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Govt and GSD clash over civil servant media appearances

The Gibraltar Government and Opposition have clashed over the appearances of civil servants in the media to explain areas of public service during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Leader of the Opposition, Keith Azopardi, said civil servants should not be used as “human shields for the failures of Ministers” in serious political issues.

But in response, the Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, said he was “surprised” by this statement, adding the Government “totally rejects the nonsensical accusations”.

The GSD called the “tendency” of the Government to put civil servants in the front-line to explain “what are perceived to be difficult or publicly unpopular issues” as an attempt to “shy away from political debate”.

“We are seeing this tendency recently,” Mr Azopardi said.

“Ministers have seemed quite keen to cut ribbons or present projects but when there are domestic issues that are political hot potatoes senior civil servants are increasingly asked to carry the can and explain this to the public.”

“Whether pupils are receiving a robust, comprehensive and equivalent online learning experience if classrooms close because of Covid-19 is a political issue which Government need to account for.”

“If the provision of healthcare services is being transformed by more online appointments it is also a political issue. If there are deficiencies in other public services like public counters or the delivery of licensing or other services online it is an issue of efficiency which Ministers should respond to.”

“In all these areas we are seeing senior civil servants being nudged into the limelight by a Government that prefers not to have to field uncomfortable subjects.”

“Civil Servants should not be used as human shields for the failures of Ministers. It is the Government, that is politically responsible and accountable for these deficiencies. There is no hiding place from that.”

The Government replied that the GSD’s position “undermines civil servants capabilities to work effectively and explain information in their relevant fields of profession that is largely technical, rather than political.”

“We are politically accountable and we defend the decisions we have made,” Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said.

“We believe it is right to permit Civil Servants to put information out into the public domain in a non-political way, in these extraordinary times, which is informative and beneficial to our community.”

“We are giving access to the public to the experts in these fields at this critical time so that the public can have confidence in the information being provided to them.”

“I am particularly surprised by the Opposition’s statement because they in the GSD are the ones who want to make civil servants accountable in the Public Accounts Committee.”

“The GSD want to put in place a system to cross-examine civil servants instead of asking us to be politically accountable on questions on finances, when they have the chance in the debate on the estimates each year in the committee stage and third reading.”

“The GSD’s position is therefore entirely contradictory.”

“I want to take this opportunity to thank our fantastic civil service and the public sector generally for their continuous hard work and not shying away from new challenges, this year in particular.”

“They have been superb and they are respected by the general public especially for their work this year.”

“It is a pity that the GSD would wish to see our public sector workers hidden from view as they have suggested today.”

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