Saturday, May 14, 2005

Speaker row re-opens after Budhrani interview

• Comments “inappropriate” say GSLP/Libs

Haresh Budhrani, Speaker of the House of Assembly, has inadvertently re-ignited the controversy over his appointment to the post by telling local newspaper Panorama that he “enthusiastically” supports GSD (Gibraltar Social Democrats) policies.

The GSLP/Libs opposition, which last year voted against the appointment of Mr Budhrani as Speaker because of his past affiliation with the governing party, described his comments as “inappropriate”, adding that he had confirmed their initial reservations.

In the interview, Mr Budhrani said his preference for one party’s policies over another would not stop him from carrying out his duties fairly. But it was the explicit and unequivocal manner in which he described that support which has upset the opposition.

Mr Budhrani told Panorama that he had voted for the GSD and added:

“Contrary to the impression that some people might have gained, I have never been a ‘card-carrying’ member of the GSD. But yes, I do enthusiastically support their policies.”

In a statement, the opposition said that, as a citizen, Mr Budhrani was entitled to hold political views and support “controversial and unpopular” GSD policies. But they questioned whether a man whose post required a maximum degree of impartiality should have expressed those views in public.

“The Speaker’s statement confirms the Opposition’s reservations about his appointment and vindicates the decision to vote against it,” the GSLP/Libs said.

“Mr Budhrani should…have been much more circumspect about declaring his political views.

In effect, Mr Budhrani’s statements about enthusiastic support and preference for GSD policies amounts to him putting his seal of approval on everything Mr Caruana does and says.

He might as well wear the GSD rosette to public functions!”

In the Panorama interview, Mr Budhrani had compared Gibraltar with the UK, pointing out that the Speaker of the House of Commons in Westminster was always chosen from within the ranks of elected members of parliament. Speakers in the UK, in other words, always had a background of having supported one party or another, to the extent that they had been elected as members of that party. Yet this did not impact their impartiality.

By contrast, Mr Budhrani added, his support for the GSD was simply as a voter, based on the fact that he preferred the government’s policies.

The opposition, however, was unimpressed and said Speakers in the House of Commons had always “…scrupulously avoided public statements giving support to the policies of their own party.”

“Mr Budhrani, in our view, should not be giving enthusiastic public support to government policies on which the House [of Assembly] is totally divided,” the GSLP/Libs added.

Yesterday, Mr Budhrani remained adamant that his support for the GSD would in no way affect the way he did his job.

“I was stating a fact,” he said of the Panorama interview.

“This is my background. I’m not going to sit and now change history. The essential point is that it does not make a difference to the job I have to do. And if they [the opposition] think it’s made a difference, then I challenge them to tell me where it’s made a difference.

There’s nothing there [in the interview] which is not common knowledge anyway.”

There is little doubt that Mr Budhrani’s support for the GSD was already widely known in Gibraltar.

At the time of his appointment as Speaker, for example, it was splashed across many a headline in the local media. But the fact that he has chosen to voice that support publicly has raised eyebrows locally.

And even though the Speaker’s affinity with the GSD was already common currency, Joe Bossano, leader of the opposition, conceded yesterday that he had learned something new about Mr Budhrani from the Panorama interview.

“He has said something I didn’t know,” Mr Bossano told the Chronicle.
“I didn’t know he was so damn enthusiastic.”


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