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Opinion & Analysis

The fight for the heart and soul of Gibraltar

by Keith Azopdardi

There is a crisis of the truth.

The hallmark now of Mr Picardo’s Government is that truth, apparently, doesn’t matter or doesn’t matter as much as it should. When the Opposition raises issues we are met with a barrage of ducking and diving or smokescreens aimed at creating confusion. Additionally, if truth or any amount of small challenge on any issue is spoken the Government tries to summarily quash any dissent and replace it by half-truths or outright lies that it eventually hopes will become the truth. That is then compounded by the fact that the public interest, confidentiality, data protection or things being sub judice are rolled out as blankets of silence of convenience for a Government who then systematically abuses the concept when it doesn’t suit it. The truth is being buried and the people are the losers in terms of the quality of our governance. The examples are legion.

So we have a Government that insists that TNG Global were the “highest bidder” in the Bayside/St Anne’s expressions of interest process when quite simply it is obvious that they were not a bidder at all because the entity did not exist at the time. The entity came into existence a full three and a half years after the deadline closed. Instead of re-running the expressions of interest process they decided to give a straight direct land allocation to an entity ultimately controlled by those prepared to bail out the Government from its mistakes by a £3.7M “donation” from a sister entity.

We have a Government that dismisses GibElec’s confirmation that there have been 30 power cuts this year as “nonsense” preferring instead to bandy its own “statistic” of 7 power cuts this year as the truth in a desperate attempt to make the shambles of the electricity situation more credible.

We have a Chief Minister that only under focussed questions in Parliament was willing to say that he had asked the Commissioner of Police to retire for reasons yet unknown but that he has withheld in the “public interest.” What about the public interest of ensuring that there has been no interference with the operational functions of the Police and its senior officers or of ensuring that our constitutional institutions remain sacrosanct? We have a Chief Minister who then under pressure said in July 2020 that he would convene an independent inquiry within “weeks.” 15 months later there are, still, no signs of the inquiry and the Government now say they aren’t committed to a particular date for the inquiry at all. Is timing an issue for this inconvenient inquiry? Is there something to hide?

When the respected Action for Housing Group dare to question a particular housing allocation the Chief Minister launches into a personal attack on the unimpeachable Henry Pinna in the forlorn hope of silencing him as they have other people by personalising criticism. They tried in summer to do the same with the Community Care Action Group by making them the subject of a Parliamentary Motion in a disgraceful unprecedented abuse which led to the Opposition walking out. And why should a GibElec worker be suspended for expressing a view contrary to the Chief Minister on social media? Is there true freedom of expression or are we back to a pervasive culture of fear of speaking out? Where does it end if it starts here?

The fact is that ordinary citizens are not equals in a contest with a Government willing to throw all resources at you. The irony is that it is the people’s money they are using to silence its own citizens. And it is in your name that they govern. So the question for everyone is whether this is the way that we want Gibraltar run and our money spent?

The GHA’s former Head of Clinical Governance says that he found cases of “patient harm” and “preventable death” in the GHA and that he reported this to the Chief Minister in 2020. When this was raised by us in Parliament in May 2021 the Chief Minister denied there was any “shred of evidence” in the “scandalous” allegations of Professor Burke. The Government then proceeded to throw its legal might at him to silence him with an injunction. When under obvious duress Professor Burke withdrew his employment claim against the Government the truth was magically repackaged into one where the Chief Minister had been committed all along to implement reforms based on Professor Burke’s report of 2020. But the original allegations of patient harm and preventable death have not been withdrawn and deserve an independent investigation. This is about lives.

I said in my budget speech that if there was one chant that the Chief Minister would be known for at the end of his tenure it is “No More Lies.” The chant that first greeted him when he met the teachers demonstration in 2019. That chant was the culmination of a reputation that the Chief Minister has crafted for himself as a self-inflicted wound. That chant was not an instant innovation then. It was the product of the frustration many people felt even then two years ago after many and similar examples to the ones I have already given where the Chief Minister bends, twists or plain plays a game with the truth. That does a disservice to Gibraltar and is unforgiveable. Because the truth matters in politics.

And beyond that crisis of truth and governance there are real victims. That is also the story that is being forgotten. People are being left behind or not listened to. The voiceless and the under-privileged. Those of our citizens in sub-standard housing or with real social or health problems who feel they face a constant administrative brick wall and get nowhere fast. Instead, the Government continually insists to all organs of the media that everything is going so well. That sounds hollow to so many people who also see the scramble for riches of a privileged few lucky enough to be in favour. 10 years after being elected on a platform of reform this Government has lost its way.

All that needs to change and radically. But it cannot be changed by Mr Picardo who is in a constant state of denial of this state of affairs, has a hyper sensitive aversion to the slightest criticism and is the author of this culture. We are in a fight for the heart and soul of this community. This will only be changed by the people entrusting a new GSD administration to govern in a way that is completely different and is in the interests of all our people.

Keith Azopardi, QC, is the Leader of the Opposition.

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