Fierce political clash after GSD raises CM’s links to party paper, drawing stern rebuke
The GSD and the GSLP were locked in a fierce row last night sparked by two articles about Community Care published by the GSLP’s weekly newspaper, The New People.
The backdrop to the bitter clash is Community Care’s decision last year to change the eligibility criteria for its ‘community officer scheme’.
The charity said at the time that the scheme had changed over the years from its original format, with relaxed eligibility criteria meaning that even men who retired with large pensions received full payments amounting to an “unjustifiable” £50 per hour of volunteering.
But campaign group Community Care Action Group wants the charity to revert back to the previous criteria and pay arrears to those who have missed out on the allowance due to the change.
In its articles, The New People used pension and financial information to suggest that many of the people campaigning for the charity to revert its decision were very well off and did not need Community Care payments to make ends meet.
But the articles held nothing back in tone and content, and the GSD said they amounted to “a vicious Stalinist campaign of intimidation” against the Community Care Action Group using financial information from anonymous sources to “personally attack and undermine the credibility” of the group and its members.
Not only that, the GSD said the newspaper was owned by Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, who it accused of seeking to assuage the group’s concerns in private meetings while simultaneously “letting the dogs loose on them via his newspaper,” adding that the nature of the information published by The New People suggested some of it originated from the government.
To back its claims, the Opposition pointed to publicly available corporate registration documents that showed Mr Picardo listed as the Ultimate Beneficial Owner of Becard Ltd, the company that owns the newspaper.
“The register of ultimate beneficial owners has Fabian Picardo as the 100% owner of the shares in Becard Limited and thus he ultimately owns The New People newspaper,” the GSD said.
But the claims were immediately refuted as “completely false and misleading” by the GSLP, which said that ownership of the newspaper had, since its inception in 1980, been held by the Leader of the GSLP on trust for the party’s executive committee and members.
The GSLP said Mr Picardo held the shares on trust for the party as a “bare nominee” and that under Gibraltar’s legislation, trusts were not reflected on the register of beneficial ownership.
The party added that, while the documents published by the GSD showed Mr Picardo on the register of beneficial ownership, this was information that the party had chosen to make public even though under Gibraltar’s legislation, it could have opted not to do so.
The GSD had also alleged that Mr Picardo failed to disclose his link with the newspaper in his declaration of interests to the Gibraltar Parliament in 2019, describing this as “a serious dereliction of duty.”
But again, the GSLP countered the allegation.
“The party and the party Leader chose to disclose the holding structure in order to ensure that we complied with our views on transparency and accountability on corporate structures – something on which the GSLP and Mr Picardo have led since the election of the party into Government, together with the Gibraltar Liberal Party, in 2011,” the GSLP said.
“In the light of the fact that Mr Picardo does not own the shares in the holding vehicle of The New People, there is no question of him having to disclose his trusteeship on the register of members interests and no ‘dereliction’ as improperly alleged by the GSD, in Mr Picardo not having done so.”
For the GSD, the ownership issue raised serious questions “… as to conflicts of interests in managing the complaints of the Community Care Action Group in a fair and balanced manner as Chief Minister while the newspaper he personally owns launches a vicious Stalinist campaign of intimidation.”
“Those affected by the removal of the Community Officers payment on the apparently arbitrary date of 17 February 2020 and their families may be astonished to learn that Mr Picardo is the hand behind the New People and therefore acquiescing in the campaign against their struggle for recognition of their legitimate expectations,” the GSD said.
For the GSLP and the Chief Minister, the GSD’s claims amounted to an attempt to cast a slur on his character.
“These allegations are part of a deeply personalised campaign being waged against me as Chief Minister by the GSD, whilst at the same time they want to pretend to be ‘gentlemen politicians’,” Mr Picardo said in a statement issued by his party.
“In fact, they are dirtier and less scrupulous than any of their predecessors.”
“The GSD are once again, characteristically playing the disgusting game of attempted character assassination against me that they played against Sir Joe Bossano in the 1990s.”
“Unable to beat the GSLP when it comes to policies, effectiveness or ability, they seek to denigrate me as party leader and our other Members of Parliament to make up for the obvious inadequacies of their own elected representatives. They will not succeed.”
“We will continue to do our work as the GSLP’s Members of Parliament which the people of Gibraltar elected us to do by a massive margin over the GSD.”
“The fact that the GSD seem not to understand the basics of company law will not deter us at all, in fact, it will spur us on to ensure that we keep working for our people.”