Saturday, April 30, 2005

House of Assembly

The Government’s Chief Secretary is legally empowered to discharge the functions of Competent Authority, the House of Assembly was told yesterday. Chief Minister Peter Caruana responded to a question from Opposition Leader Joe Bossano that had been addressed to the Attorney General.

The absence of the Attorney General from the Chamber of the House was not the reason for Mr Caruana making the reply. He made clear in his response that he did not think it was the Attorney General’s role to provide legal advice to the parliament.

In what descended into a quasi-legal exchange with Fabian Picardo providing a brief to Mr Bossano and even Mr Speaker asking what the Constitutional Law reference point Erskine May might say on the issue. But the upshot was that Mr Caruana warned against setting a precedent that might later have repercussions and asserting that the Attorney General has three roles in Gibraltar - to advise the Government, to advise the Governor and as Director of Public Prosecutions. He advised Mr Bossano against giving the impression that the Governor had any substantial role in the preparation of the legislation although it is formally issued by him.

The question of competent authorities relates to the EU and the way in which authorities through the EU relate to each other. Mr Bossano was asking for a legal, rather than political, advice as to whether the Chief Secretary will be empowered and was doing so ahead of a motion coming before the House that endorses that role. Mr Caruana said that the answer was ‘yes’ and that the Opposition could read the Government’s decision to go ahead as it had done as a confirmation that they are satisfied with the legal position.

Theatre Royal will open, eventually

The curtain lifted on yesterday’s continuing session of Question Time at the House of Assembly with frustrated exchanges.

The questioner was Steven Linares and the Chief Minister Peter Caruana's final word was that the site of the Theatre Royal is safe and that the project will go ahead, but not now.

Answering questions on the theatre and the building site Clive Beltran, Minister for Culture, said that the excavation works there have not created any damage to adjacent buildings nor had there been any problems with the structure of the walls left at the site.

Mr Beltran said that the project remains in Government’s list of projects but the leisure centre and housing projects take priority.

Fabian Picardo insisted that the pinning down near the “crater” suggested actual or potential risk to building on that the west side. Mr Caruana rejected these claims saying all building sites need attention.

Later in the day Mr Picardo said that a member of the public who had been listening to the question and answer session on the radio, and happened to live in the area adjacent to the theatre, had informed him that his home had had to be pinned with wooden reinforcements because of a potential risk. Mr Caruana dismissed this, saying the business of the House could not be conducted on hearsay.

St Paul's School Annexe

The total cost of the St Paul’s School annexe was £1,321,386, Dr Bernard Linares Education Minister has said. He was replying to Steven Linares GSLP/Libs and also said that the Government believes the building is adequate.

MoD Impact Report not to be made public - Yet

The impact report into the effects to the economy of the proposed MoD contractorisation has been completed and will shortly be forwarded to the Secretary of State for Defence Geoff Hoon, Chief Minister Peter Caruana said in the House of Assembly yesterday. However the Government does not intend to make the report public at this stage.

Mr Caruana added that the trade unions will be given a copy of the report because they will be litigating against the MoD and using this report as evidence, and to the Leader of the Opposition personally on a confidential basis.

Single European Sky - No Legal challenge if agreement reached, says Caruana

Chief Minister Peter Caruana has declared that if it does prove possible to arrive at an airport agreement that unlocks Gibraltar’s existing suspensions from EU air travel, there will be no need for any further litigation.

Mr Caruana was responding to questions from Opposition spokesman Joseph Garcia regarding the legal challenge by the Gibraltar Government to the Rock’s exclusion from the EU Single European Sky.

Mr Caruana had stated that no decision to proceed with legal action has been taken yet and further replied that the time limit to initiate proceedings would depend on “the nature of the relief sought.”

Foolhardy to release Finance Centre info, says Chief Minister

It would be foolhardy for the Gibraltar Government to make public information regarding the on-going legal proceedings against the European Commission in relation to the rejection of the local tax reform proposals.

Responding to questions from Opposition spokesman Fabian Picardo asking what product will replace the exempt status company after June 2006, the Chief Minister said the future of the local finance centre will not be based on the existence of a particular product. Mr Caruana said the finance centre would need to provide an attractive environment of fiscal competitiveness for service providers and their international customers, in which to do business.

Further pressed by Mr Picardo as to how this corporate fiscal competitiveness would be retained beyond June 2006, Mr Caruana expressed surprise at the question and declined to answer.

He said the Gibraltar Government was working closely with the committee of the Finance Centre, and further stated that Mr Picardo could obtain the documents of the tax reform proposals through his legal practice at Hassans.

However Mr Picardo said he was asking for this information as a politician and not as a lawyer, to which Mr Caruana responded that he was not willing to brief him in such a capacity at this stage.

Mr Picardo said the proposals had been widely disseminated across the EU – including the Spanish Government – although Mr Caruana declared that it had been seen only by people in the internal EU process involved in the rejection of the proposals under state aid rules.

In reply to further questions, Mr Caruana said the Government will give consideration to the request from the Opposition for copies of the formal pleadings in the legal proceedings against the EU Commission.

Mr Caruana said that this would have to be on the understanding that the Opposition accepted in advance that documents were confidential and that they could make no references in any circumstances to the contents of the documents, a condition that was accepted.

The Chief Minister said it was an unusual request and that it was not normal for a Government to share these documents with the parliamentary opposition and that is why they were taking a long time to make a decision.

As regards the rejected tax reform proposals, Mr Caruana said he had already given an outline in the House of the “main and essential elements of those proposals,” and that he would not publish further details unless and until the Gibraltar Government was in a position to proceed with their implementation.


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