Thursday, June 30, 2005

Protest not likely to stop privatisation - MoD Command Secretary

The British government had anticipated protests of the sort seen yesterday and is unlikely to change its mind on the privatisation of jobs at the Naval Base, a senior Ministry of Defence official said yesterday.

Phil Mallion, Command Secretary at Headquarters British Forces Gibraltar, told the Chronicle that public and political opposition had been factored into the equation before the decision to privatise jobs was taken in London.

His comments followed the mass demonstration yesterday morning and were the first public statement by the MoD on the privatisation since local trade unions filed a legal challenge on May 12 in a bid to stop the proposal.

“I don’t see the decision [to privatise jobs] being put on hold as a result of today’s activities or the legal hearing,” Mr Mallion said yesterday.

“This won’t have come as any surprise to the Secretary of State for Defence and senior civil servants in UK because logic tells us that in making a decision of this gravity, you’re going to get this sort of reaction from a population like the Gibraltar population.

You only have to look back at the sovereignty issue to see exactly the same sort of thing, the groundswell of opinion. So it would have been anticipated.”

Mr Mallion told the Chronicle that MoD lawyers in Gibraltar and London would scrutinise this week’s legal judgement that allows the unions to proceed with their challenge in a Gibraltar court, adding that an appeal on the issue of jurisdiction had not been ruled out.

He said the MoD had taken note of the decision by the Chief Justice in the first stage of the legal claim by local trade unions, adding that it had served to bring clarity on some “cloudy” issues. The next step, he said, was for the ministry’s lawyers to examine the judge’s written judgement before deciding whether to appeal or not. That decision will be taken in London.

The MoD has 14 days from the ruling in which to ask the court for permission to file that appeal.

Mr Mallion said that from the point of view of the privatisation, the important thing was to move on to the “substantive” issues, that is, the issues at the heart of the challenge.

"So far, the court case has focused on legal arguments about who can or cannot be sued, and whether or not the case can be heard in Gibraltar. Where it’s heard, from an ISP [privatisation] perspective, is not the most critical thing. The most critical thing is ‘have the MoD done wrong in acting in the way they have?’

We haven’t heard that argument yet and our legal advisors remain confident that when that argument is heard, we’re confident of success.”

As for the process of finding a contractor to take over the jobs at Naval Base, the MoD is currently drawing up a document – known as a ‘statement of requirement’ - setting out in detail what it actually wants from the privatisation. This will be sent out in due course to contractors selected from a list of those that have already submitted expressions of interest.

Mr Mallion said that the process had been slowed down, though not stopped altogether, in order to accommodate the legal hearing. “Whilst we’ve yet to re-set the timetable because of this slowing down, the process carries on,” he said.

He also reiterated the MoD’s willingness to talk to the unions on issues relating to the impact of the privatisation decision, such as pensions and early exit packages.
“We’d welcome the opportunity to sit down and discuss them,” he said. “But the decision remains unchanged.”

Related Links:

30 June 2005 - >MOD workers say ‘NO’ to base contractorisation

29 June 2005 - Reform Party congratulates demo organisers and participants

29 June 2005 - Chief Justice gives Union go ahead to challenge cuts

28 June 2005 - GTC urges mass turn out at MoD demo

28 June 2005 - Government Regrets Teachers' Union Dismay

21 June 2005 - Unions and MoD clash in court

12 May 2005 Unions escalate MoD dispute

19 April 2005 Unions declare a united front on MoD Contractorisation

12 April 2005 MPs urge Hoon to halt ‘Done Deal’

Gibraltar News Online Contractorisation Poll

MOD workers say ‘NO’ to base contractorisation

• Governor sympathetic to our cause, says Montiel

Gibraltar’s trade unions yesterday vowed to fight MoD contractorisation till the end and warned the British Government to take heed of their message.

TGWU Branch Officer Charles Sisarello delivered a stark warning to London. “If they want a military base in Gibraltar they must pay for it under existing conditions,” he declared.

Approximately 3,000 to 4,000 protestors assembled at Casemates Square at 10am to express their rejection of MoD plans to privatise services at the naval base.

Addressing the crowd TGWU District Officer Luis Montiel recalled the “joint sovereignty deal” and said that “time and time again,” UK Ministers take decisions from above and then present Gibraltar with “a fait accompli.” “We must not allow the MoD to undermine our living standards and hard won rights,” he exclaimed.

In a combative speech that was highly critical of the Ministry of Defence, Mr Montiel declared that for every 100 direct jobs that are lost in the MoD there will be a knock-on effect on the rest of the economy that will result in the loss of a further 20 jobs.

Mr Montiel said direct pensionable jobs constituted the main contribution by the naval base, and reminded those present that parity derives from MoD pay structures.

“The MoD is a very important employer for Gibraltar because it provides 1,000 quality direct jobs and pensions.”

He said the local economy was not the same as the UK, arguing that as a frontier town contractorisation can result in the replacement of local workers by “frontier workers of many nationalities.”

Calling on the MoD to reconsider its position and “come to the negotiating table,” Mr Montiel also expressed gratitude for the support by the Chief Minister and the Leader of the Opposition and highlighted the need for popular unity.

The District Officer concluded his intervention chanting 1970’s slogans:

“el pueblo unido jamas sera vencido y hasta la victoria siempre.”

The protestors then made their way to The Convent to present a petition to the Governor reaffirming their opposition and calling on the MoD to halt the contractorisation process.

Caruana and Bossano express support

When the demonstrators reached The Convent, Chief Minister Peter Caruana came down from his office to address them.

Also referring to the failed joint sovereignty deal, Mr Caruana said Gibraltar responded when the collective dignity was challenged. He remarked that although the MoD was a welcome part of the community, they had to behave in a reciprocal manner and for Gibraltar to treat them with dignity “they have to treat us with dignity.”

The Chief Minister said it would be a grave mistake if the MoD did not accept reasonable, civilised discussion but warned that if “they chose confrontation, Gibraltar does not shy away from conflict when basic human rights are challenged.” He added that the Government stood squarely behind the trade union movement.

The Leader of the Opposition also expressed similar sentiments of support for the demonstrators, reaffirming the need to defend the rights of the working class.

A Union delegation held a brief meeting with Governor Sir Francis Richards after which Mr Montiel said that the Governor had expressed his sympathy for their cause.

In a statement later the Convent said that the Governor had received a Union delegation, led by Luis Montiel TGWU district officer.

“Mr Montiel explained the unions concerns and handed over a petition expressing opposition to the MoD proposals to enter negotiations to introduce an Integrated Service Provider.”

The Governor had said he was “aware of the unions views and the strength of feeling expressed in the petition and undertook to convey these to the Ministry of Defence in London”.

Earlier Branch Officer Charles Sisarello spoke against the dangers of “cheap labour and worsening conditions of employment.” Mr Sisarello criticised the MoD’s “unilateral decision” and lack of consultation. The Branch Officer said:

“We will not stand by and see hard won rights being eroded.

The MoD policy is a recipe for disaster which we will not tolerate.”

Attendance Figures

The bulk of the participants at the demonstration were the affected MoD workers and Gibraltar Government employees who had been given two hours off by management to take part.

Members from both sides of the House of Assembly supported the demonstration as did representatives of numerous local social organisations.

Mr Montiel said attendance figures were 4,000 at Casemates picking up to 6,000 outside The Convent. RG Police put the attendance at Casemates at between 3,500-4,000.

Reform Party Congratulates Organisers

The Reform Party yesterday congratulated both the organisers and participants of yesterday’s trade union anti-contractorisation demon-stration. A party spokesman said:

“We were delighted to be able to participate, banners flying, in such an important show of solidarity.

This is a clear case of demanding social fairness where it is being withheld and we will continue to offer our wholehearted support to the campaign.”


Related Links:

29 June 2005 - Reform Party congratulates demo organisers and participants

29 June 2005 - Chief Justice gives Union go ahead to challenge cuts

28 June 2005 - GTC urges mass turn out at MoD demo

28 June 2005 - Government Regrets Teachers' Union Dismay

21 June 2005 - Unions and MoD clash in court

12 May 2005 Unions escalate MoD dispute

19 April 2005 Unions declare a united front on MoD Contractorisation

12 April 2005 MPs urge Hoon to halt ‘Done Deal’

Gibraltar News Online Contractorisation Poll

New St Bernard’s is a testament to what Gibraltar has achieved socially and economically over the years

The new hospital has been re-dedicated to St Bernard’s Hospital. St Bernard is the patron Saint of Gibraltar.

Chief Minister Peter Caruana in his address at the official inauguration on Tuesday evening said that although there had been many suggestions to rename the new hospital the government had decided to keep the same name.

The inauguration was held in the gardens of the new St Bernard’s hospital at sunset where Health Minister Ernest Britto run through a list of thank-yous.

Guests included all those connected with the creation and workings of the new hospital – the staff, contractors, designers, suppliers etc. and all user groups, associations, and helpers, including the many tenants associations as a way of representing Gibraltar society in general.

Mr Britto also mentioned the doctors from the dialysis unit in La Linea announcing that the unit locally would be operational as from July.

He also confirmed that 100 parking spaces (on one floor) would be made available in the new residence Euro Plaza next to the hospital.

Chief Minister Peter Caruana stated the hospital which represented a huge investment for a community of almost any size, and that just 30,000 people had been able to finance this magnificent facility for themselves, was a testament to what Gibraltar had achieved socially and economically over the years.

“There must be few communities of just 30,000 people anywhere on the planet that enjoy a medical facility of this sort,” he stressed.

The old St Bernard’s, he said, had served the community very well over many years but that the community had grown out of it in its need for social care, and the staff had grown out of it in terms of their ability to work, expand comfortably and deliver health services and care, in a dedicated way to their patients and their own professional commitment.

Mr Caruana emphasised:

“This investment is not just for the patients of this community, it is also for the staff, that they should have a proper, dignified, modern, well-resourced, spacious place of work, in which they can deliver, expand and develop the service, in a way that I know that they do.

The move into this facility will trigger the crossing of a huge threshold in the quality of healthcare that this community will benefit from.”


He acknowledged the work of the Medical Review team and paid tribute to the new senior management team, and old senior management team led by Joe Catania and Ernest Lima.

The new hospital was blessed by the Bishop of Gibraltar Charles Caruana in the presence of the Iman. Bishop Caruana wrote a special ecumenical prayer for the occasion.

David McCutcheon, Chief Executive of the Gibraltar Health Authority, then declared:

“Well we are now officially opened. It is wonderful but the really hard work is still ahead of us.

We have just completed our first quarter of our new year and we are doing really quite well and we are very proud.

We are very much on the way to building the leadership capacity which the hospital needs.

We are proud of this facility and especially proud of our staff.

It is now up to management to give you the people of Gibraltar the health services you need and desire. This team that is around here today is very much up to that task.”

Gold ship recovery still stalled

Work on the wreck of HMS Sussex, the English treasure ship believed to be lying on the seabed close to Gibraltar, remains stalled.

Odyssey Marine Exploration, the US salvage company behind the project, is still locked in talks with Spanish authorities, even though technically Madrid has no say in the matter because the ship belongs to the UK and is outside Spain’s territorial waters.

Earlier this year, newspapers in Spain and the UK had reported that the Guardia Civil had sent patrol boats to stop Odyssey’s ship, the RV Odyssey Explorer from carrying out work on the site, though the authorities subsequently denied all the reports.

The American company is keen to stay on Madrid’s good books, not least because it has its eye on a number of potentially lucrative shipwrecks in international waters around the world that are, in legal terms, owned by Spain.

Yesterday, the company said talks with Spain, the UK, the US and the Junta de Andalucia, both on HMS Sussex and on “cultural interests and underwater archaeology in the region”, were ongoing.

“The discussions with the Spanish authorities have been very cordial and helpful in settling some issues that had resulted from erroneous media reports,” said Greg Stemm, co-founder of Odyssey.

“After the talks, I’m confident that all issues relating to our upcoming work in the Western Mediterranean will be dealt with in a timely fashion.”

In the meantime, the company is pressing on with alternatives under its Atlas programme, with 127 out of 275 “targets” already surveyed.

Related Links:

21 April 2005 - HMS Sussex Treasure Hunt suspended

16 March 2005 - Ship set for Sussex Treasure hunt

Abridged version of the Sussex Project Plan.

Albert Garcia joins Bland LTD board

Former General Manager Operations, Albert Garcia has joined the Board of Bland Ltd and has been promoted to Commercial Director.

James Gaggero chairman of Bland Ltd said he was “pleased to be able to cement the relationship that has been built up over 11 challenging years with Albert, during which Albert has proved he is an energetic leader with sound commercial acumen.”

Mr Garcia has been responsible for managing Blands’ diverse portfolio of business operations, which range from retail and business travel, motor transport, Avis rent a car, UPS document logistics and the American Express Travel representation. He has orchestrated an increase in market share in the coach park inbound tourism business in a declining market, whilst maintaining customer service levels that have been recognised by Thomson Holidays who awarded Blands Motor Transport Unit their highest and coveted Gold Award for Excellence.

Mr Garcia has also been responsible for a dramatic increase in sales and profitability of Blands’ UPS document delivery business, which has also resulted in an award from UPS for the fastest growing UPS franchise relative to the other 107 countries in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Blands’ retail travel shops have also been restructured resulting in a 30% increase in sales and better retail travel, cruise and business travel products being made available to the Gibraltar client base.

Albert Garcia said he was “delighted to have the opportunity to lead an outstanding team of professionals committed to delivering the highest standard of customer services to our clients.”

Gibraltar at Cayman offshore convention

Representatives from the Offshore Group of Banking Supervisors (OGBS) including Gibraltar representatives will convene in the Cayman Islands for its 25th annual meeting from today.

The group will be discussing issues related to international cooperation, compliance with international standards embracing financial regulation and the combating of global financial crime. International organisations covering banking, securities regulation, global finance and combating money laundering and terrorist financing will also be in attendance.

Monster Squid identified

Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society’s (GONHS) marine section has tentatively identified the curious animal that was found by Kenneth Bagu and Victor Chipol on the seabed off the South Mole last week, based on the photograph in the Chronicle. (Not provided online)


Similar to the one in Gibraltar, this Cephalopod was washed ashore on Plum Island, Massachusetts USA, in 1980
The animal is a cephalopod; a squid of the family Histioteuthidae. This family can be identified by the presence of large photophores on the head, hood and legs, as could be seen in the photograph. Another interesting characteristic is that the left eye is considerably larger than the right.

There are six species of this family recorded for the Iberian Peninsula, of which Histioteuthis bonnellii (Férussac, 1835) best fits the proportions and characteristics seen in the photograph.

An inspection of the remains of the animal would have definitively confirmed its identity, and we presume that the The Gibraltar Museum will have kept the remains of this rare animal in alcohol for display, even though some of the tentacle fingers and soft parts that have been eaten by scavengers.

An oceanic species of temperate waters where it is found at depths between 500m and 1500 metres. In the Iberian Peninsula they have been caught with relative frequency off the Catalan coast with one male measuring 1290mm in length, the largest captured so far.

Many species of cephalopods have only been discovered for the first time in the stomach contents of Sperm Whales, Tunny and Swordfish, and their accidental discovery close inshore, like this one, is a mystery.

The recent invasion of jellyfish around our shores is an indication of undersea currents bringing marine life from far and deep close at hand.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Chief Justice gives Union go ahead to challenge cuts

Dominique Searle reports

Call for all to support today’s demo • UK Secretary of State to be sued in Gibraltar court

Ahead of the mass demonstration called for 10 am this morning from Casemates, TGWU and Prospect were yesterday celebrating a first victory in the bid to stall MoD plans to privatise jobs.

Chief Justice Derek Schofield made a ruling that allows the unions to move ahead with their case to push the MoD into proper consultation before proceeding further. The unions were also awarded costs.

The defendant for the case will be the UK Secretary of State for Defence, not MoD as such, and the hearing is set to go ahead at the Supreme Court in September.

A beaming Luis Montiel, TGWU district officer, expressed delight at having “won the round” in pursing union rights. “Despite the colonial obstacles justice will be heard. The MoD cannot run away from their responsibilities,” he said backed by the GTC chief Edwin Reyes and by Prospect/GGCA secretary Michael Tampin who urged the MoD to use this opportunity to, rather than fight in court, meet the unions for talks and consultation and halt the privatisation process. He expressed satisfaction with the way the union lawyers had performed.

That message was reinforced by Dai Hudd, Prospect’s assistant General Secretary in UK who said the decision, that had “looked at the arguments” as well as the question of who the defendant should be, gives MoD time to reflect and to enter a process which could produce a solution which is “good for Gibraltar, good for the MoD and good for the union members.”

Later the union lawyers highlighted that the decision is of fundamental constitutional importance for Gibraltar since it now means that United Kingdom Government departments can no longer operate in Gibraltar as if immune from claims for breaches of statutory duty or in negligence.

The Court has also decided that Gibraltar claimants do not have to bring claims against United Kingdom Government departments before the UK courts, with all the costs and hassle that implies. Instead, they may do so in Gibraltar.

In his ruling the judge also made clear that the Attorney General for Gibraltar is the law officer of the Government of Gibraltar. He is not the correct defendant for any matter in which the Crown in right of the Government of the United Kingdom, or an emanation of it, is the defendant.

The ruling also accepted that the unions have substantive claims under constitutional law. The Supreme Court of Gibraltar has jurisdiction to hear the constitutional claims against the Secretary of State for Defence, pursuant to the Gibraltar Constitution.

Mr Justice Schofield decided that although a claim under the Employment Ordinance for breach of the duty to inform and consult could have been brought by the unions before the Industrial Tribunal in Gibraltar, this does not oust the Supreme Court’s general jurisdiction to hear the claim. He agreed the arguments should not be spread between different hearings.

Legal team leaders are James Levy QC and Lewis Baglietto for TGWU, Keith Azopardi for Prospect, and Peter Isola Sr with Christian Rocca for the MOD side.

Union urges Private Sector Attendance

TGWU has called on its members in the private sector to support this morning’s demonstration by MOD workers against contractorisation at the naval base.

Workers have been asked to assemble at Casemates at 10am and then to march down toward The Convent to hand in a petition to the Governor.

Gibraltar Government recently took the step of announcing its employees can attend the demonstration.

Meanwhile Gibraltar Taxi Association has declared its full support to the Gibraltar Trades Council backed demonstration in support of MOD workers later today. The main GTA office will be closed during the demonstration although minimum services will be maintained.

The Opposition also called for massive support for the demonstration “The Unions can count on us for any action designed to stop contractarisation. We will be there at the demonstration with the Unions and we call on all of Gibraltar and all GSLP/Liberal party members to come out in support,” said the Opposition Leader.

Related Links:

Gibraltar News Online Contractorisation Poll

28 June 2005 - GTC urges mass turn out at MoD demo

28 June 2005 - Government Regrets Teachers' Union Dismay

21 June 2005 - Unions and MoD clash in court

26 May 2005 MoD Contractorisation hearing set for June

12 May 2005 Unions escalate MoD dispute

19 April 2005 Unions declare a united front on MoD Contractorisation

15 April 2005 No progress in Union-MoD Contractorisation talks

12 April 2005 MPs urge Hoon to halt ‘Done Deal’

05 April 2005 MoD rejects Union lawsuit threat

Caruana sets out to demolish ‘cathedral of untruths’

House of Assembly Budget 2005

Chief Minister Peter Caruana, yesterday launched a blistering attack on Opposition criticism of his administration and the way it spends public funds.

In a scathing speech that lasted just over four hours, he adopted a prosecutorial style and moved to systematically dissect and rebut a litany of arguments and claims that had been levelled against the Government by GSLP/Liberal members during their budget interventions.

He summed up the Opposition’s arguments as a “contrived and orchestrated” attempt to undermine anything the government did or said, one that lacked alternative vision and positive ideas.

Mr Caruana dipped frequently into a well-prepared compendium of adjectives and metaphors to put into words the scorn he clearly felt for the GSLP/Liberal contributions to this year’s budget debate. They were, the Chief Minister said, “some of the poorest opposition contributions that I have ever had to hear in this house.” He called them “a diatribe of the absurd”, a “cathedral of denigration” and a “cathedral of political untruths”, among other turns of phrase. He also referred to the opposition’s “Mickey Mouse economics”, its “twisted analysis” and its attempts to “airbrush” its own history.

In a wide-ranging and in-depth speech, Mr Caruana repeatedly accused the Opposition of choosing its facts selectively and of misquoting, misrepresenting and distorting the words of government ministers for its own political ends.

He pounced on opposition claims that both he and his administration lacked credibility, that key areas such as health were in disarray, that public finances were in poor shape and that the GSD (Gibraltar Social Democrats) had achieved nothing in its time in government.

“People know that they criticise everything that the government has done,” Mr Caruana said at one point. “Gibraltar is changing in front of the electorate’s eyes, it is becoming almost unrecognisable, and the honourable members are still saying that the Government hasn’t done anything.”

“The gap is not between what the Government says and reality,” he told the House of Assembly several times through his speech. “The gap is between reality and what they [the members of the Opposition] say.”

Raw Nerve

Mr Caruana devoted about half of his speech yesterday to addressing a long list of claims and accusations made by opposition member Fabian Picardo during his speech to the house last week.

Mr Picardo had accused the Chief Minister of systematic dishonesty and clearly touched a raw nerve when he told the house that Mr Caruana “would be facing prosecution for perjury” if he were speaking in a court instead of parliament.
A furious Mr Caruana reminded the house that a person could only be convicted of perjury if he knowingly told a lie in order to mislead the court. As such, he interpreted Mr Picardo’s words as an accusation that he had intentionally lied to the House of Assembly.

The Chief Minister then picked through Mr Picardo’s speech point by point in an effort to prove it was the Opposition member who was more likely to face charges of perjury if the house were a court of law.

Mr Caruana presented numerous examples. Mr Picardo, for example, had apparently questioned the Chief Minister’s statement that the Government was still paying taxpayers’ for the “rush jobs” of the past, including “the fiasco” of Harbour Views. “Well it is true!” thundered Mr Caruana by way of response. “We have so far…paid out of tax payers’ money – we had to fund it and recover it later - £28.4 million for the repairs of Harbour Views,” he said, before quickly adding that £24.4 million had eventually been recovered from the contractor. “It is ongoing because it still has not finished.” “We are still having to make a start on repairs to the podium which is going to cost that taxpayer £2 million. So by the time we finish with the podium, which is the last element of the Harbour Views fiasco, it will have cost the tax payer £6 million more than it was eventually able to recover.”

He also referred to Mr Picardo using the housing scheme on the North Mole as an example of how the government did not act on its political commitments. Even though Mr Caruana had promised the start of construction by February this year, Mr Picardo had said that as of June, “nothing had happened” on the North Mole. “Except that the honourable member’s statement is not true,” Mr Caruana told the house yesterday.

“It is not true to say that nothing has happened, or has he not been to the site? It is true that the buildings have not started to go up vertically, but it is not true that nothing has happened since February. He must have been there, he must have seen the site being taken possession of, he must have seen the site being cleared, he must have seen bore hole trials being done on the foundations, he must have seen a degree of preparatory work being done.”

The construction process, Mr Caruana said, involved much more than simply laying bricks one on top of another in a row. “If he had said that progress of construction was not as quick as was envisaged, that might be true,” he said.

“But if he chooses to say that nothing has happened, I regret to tell him that that is factually not true.”

The Chief Minister, however, conceded that negotiations with the contractor had broken down and that the government was now “talking to another one.”

Taxing Matters

In his opening budget speech last Thursday, Mr Caruana had told the house that the GSD administration had reduced taxes on individuals by 40%.

Mr Picardo had told the house that this was “just a diversion” and that taxes had not been cut, presenting this as further evidence that Mr Caruana was not to be believed.

Yesterday, the Chief Minister insisted that since 1996, the year the GSD came into power, taxes had been cut by “more than 40%”.

He detailed a long list of new tax allowances that had been introduced since then, pointed to taxes that had been abolished in that time and highlighted the changes to the taxation bands that his government had introduced. “The overall effect of the new allowances, the remodelling of the thresholds, the abolition of taxes compared to the practices that went on before, is that people have had their tax bills reduced by more than 40% compared to what would have been the case had we not taken any of these steps,” Mr Caruana said. He said the opposition’s definition of tax cuts was based on the “absurd” premise that a person whose salary had increased since 1996 and who was paying more tax now than nine years ago, had therefore not benefited from a 40% tax cut. “That is not what is meant by tax cuts,” Mr Caruana said. “What is meant by tax cuts is that, but for the tax cutting, they would be paying even more tax than after the tax cutting.”

The Chief Minister’s explanation on taxes drew chuckles from the opposition bench, and a swift rebuke from Mr Caruana himself. “I very much doubt if the people of Gibraltar listening to this debate think that it’s funny,” he said.

“They think it’s funny because they are irresponsible, because they do not care about the truth and because they do not care about what they say about other people.

And they will be caught out by the electorate. Between now and the next election, they will succeed in persuading the electorate that they should be overlooked a fourth time in a row.”


Failed Chief Minister?

The response to Mr Picardo’s speech went on for over two hours and covered a lot more ground before Mr Caruana reached a crescendo of contempt for the GSLP/Liberal member. Of all the criticism that had been levelled against him by the opposition, Mr Caruana would only recognise – as he had already done last week – a “policy failure” on the issue of affordable housing.

Mr Picardo had called Mr Caruana “a failed Chief Minister caught out” and had urged him to pack his bags. But there was an awkward fact for the opposition underlying all of Mr Caruana’s speech, one that the GSLP/Liberals could not ignore and one that the Chief Minister, in closing his address, made sure to highlight.

“This failed Chief Minister is the first Chief Minister that has taken his party to three electoral victories in a row, each of them with more than 50% of the electoral vote and each of them with his eight candidates occupying the first eight slots on the ballot paper. It has never been done by anybody before, except this failed Chief Minister.

A failed Chief Minister is an ex one like the one that he [Mr Picardo] has sitting next to him – the honourable Leader of the Opposition [Joe Bossano] – who managed, defying almost the laws of statistical gravity, to lose a 73% electoral inheritance from his first term in four years.

A failed Chief Minister is one who loses three lections on the trot and promptly announces that he plans to stay for another 12 years.”

He advised Mr Picardo to pay more attention to “this failed Chief Minister”, referring to himself, and “less to the failures of his revered leader”.

Defending GSD Spending

Earlier in his speech, Mr Caruana had presented a robust defence of his government’s spending policies in a somewhat complex rebuttal of points raised by Joe Bossano, the GSLP/Liberal leader.
He said that falling government budget surpluses were in line with his administration’s policy of investment, expanding and improving public expenditure, and reducing personal taxation.

Except for one financial year where the government had “overshot” the balance, “what we have delivered is exactly what we said we would deliver…almost with uncanny financial precision.”

And he said that the government had dramatically opened up public accounts to scrutiny by the House of Assembly. Mr Caruana said the GSD had “reconstructed public finances to remove the secrecy to which he [Mr Bossano] had systematically subjected them” and that “he now has the gall to accuse us of misleading this house when we put information in front of it which he took pride in depriving this house of.”

Health Matters

Mari Montegriffo, opposition member responsible for health, was not in the chamber when Mr Caruana began his response to her address of last Monday, though she came in shortly after he started (only to pop out, then back in, then back out, then back in…).

Mr Caruana had himself not been present to hear her deliver Monday’s speech live, though he confessed to having listened to it avidly on the radio in his office. He said he did not “have the stamina” to go through Ms Montegriffo’s speech point-by-point – her address was almost as long as his own yesterday - but spent quite some time on it in any case.

He slammed the way that Ms Montegriffo focused on isolated incidents – “a mishmash, a hotchpotch” - to try to create a negative picture of the Gibraltar Health Authority as a whole, without accepting that many positive changes had also been achieved.

Perhaps his fiercest criticism was reserved for what he saw as the GSLP/Liberal’s tendency to blame Government ministers personally for those incidents, without offering any sort of positive ideas beyond that.

It was evidence, he said, of a “pathological inability” to withhold criticism.
According to the Opposition, “everything the government does is wrong,” he said.

He attacked Ms Montegriffo’s claim that the new hospital had brought “no benefits at all” and said that the public no longer believed her statements.

“It’s not a credible, sincere, believable political discourse, and yet that is what she tries to get the people of Gibraltar to swallow year after year,” Mr Caruana said.

And the Rest…

The Chief Minister’s reaction to the remaining opposition budget speeches largely echoed a similar sentiment.

He reiterated, for example, the acknowledgement that the government had reacted slowly to the need for affordable housing and that this was, in effect, a “policy failure.” But he also said that it was better than the opposition’s own record in this context, particularly in rental homes.

And after outlining the government’s other housing-related work, including its programme to refurbishment existing estates, he added: “It is important to bear in mind that performance in housing has dimensions wider than just houses for purchase and houses for rent.”

On education, he rubbished, once again, opposition arguments and highlighted “a huge increase” in spending within this area.

On tourism, he explained that that drop in coach visitors to Gibraltar had come against a similar parallel slump in Spain, and not a boom as the opposition had claimed.

“If tourists come to Gibraltar it’s not to the government’s credit, but if they don’t, it’s the government’s fault,” he said as he summed up his view of the opposition’s policy in this context.

Related Articles:

Full text of Budget Speech by the Chief Minister The Hon Peter Caruana QC to the House of Assembly on 23rd June 2005

Full text of Budget Speech response by Joe Bossano GSLP / Liberal Alliance Opposition Leader to the House of Assembly on 23rd June 2005

27 June 2005 - Mixed reaction to Budget measures

24 June 2005 - Budget “another wasted opportunity” says Reform Party

Government will deliver Health Service Gibraltar deserves

Government remains committed to seeing through a complete overhaul of Gibraltar’s Health Services and, with the New Hospital now commissioned, part of that project has been achieved.

That was the message from Ernest Britto, Health Minister, in his Budget speech. He told the House that that much progress has been made.

Mr Britto spoke fully sensitive to the fact that theGSLP/Liberals Opposition has targeted health and housing at the frontline of their political strategy. But the minister declared that the Government had recently passed three major milestones:

- The introduction of new expertise and the restructure of the Senior Management Executive Team.

- The start of the implementation of the measures of improvement arising from the work of the Healthcare Development Review, and

- The once in a lifetime opening of a new hospital.

Mr Britto said that the new Chief Executive for GHA (Gibraltar Health Authority) Dr David McCutcheon, formerly the Assistant Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care in Toronto, Canada, is now firmly in the driving seat with a team including experts brought over and the local GHA team.

The New Hopsital

Commenting on the success of the complicated transfer from the old St Bernard’s, Mr Britto said that it was now “an indisputable fact that Gibraltar can now boast of an excellent secondary care facility, within an environment, which is welcoming for the user, spacious and well equipped for the benefit of patients and staff.”

He highlighted the “Front of House Staff” at the reception which uses volunteers from Community Care helping hospital visitors, providing assistance to patients and befriending patients with no visitors as well as comforting and helping families when extra hands are required.

Substantial increase in the amount of space allocated to the new hospital and the complexity of its new systems has required an increase in staffing levels of domestics, clinical, administrative and ancillary staff means that over 80 additional staff are employed.

Cleaning

Arrangements are in hand for the GHA to participate in a collaborative study with a London Teaching Hospital on standards and methods used for cleaning. Patients, visitors and staff will be consulted in a cleaning satisfaction survey that we intend to introduce in due course.

Renal Dialysis

The new renal dialysis unit is now close to completion and is expected to be fully operational this summer, said Mr Britto who said that the Authority has entered into a contractual arrangement with the Directors of the same unit that are contracted to run the services in La Linea.

The scope of radiology services has increased significantly, new CT scanner and mammography equipment and when a third full time radiologist arrives this will be operating.

“The new hospital has been a tremendous and unqualified success,” Mr Britto declared adding that the vast majority of Gibraltarians and other local residents have recognised this by their unstinting praise and favourable comments.

Politics

“It is only a very small minority, made up by those who have political or other ulterior motives, who have insisted with petty minded or malicious criticisms.

The opening of a new hospital is a major undertaking and it is the experience of those who have done so in other parts of the world that there are always teething troubles and new challenges which emerge as all concerned, including Management Staff and patients, adapt to the new working environment and conditions. These periods of adjustment are usually at least six months in duration,” he said.

No Private Practice

Mr Britto invited any person to report to him incidents of private practice carried out on the hospital premises or in contracted hours. “Action will be taken,” he said adding that the abolition of private practice within GHA premises has been carried out successfully and “with the co-operation of those concerned”. “There has been a historical link between private practice and waiting lists and this Government is committed to ensuring that patients do not need to seek private care to ensure rapid treatment of their medical condition,” he said.

Mr Britto also stressed the importance attached to the new statue backed complaints procedure now under Complaints Co-ordinator Marisa Desoiza and that also includes possible reference to the Ombudsman.

Government has made provision within the new hospital to ensure that facilities exist to cater for the reduction in waiting lists, Mr Britto said pointing to staff increases and a strategy of scheduling admission and discharge processes in combination with effective bed management.

Primary Care

Changes within Primary Care include the review of all aspects of GP working arrangements and practices.

In the next few weeks a revised Healthcare entitlement card in the format of the familiar plastic credit cards will be gradually issued to replace the cardboard ones currently in use. It is to be issued in tandem with the E111 card devised by the European Commission.

Mr Britto also recognised that there remains more GHA to do to provide the quality and level of service that patients are entitled to and deserve. Something which is “easy to say but hard to do”. He made clear that this will need some time. He nonetheless pointed to recruitment of new specialists including a Gibraltarian paediatrician Dr Daniel Cassaglia.

Over the next year all the doctors in the GHA, the consultants, the general practitioners and the hospital-based doctors will all be on a continuing professional development path following a performance appraisal. “For the first time in the history of the GHA the Government will be assured that a system is in place to assess and manage the competence of its clinicians,” he said. This involves ensuring doctors and nurses are kept up to date with professional developments.

Mr Britto recognised complaints about access to primary care and increasing frustration because people sometimes cannot see the same doctor or go to the same team of doctors. This was becoming more difficult because of the large number of persons going to the Primary Care Centre only because they were seeking certificates of sickness or seeking repeat prescriptions, he said.

“We need to use our resources more wisely, provide better service to our patients and provide a better quality of working life for our staff,” he said, announcing that a new plan will be implemented over the next year.

Mental Health

Mr Britto also told the House that Government will honour its commitment to “review and modernise mental health legislation and facilities”.

The GHA also plans to carry out a public health needs assessment into childhood obesity, smoking rates and the burden of illness presented by chronic diseases and access rates to primary care.

Mr Britto told the House that the attitudes in the GHA are slowly but surely changing and that an effective and robust complaint’s process has commenced and the feedback is already having its effect. Management, he said, is focusing on improving performance in the key department areas of nursing, laboratory, health records, radiology, information systems, finance and human resource management.

“The Government’s overall aim is for the GHA to get you into hospital more quickly, treat you better and discharge you as planned,” said Mr Britto.

Laboratory

Laboratory management systems and procedures are being altered to create a standard comparable with all the major laboratories in the world, said Mr Britto.

He however admitted that the state of the health records has always left a lot to be desired. The functions of medical librarianship and that of appointment scheduling have now been separated and a file tracking system is currently being introduced, and health records access has already improved from 60% to 97% since the opening of the new hospital.

“The centralisation of all waiting lists, the introduction of appointment scheduling and a front of desk appointment system, together with the appointment of further Consultant Staff, will see marked improvements in the reduction of waiting times,” he said.

Meanwhile Mr Britto said that Government would like to make GHA fully autonomous, if separation from the civil service can be negotiated and agreement reached on terms acceptable to GHA staff and government. He claimed that this will help management and staff achieve best human resources practices in the principal areas of attendance improvement, discipline management, performance management and leadership development.

Europort Hospital a ‘huge error’ - Montegriffo

With ‘propaganda’ as her mantra and slogan and 114 pages of speech notes clutched in her hands, Mari Montegriffo, shadow health spokesman listened out Ernest Britto’s health contribution to the Budget with a smile of a shark about to have dinner.

Such was the anticipation of her annual diatribe that the Chief Minister was away from the House the entire Monday and much of the Government bench took extended tea breaks as she set out to argue that they had failed to live up to their promises.

Ms Montegriffo dubbed the new hospital a failure and said the health service is getting worse. “The Government has made a huge mistake in housing St Bernard’s in the Europort building,” she said.

Reminding Government that it is for them to defend their record, Ms Montegriffo referred to a report on nursing dating back to 1997 and said that Government had failed to publish and implement this and had cast it to the waste bin.

“What counts is what the people of Gibraltar think and I can assure him (the Chief Minister) that they don’t think that our health services have improved by 100%,” she said denying that the Opposition is out to discredit the Government. People had been waiting and the Government had been in power for nine years, she said.

Ms Montegriffo accused the Government of an amazing “spin and propaganda” operation dating back to 1996 in which promises “bombarded on the public” were repeated but did not materialise.

Despite Mr Britto’s arguments the evidence was that things are getting worse, she said. “Mr Britto has tried to paint a scenario which is unreal, a scenario which is alien to everyone except him.”

Keith Azopardi and Dr Bernard Linares as health ministers had made promises but had been unwilling to say what recommendations from their reviews they would implement.

“After all these years we ask the same question. Has the latest review produced and substantial improvements? All the evidence suggests it has not.”

People would not be fooled and the Government was going “a paso de tortuga” she said. The new hospital had simply added to the old problems, “the problems have simply migrated to Europort.”

In an unusual scene for the House, Ms Montegriffo produced photographs claiming a wall had collapsed when a patient sat on a seat (Mr Britto denied the wall had collapsed). She said that this was the result of converting offices instead of building a new hospital as the Opposition had said.

The Government had blamed the staff but this was the same staff that had been praised by a Sheffield report and who were there “in the good old days when the situation was like heaven compared to the hellish situation with the GSD (Gibraltar Social Democrats).”

She claimed staff are very upset with Government and are demoralised.

Ms Montegriffo warned that Government could face a worse reprimand at the next election than the last over what she said was more patients looking for private treatment just as more people were moving to Spain. More patients than ever were complaining to the Opposition even GSD voters, she said.

And she said Mr Britto had a “cheek” to make a song and dance about a second orthopaedic surgeon when the 2000 GSD manifesto had promised this and nothing materialised.

“All these wasted years have meant patients subjected to unnecessary suffering,” she said adding that the GSD manifesto were not worth the paper they are printed on.

Waiting lists, she said producing lists of times from answers to questions, had shot up since 1996. “How long will it take to be properly functioning?” Ms Montegriffo said the answer to waiting list reduction was obvious – either more theatres and staff or sponsor more patients abroad to bring down the lists.

The shadow health minister asked Government to say how much the review will cost and went on to say that the Opposition were against reviews and believed the job could be done locally. The Government itself was picking and choosing anyway, she added.

The new GHA Chief Executive was not spared. Ms Montegriffo pointed to his £2,000 a week salary and her internet search on articles relating to Dr David McCutcheon where politicians had taken him to task over spending.

“Let us see how successful Dr McCutcheon is going to be this time round in Gibraltar. We suspect that as soon as he set foot in Gibraltar his wings were clipped and by none other than the fourth minister for health, our political supreme, the honourable Chief Minister!”


The Government, she concluded “is not fit to govern.”

Tourism on the up, says Holliday

2004 was a good year for Gibraltar’s tourism, and the prognosis for 2005 is healthy, Joe Holliday, Trade and Tourism minister told the House.

The number of visitor arrivals by air last year was 157,000, an increase of 16.3% over the previous year, and more than double the 78,100 air arrivals of 1996 when the Government came into office. Arrivals by sea on cruise ships in 2004 showed an increase in the number of calls, from 167 in 2003 to 171 ships, but a much larger increase in the number of passengers. This increase was over 13%, and represented an additional 19,300 passengers.

Mr Holliday reported that the number of cruise ships calling at the port will continue to grow this year. The number of cruise calls expected in 2005 is over 180 with approximately 175,000 passengers plus crew.

Mr Holliday announced that the Medcruise General Assembly in May 2006 will be held in Gibraltar.

Spain

Visitor arrivals from Spain decreased by less than 2% in 2004 and Mr Holliday said this is mainly due to the fact that Spain enjoyed fewer visitor arrivals last year compared with the previous year.

He said that there will be investment in the Upper Rock and the new extra pound charge to visitors is being invested directly in this.

A considerable amount of investment went into phase 1 of a project that is designed to open up a section of World War II tunnels to visitors, and also the 18th century Middle Galleries.

Phase 2 of the project will complete the works that have been started, and will provide a link from the tunnels to Casemates Square, he said. As part of this project, a new public area will be recovered at the end of Road to the Lines and the people who live in this area and in Moorish Castle Estate will benefit from a pedestrian access from the Castle Batteries right down into Casemates Square.

There are also plans for the start of a project for Europa Point, but Government has rejected plans to develop further housing in the area, as the Government is committed to preserving Europa Point as a leisure area, with as much open space as possible, said Mr Holliday.

Hotels

Hotel occupancy, this continued to rise by 6% in 2004 to 126,400 room nights sold. On a growing number of occasions, there have been no hotel beds available in any hotel in Gibraltar and visitors had to be turned away. “The Government looks forward to new hotels coming on stream and will work towards this end. It is now obvious that Gibraltar needs more hotel beds,” he said.

Mr Holliday also announced that Government has taken the policy decision to decrease the tourism marketing budget to £750,000, but at the same time dedicate more financial resources on the improvement of the product, to include the Upper Rock and other areas.

“I now await Dr Garcia’s comments on this Government decision with interest. Acording to the Opposition, Government can never get it right. If Government decides that Gibraltar should have a stand at a particular trade fair, Government gets criticised by Dr Garcia for the decision…..there is too much expenditure, it involves too much travelling, there are too many parties etc. If Government decide to drop the Gibraltar stand at a particular trade fair, Government also gets criticised by Dr Garcia, for not doing enough,” said Mr Holliday.

“If the Opposition does have a tourism policy, something which I seriously doubt, I would welcome if Dr Garcia would spell this out, for the good of Gibraltar, if that is what he has at heart,” he said adding that “irrespective of all the destructive criticism, the Tourism industry in Gibraltar is doing well.”

Property

The former Buena Vista Barracks and the North Gorge was recently put out to tender for plans that include a significant number of affordable homes for Gibraltarians, said Mr Holliday.

Others include the ex-Junior Ranks site at Lathbury Barracks and the former distillery that was then used as a temporary MOT centre. There are residential and office projects proposed for these sites. At Lathbury Barracks a site has been allocated for the development of a private Care Residential Village for the elderly, which will be new facilities to be offered for the elderly in Gibraltar.

Other sites that the Government will consider for residential and commercial development, including car parking, this financial year include parts of the site of the old St Bernard’s Hospital and the adjacent former Police Barracks.

There are also plans for a multi-storey underground car park at Grand Parade, he said.

The Government has the opportunity to reshape significant parts of Gibraltar and this is planned to happen. The policy of the Government will continue to be to maximise the price that can be obtained from the sale of important former MOD properties, for the good of Gibraltar; to make available to Gibraltarian purchasers as many properties as possible; to encourage home ownership among Gibraltarians and assist first-time house buyers.

Reviewing ongoing projects as well Mr Holliday said that there will be spin-offs from all these developments, including new leisure and shopping outlets, car parks, a school, public parks in the city centre for the community to enjoy, new hotels and office accommodation. In addition, there is “the obvious multiplier effect of all this investment in the economy that will bring economic prosperity, including sustainable employment”

The works to develop further industrial units also continues. Phase 2 of the Lathbury Barracks Industrial Park development is currently in the planning stages and light industrial use is also intended for a reclamation that Government intends to carry out in the area of Western Beach, adjacent to the runway. Part of the area will serve as the base for a local company that exports motor vehicles. Other parts will be for other commercial uses. It is intended that the project will also include berthing facilities for the local community.

Mr Holliday said that during the course of this year, the draft Development Plan will be published and the public will be invited to comment on this important document.

Trade

Trade Licensing legislation is now drawing to a close he said adding that progress is also being made on reviewing the Bonded Stores regime.

“The objectives of these changes is to create a business environment to encourage further growth in trade. In addition the Government is working on new legislation disqualifying persons from being directors of companies in certain instances,” he said.

Commiunications

A new licence was granted to Broadband Gibraltar Limited earlier this year, which signifies an important investment in this field, said Mr Holliday. The company will commence operations shortly.

Insofar as the Royal Gibraltar Post Office is concerned Mr Holliday said he was satisfied that mail is being delivered promptly in Gibraltar, and that the public and in particular the business sector, is receiving the service that it requires and to which it is entitled.

In the financial year ended 31 March 2005, 3,850 out of a total of 4,004 walks were completed by postmen in accordance with the Next Day Service model. This represents 96% of the target figure for the year.

The Government is currently considering introducing post codes for Gibraltar, to facilitate mail handling and will also be examining options for insurance of postal packets and working with the Post Office to further develop e-commerce in Gibraltar, said Mr Holliday.

“Within a short time, e-Business House will be set up, which is a Government manifesto commitment, working from a single location, from which a number of operators will be able to fulfil export orders. A seminar to inform the private sector on the potential of this sector is being organised by Government, for the latter part of this year. I am sure this exercise will be of great benefit as an eye opener to local enterprise for possible expansion in this field,” he said.

Less Colonialism, less ‘double-speak’ says Garcia

The policy of the Opposition is that Gibraltar should be decolonised in accordance with the Constitutional Reform proposals submitted to London “that this House has signed up to and which provides a framework for decolonisation under what is generally known as the fourth option”.

That was the position stated by Dr Joseph Garcia in an apparent aside to his budget speech in which he urged urgency on this matter.

But it was to George Orwell the British writer who wrote and fought against dictatorships including Franco that Dr Garcia turned for his opening lines in a bid to equate the GSD (Gibraltar Social Democrats) Government with the oppressive characters and regimes described in ‘1984’.

“The official language of this country was Newspeak. In the words of a critic this meant that words were so abstracted from events and actions and they took on the exact opposite meaning. This was linked to the concept of “Doublethink” which was the power to hold two contradictory ideas simultaneously. “Doublethink”, to quote a critic, “makes people accept contradictions, and it makes them also believe that the (Government) is the only institution that distinguishes between right and wrong."

The budget put forward by the (Gibraltar) Government and reflected in the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure is nothing to write home about. It was while listening to what all the members of the Government have had to say on the Budget that these ideas of propaganda, of “Newspeak” and of “Doublethink” came to mind,” Dr Garcia told the House as he rather laboured the analogy.

“For the Chief Minister the health of the economy was not good, it was not even very good, it was “excellent”.

We heard repeated talk of records, of surpluses, of growth and of increased activity. This theme was repeated several times. Other Ministers continued with the “Newspeak”. The House heard phrases such as the “third strand of our investment strategy”. That new homes were being developed “gradually” and “prudently” in a way that would lead to the “construction of low cost homes that our community will be proud of,” he said concluding that “the gap between pronouncements and reality will only serve to fuel the perception that already exists in many quarters that this Government has run out of steam.”

Property

Dr Garcia accused the Government of having “shamelessly continued to place private profit over public needs with regard to development projects.” Planning permission has been granted for more and more development projects consisting of luxury apartments.”

Referring to the mid-town project he declared that “quite apart from the huge tower and the smaller tower. Quite apart from the space-age dome which will be placed on top of the historic King’s Bastion. Quite apart from the fact that the development is in the centre of town as opposed to on reclaimed land on the periphery. Quite apart from all this, it is clear from the answers given when questioned on this subject that the Government cannot guarantee that the deal that they have signed up to is the best possible deal for Gibraltar.” He reiterated the Opposition view that the land has been undersold.

On the development of Europa Point Dr Garcia said that the same promise had been made at the 2003 budget with no consequence.

Trade

The eliminating of unfair competition posed by cross-border traders and trade licensing reform were also issues which cropped up from year to year, he said. “The problem is that traders in Gibraltar have very high overheads and are subjected to considerable red tape which cross-frontier traders are not subjected to. The livelihood of local businessmen is being put in jeopardy by the inactivity of the Government on this front and its inability or unwillingness to tackle these issues,” he said.

And he went on to say that Government had talked about e-commerce and made announcements but nothing had come of this either. “It is completely absurd that in this day and age computer hacking in or from Gibraltar has not been expressly outlawed. In certain respects it is obvious that as far as e-commerce is concerned we have missed the boat.”

Eating!

“There are some things that the Government have proved to be incredibly good at. One of those things is eating. This is something popularly known as “comelonas”. And how they eat,” Dr Garcia said taking up one of his regular attacks. He said that over the years hundreds of thousands of pounds have been spent in entertaining Government Ministers and their guests at receptions held at lavish venues like the Savoy in London.

On marketing Dr Garcia said that in any value for money analysis it is relevant to establish how much money the Government has spent and to see how that compares with the return on the investment in terms of visitor numbers. Pointing to an average of £880,000 a year for marketing alone he said that visitor figures were already as high as 6.5 million in 1996 before this marketing had started. “The view of the Opposition is that the sums of money that have been spent are completely disproportionate to the results obtained. Indeed, before the GSD came into office proportionately better results were being obtained with considerably less money.”

Dr Garcia said that at a time when the Government continues to spend large sums of money in trade fairs and in marketing Gibraltar in Spain, Gibraltar received less visitors from Spain.

“This year Gibraltar’s participation at FITUR cost over £25,000. Seven persons made up the official Gibraltar delegation including the Minister. A dinner was hosted for 23 Spanish journalists at a cost of £1404.72,” he said.

Dr Garcia said it is a matter of concern to the Opposition that in the first quarter of this year there are already 239 coaches less than there were at the same time last year. “This continued drop comes at a time when Spain has received the highest number of tourists on record. The Government has done nothing to arrest this decline,” he said.

He also questioned the accuracy of figures produced on the expenditure by tourists in Gibraltar shown in the Tourism Expenditure Survey.

On cruise liner visits Dr Garcia gave the example of Malta where he said they had 72,332 cruise visitor arrivals in 1996, at a time when Gibraltar had 96,684. “In 2004 Malta received 389,361, while we received 160,646. They more than doubled Gibraltar’s total in terms of cruise passenger arrivals. Malta has grown by 438% in the period 1996-2004 while we have grown by 67% in the same timeframe. It is an undeniable fact that other cruise ports are doing much better than Gibraltar and it is our responsibility to voice our concerns in this House,” he said.

“The Opposition want more cruise ships and more cruise passengers to come to Gibraltar. We share the Government’s objective in that we too want Gibraltar to do well. Given that the Government has spent a total of seven million pounds on tourism marketing alone since 1997, it is our obligation to question why others should be performing better than we are.”

Dr Garcia also said it was “quite incredible” that despite the considerable amount of time and money that has gone into attracting new airlines, Gibraltar still has the same two namely British Airways and Monarch.

Traffic chaos “from bad to worse”, says Randall

• GSLP/Libs call for lowering of telephone charges

Opposition spokesman for Transport Lucio Randall has said the Gibraltar Government should do more to alleviate the traffic chaos on local roads and said this was going from “bad to worse.”

In his Budget Speech, Mr Randall noted how out of a budget of £500k for road maintenance and resurfacing only £309k was spent. He also reiterated his criticism that the buses of the Gibraltar Bus Company are too big and there is nothing that can be done about it “other than to live with another unwise decision by Government.”

“The fact that they are too big can be evidenced by the difficultly bus drivers have in negotiating certain parts of our highway,” said Mr Randall. He declared the size of the vehicles contributes to the “chaos on our roads,” but conceded that the service being provided now is better than before.

On the question of the construction of car parking spaces Mr Randall said government had failed to use the resources allocated in the budget in the past two years.

Meanwhile Mr Randall said they were opposed to “the excessive increases” in transport related fees introduced by the Government – the first in 20 years and repeated his party’s commitment to abolish road tax within its first term of office.

Mr Randall also reminded the House that the industrial dispute with the driver and vehicle examiners at the MOT licensing department has still not been resolved by Government since he raised the issue in the House in April 2004.

As regards telecommunications, Mr Randall said that for as long as Spain constrains Gibraltar’s telephone numbering plan and prevents its companies from entering into roaming agreements with local GSM operators, it would be, “to say the least, bizarre” to allow GSM services to be offered in Gibraltar from networks located and/or run from Spain.

Mr Randall called for a lowering of Gibtelecom charges to customers, and said there is plenty of scope for reduction given the company’s pre-tax profits. He encouraged Minister Fabian Vinet, as chairman, to use his influence with Verizon to ensure the company “reduces charges it levies at a much faster pace.” Failure to do so, he continued, could encourage more and more customers “to bypass the networks of the company to obtain services at a more favourable price.”

Mr Randall pointed to the use of bypass by customers, to avoid paying 20p per minute for a local telephone call from the fixed to the mobile network.

Government regrets Teacher’s Union statement

Gibraltar Government said it “deeply regrets and rejects” the statement by the Teachers’ Union that teachers are dismayed at not being given the same opportunity as other Civil Servants to attend today’s demonstration and that this undermines the professionalism of teachers.

It also expressed “surprise and disappointment” at the tone of NASUWT’s statement.

Minister for Education Dr Bernard Linares said:

“Government’s advice to teachers’ leaders has been that it would be prudent to refrain from sending all teachers to the demonstration given that this would necessarily require the schools to be closed down.

Similar advice had been offered by the Gibraltar Trades Council, TGWU and Prospect, as the Unions organising the demo believe the closure of schools would force many parents to stay away from the demonstration or having to make alternative arrangements at very short notice.

Head-teachers of Government Schools expressed concern that closure of schools on Wednesday would disrupt important end of term functions which cannot be rescheduled given the proximity of the end of the academic year.

The Government is rather surprised and disappointed at the tone of NASUWT’s statement given the rational and amicable discussion which had previously taken place. The exchange of views culminated with NASUWT agreeing with Government’s recommendation that it would be more beneficial to keep schools open.

What is more, there are many other public servants such as police officers, firemen, medical and nursing staff, utilities workers and many others who also forego their right to participate in order to keep important collective public services operational.”

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Britain's Attorney General set to resist Spain

Madrid continues with EU vote case • One million Commonwealth voters affected • Garcia voices GSLP/Liberal anger

A million Commonwealth citizens in Britain could be affected by Spain’s challenge to UK legislation that allows Gibraltar to vote in the European elections.

As reported in the Chronicle last month the issue is set down for hearing by the European Court of Justice, Luxembourg for July 5. But the Daily Telegraph, which also ran an editorial on Gibraltar, said yesterday that Lord Goldsmith QC, the Attorney General, will himself be defending the UK’s position.

The move highlights the significance Britain, which has just taken over the EU presidency, attaches to this issue.

The issue was also raised in the house of Assembly yesterday by Dr Joseph Garcia, the Opposition spokesman.

Electoral rights in elections to the European Parliament were extended to Gibraltar, when the United Kingdom adopted national legislation enabling the Gibraltar electorate to take part in these elections in May 2003, following the ‘Matthews v United Kingdom’ case.

Spain filed a complaint with the European Commission against the United Kingdom under Article 227 of the EC Treaty in July 2003.

According to Spain, the new UK legislation violates Articles 17, 19, 189 and 190 of the EC Treaty and Annex II to the 1976 Act.

In October 2003, the Commission invited the parties to find an amicable solution but nonetheless Spain brought an action against the United Kingdom before the European Court of Justice in March 2004.

Spain claims that the Court should:

— declare that, by enacting the 'European Parliament (Representation) Act 2003', the United Kingdom has failed to fulfil its obligations under the EC Treaty, as well as the 1976 Act concerning the Election of the representatives of the European Parliament by Direct Universal Suffrage.

— order the United Kingdom to pay the costs of these proceedings. Spain’s argument is that the European Parliament (Representation) Act 2003 recognises the right to vote in the elections to the European Parliament to persons who are not nationals of a Member State (i.e. the qualifying Common-wealth citizens residing in Gibraltar) and, therefore, says Spain, do not have the status of citizens of the Union.

In Spain’s view this is not acceptable and it asserts that there is a clear link between the citizenship of the Union and the right to vote and stand in European parliamentary elections.

It argues that the only persons who may exercise this right are the citizens of the Union and that granting the right to vote and stand in the elections to the European Parliament to persons who are not Union citizens implies a breach of the Union citizenship, as certain persons would enjoy the right to vote and stand for the European Parliament, but would not possess the other rights of Union citizenship.

In addition it argues that accepting Member States’ unilateral competence in conferring the right to vote and stand in European parliamentary elections would open the door to similar claims in other Member States.

Spain also objects to the fact that the UK legislation includes the territory of Gibraltar (not its electorate) in an existing electoral region in the United Kingdom.

Yesterday Dr Garcia said that the Opposition consider that the Spanish action is totally unacceptable. He noted that Commonwealth Citizens have been able to vote in European Parliamentary elections in the United Kingdom from the time that the first such elections took place in 1979.

"Indeed, they voted in 1989, 1994 and 1999. Before that Spain had joined Europe in 1986 and they raised no objection to the participation of Commonwealth Citizens in the three elections that took place immediately after they joined. It was only after the same United Kingdom franchise was extended to Gibraltar that Madrid became concerned,” he said.

Dr Garcia said that even though this action may have repercussions in the United Kingdom itself, “it is an action which is aimed at Gibraltar and which has come about as a result of the extension of the euro-franchise to Gibraltar”.

Dr Garcia said that the Opposition condemned the present Spanish Government for continuing with an action that had been commenced by their predecessors.

“It runs against the spirit of the European Union and the very basis of democracy itself. We trust that the whole House will share this sentiment and I am sure that we will, to use a well-worn phrase, monitor the situation closely.”

Daily Telegraph: ‘An unequal union’

This editorial was published in yesterday’s edition of the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

It is the Euro-fanatic’s constant lament. If only Britain had been in at the beginning, we are told, all would have been well. We would have had a chance to shape the EU’s institutions, instead of having them biased against us.

There is a ready enough way to test this assertion, and that is to ask the following question: which country has done better out of EU membership – Britain, which joined in 1973 or Spain, which joined in 1986? The answer, whether we look at agriculture, fisheries, representation in EU institutions or the budget, is clearly Spain.

Consider, as a textbook demonstration, the case of Gibraltar.

On paper, Britain held all the negotiating cards. Being an existing member state when Spain opened accession talks, we were able to insist that Madrid recognise Gibraltar’s status as EU territory.

In practice, however, Spain has done no such thing. Its periodic frontier closures and its ban on cruise boats that have docked at Gibraltar are in clear violation of the free movement clauses in the Treaty of Rome and the Single European Act.

Now, Madrid is challenging the right of Gibraltarians to vote in European elections. Brussels has taken no action against Spain for these breaches of EU rules. It has, however, vigorously enforced its jurisdiction on the Rock, not least in the fields of taxation and banking rules.

Gibraltar is thus expected to abide by the obligations of EU membership, but not to exercise the rights that go with it.

Our point is not that Madrid has no right to press its claim. Although we have long argued that there ought to be no change in Gibraltar’s status, we do not blame Spain for making its case – especially when successive British governments have seemed so keen to divest themselves of this embarrassingly patriotic speck of land.

Our complaint, rather, is against the EU’s lopsided approach to the issue. Other overseas territories – the Azores, French Outremer and, indeed, Spain’s own Moroccan enclaves – are treated as full EU members and have had European money lavished on them.

Gibraltarians, by contrast, get the costs without the benefits. Their touching loyalty to the British Crown, which New Labour finds awkward, is positively resented in Brussels. That is why they will always struggle to get a fair hearing.

Arab plates set off car bomb scare

Wrongly parked vehicle wrecked

Two Arab couples on a touristic visit to Gibraltar had their shopping plans cut short yesterday after they parked their car illegally in Bomb House Lane and set off a major security alert.

The Royal Air Force bomb disposal unit arrived at the scene and carried out four controlled explosions on the suspicious vehicle, which was parked in a pedestrian area between the Jewish school and the Line Wall synagogue.

The car, a gold coloured BMW with dual Arab and Moroccan licence plates, sustained significant damage as bomb disposal experts rendered it safe.

Police officers cordoned off roads around the area and midday traffic slowed to a crawl for about an hour and a half. But the incident turned out to be a false alarm, simply a case of a tourist picking a bad spot in which to park.

The two couples – three Syrian nationals and a Moroccan – had come to Gibraltar on a shopping spree.

The driver of the vehicle spoke briefly to reporters at the scene and expressed regret for having innocently generated so much alarm. Even though he will have to pay for repairs to the car himself – there is no chance of compensation from the authorities and his insurance is unlikely to cover it – he remained stoical, even managing an attempt at wry humour. “Now I understand why everybody has motorbikes,” he said.

Police officers took a sober view on the incident, hoping that it would serve as a cautionary lesson in what can happen when people ignore official signs. As one officer explained, the threat of terrorism is real and police have no alternative but to take these incidents very seriously.

Caruana’s credibility is “absolutely zero”, says Picardo

F Oliva reports

HoA Budget Session * Gibraltar vulnerable to osmosis, says Opposition

Opposition spokesman Fabian Picardo set out to destroy the Chief Minister's political credibility at the House of Assembly on Friday, and ended his bruising speech by urging him to resign from office.

After scrutinising “key commitments” made by Mr Caruana since 2001 to see if he could be taken in his word, came to the conclusion that if the Chief Minister were a witness of fact in court proceedings and not a politician in parliament, “he would be facing prosecution for perjury.”

Mr Picardo did not mince his words and in a forthright intervention chastised Mr Caruana for his repeated failure to provide low cost and rental housing, for referring to the millions of pounds in taxpayers money wasted in the Harbour Views repairs, when in fact the money came from a £24.5m court settlement with the Spanish builders, for failing to construct a youth leisure centre at King’s Bastion, and for the Theatre Royal affair which Mr Picardo said now lies “frozen in splendid Baghdad crater style.”

He also denied Mr Caruana’s assertion that he had reduced people’s taxes by 40%.
The GSLP/Liberals spokesman whose sharp parliamentary performances appear to have an unsettling effect on the Government benches, said the Chief Minister had been “caught out” on all the above, and stated that it would “not be prudent to regard him as an interlocutor of truth in any matter on which he addresses.”

And in a tongue-in-cheek reference to a habitual accusation levelled at him by Mr Caruana, Mr Picardo said that even “a barrack-room lawyer could persuade a jury to convict him [Mr Caruana].”

Deploying a systematic battery of arguments, Mr Picardo sought to portray Mr Caruana in a negative light, as a “helmsman with no route map for the future.” In Mr Picardo’s eyes, the Chief Minister was a man who does not tolerate dissent, who runs a centralised administration, and makes statements that are then seen to be unreliable or misleading, who has a seriously flawed economic vision, and antagonises others.

Housing and tax reform, he said, were two failures of a failed Chief Minister.
“It seems to me that the economic illiterate, the voodoo economist and the man who cannot be believed is the man who presently leads the GSD,” he continued.

Mr Picardo also reiterated his party’s commitment to the policy of self-sufficiency and political self-determination which went hand in hand.

He said the Chief Minister’s political legacy would be one of unfulfilled promises, of painting a picture of economic and physical development but then by his actions leaving the economy “bereft of real progress, people without affordable homes and Gibraltar vulnerable to osmosis.”

The GSLP/Liberal spokesman then juxtaposed the increase in water and electricity charges with the “lavish parties and the flash events in London and elsewhere,” criticising revenue raising measures that would hit the elderly and less well off, and for which the GSD (Gibraltar Social Democrats) Government had “not obtained a mandate” at the last election.

Mr Picardo referred to the Chief Minister’s inelegance and antagonistic attitude in the Gibraltar Government’s role as employer, giving the example of the recent industrial dispute at the City Fire Brigade. He said “a change of style would go a long way.”

He also said Mr Caruana may have “misled the House in his contradictory answers,” on the question of the Financial Services ombudsman.

The Opposition spokesman then highlighted the treatment meted out to those who dare criticise the government, “even to journalists, by the Chief Minister himself.”

Mr Picardo recalled an interview on GBC “that was widely criticised in town for the manner in which he dealt with Ms Clifton Psaila recently,” and where Mr Caruana “showed himself not to be a gentleman in his approach,” and had come out “at his worst” in front of the television screens.

Mr Picardo also said Mr Caruana was running a one-man, centralised control administration which moves slowly and inefficiently, because he was the only person that could take a decision.

He also mockingly referred to Mr Caruana as “President Caruana,” whose powers of decision included “the equivalent of the Royal Assent in the modern republic of Gibraltar.”

“Getting a decision from the GSD Government is now as difficult as connection to Gibtelecom’s broadband service. Very difficult indeed,” he exclaimed.

Legal Aid Over £1M

The Government estimate for legal aid has grown from £500,000 to £1m, as a direct charge on the consolidated fund. Last year the estimate was half a million pounds although actual expenditure was over £1m. Mr Picardo said this is an area where there is abuse and expenditure must be restrained.

Cammell Laird Controversy still rages

Mr Picardo questioned the commercial fairness of the Gibraltar Government footing the half million pound bill for the removal of Cammell Laird's “infamous” and environmentally toxic grit mountain.

He also asked whether the company should pay back the money it has received for this purpose, and whether other companies who cannot meet their commitments will also benefit from such financial assistance.

Theatre Royal Stand-up Comedy

The Theatre Royal has produced much banter in the House of Assembly in recent months. Fabian Picardo to laughter from his colleagues, said the Chief Minister could have done his comedy stand-up routine in the theatre and delivered his next speech if it had been ready.

New Sports Authority up and running, says Beltran

* Bayside multi-sports complex on verge of completion

Minister for Sport Clive Beltran has announced the successful completion of negotiations with the TGWU and other Unions to incorporate all sports facilities into the newly created Gibraltar Sports and Leisure Authority as from this year.

Meanwhile Mr Beltran announced that a new swimming pool for the elderly and disabled will be built within the GASA site by the end of the year. The pool will be shared with the swimming club over the winter months.

And he confirmed that a site for a new Duke of Edinburgh Award Centre to be constructed in the new Sports Complex at Bayside has been provided.

As regards the authority Mr Beltran said the majority of the Sports Department’s staff has agreed to transfer and the process to recruit new staff is near completion and this will “ensure a quality service for sport continuing into the future.”

Although the authority will have the power to raise income, Mr Beltran confirmed that the normal use of the sports facilities will remain free. The Minister said that “substantial funding” for sports facilities will be provided to resource the GSL Authority and to progress with the extension to sports facilities project at Bayside.

As regards this ambitious project, Mr Beltran said works on the new hockey pitch spectator stands and changing rooms are practically completed and a large amount of infrastructure works in preparation for the subsequent phases of the project have started.

The sports hall, hockey facilities as well as the new administration areas are practically completed and will become operational as soon as the necessary staff recruiting exercise is completed.

Sports facilities available for use will be greatly enhanced with the Bayside Sports Centre hockey facilities, the new sports hall and new squash court.

The newly resurfaced facilities at Westside will also improve the Community Use of Schools Scheme. It is programmed for more of the facilities within the new Bayside complex to come into operation during 2005/2006.

The tenders for the multi-use games area and the Watersport Centre building are in the process of being awarded and the next phase is expected to start before the end of 2005. Government will be providing £1,600,000 for this purpose.

The Authority will also receive a contribution of just over £1,000,000 to meet its expected running expenses.

Meanwhile Gibraltar sports will again participate this year in a number of official international competitions, including the 2005 Island Games in the Shetland Islands and the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne 2006. Government, will be providing £170,000 to enable local sportsmen to represent the Rock.

Queensway tennis Courts and the Stadium’s old sports hall will also be refurbished to the tune of £200,000. Work on the Kings Bastion Leisure Centre will also commence shortly.

Inces Hall Renovation

The Minister also informed the House of the renovation and enhancement works at the Ince’s Hall theatre and the old Key and Anchor premises. A new rehearsal room and workshop directly linked to the theatre’s backstage area has been constructed. Further works will start at Ince’s Hall this year. The theatre itself has had bookings for every week of the year with a wide variety of performances.

GBC Funding

Mr Beltran said that as in previous years the Government will continue to provide financial support to the Gibraltar Broadcasting Corporation. This year GBC will receive a total of £1,213,000 and a further £200,000 as part of the Improvement and Development Fund.