Thursday, June 16, 2005

Public Servants to have greater freedom of speech

Caruana “civic rights” drive • Restrictions will still apply

Gibraltar Government yesterday announced what it described as “a very substantial loosening of the restrictions” applying to the freedom of speech and action of civil servants.

There has long been a clamour from within the service to be able to write to the Gibraltar Chronicle Letters Page and Chief Minister Peter Caruana announced he would reform the rules over a year ago after an impassioned letter from Conchita Triay following a Chronicle editorial.

In a statement yesterday Chief Minister Peter Caruana said this relaxation of rules would enable a large number of public servants to comment without permission in relation to issues that do not relate to the area in which they work.

The existing restrictions will still apply to 42 senior grades in the administration who are included in the ‘Politically Restricted Group’, to an unspecified number of senior officer grades, all police grades, plus all other administrative and executive posts/grades of equal or higher ranking, not in the list.

The restriction on public servants to comment on what is defined as “public and political controversy,” will be lifted in respect of places outside Gibraltar.

Exceptions relating to “sensitive areas” or considerations of “national security,” will still apply, while a ten year restriction on the disclosure of information for officers will remain in place.

A Convent Place spokesman said:

“The Government is substantially relaxing the rules governing the freedom of civil servants to comment publicly and take part in other activities.

Under amendments to General Orders published yesterday a much larger number of public servants will be able to exercise greater freedom to comment publicly on matters of public or private interest or concern.

In future there will be no requirement for public servants to seek prior permission to comment publicly or engage in other activities, except for those grades in the Politically Restricted Group (basically Senior Executive Officer and higher grades, and all police grades) or public servants closely engaged in working to, or assisting ministers or working in sensitive areas or having access to papers or information in the private offices of ministers or senior officials at work that is subject to considerations of national security.

Public Servants will, however, have to comply with certain principles, as follows: There must be no disclosure of classified, or in-confidence information, nor advice given to Ministers nor breach of the relations between civil servants and Ministers;
the comment or activity should not conflict with the interests of, or relate to the activity of, or bring into disrepute the good name of the department where the officer works or has worked in at any time during the preceding 10 years.

Furthermore the definition of ‘public and political controversy’ has been tightened so that it relates only to Gibraltar. Accordingly, public servants are now free to comment and undertake activities without restriction in relation to matters of public and political controversy that relate to places other than Gibraltar."

Commenting on this measure, a Government spokesman said:

“This represents a very significant relaxation of the rules and enables the vast majority of public servants to comment and participate publicly and without permission in relation to issues that do not relate to the area in which they work.

Obviously there are certain necessary exceptions. This very substantial loosening of the restrictions applying to freedom of speech and action by civil servants is part of the Government’s on-going programme to promote civic rights, and follows the establishment of the Public Services ombudsman, the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, and a statutory external independent complaints process for the Gibraltar Health Authority”.

The full list of ‘Politically Restricted Group’ individuals:

Accountant General; Additional Judge; Assistant Chief Secretary; Attorney General; Captain of the Port; Chief Executive; Chief Fire Officer; Chief Justice; Chief Officer (Prison); Chief Technical Officer; Chief Secretary; Clerk to the House of Assembly; Collector of Customs; Commissioner of Police; Crown Counsel; Deputy Accountant-General; Deputy Chief Executive; Deputy Chief Fire Officer; Deputy Commissioner of Police; Director of Education & Training; Director, Media and Communications; Director, Postal Services; Financial and Development Secretary; Head, Legislation Support Unit; Human Resources Manager; Law Draftsman; Maritime Administrator; Principal Auditor; Principal Education Psychologist; Principal Housing Officer; Principal Secretary; Registrar, Supreme Court; Senior Crown Counsel; Senior Education Adviser; Senior Executive Officer; Senior Executive Officer (Customs); Senior Executive Officer (Income Tax); Senior Law Draftsman; Senior Officer grades; Senior Personal Secretary; Senior Professional and Technology Officer; Stipendiary Magistrate; Superintendent, Prison; All Police grades.

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