Wednesday, June 29, 2005

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.

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