and we will become a proper holiday centre. This will bring new people to Gibraltar and will compensate for any loss in the finance centre. It will put us on the map.

Mr Levy meanwhile predicts that as soon as the Government backed Sands project houses go on sale on 50/50 or 70/30 options the rest of the local housing market will drop its prices.

"Prices today are just not realistic. They cannot be justified,” says Mr Levy, recognising that demand and prices in Gibraltar has even led to inflation of prices in the immediate vicinity across the border especially La Linea.

And Mr Levy insists that the way ahead for Gibraltar is to keep building more houses for Gibraltarians so that they can afford to live in Gibraltar rather than opting to live away. He suggests that when MoD releases more land this should have special concessions for developers who purchase to build for the local housing market.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Small Businesses lash out at over-regulation

* Bossano turns down Gibraltar Federation of Small Businesses (GFSB) invite

Marilou Guerrero, chairperson of the GFSB, has hit out at the red-tape and “over-regulation” that has been introduced into Gibraltar’s banking system. She told a gathering of the business community that it was easier to open an account anywhere else.

In a brief speech to introduce the key speaker – the Chief Minister Peter Caruana - she made clear that the Federation will continue to campaign for action on the many areas where it wants Government to provide a supportive environment.

And it emerged that the Opposition Leader Joe Bossano had declined the invitation to be present at the dinner. It is understood that the Opposition had got wind of the fact that the Chief Minister was using the occasion to criticise the Opposition but the GFSB does not have the tradition that the Chamber of Commerce follows of alternating between the Chief Minister and Mr Bossano at their functions.

Meanwhile the GFSB revealed that a survey of its members shows that 66% are in favour of the controversial funicular project.

In a statement the GFSB said that its Board of Directors, whilst having their own ideas and feelings as to the proposal, felt that it was necessary to obtain the consensus of the members before confirming their position. They sent a circular to members asking for their opinions and can now confirm that based on the responses the members of the Federation are in favour of the project in the ratio of two to one. For both those in favour and those against there were many similar comments and also opposing comments.

In general terms GFSB highlighted below some of the more interesting comments:

• Tourism is the future mainstay of Gibraltar
• Competition is good for the community and business.
• Further details need to be made available to ensure that all parties have full knowledge of matters that can be considered of public importance.
• Existing facilities need to be improved and we need to create new innovative products.
• Heritage and environmental aspects must be considered by experts in the field.

Pension Working Group meeting in London

A meeting of the working group on pensions which was established under the trilateral process of dialogue on 16 December 2004 between the British, Spanish and Gibraltar Governments was held yesterday in London.

A Gibraltar Government spokesman said:

This meeting provided an opportunity for discussion, clarification and exchange of information between officials of the three governments. Our officials made clear that they were willing to provide information to enable all concerned to have a better understanding of the background and facts relating to the issue and restated the Gibraltar Government’s well known position in the matter. It was agreed to hold a further meeting later this year.


Meanwhile CITIPEG, a breakaway organisation of former Spanish workers on the Rock yesterday held a public meeting in La Linea that was attended by some 20 pensioners. CITIPEG are demanding improved employment and pension rights for Spanish workers in Gibraltar and timed their event to coincide with the talks going on in London.

CITIPEG are backed by the trade union UGT (Unión General de Trabajadores) and by the local Moroccan Community Association who in turn are seeking their support to campaign for the setting up of a Tangier ferry link from La Linea.

New Scientific Publication for GONHS

The Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society (GONHS) has just issued a new publication, going under the title of Iberis: the scientific journal of the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society.

Iberis takes the name of the Gibraltar Candytuft, Iberias gibraltarica, which in Europe is found only in Gibraltar, but is also found in north Morocco. Iberis will be publishing scientific papers on the biology of the Strait of Gibraltar, which adds to the suitability of the journal’s little.

Published in full colour, the first issue carries articles on birds and invertebrates. One of the articles, by Charles Perez, records the first ever record in Europe of the Mountain Chiffchaff, a bird from the Himalayas, ringed at the GONHS station at Jews’ Gate.

Other articles are on invertebrates, including a review of Gibraltar’s land molluscs by Alex Menez, of isopods (woodlice and their allies) by Jason Easter, of beetles by Charles Perez and Keith Bensusan, and another on dragonflies by several authors including Paul Acolina. Another article confirms the presence in Gibraltar of the Scorpion.

The new journal is edited by an editorial board which includes GONHS members and university professors from three continents, Prof Mohamed Mouna of Rabat University Mohamed V-Agdal, Prof Agustin Fuentes of Notre Dame University, Indiana, USA, and Prof Antonio Galán de Mera from San Pablo University in Madrid. Co-ordinating the publication is Corresponding Editor Dr John Cortes of GONHS.

Iberis will be distributed to learned Societies and Universities around the world.
Copies of Iberis are available free to GONHS members and are on sale to the public for £2.50 at The Nature Shop in Casemates.

Reformists warn against the ‘Monaco-isation’ of Gibraltar

The Reform Party yesterday expressed concern about the forthcoming multi-million pound Eastside development.

The party criticised the scheme as “yet another luxury enclave for the rich” and said it will be well out of financial reach of ordinary Gibraltarians. The Reformists said that the 2200 apartments planned for the development will not do anything for the Gibraltarians “who now find themselves having to live in ‘accommodation exile’ over the border.”

They added:

The much-heralded extra 200 offsite ‘affordable’ units associated with the project do constitute a positive element but what exactly will the word “affordable” mean in the long term? In any event, the whole site should have been used for this purpose.

UK "Freepost" does not apply in Gibraltar, says Gibraltar Post Office

Gibraltar Post Office has said it has noticed with concern a significant increase in postal items which are being posted in Gibraltar without any postage stamps and addressed to the UK and other destinations, and sent as “Freepost”.

A spokesman for the post office said:

Many of these items are included in Business Reply pre-printed envelopes, which state on the face that no postage stamps need to be affixed to them. For the avoidance of doubt, the general public is reminded that UK Business Reply and Freepost services do not apply to Gibraltar.

The public is informed that if such items are posted in Gibraltar without being prepaid in Gibraltar postage stamps, they will be returned to sender if the name and address of the sender appears on the back of the envelope, in accordance with postal regulations. If there is no return address for the sender, items of this sort will not be forwarded to destination and instead they will be destroyed.

Local mail addressed to Gibraltar addresses and included in a specially preprinted envelope which indicates that it can be sent by Freepost will continue to be delivered free of charge. However, only items included in pre-printed Freepost envelopes will be treated in this way. Other items which do not conform with these requirements will be treated in the way prescribed by regulations.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Gibraltar Civil Servants in Londond for Spanish Pension talks

• Gib no responsibility, say GSLP/Libs

Gibraltar Government Chief Secretary Ernest Montado and the Director for Social Security Mario Gomila are in London today to attend talks on pensions under recently agreed Gibraltar – Spain – UK trilateral process. The issue being discussed is the claim by Spanish former Gibraltar workers on their pension entitlement. The meeting is being held at a technical level.

Meanwhile the GSLP/Libs has said that the position is “clear and publicly known to all concerned” and that Gibraltar has no responsibility in this matter. “It is difficult to understand why this requires a meeting of experts or what any Gibraltar expert can contribute to such a meeting,” Leader of the Opposition Joe Bossano said yesterday.

Mr Bossano further argued that there is no indication that Britain is prepared to make any re-valued payments of the frozen pension but that if it is reconsidering its position, local pensioners would be equally entitled “if these are made to Spanish workers so that they are treated in the same way.” He continued:

A meeting today under the agreed new framework announced last year will discuss the claim of former Spanish workers receiving a pension from the UK Government in respect of their pre-1969 social insurance contributions. In this first meeting there will be participation by experts from Gibraltar, Spain and UK to consider the technical aspects. The Spanish Government view appears to be that the purpose of this exercise is to convince UK and Gibraltar of their respective responsibilities in the alleged discrimination against Spanish pensioners.

In 1989 the UK Government agreed to pay re-valued pensions to former Spanish workers for five years only and on condition that they remain frozen in that period. At the end of the period, in 1993, the Social Insurance fund was dissolved at the insistence of the UK Government who said there was no obligation to pay any further pensions at all. In 1996 when the UK was on the point of being taken to court by the European Commission, the UK Government reversed its position and offered to pay pensions for life subject to the same conditions imposed in 1989 that they remained frozen. Since the grievance of the Spanish pensioners is that the pensions should not have been frozen in 1989, and this was a policy decision taken by UK Government, it requires no technical analysis. It simply requires to persuade London that they should reverse the decision they took in 1989, just like in 1996 they reserved the decision taken in 1993 which had been to discontinue payment and dissolve the fund.

As far as we are aware, there is not the slightest indication or hint on the part of UK Government of a willingness to change its position and increase payments, either currently or backdated to 1989. It is therefore difficult to understand the optimism expressed by the Mayor of La Linea, following his meeting with the Spanish Director General for Europe Mr Pons, that this matter is going to be resolved.

If UK is reconsidering its position and planning to reverse the conditions it imposed originally, then this should be confirmed to persons receiving social insurance pensions from the Gibraltar fund, who would be equally entitled, from the local fund, to revaluation of their frozen pensions and backdated payments if these are made to Spanish workers so that they are treated in the same way. This would require legislation to be passed by the House of Assembly. The Opposition are therefore entitled to know whether UK is planning to do this or not given that such a move would have legislative effects. There are also financial implications for the resources required from the Social Insurance Fund which, as has been pointed out on several occasions, has been shrinking since 1996.


Commenting on the talks on pensions Mr Caruana last night said that the Gibraltar Government is, as is has always been, happy and willing to provide information and also explanations and reasons for its well known position on this issue.

This position will not change. But we welcome this fresh opportunity to explain our position directly to our Spanish interlocutors and thus help to ensure that Spanish public opinion, especially in the Campo, does not hold Gibraltar culpable or responsible, with consequent ill effect on cross border relations.

Gibraltar's economy "has never been better"

Chief Minister’s address to the Gibraltar Federation of Small Business (GFSB)

The economy of Gibraltar has never, in the entire history of Gibraltar, been more prosperous and successful than it is today.

That was the message delivered by Peter Caruana, Chief Minister, to the GFSB annual dinner last night at the International Casino.

Mr Caruana told guests that the economy (GDP) has grown overall in size by more than half, that is by 55% since 1996, from £327 million to £507 million as at March 2003. And he says that the number of jobs in the economy is at an all-time high, and still growing; the unemployment rate is at a record low at less than 2 %, technically “full employment”. According to Mr Caruana average earnings have risen by more than 30% since 1996 and take-home pay by even more, since cuts in personal taxation. The gaming sector alone is now employs about 1000 people.

Mr Caruana also reported that Government revenue is at an all time record level and that in excess of £150 million over 8 years in publicly funded capital projects. Health spending, as one example, has doubled in 8 years on such things as a dedicated ambulance service, many more doctors and nurses, new medical services, he said. But Government has nonetheless reduced personal taxation in Gibraltar by more than 36%. “These are the true measures of our economic performance,” Mr Caruana told traders.

“It has become fashionable for the Opposition to say that Government is short of money. If Government decides not to throw away a motorbike just because it suffers a breakdown and needs a repair, and instead chooses to repair it rather than buy a new one, this is presented as evidence of shortage of money!” said Mr Caruana rejecting Opposition criticism. He jibed further at them with the announcement on the Eastside project:

This directionless Government with no economic policy has just signed an agreement for Gibraltar’s largest ever inward investment project. Clearly those willing to invest in excess of £1 billion in Gibraltar do not share the Opposition’s assessment of the Government’s handling of our economy, or of Gibraltar’s future prospects!

He added:

People will have to judge for themselves whether this statement is justified by what they see going on around them or whether it is the somewhat ”tongue in check” political wishful thinking of my political rival.”

EU State Aid

On the deal over exempt companies Mr Caruana stated that while not containing everything that the Government wanted it does deliver sufficient certainty and stability to avoid the worst consequences for Gibraltar.

“Compared to what the economic position would have been if we had not reached an agreement, this is an excellent agreement.”

He said that no one who understands the issues involved and the consequences for our economy of the position that Gibraltar faced, could possibly believe that Government exaggerated the threat.

Mr Caruana also touched on the funicular project, the La Linea Mayors claims that the Eastside project will have a negative environmental impact and collection of arrears.

AquaGib strike suspended

Action has been suspended by AquaGib workers who have also indicated their willingness to sit down with management and establish negotiations. That follows a meeting of union members yesterday.

The TGWU said that the statement issued by the company on the dispute has created great discontent amongst the workforce and came close to enforcing a decision to take industrial action yesterday. However, with an assurance from management that they will have a reply by next Friday, the TGWU agreed a suspension of action for a week.

The AquaGib staff are seeking that differentials with their Government counterparts be sustained at the levels they were when the workers left Government employment and joined Lyonnaise des Eaux which later became Aquagib.


Gibraltar hits a recordd low temperature of 10 celsius!

Cold weather sweeps in

By Alice Mascarenhas

It was wrap up – and still feel the cold yesterday. “Isn’t it cold today…” proved to be the opening line to every conversation as temperatures remained just above freezing. There were even icicles on the shrubs at Devil’s Tower Camp still there at midday. In town a temperature gauge in the middle of Main Street read 6 Degrees Celsius throughout most of the morning. But it was the temperature experienced from Thursday night to Wednesday morning which proved to be a record breaking low for January.

Not surprising when the temperature at 9am yesterday dropped to just 1 Degree Celsius it was the lowest ever recorded. In fact the lowest since measurements began in 1949 - more than half a century ago.

“To be exact the minimum temperature of 1.0 Degree Celsius occurred this morning at 9.06am,”
Jim McGhee Principal Met Officer at RAF Gibraltar told the Chronicle yesterday.

The main reason we are experiencing this is because the upper and surface weather patterns are bring cold air from Siberia right down across Europe and even into North Africa,” he explained.

Tangier had already recorded zero degrees Celsius on Monday night. It was expected to be another cold night last night similar to or perhaps even lower than Wednesday night. The minimum temperature today expected to be around 2 Degrees Celsius.

It will slowly warm up over the weekend - during the day it will still be sunny with clear blue skies and temperatures up to 12 or 13 Degrees Celsius.


MOD “misrepresents true position” say GSP

Dispute deepens

Gibraltar Services Police staff association has questioned whether the MoD assertion that it is committed to a good employment relationship is not “an empty promise.” In a statement issued yesterday the association argues that the true position is that the MoD acts “as judge and jury in its own cause without entering into proper discussions” while insisting on using the “ineffective Whitley procedures” to resolve disputes.

A GSP staff association spokesman said:

It is not our intention to conduct detailed debates on the substantive issues through the media. However the MOD’s statement requires to be answered as it seeks to misrepresent through the use of disputed details what is the true position. We have stated that the purpose of the silent protest (which has been carried out impeccably and with dignity by our members) is for the purpose of achieving an effective consultation dispute and resolution procedure through which the substantive issues can be resolved. This is not controversial as such a procedure has been in place for our UK counterparts for a considerable period of time.

We welcome the MOD’s commitment to good employment relationship but do not welcome their continued insistence on using the present Whitley procedure we have described as being ineffective. We do not understand why the GSP cannot have a consultation and dispute resolution procedure like its UK counterparts.

We reject the suggestion that there has been any substantive internal consultation, legal or ministerial correspondence. The internal consultation is conducted through the present procedure in which the MOD is judge and jury of its own position. There has been no legal debate between the parties’ respective legal advisors as the MOD’s stated position is that it does not deal with legal advisors. There has been no ministerial correspondence on any substantive issue and indeed the Ministers of State have refused to meet.

For the avoidance of doubt the “mistakes” (possibly a euphemistic word) referred to in the MOD’s statement are of their own making. Those “mistakes” have ramifications that the MOD has refused to discuss. The litigation mentioned deals only with one aspect of the ramifications from those “mistakes”. The MOD also refers to its supposed generosity in seeking to recover only the last 12 months of the alleged over payment. It does not say its own rules prevent recovery over 12 months. The MOD does not say that we have raised the question whether as a result of their “mistakes” they are entitled legally to recover.

Therefore the true position is that as judge and jury in its own cause, without entering into proper discussions, refusing to reconcile a contradictory position, and by reason of its own “mistakes” the MOD says it is firm in its commitment to recover an alleged overpayment. Can this be described as a good employment relationship particularly when the MOD appears to insist in using the current ineffective Whitley procedure to resolve disputes?

The Minister of State, Ivor Caplin, has recently talked of a more business like approach. We share that view and the GSPSA has proposed a draft for a new consultation and dispute resolution procedure (based on the procedure in place for our UK colleagues) and we will see whether or not the MOD’s desire for a good employment relationship is merely an empty promise
.

No Moratorium on deductions, says Caplin

The Ministry of Defence will not be placing a moratorium on the deduction of Gibraltar Service Police salaries until discussions between the GSP Association and their solicitor have been concluded, a British Government spokesman has said in the House of Commons. Secretary of State for Defence Ivor Caplin declared that the GSP Association has been aware of the Department’s intention to recover the overpayment of rent allowance since June 2003. Labour MP Andrew Mackinlay also asked on what occasions in the negotiations between his Department and the GSP Association his Department formally raised its intention to deduct moneys from police officers’ pay in relation to rent and other allowances. In reply Mr Caplin said that officials in Gibraltar wrote to the Chairman of the GSPSA in February 2004 setting out their position in detail and explaining that recovery action would only be taken for the last 12 months overpayment. He added:

The subject was discussed again at the GSPSA Whitley meeting in May 2004. In June 2004 Officials wrote to each individual affected by the overpayment explaining that recovery action would be taken. A subsequent letter was sent in November 2004 as a result of a recalculation, reconfirming the intent to deduct monies owed.



Thursday, January 27, 2005

MOD stands firm on ‘overpayment’ despite GSP protest

* GSPSA consulted throughout, says Defence spokesman

A silent protest by Gibraltar Services Police officers took part outside the Naval Base yesterday afternoon to complain against the Ministry of Defence over a series of unresolved pay and pay-related claims.

Meanwhile the Ministry of Defence responded to the criticisms made by the GSP staff association and in a statement issued last night expressed their disappointment with the action but reaffirmed their position in the continuing dispute.

An MOD statement said:

We note the action taken by the Gibraltar Services Police Staff Association with disappointment, particularly as the dispute has already been the subject of lengthy discussion through internal consultation, legal and ministerial correspondence. As this dispute is now the subject of potential litigation, the MOD is unable to discuss the case in detail. The MOD has though, involved the GSPSA at all stages of the process but there remains reluctance by the GSPSA to accept the MOD position.

Following investigations into the GSPSA’s claim of underpayment, the MOD found that mistakes in the implementation of various changes in pay and allowances had, in fact, resulted in a 3% overpayment to some GSP officers. In June 03 the MOD informed the GSPSA at a meeting of the local Whitley Committee that their claim had now been rejected and spelt out the reasons. The Whitley Process is the Department’s recognised discussion forum for staff and management.

MOD officials in Gibraltar wrote to the Chairman of the GSPSA in February 2004 setting out in detail the rationale of the Department’s position. This explained that, despite the fact that the overpayment has been paid since 1994, recovery action would only be taken for the last 12 months. The subject was discussed again at the GSPSA Whitley meeting in May 2004. In June 2004 Officials wrote to each individual affected by the overpayment explaining that recovery action would be taken. A subsequent letter was sent in November 2004 reconfirming the intent to deduct monies owed. Headquarters British Forces are now implementing the deductions at the end of this month.

The MOD is fully committed to good employee relations. Officials met with the GSPSA at the Whitley meeting as recently as 10 Dec 04 and will continue to converse using the Whitley process. However, the MOD stands firm on their position regarding the issue of overpayment.


GSP: NO RIGHT TO STRIKE

In common with their UK counterparts Ministry of Defence Police members of the GSP are excluded from the provisions of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act of 1974. This means that they are debarred from taking any form of industrial action or strike. A spokesman for the GSP staff association said:

However the Police Federations in UK were able to renegotiate the Police Reform Bill after applying pressure to the UK Government by way of a protest held at Westminster in the form of a silent picketing by a cross section of all UK Police Services.

The GSP are carrying out the same kind of protest as that of their UK colleagues. The protest will be repeated at the same time this afternoon.

Reactions in Spain - Juarez calls for environmental study into Eastside Project

Mayor Juan Carlos Juarez has declared that the announced Eastside development in Gibraltar should incorporate an environmental impact assessment of La Linea’s coastline.

In a statement issued yesterday, Sr Juarez said that although this was a matter for Gibraltar, the magnitude of the project was such that it could have an effect on the overall environment.

Environmental and geographical issues have little to do with flags and it is important for us to know whether the Eastside land reclamation project will cause any damage to our coast, he declared yesterday.


Sr Juárez added that this issue should be included in the list of items for friendly discussions between Gibraltar and the Mancomunidad so that the technical study is carried out in order to reassure Campo authorities, including him. He added:

I sincerely hope that the Gibraltar Government understands this request and that the environmental impact study reflects Gibraltar’s interest in safeguarding the coast and any potential repercussion on La Linea’s maritime environment.

AquaGib workers consider further action

AquaGib employees, infuriated by statements made by their boss Manuel Perez, are meeting this morning to plan the next stage of their industrial action over their claim for maintenance of differential with public sector equivalent grades.

The workers demonstrated peacefully outside No. 6 Convent Place and the House of Assembly yesterday and produced copies of their correspondence and claims on this issue dating back months.

In a written response to the AquaGib management, TGWU branch officer Charlie Sisarello points out that the union has been pursuing the issue of pay differential between company employees and their counterparts in Government for a long time. He says these were established in 1991 when they employees moved from Government to the company. The letter states that in September 2001 they had agreed to:

Re-establish differentials that existed at the time of the company’s formation between company pay and equivalent grades in government; That the percentage differential agreed at the time of the company’s formation be applied in respect of each grade; Revise spine points and salaries to produce new pay scales; Revised salaries to be backdated to April 1 2001.

The letter also says that there was an agreement to review these on an annual basis to ensure the appropriate differentials are maintained and that future pay awards would be based on maintaining parity with the public sector. Mr Sisarello calls for these matters to be enforced to avoid recurring clashes.

Government resorts to smokescreens to hide the truth, says Bruzon

Supply care workers row

GSLP/Libs has accused the Gibraltar Government of resorting to smokescreens to hide the truth in the on-going row over the cancellation of induction courses at the Social Services Agency.

Opposition spokesman Charles Bruzon said it is “lamentable that Government should call me and the people that complained liars. The public can judge for themselves who is telling the truth.”

Mr Bruzon continued:

It must be obvious to the general public that the reaction of the Government to the issue raised by the Opposition of the starting and subsequent abandonment of induction courses for Supply Care Workers in the Social Services Agency is no more than a smokescreen to hide the truth. The issue is what has taken place in 2005 when persons aggrieved by the action of the Government approached the Opposition with their grievance and we raised the matter publicly in discharging our duty to scrutinise the policies of the Government.

It is absurd for the GSD Government to seek to justify its deficiencies, which it claims are not true anyway, by making wild unsubstantiated accusations about what allegedly took place in 1996. The previous Government in 1996 did not seek to justify any matter then by comparing it with what have happened in the Social Services in 1987. It would have been absurd to do so. What is most unfair and reprehensible, is to cast aspersions on the quality of the care provided to children by the public servants employed at the time in 1996.

What is also true is that, as the Government itself has said in the House of Assembly, the provision of resources to look after children taken into care, is demand-led, and there is much more demand now because more children are now in care than in the past, something we should all wish should not be necessary. To suggest that the children who were looked after in the home in 1996, were somehow ostracized and had any kind of stigma attached to them, is an insult to those young people affected and to this community, which has never attached any stigma to those brought up as apart of a home provided by the State. None of these issues, of course, are relevant to the original complaint, they are issues raised by the response of the Government.

The original complaint was based on first-hand information provided by affected parties and not, as the Government claims, on hearsay or rumours. The facts are that the vacancies for supply workers were advertised on 3rd November 2004. The applicants who responded were interviewed and selected and given a schedule covering five weeks when they were required to attend on a roster one home each week to learn the ropes. This induction process, which is no more or less than what has been the usual practice carried out by Social Services, was discontinued after one week and the applicants told that there were no funds to complete the exercise.

The Frontiers of doubt

Book review By Henry Pinna

Paco Oliva’s recently published book “The Frontiers of Doubt” written in his very characteristic bold, vitriolic and iconoclastic style, makes an important contribution and fills an essential gap in the literary series of contemporary books that deal with the Gibraltar question.

The author focuses on the importance of the Spanish dimension which, he points out, is sadly absent from our social and political milieu, and which he says is one of the intrinsic elements needed to bring about the equilibrium necessary to find a realistic long-standing solution to this 300 year old contentious dispute.

He claims that because of our understandable reluctance to take on board this Spanish dimension, while at the same time giving vent to what he considers to be a newly found overrated and exaggerated nationalism, we run the risk of losing one of the ingredients which make us have our very unique characteristic, which is not English nor Spanish but a synthesis of both, that is Gibraltarian.

In his very incisive analysis of the situation he chastises the political class for not having displayed ingenuity, integrity and courage to accommodate the Spanish dimension in a pragmatic and constructive manner, but instead for having manipulated our colonial status and economic paternalism to maintain a status quo largely favourable to the colonial power.

Paco Oliva has a Hobbesian world-view and portrays a keen enthusiasm for parliamentary democracy, market economy, and an expanding European Union with its alleged vision of diversity and pluralism within a non-monolithic union of peoples. And provided we know how to play our cards correctly, it is within this political, social and economic context that he envisages a place where Gibraltar can thrive, prosper and develop in an atmosphere of reconciliation and partnership with our neighbour Spain, without us having to sacrifice our unique identity and integrity as a people. Only time will tell whether this historic vision will become a reality given the many pirouettes and unpredictable twists and turns that history is subjected to.

Although the author tends to repeat himself and over-emphasize some of the salient themes of the book (in essence he could have said the same in 350 pages rather than in 500) the book is an essential read for all those who have an interest in the complex intricacies of the so-called “Gibraltar-problem,” and are willing to acquaint themselves with his views however controversial these might seem. All in all a refreshing and thought-provoking book which will spark off some soul-searching and self-criticism and prompt some readers to question some of our historic baggage and values, which through the passage of time have attained the unquestionable status of inviolable dogmas.

War of words continues - Governement is “economical with the truth”, says Randall

GSLP/Libs has said it totally rejects the Gibraltar Government’s contention that their recent statement regarding the suspension of motorcycle driving tests is either misleading or erroneous.

Opposition spokesman for Transport Lucio Randall said:

I do not retract one single word of the original accusation. It is scandalous for a Government that spends in the order of £4 million a week not to be able to even resource properly a facility for taking motorcycle driving tests.

The Gibraltar Government has admitted that the motorcycle required for the driving tests to take place was broken down and claims that it is being repaired. This in fact is confirmation of the complaints received by the Opposition from affected members of the public. The Government is being deliberately economical with the truth when it says that this has not resulted in the facilities for taking the driving tests not being available and that there have been alternate arrangements in place. If there are such arrangements now, it is as a result of the Opposition putting the issue in the public domain.

The implications of the Government statement are that the affected parties chose not to make use of the alternative for taking driving tests and instead preferred to complain to the Opposition. This is absurd. The Opposition has not the slightest doubt of the reliability of the sources of its information and considers that the reaction of the Government is one more example of the way it distorts the truth to mislead the public whenever a shortcoming in any service is brought to light.

Sail on a Tall Ship Voyage from Gibraltar

Sail on a Tall Ship Voyage from Gibraltar with the Tall Ship’s Youth Trust!Following the success of the Tall Ship’s Youth voyage from the Azores to Gibraltar during the Tercentenary year and the expressions of interest in an adult voyage from Gibraltar, the Directors of the Tall Ship’s Youth Trust have offered the opportunity to charter the “Stavros Niarchos” from 21-28 May. (Note: The photograph above is not the “Stavros Niarchos”. This is a photograph of her sister ship, the "Prince William").

The week’s adventure would begin and end in Gibraltar and would provide the opportunity of a lifetime for up to 48 people to voyage in the Mediterranean on board a Tall Ship. It is not a cruise but provides an opportunity to work as part of a Tall Ship’s crew.

Organiser Chris Shute says he recalls that from the experiences of the young Gibraltarians who were sponsored on last year’s voyage that this offers the opportunity of a life-changing experience.

The cost of the voyage is £499 which includes all food and accommodation. The deadline for places is 15 February after which the Tall Ship’s will have to advertise the voyage more widely.

Anyone who is interested or would like further details is welcome to contact Mr Shute on 49475.

VOGG call on Caruana to publish 'Straw letter'

Local pressure group Voice of Gibraltar has called on Chief Minister Peter Caruana to seriously consider publishing Jack Straw’s letter underpinning the latter’s understanding of the tripartite forum.

In a statement the group also calls on Governor Sir Francis Richards to “advance his ‘bridge-building’, between London and Gibraltar, by requesting the F&CO to categorically confirm that the Brussels Process and Joint-Sovereignty proposals are dead and buried.”

Spokesman Paul Tunbridge said:

We will continue our campaign of protests and actions until such time as the ‘Spanish Dimension’, with all its baggage, is consigned to the bellows of Hades and Gibraltar is decolonised by the exercise of its people’s inalienable right to self-determination. All attempts to establish good neighbourly relations and regional co-operation, bereft of sovereignty concessions, must be fully supported.
However, meaningful dialogue must not create ‘undercurrents’ of osmosis nor mortgage the Rock’s future to Spain. Terms and conditions for this must be clear-cut and not susceptible to varied elucidation, as is the case now.


The Voice of Gibraltar also described Mr Caruana as the “Ayatollah” who “time and time again, enlightens all and sundry with his ‘translations’ of the neighbours’ every statement and comment.”

The group has also called for “transparency and unambiguous language, something ominously lacking to-date, at least from those that the Gibraltarians expect to do so.”

Voice of Gibraltar Group added:

In the meantime, the F&CO sits on the fence, awaiting a favourable wind. The obvious question is: which interpretation do they share? After all, the ‘Spanish Dimension’ has many possibilities and/or probabilities. Maybe it is allowing the Palacio de Santa Cruz its last ‘coletazos’, prior to a gracious climb-down that enables the ‘tripartite’ forum to get off the ground. The only way the Spaniards will distance themselves from the long-surviving process is if they believe that the annexe to the European Constitution provides them with so much more room to manoeuvre than the former did.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Gibraltar's 3rd Chess Festival plays its first move

by Alice Mascarenhas

The first move in the 3rd Gibtelecom Chess Festival Masters was made yesterday at exactly 3pm.

The festival is being staged at the Caleta Hotel until 3 February which yesterday proved a flurry of activity. The boards are laid out in the main conference room of the hotel where silence will reign over the next weeks.

Chess players and amateurs can log in on the website – www.gibraltarchesscongress.com to see live pictures of competing Grand Masters with live commentary from Stuart Conquest.

Around 180 players from 32 countries have been attracted to this third international competition including the current world number 9 Grand Master Alexi Shirov from Spain who can be seen playing in the picture with the world’s number 18 Alexey Dreev from Russia.

Stuart Ruben, third time organiser, of the festival, even in his quiet and calm manner, is unable to hide his pleasure at the growing success of the festival. He said:

It is already recognised as one of the main chess events world-wide. In the first year we were born, last year it was a child and this year it has perhaps reached its adolescent stage and matured. It is well known in the chess world and many want to participate.


During the festival there will again be challengers and amateur tournaments for players of all levels. There will be a tournament for children on the 5 and 6 February.

GSP Officers stage silent protest outside Naval Base

Pay dispute with MOD

F Oliva reports

GSP officers will be carrying out an unprecedented three-hour protest outside the Naval Base this afternoon to draw attention to a series of unresolved pay and pay related claims in a long-standing dispute with the Ministry of Defence. The action in pursuit of an employment issue will be the first of its kind ever carried out by the GSP or any police organisation in Gibraltar.

According to the Gibraltar Services Police Staff Association they are owed in excess of £1m. The protest is expected to commence at 2.30pm and will be carried out only by off-duty officers who will be carrying placards but remain silent throughout, without interfering with any military or civilian personnel or traffic flow. GSPSA chairman Ruben Benggio said that the whole force was supporting today’s action that will be repeated at the same time tomorrow Thursday.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday Tony Christodoulides of Marrache and Co, who is the legal advisor for the GSPSA said that their aim was to persuade the MoD to set up an efficient local negotiating and dispute resolution procedure where historical claims related to the non-application of the parity principle could be dealt with. “We are fighting employment issues that were resolved 30 years ago.
The MoD is acting in an abysmal manner and they should be ashamed,” he said.

The GSPSA are critical of the MoD and say that their behaviour as an employer and approach to industrial relations remains “firmly rooted in the past.” Mr Christodoulides said that besides the protest, they would be keeping up the pressure through a continuing political campaign in the UK Parliament that has been taken up by MP’s Andrew McKinlay and Bruce George. This would be the main focus of their campaign which would be continued with litigation and further protests if necessary. He also declared that the continuing dispute was having an effect on the morale of the force, and was affecting their trust in the MoD and stated that “MoD Gibraltar probably with the connivance of MoD in UK is in breach of the UK Government’s guidelines for the resolution of disputes.”

Open Letter to MOD

The GSPSA have written to Ministers of State at the MOD Adam Ingram and Ivor Caplin of Defence where they accuse the department of “withholding money” having “a contradictory position,” and of not giving them a satisfactory explanation when questioned on January 19th.

The letter states:

For over two years you have been withholding money properly due to members of the force. When you can no longer delay the payment, as an excuse for not handing over the members’ money you claim that they have received an overpayment. When challenged you refuse to give reasons.

All that has transpired from the correspondence is the MoD says it has the power to withhold moneys and it will exercise it. Therefore in our view it would be disingenuous to say an answer has been provided.

House of Commons Question

Meanwhile in the House of Commons, Labour MP Andrew Mackinlay asked the Secretary of State for Defence a series of question related to the dispute on January 19th 2005. Mr Mackinlay asked the UK Government on what date they had received the views of the Gibraltar Service Police Association on the intention to deduct moneys from police officers arising from the dispute about the payment of rent allowances and the application of the analogue principle, and also for what reasons a substantive reply has not been sent.

In reply Minister Kaplan said that Ministry of Defence officials in Gibraltar first received correspondence from Marrache and Company, the solicitors acting for the GSP Association in February 2004.

He said MOD officials have been involved in a long exchange of correspondence with the solicitors in which they have consistently set out “the Department’s intention to recover the over-payment.” He added that Marrache and Company have had a copy of the letter from MOD officials to the GSPSA, which sets out the Department’s position in detail, since February 2004.

Eastside Development first step taken for £1 Billion project

by Alice Mascarenhas

Wheels have been put in motion for Gibraltar’s most ambitious investment and development project in its history that will be built on the eastside of the Rock between Eastern Beach and Catalan Bay representing an inward investment in excess of £1 billion.

Chief Minister Peter Caruana declared the Eastside Development Project would ensure the Rock’s economic and architectural development in the second 300 years of its history. Both he and Trade and Industry Minister Joe Holliday, yesterday signed the Commercial Master Agreement, on behalf of the Government, together with Andrew Roberts representing the shareholders of MCB (Gibraltar) Limited and Chief Executive of Multiplex Construction (Pty) Limited with 51%, and Simon Reuben from Aldersgate Investments Limited with 49%.

The signing comes after a protracted and complex negotiation. The move confirmed MCB (Gibraltar) Ltd as project developer. Multiplex is a Company quoted on the Australian Stock Exchange and is Australia’s largest construction Company and a leading property developer in the UK.

Aldersgate is an investment vehicle of brothers David and Simon Reuben

Also involved in the project is one of the world’s most eminent Architects, Lord Foster, who has embraced the project with personal zeal and enthusiasm.

The project remains subject to environmental impact assessment, public consultation process and the grant of outline planning permission. It is envisaged that all these will take up to 14 months. Thereafter, the development will be built in phases over a ten year period.

The Chief Minister described the project as a destination and not just a development project.

"150 years from now it will be regarded as an important phase in Gibraltar’s evolution and development. This is not just a building but creating in Gibraltar a destination in the context of the Mediterranean" he told the Chronicle, pointing out, that the benefits were not just economic, and that the project would also create hundreds of jobs and secure huge infrastructure works which would include a generating station with twice the capacity of Waterport Power Station – six five megawatt generators. The transaction, he said, was worth around £100 million to the taxpayer.

The Developer will additionally build the required electrical distribution network. The Government said an additional benefit was the possibility of removing the generating station from a residential area, with consequential environmental quality of life gains. New sewers pumping station and sewer main, and water distribution system, will be built on the Eastside, serving the whole area of Devil’s Tower Road and Catalan Bay area.

The Government’s contribution to these infrastructure works will be limited to a maximum of £6 million. It is envisaged that the works will cost around £35 million.

The development will consist of up to 2,200 apartments; underground car parks; a 300 boat marina with a boutique cruise liner berth and terminal; a 300 bedroom 4 star hotel; and retail, commercial and office accommodation.

Affordable Homes

The Developer commitment will see the building of up to 200 affordable homes offsite to specifications decided by the Government for sale at cost (and free of land cost) to buyers designated by the Government. Construction of these houses will begin when the main project has received outline planning permission and the leases and other documents are executed.

Eastern Beach and Catalan Bay

The Developer, acting as a contractor for the Government will build the Government Beaches Project set out in the 2003 Manifesto. This project will double the width of both Eastern Beach and Catalan Bay Beach and protect them with offshore, underwater breakwaters. Government will pay the fixed price of £9m for these works, and the Developer will pay any excess.

Public Car Parks

The Developer will build and provide to the Government two car parks of 250 car parking spaces each at Eastern Beach and Catalan Bay for use by beach goers and public parking.


Andrew Roberts, Chief Executive of Multiplex, described the project as very significant.

It gives us the opportunity to take something forward on a level which is not ordinarily possible, so we are not looking at simply another apartment block or hotel, but the integration of the whole project.

Multiplex tackles large development and re-development schemes of this type and Gibraltar occupies a wonderful position at the head of the Mediterranean, its climate, unique geographic position, financial and regulatory arrangements all offer some unique advantages, and it is increasingly becoming with other parts of the Mediterranean a very desirable location,” he added.


For his part Simon Reuben said the project was very exciting.

Gibraltar is part of British culture, and linking up with Multiplex and other large projects similar in size it is also exciting to be linked to Lord Foster. One feels one can actually make a mark in a place that needs it and Gibraltar needs it very much. We do not do anything in Spain because it is over developed and we like it here because it is still virgin here,” he stated.


Lord Foster commented there was tremendous synergy between Gibraltar and the project.

In this sense it is an expansion of Gibraltar and it also has the power to inject a tremendous additional energy – a catalyst – and it is a very exciting project architecturally, touristically, its mixture of uses, the way it trades on the Mediterranean with the potential for marinas, and a very rich and exciting mix of uses – hotels, apartments, shopping, leisure and culture which is also a very important dimension to the project which can be conceived in very sustainable terms.


The master plan and design of the project, he said, had been built on the best of tradition – and had been based on the most friendly welcoming destinations in the Med which had certain traditional qualities.

The Chief Minister said he greatly welcomed the confidence being shown in Gibraltar and its prospects for the future by Multiplex and the Reuben Brothers and the financial institutions providing funding for this project.

I believe that this confidence is well placed. Various Government departments will now be faced with a big challenge in processing this project through the planning phase. I have no doubt that the administration will successfully rise to that challenge,” he further added.

Meanwhile Minister for Trade and Industry Joe Holliday commented:

this project is massive by Gibraltar standards and large by any standards. It will deliver very significant opportunities to many Gibraltar businesses in many sectors both during and after the construction phase. When ready it will greatly enhance our tourism and commercial infrastructure including leisure facilities for the local community. I look forward to leading the co-ordination of the considerable challenge that Government now faces in processing and executing this very large, multifaceted project.

Benefits

*Cash Premium: The Government will be entitled to receive up to £60 million cash premium. This will be paid as follows:- £2,500,000 from the outset (non-refundable); £2,242,500 from the outset (refundable if DPC refuses outline planning permission); £28,242,500 upon execution of the head lease and other commercial agreements which follows grant of outline planning permission. This is envisaged to be in 14 month’s time.

*Up to a further £26,000,000 if the developer decides to build more than 1,200 flats (up to the permitted maximum of 2,200).

*If the Developer withdraws from the project before outline planning permission is given, the Government retains the £4,742,500 paid yesterday.

Timescale

This Eastside Development project will be executed over a 10 year period. The trigger event for all the Developer’s commitments is the grant of outline planning permission for the main development. This is in a period of up to 14 months from now. Thereafter the period to completion of the Project is as follows: - Affordable housing – 30 months, Electricity Generating Station, water and sewage works – 30 months, Beaches Project – 24 months, Hotel, Marina and at least 500 flats, within a maximum of 6 years. Remainder within a maximum of 10 years.

AquaGib workers on one day stoppage

Workers with the water company AquaGib are expected to go ahead with a one-day stoppage this morning, it has emerged.

Water supplies should not be affected by the action being contemplated however it will not be possible to effect repairs or maintenance work on this day and customer and bill collection services will not be available.

Manuel Perez, AquaGib's managing director, said last night that Charles Sisarello, the Branch Officer of the TGWU, informed the company that his members would be staging a one-day stoppage today due to what the union had termed “an unsatisfactory response to the maintenance of pay differentials.”

Workers will assemble outside the company office as from this morning.

At the weekend AquaGib had replied to the union claim saying it had already briefed staff to the effect that at the time of the last salaries review, it had been made clear that salary increases after the review would be on the basis of matching the percentage increase granted to non-industrials in the public sector.

AquaGib say they told staff that the offer made at the time had to be accepted or rejected as a package.

The Union held a ballot of its members, who thereby accepted the package. The company has implemented that package faithfully and as you know yearly salary increases for non-industrials in the public sector have been agreed up to and including 2005. The Board nevertheless wished to develop a different Pay Structure for the future, to be clearly separate from that of the Government.


Management & Human Resources Consultants were engaged last year to carry out job evaluation exercise and to advise on such a Salary Structure and have now concluded their preliminary findings based on which options for a new salary structure are being drawn up for consideration by the Board when it next meets March 4. AquaGib says it was the union’s suggestion that they pursue a different pay structure in order to try to put an end to perceived grievances caused by movements in individual pay scales within the Government Service. The employees, said Mr Perez, should await the outcome of the next meeting of the Board, and at least consider the resulting proposals.

Unfortunately, although we have had no response from the Union to our fax, or direct confirmation from them that the action will go ahead, it appears through a communication received this afternoon that the one-day stoppage will go ahead,”
he said.

But the union in a statement said that the action is to support their claim to maintain a pay differential. The union explains that in 1991, when the water section of Government was privatised and taken over by Lyonnaise des Eaux, most of the then Government employees joined the new private firm on condition that their pay was to be established at a percentage over and above the pay of their counterparts in the Gibraltar Government.

In 2001 a similar situation occurred. Pay differentials were being eroded and the company engaged the services of a consultant and undertook an economic exercise that re-established the differential, thus reaffirming what was agreed in 1991,” it said.


The union adds that now the situation is the same. "The salaries differential of AquaGib members in comparison to Government employees has been eroding at a steady pace. Our members consider that the company must address this issues,” that said adding that the position has been reiterated to AquaGib. The Union added that it felt that unless there was immediate action by the company they were left with no alternative but to take industrial action.

Former No. 10 man to be new Deputy Governor

David Blunt will be leaving Gibraltar in mid-March at the end of his appointment as Deputy Governor.

The Convent announced yesterday that he will be succeeded by Mr Philip Barton, lately Deputy High Commissioner at the British High Commission in Nicosia.

Mr Barton’s Foreign Office career has included postings to Caracas and New Delhi. In 1997 he was a Private Secretary to the Prime Minister at No. 10 Downing Street.

Mr Barton will be accompanied by his wife and two young children.

Light at the end of Strait Tunnel

A plan to build a tunnel between Spain and Morocco, establishing the first fixed link between Europe and Africa, has come a step closer after talks between the two countries, it was reported yesterday in The Guardian Online.

The Spanish development minister, Magdalena Álvarez, met her Moroccan counterpart, Karim Chellab, in Tangier last week as part of a visit by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain to push forward plans for a 24-mile rail tunnel running beneath the Strait of Gibraltar.

The idea was first mooted in the 1970s and an initial agreement was signed in 1980. But a combination of political, financial and technical obstacles has prevented it becoming a reality.

Now, however, a renewed spirit of cooperation between the two countries has raised hopes that they could realise a concrete symbol of their interdependence.

A route for the tunnel was agreed last December, and Ms Alvarez told Mr Chellab last week that plans for the tunnel had been included in the Spanish cabinet’s new transport infrastructure plan.

The tunnel will run from the Punta Paloma on Spain’s southern coast to a terminal just east of Tangier to take advantage of the shallower waters to the west of the strait. A shorter route was discounted because the seabed in the narrowest part of the channel is more than 900 metres (3,000ft) below the surface. At its deepest point the tunnel will run 400 metres below sea level and 300 metres beneath the seabed.

The strait’s tunnel will follow a similar model to the 31-mile Channel tunnel. Two rail tunnels will run 50 metres apart, with a smaller service tunnel running between them. The main tunnels will be three storeys high and will have connections with the service tunnel every few hundred metres.

While both sides have committed more than 10m euros (£7m) each to preliminary drilling work, there is still no timetable for completing the project, or estimate of the final cost. But they agree that the EU should pay for the main works.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Picardo says Government unable to achieve seamless transition

Dismantling of exempt tax regime

Gibraltar Government has not been able to achieve a seamless transition to a new finance centre corporate product, Opposition spokesman for Financial Services, Fabian Picardo declared yesterday.

Mr Picardo was reacting to the announcement by the European Commission of the measures it requires be put in place to dismantle the Gibraltar exempt company status which it has found to be contrary to the principles of State Aid.

What is obvious,” he said, “is that those local businesses who are dependant on this type of product will find it is not available to them at all by 30th June 2006.

Mr Picardo continued:

Although the Commission statement does not refer to any agreement having been concluded with the Gibraltar Government in respect of these measures, we note that the Government press release of Friday 21st January refers to these measures as having been under negotiation and agreed by the Gibraltar and UK Governments with the EU Commission throughout 2004. It will be recalled that these measures have become necessary as a result of the Commission’s decision not to accept the Gibraltar Government’s tax reform proposal after the latter had submitted the whole of the proposed new tax structure for the Commission’s approval.

The Opposition does not have the benefit even now of having had sight confidentially or otherwise of those tax reform proposals other than as already published by the Commission upon their rejection. We are therefore unable to express any view (favourable or negative) in respect of the detail of those proposals. We also have no access to the information provided by the Government to the Commission in respect of the current number of extant exempt company certificates.

The Opposition has sought information from the Government in the House of Assembly, on a whole range of questions that the Commission put to the UK Government regarding the economic implications of the exempt companies for Gibraltar, which the local Government has refused to provide. In those circumstances our comment in relation to the measures now agreed between the Gibraltar and UK Governments and the Commission must be based only on the information publicly available and our own consultation with professionals in the finance centre industry.

Solbes welcomes exempt company phase out

Pedro Solbes, Spain’s minister of finance and a senior member of the PSOE Government have welcomed the EU Commission's proposals to phase out exempt companies in Gibraltar.

Sr Solbes said he had liked the announcement but wished it had been “more restrictive”.

The move still gives too many companies too much time to continue with improper practices that are detrimental to the Spanish economy, he said.

Government rejects charge with ‘1996’ dig at opposition

Social Services controversy

Gibraltar Government has rejected suggestions that cuts have been made in the Social Services department and condemned the Opposition for issuing what it describes as “misleading and incorrect statements, purely on the strength of hearsay and rumours.”

A Convent Place spokesman said:

Government reminds the Opposition that when they left office in 1996, Bishop Healy Home was run on a shoestring budget with a compliment of three assistant house parents, irrespective of the number of children in care at any given time. On the occasions when it was considered absolutely necessary to use supply workers, these were literally picked off the streets, without proper vetting or training.

It is clear from Mr Bruzon’s remarks that in his rush to criticise Government, he has not even bothered to establish the facts surrounding his claim that induction courses delivered to supply workers within the Children’s Residential Service have been cancelled due to lack of funds.

In addition to eradicating the stigma attached to institutions of this kind by providing and resourcing small flats in the community, we have created a list of supply workers and gave each person on the list an appropriate induction course. This continues to be the case today.

The Opposition’s statement is therefore simply untrue, and can only be seen as a cheap attempt to score political points. Induction courses have not been cancelled and continue in line with the funds allocated for this purpose by the Social Services Agency.


Aconcagua Challenge met!

The nine man Gibraltar team in Aconcagua has met its challenge.


Gibraltarian team fly the Gibraltar flag on the slopes of the Aconcagua Mountain... and meet their challenge!

Although, the team made up of Jimmy, Gerald, Adam, Nikolai, Nicky, Adrian, Francis, Louis, and Clayton, stopped short of 300mts from the summit because of severe weather conditions which prevented them from going any further, the Gibraltar flag flew proudly at just over 6,600 metre from La Canaleta.

At the weekend, a spokesman for the Team said:

We are all well but exhausted and are looking forward to a few days of rest by ¨La Pileta¨ or pool! We had to stop about 300m short (one and a half hours) from the summit due to the bad weather conditions and the time of day, which meant that if we went on we would have had problems to get back. The Gibraltar flag flew proudly midway on the ¨The Canaleta¨ at 14 47 hours on the 18th January 2005!


The team is expected back in Gibraltar on Friday. The challenge was carried out in aid of local charities.

Wood from Nelson’s ship used in Gibraltar's Trafalgar stamps

Gibraltar Philatelic Bureau commemorates the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar next Monday with the world’s first wooden stamps.

The wood used is taken from the original oak timbers from Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory. The stamp issue will be launched by Philatelic Minister Joe Holliday at the start of a three-day exhibition on Monday morning at the Casemates Vaults, as Alice Mascarenhas reports.

Gibraltar Tourist Board at FITUR

Gibraltar Tourist Board will be exhibiting at the 25th edition of FITUR (Feria Internacional de Turismo) which will take place in Madrid from 26th to 30th January 2005.

The exhibition is targeted at tourism industry professionals for the first three days, and then to the general public for the final two days, at the weekend, and is always very well supported.

The 75 m² Gibraltar stand will feature a design which includes a striking outline of the Rock of Gibraltar along with eye-catching photo images. It will be manned by staff from the Gibraltar Tourist Board. The stand will provide meeting areas to enable representatives of Gibraltar’s travel and tourism industry to meet their clients or prospective clients.

On the eve of FITUR, Minister for Tourism Joe Holliday will host a dinner in Madrid for a number of Spanish travel journalists. The Minister will then visit the Gibraltar stand on the opening day of the exhibition, accompanied by the Chief Executive of the Gibraltar Tourist Board, before returning to Gibraltar.

Gibraltar’s stand at FITUR provides the tourism industry in Gibraltar with a base from which to sell their products and services,” said Mr Holliday. “An element of the tourism strategy of the Government is to market Gibraltar as a tourist destination in Spain and Madrid is the obvious place in which to do this. FITUR will also provide an opportunity for the GTB to meet a number of Spanish operators and progress discussions with them on the development of Gibraltar holiday packages. It is a useful forum because the early part of the exhibition and fair targets tour operators and travel agents and the latter part is dedicated to the general public who are the people who are planning their holidays and to whom we can get our message across.

Meanwhile the Mancomunidad yesterday declared that besides its own space in the Cadiz Tourist Office area, it will make use jointly of the Gibraltar Government stand to promote its own tourist product at FITUR.

Tsunami Appeal Fund

The monies collected for the Gibraltar Red Cross Tsunami Appeal fund has already exceeded, £450,000 and not £45,000 as printed in yesterday’s Chronicle.

Driving Tests delay row

Opposition “misleading and erroneous”, says Government

Gibraltar Government has said that the Opposition has chosen to refer to “false and exaggerated statements” in order to criticise them in the latest row over motorcycling driving tests.

In a statement yesterday Government described as regrettable that the GSLP/Lib spokesman for Traffic, Lucio Randall, in his desire to criticise Government, has used words such as “scandalous” and “unacceptable”. According to Government Mr Randall should have contacted the Department of Transport and “he would have been appraised of the facts.”

A Gibraltar Government spokesman said:

The press release issued by the Opposition as to motorcycle driving tests is both misleading and erroneous. It is certainly true that the motorcycle used for conducting motorcycle driving tests by the Department of Transport broke down and is presently being repaired. The Opposition refers to this unavoidable occurrence as an “unacceptable state of affairs” and that it “has been going on since shortly before Christmas 2004”. This is not true. The motorcycle broke down far more recently and in fact motorcycle driving tests were conducted on the 4 and 5 January 2005.

The Opposition further states that there has been an ‘inordinate delay in the Department receiving the authority by Government to proceed with this expenditure (to repair the motorcycle). This is also not true and there has been no such delay, inordinate or otherwise. The repairs needed – which are fairly extensive and require the importation of spare parts – are presently being undertaken. In the meantime, however, alternative arrangements have been put into place so that motorcycle driving tests can be carried out while those repairs are completed, thereby ensuring that the inconvenience to the general public has been minimised as much as practicable.

FSC welcomes Fiduciaire ITP Limited winding-up order

The Financial Services Commission (FSC) has welcomed the news that the Supreme Court has granted a Winding-Up Order in respect of Fiduciaire ITP Limited (FITP). A liquidator has been appointed in order to wind up the company’s affairs and act in the interests of FITP’s clients and their companies. This follows a lengthy investigation by officers of the FSC into unlicensed company management activities undertaken by FITP.

Under the powers set out in Schedule 10 of the Companies Ordinance Kieran Power, Head of Fiduciary Services Supervision and Albert Yome, Manager, Enforcement at the FSC, were appointed as investigators, to report on the affairs of the company. Albert Yome said:

This brings towards a close an enforcement action that the FSC began following the amendment to the Financial Services Ordinance in November 2002. This amendment expanded the ambit of “controlled activities” to include the provision of company formation, administration, secretarial services and registered office facilities.
FITP was providing such services to a large number of client companies without a licence issued by the Financial Services Commissioner. It had refused to answer repeated warnings issued by the FSC, which then sought to resolve this issue through legal action.

The FSC takes a proactive approach to ensure that unauthorised activity does not take place and to this end employs a dedicated Manager, Enforcement.

The FSC investigates all cases of possible unlicensed activity with a particular emphasis on the prevention of fraud. It gathers intelligence on such activities from complaints from individuals or institutions, and from information passed to it from overseas regulators and other agencies. The FSC monitors the Internet, news and other sources, to enable it to detect and disrupt possible illegal activities in relation to financial services at the earliest opportunity.

Locally the FSC co-operates closely with law enforcement agencies in the prevention and detection of fraud and other economic crime, said a spokesman.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Opposition denounce cuts in Social Services Programme

Bruzon attacks Govt spending on “parties and trip”

GSLP (Gibraltar Social & Labour Party)/Libs has expressed concern at the decision by the Social Services Agency to cancel an induction programme that was introduced to create a pool of supply care workers for children in care. In a statement to the Chronicle, Opposition spokesman for Social Affairs Charles Bruzon said the service had been cancelled because of lack of funds.

Mr Bruzon said:

It is completely unacceptable that Government always seems to introduce cuts in spending in those areas which affect the most vulnerable. If less monies were being allocated to such things as parties, trips abroad and conferences, there would be more than enough money to meet social needs.

The Agency advertised vacancies for Supply Care Workers, on the 3rd November 2004. It is extraordinary, that having interviewed and selected applicants, they are then invited to participate in an induction programme designed to last for five weeks, and subsequently it is cancelled after one week because the Department run out of money.

It is inconceivable that the Government that claims it is not short of cash, should be unable to find the comparatively small sum of money required, to complete the five week induction programme, when, on the other hand, it spends vast sums of money in other less important areas. It has to be assumed that the Agency must consider that there is a requirement for such a pool of workers to be available to meet the needs of the Service, when the decision was taken to place the advert and invite applications in the first place.

Copyright Law comes before House today

• Port Authority to come into effect

House of Assembly will be meeting this afternoon when a total of ten bills will be going through the various parliamentary stages. During the session a series of EU directives on the legal protection of intellectual property and copyright will be transposed into local legislation. The scope of this law covers computer programmes and databases and is also applicable to satellite broadcasting and cable retransmission.

It is also envisaged that an Ordinance to establish the Gibraltar Port Authority will be approved with the transfer of certain functions and activities of the Port Department from the Gibraltar Government to the authority.

Further laws relating to immigration control, the recognition of professional qualifications for citizens from the new EU member states, amendment to the Traffic Ordinance and the regulation of the sale of pet animals will also be presented to the House.

The session starts at 2.30pm.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

HMS Invincible sails in

HMS Invincible in GibraltarHMS Invincible sailed into port yesterday morning. The aircraft carrier will be spending four days on the Rock. The ship has a crew of 685 including 366 air crew. Its primary task is command and control and communications facilities with a top speed of 28 knots and a range of 7,000 miles. It has helicopters and 21 aircraft aboard.

TGWU accuse Caruana of “political incompetence"

Health row escalates

TGWU/ACTS has issued a strongly worded statement criticising Chief Minister Peter Caruana’s recent remarks in the on-going row affecting the Gibraltar Health Authority.

According to Transport House, Mr Caruana has decided to “get tough with health workers” while further stating that “it is no surprise that 6 Convent Place is criticised for being arrogant, secretive and unaccountable.”

In a statement to the Chronicle a TGWU/ACTS spokesman has also accused the Gibraltar Government of “holding the nurses to ransom because they know very well that they are restricted in the protest action that they can take.”

The Union also rejects the Chief Minister’s comments labelling nurses’ claims as “unjustified” and accuses him of “denying what everybody else knows.”

TGWU/ ACTS also accuse the Gibraltar Government of trying to justify its “lack of planning,” failing in its management of the GHA, and “blaming nurses and their trade union representative.”

Nursing Section Chairman Michael Netto said:

We believe that the comment yesterday by 6 Convent Place in relation to our grievances in the GHA represent an insult to all health care professionals and a denial of our commitment to the GHA and our patients. It is evident to all members of our community that the whole process in relation to Mount Alvernia has clearly not been thought through. It is hard to say whether it has happened by accident or design, but the consequences as we all know are going to be serious. Many will soon realise that moving to the new hospital will not mean the great leap forward for the GHA after all.

Government said yesterday that only 15 nurses from the GHA complement are required for the move of patients to the Elderly Care Agency, and that vacancies are shortly to be advertised for extra staff. We must ask why it has taken Government so long to inform nurses, the union and the general public of their strategy. In fact we believe that this information has only been made public as a result of our criticism regarding the lack of forward planning in relation to the transfer of patients.

We would also like to know why it has taken Government more than a year to employ a permanent elderologist when employing locum cover for all this time has been at great expense to the taxpayer. Why has there not been a substantial expansion to the community and domiciliary service in line with UK ratios prior to the opening of the new hospital? What has happened to the GHA’s plan for a rehabilitation ward?

Government rightly points to increased absenteeism but fails to explain why the hospital is now running almost permanently at close to full capacity, with extra beds being provided in TV rooms and elderly patients nursed in overcrowded conditions. When the Chief Minister publicly blames nurses for delays in admission and discharges of patients, he is not only showing signs of not knowing about the problems in the GHA but being unfair in making this comment.

We recognise that the GHA wants to manage absenteeism and that persistent misuse of sick leave by a minority of employees needs to be dealt with. Already in August 2000, Government stated that absenteeism deprives patients of due care, and it reflects the political incompetence of 6 Convent Place allowing this to continue for so long, when we have repeatedly advised the GHA of what measures to put in place to deal with this crisis situation.

Last year Government commissioned a report on occupational health, a key issue here being absenteeism and we have been requesting a copy of the report for some time. The question is why does the Chief Minister hold back on this critical issue that is central to reducing the problem? Government should realise that high absenteeism is a symptom not the cause of the GHA crisis.

We will continue to defend the interests of our members and at the same time commit ourselves to support any move to improve the quality of care to our patients.
Notwithstanding the above the Nursing Section is willing to sit down and negotiate all issues related to nursing with the Government.

Commission requests phasing out of Tax benefits for Gibraltar Exempt companies

State aid

European Commission has formally requested the United Kingdom to abolish the Exempt Company tax regime in Gibraltar by the end of 2010 at the latest because the scheme violates the EC Treaty’s ban on state aid liable to distort competition, an EC spokesman said yesterday. By this request, which takes the form of a “recommendation” and follows extensive negotiations, the Commission intends to put a definitive end to the last offshore tax regime in Gibraltar.

A European Commission spokesman said:

The United Kingdom has one month to formally accept these appropriate measures, failing which the Commission may open a formal state aids investigation. Under the regime, an Exempt Company pays no income tax on its profits but instead pays only a low, fixed annual tax.

A company registered in Gibraltar as an Exempt Company is subject to a fixed annual tax of between £225 and £300 (around 350-500 euros). It is exempt from any further taxation in Gibraltar. An Exempt Company may not conduct any trade or business within Gibraltar. No Gibraltarian or Gibraltar resident may have a beneficial interest in the shares of an Exempt Company.

The Exempt Companies scheme fulfils the four relevant criteria for being state aid. Companies subject to the general company taxation regime in Gibraltar pay a standard rate of tax on profits of 35%, so that companies benefiting from the Exempt Companies scheme are granted a clear advantage. This advantage is clearly selective, is financed from state resources, and is liable to distort competition. The regime satisfies none of the criteria set out in the EC Treaty (Articles 87(2) and 87(3)) under which state aid may be authorised.

In November 2002 the Commission first proposed that the United Kingdom put in place appropriate measures to repeal the scheme, but in February 2003 the United Kingdom refused these measures. Under the Commission’s new recommendation:

• the number of beneficiaries of the scheme shall be capped at the level of 8 464, i.e. the number of beneficiaries on 31 December 2003

• existing beneficiaries at the date of acceptance of the appropriate measures shall be allowed to have their benefits ‘grandfathered’ until 31 December 2010. However, if these beneficiaries changed ownership/activity before 30 June 2006, their benefits would be grandfathered only until 31 December 2007. If a change of ownership/activity takes place after 30 June 2006, benefits would cease immediately.

• the number of new entrants to the scheme shall be limited to 60% of the companies leaving the scheme in 2005 (up to a limit of 823) and 50% for the first half of 2006 (up to a limit of the number of new entrants in 2005). No new entrants shall be allowed after 30 June 2006. New entrants shall have their benefits grandfathered until 31 December 2007.

Compared with the November 2002 recommendation, the new measure provides for strict limits on existing beneficiary companies changing ownership or engaging in new activities. This is the first time that the Commission has introduced such limits in a state aid case. New entrants will only be accepted for a short period (less than 18 months) and in very limited number. Moreover, their benefits will be limited to December 2007, instead of December 2010 for existing beneficiaries. Implementation of these appropriate measures will limit the distortion of competition to its current level and progressively reduce it by cutting the number of beneficiaries of the scheme and limiting the scope of their activities.

Caruana welcomes “reasonably good arrangemeent” on exempt status

Reprieve for finance centre... “Agreement avoids worst consequences” — Chief Minister

Chief Minister Peter Caruana last night declared that the agreement on the extension of Gibraltar’s Exempt Status tax regime represents “a reasonably good arrangement which avoids the worst consequences for Gibraltar.”

Speaking to the Chronicle Mr Caruana said that the agreement will deliver “absolute legal certainty to exempt companies compared to what the position would be if we had not reached any agreement.” He also declared that the worst case scenario had been avoided and that this would have required the Government to terminate the current tax regime.

Commenting on the agreement, the Chief Minister said:

Given the hostility to any such agreement by powerful sections of the EU Commission, and the extremely tough and difficult negotiation that has been required, this represents a reasonably good arrangement which avoids the worst consequences for Gibraltar. It is an excellent agreement which delivers absolute legal certainty to exempt companies compared to what the position would be if we had not reached any agreement.

For example, the agreement allows for new business, that is, for new entrants into the scheme. This is the only case in which the Commission has agreed to new entrants in an agreement to end or avoid a state aid investigation procedure. Usually, existing beneficiaries are allowed to keep the benefits of the scheme for a limited period of time but no-one else is allowed to enter the scheme after the date of the Agreement. Existing business is also covered until 2010, by which date an alternative tax regime will be in place.

This agreement does not deliver everything that we wanted, but it avoids the worst consequences and enables the Finance Centre, and other sectors of the economy to continue while the European Court rules in the regional selectivity case. We have thus been able to avoid the worst case scenario which would have required us to close the exempt status regime and not be able to replace it with anything competitive for the Finance Centre and other businesses. The agreement is also a disappointment for those who were hoping to abuse EU State Aid procedures to put an end to our Finance Centre.

Meanwhile a Convent Place statement said:

The Gibraltar Government yesterday welcomed the approval by the full EU Commission at its meeting on Wednesday morning of the Exempt Status Company agreement. This agreement has been under negotiation by the Gibraltar and UK Governments with the EU Commission throughout 2004. An agreement that enjoyed sufficient support across EU departments was finally reached in December subject to the approval by the full college of Commissioners. This approval was given on Wednesday.

Commission decisions are usually made public on the day they are taken. Publication of this one has been delayed until today for reasons that the Commission has not publicly explained.

In July 2001 the EU Commission had challenged the legality of our exempt status regime under EU State Aid Rules. Under the applicable procedure the Commission would have taken around one year to order the closure of the tax-exempt company scheme. That would certainly have been before the European Courts had ruled on Gibraltar’s freedom to replace it with some other tax regime.

Under the Agreement negotiated with the Commission existing exempt companies can keep their exempt status until December 2010. By then the European Courts will have ruled in the other court case, and alternative arrangements will be in place. The agreement also uniquely allows new exempt status business until 30th June 2006.


Detail of the agreement

• The total number of exempt companies will be of 8,464.
• Existing exempt companies will be able to continue to benefit from their tax exempt status until 31 December 2010.
• Existing exempt companies that change ownership and/or activity before 30 June 2006 will be able to benefit from their tax exempt status until 31 December 2007.
• Existing exempt companies that change ownership and/or activity after 30 June 2006 will lose their tax exempt status.
• New exempt companies can be formed up to 30 June 2006.
This will be on the following basis:
• In 2005, the number of new exempt companies that can be formed shall not exceed 60% of the number of exempt companies leaving the regime in 2005, or in any event 823.
• From 1 January to 30 June 2006, the number of new exempt companies that can be formed shall not exceed 50% of the number of exempt companies leaving the regime during that period, or in any event the number of exempt companies admitted in 2005.
• New exempt companies will be able to continue to benefit from their tax exempt status until 31 December 2007.
• Regular reports shall be submitted to the EC Commission certifying compliance with the above.

The distinction between existing and new exempt companies is determined by the date of acceptance of the appropriate measures. This will take place by mid-February 2005 at the latest.

New regultions in the pipleline to prevent reocurrence

by Jonathan Teuma

Local maritime company Turner Shipping yesterday confirmed that new safety regulations for the ferry service to Morocco will soon be coming into place to prevent a reoccurrence of recent ugly scenes at the terminal.

Speaking to the Chronicle yesterday director Leslie Whitwell said that the new guidelines from the police and port safety officers will be adhered to and a firmer grip on weight restrictions will come into place “in order to avoid a reoccurrence of the incidents witnessed last Wednesday at the ferry terminal.”

Meanwhile the Port Authority has confirmed that meetings will take place between Police, Customs, Turner & Co and themselves in order to set out these new procedures. Reports that passengers were left stranded on the quayside were refuted by the Port Authority and Turner who say the ferry later made a return trip to take the passengers that were left behind.

In reference to last Friday’s incidents the company stated that tickets were sold for 363 passengers and 40 cars.

Mr Whitwell denied reports that they had oversold tickets to the Moroccan workers. He said:

Passenger capacity for Tangier Jet is 558 and garage space onboard is for 60 cars plus two buses… therefore our sales were well within the ferry’s limit. The extra ferry put on Wednesday 19th January had sold 508 tickets for foot passengers and 38 for cars. All tickets sold are automatically logged on the main computer system and once the limit is reached the computer will not allow us to print or sell more tickets, so it is impossible for us to over sell even if we wanted to do so.


He said the problem lay in the weight that passengers intended to take onboard. In many cases [cars] are overloaded to the extreme…” sometimes needing “…up to eight persons physically pushing the car as due to the amount of weight it has inside the engine alone cannot possibly manoeuvre the car onboard.”

Mr Whitwell stated that “last Friday’s excess weight caused the ferry almost to exceed its Plimsoll Line and the Master of the ferry informed us and port authorities that once this line was reached he would stop loading passengers as safety regulations have to be adhered to and would not be breached.” According to the company, passengers tried to rush on board by any means possible despite being informed that that the ferry would make a return trip later on that night. This situation was repeated on Wednesday and on both occasions police had to be called in to control the crowds.

MWA EXPRESS INDIGNATION

While accepting Turner & Co’s assertion that excess weight was the reason behind the disruption of the ferry service last Friday and Wednesday, the Moroccan Workers Association has condemned the company for what they claim is “a lack of seriousness when it comes to addressing what are on-going problems with the service they provide.” According to an MWA spokesman the “disrespectful attitude to clients” by ticket staff further aggravated the situation on Wednesday.

The spokesman affirmed that weight problems always affect the service on religious holidays and long weekends and that despite being aware of this, the company repeatedly fails to take measures to address the situation. As well as this, the spokesman claimed that the ferry is often a few hours late or does not turn up at all. This in turn leads to nervousness among the crowd, which is generally made up of people who have not seen their family in many weeks and are therefore eager to go.

Furthermore, the association reproaches Turner & Co for having no formal complaints procedure, claiming that directors take no notice of grievances put to them by clients. According to the spokesman, meetings held between the company and association have resulted in Turner & Co dictating measures rather than dialoguing with them. He added that verbal complaints have been made to the Port Authority but no action has been taken.

For its part the Port Authority say they have received no complaints.

After witnessing the disturbing scenes of the last week in which many people fell or where thrown over, women fainted and luggage was lost, the Moroccan Workers Association fears that only after the occurrence of a disaster will appropriate action be taken.