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Alliance and Tilbury in bitter clash over university claims

Photo by Johnny Bugeja

A bitter row flared up in the election campaign this week after the GSLP/Liberals launched a blistering attack on GSD candidate Daniella Tilbury, drawing accusations of “gutter politics” and “a defamatory campaign to tarnish” her reputation ahead of the October 12 election.

The trigger was a GBC Viewpoint last week in which Ms Tilbury spoke of her belief in the need for “humility, integrity and transparency” in politics.

In response, the GSLP/Liberals described her comments as “absolutely outrageous” and questioned her commitment to these principles, citing alleged events during her time as Vice Chancellor of the University of Gibraltar to support their case.

The GSLP/Liberals alleged that during her time as Vice Chancellor of the University of Gibraltar, Ms Tilbury ran up a £100,000 phone bill in one month during a trip abroad, adding this was ultimately “funded by the taxpayer”.

The Alliance called on Ms Tilbury to provide “a thorough explanation to the taxpayer” in the interests of transparency.

“While we acknowledge that leadership roles often entail substantial expenses, this level of expenditure warrants a thorough explanation to the taxpayer, especially given Ms Tilbury's newfound commitment to transparency,” the Alliance said in a statement earlier this week.

The GSLP/Liberals also alleged that while at the university, Ms Tilbury had sought to create a position for her husband with a salary of £98,000 despite “explicit instructions” not to do so because of an “obvious conflict of interest”.

“This action by Ms Tilbury undermined the principles of fairness and equity within the university and goes against the very concept of humility that she now claims to uphold,” the Alliance said.

The GSLP/Liberals also claimed there had been a ‘de facto’ “uprising” by university staff who had considered strike action and had told the government they felt “bullied by her in every intervention”.

“These allegations paint a picture of a candidate for election who failed to create a respectful working environment, casting a long shadow over her newly professed commitment to humility,” the Alliance added.

“The GSLP/Liberals believe in holding those standing for public office accountable for their actions and words.”

“The GSLP/Liberals therefore call on Ms Tilbury to provide a detailed explanation for her actions as Vice Chancellor of Gibraltar University ahead of polling day.”

But Ms Tilbury, who has consulted lawyers after the Alliance statement, strongly refuted the claims, as well as subsequent comments by Sir Joe Bossano during a GBC interview in which he said her job at the university had been “terminated”.

In a statement on Wednesday, Ms Tilbury said it was “completely untrue” that her role at the university had been terminated.

“It was I who chose to leave the university on my terms,” she said.

“No contract was terminated.”

Ms Tilbury said she had signed a transfer agreement that included a non-disclosure clause that prevented her – “at least at this moment” – from addressing the “initial false and inaccurate claims” made against her in detail.

However, she noted that the legislation underpinning the university protects the Vice Chancellor from being dismissed by a minister and without the consent of the Board of Governors, underlining the fact that the university is fully independent from government and not subject to government interference.

The provisions of the legislation meant it would not have been possible for the government to terminate her contract, she said, adding that the Academic Board and the Board of Governors at the university had supported the leadership and direction she had provided.

“This is documented in a series of letters and correspondence,” she said.

“Indeed, I spent many of my years as a Vice Chancellor protecting the institution from threats and safeguarding the university’s integrity and future, as the Governor and the Chancellor of the University at the time can attest to.”

In her statement, Ms Tilbury also rejected GSLP/Liberal claims that staff at the university had been mulling strike action during her tenure, adding that regular meetings with the GGCA unions on HR issues were “amicable and constructive”.

“At no point were there any verbal or written communications to suggest that staff were intending to strike,” she said.

“I can categorically state that there was no claim made against me and, if there was, I was certainly not made aware of it, as no due process followed.”

During an earlier intervention in a GBC debate this week, she claimed too that she had been the subject of “some serious bullying by a minister”.

In the statement, the GSD candidate also dismissed as “completely untrue and unfounded” the suggestion that she had sought to establish a post for her husband.

“The governance procedures of the university were and remain strong and the idea that these could be circumnavigated in the way suggested is absurd,” she said.

She also challenged the claims regarding the telephone bill, insisting there were “a number of inaccuracies associated with how the matter was reported”.

“I acknowledge that there was an issue with roaming charges,” she said.

“However, I need to clarify that this situation arose before I commenced my employment as Vice Chancellor.”

“The incident gave rise to questions as to what measures were in place to prevent such incidents from occurring.”

“The matter was nevertheless dealt with completely transparently and properly; there was no impropriety on my part.”

Ms Tilbury also highlighted the fact that after she left her job at the university, the then Chief Minister Fabian Picardo had applauded her work and thanked her for her service.

She went on to become the Gibraltar Government’s first Commissioner for Sustainable Development, tasked with leading on the embedding of sustainable development principles across government.

Sir Joe Bossano, speaking on GBC earlier this week, said the Cabinet “effectively created a job for her that never existed” but which was no longer feasible given the current constraints on the public purse.

“If there was no trust or integrity, then one would question their judgement in establishing this role,” Ms Tilbury said.

And she added: “It is clear that this is all a smear campaign which seeks to detract from the key issues and scare any other potential candidates, especially those who have been employed by a GLSP government, from putting their names forward.”

“The GSLP have focused their efforts on a character assassination and thus denied me the opportunity to contest this election on the issues.”

“This is gutter politics at its worst.”

“I do not intend to be diverted from focusing on the issues that matter to the electorate and which the election must address.”

“I continue to take legal advice on next steps following the 12th October, including on what would appear to be a serious breach of data protection laws.”

Last night, the GSLP/Liberals responded the Ms Tilbury’s statement, describing it as “a tissue of insults” that did not address the issues raised by the Alliance.

The Alliance she had not explained how she run up the phone bill - “the exact amount was £97,000.00 over three days,” it said -

“The public deserves a comprehensive account of this staggering expense when Ms Tilbury asking for her and her party to be put in charge of the public finances,” it said, although it did not acknowledge the non-disclosure clause which Ms Tilbury says prevents her from giving a detailed explanation at this stage.

It had a similar response to her reaction to the allegations on bullying, insisting staff at the university been “repelled” be her leadership and were not prepared to continue to work with her, questioning too her response on the issue of the alleged employment for her spouse.

The GSLP/Liberals said they stood by their initial statement.

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