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Govt and GSD clash over Gibraltar Consultative Council.

The Gibraltar Government and the GSD yesterday became embroiled in a row over the establishment of the Gibraltar Consultative Council.

The exchanges began with the GSD slamming the GCC as “secret, dangerous and undemocratic”, prompting a furious reaction from the Government about the Opposition’s “infantile” position on this.

The GSD said the new council would undermine democracy, whereas the government insisted it would strengthen it.

In a statement, the Opposition said the GCC “reinforces the undemocratic centralisation of power that this Government is pursuing, within a ring of secrecy and on pain of imprisonment.”

Robert Vasquez, GSD spokesman on these issues, stated: “This is another step by the GSLP/Liberal Government on the road to undermine democracy in Gibraltar by the creation of a secret and dangerous body that reduces the ability of noteworthy persons, including the Leader of the Opposition, were he to take up his position on the Consultative Council, to criticise the Government on pain of committing criminal offences and being imprisoned.”

The creation of this body is “toxic to the basic freedoms that need to be present in a democracy”, the GSD further claimed.

On the confidentiality and secrecy provisions as set out in the legislation governing the role and function of the GCC as well as the secrecy oath that members have to take, the GSD said this “undermines democracy”.

Any breach of these is a criminal offence with an attendant penalty of imprisonment, the GSD said.

These suggestions were batted away by the Government, which said the signing of the Official Secrets Act on joining the Council is a “normal precaution” in terms of being involved with sensitive information.

“No one in living memory has gone to jail in Gibraltar or been prosecuted for a breach of the Official Secrets Act,” the Government said.

“In fact, every person who joins the Civil Service in Gibraltar signs the Official Secrets Act and none of them say as a result that they are given a job shrouded in secrecy and on pain of imprisonment if they reveal confidential information.”

The Government said the GSD statement was “…infantile nonsense which takes an inexperienced and unintelligent approach to a potentially hugely positive innovation that can truly benefit our nation,” No. 6 Convent Place said.

The Government claimed that what it has done is create a body to enable Gibraltar's best brains to advise a sitting Chief Minister on important issues affecting the public interest of the community.

“The Council will strengthen and mature our democracy,” the Government said.

The Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, said he was “delighted” to have now commenced the Consultative Council Act,d escribing it as “a great thing” for Gibraltar.

“It marks a moment of maturity for us as a people. Getting our best brains to work together is a good thing not a bad thing and it is something which people have long wanted to see happening.”

“With this Act, we finally have in place a permanent mechanism to get our best brains together.”

“I introduced this concept in my Budget Speech in June 2014. I then asked former GSD Deputy Chief Minister, Keith Azopardi , to draft the Bill for me and that is the Act which we have now passed.”

“Importantly, this is a Council that the former GSD leader and Chief Minister, Sir Peter Caruana, said in Parliament, in answer to my introduction of it, counted with his full support and which he would form a part of, despite my having referred to the application of the Official Secrets Act for joining.”

“The Act sets up a body which is not dissimilar to the Advisory Council Sir Peter established to advise him at the time of Joint Sovereignty.”

“In the circumstances, I am very much looking forward to the work of the Council commencing and to the advice I will receive from it on matters of public interest.”

“Should the current leadership of the GSD decide they do not wish to join the Council which has been set up to bring Gibraltar's best brains together, they will not be greatly missed. In fact, I would have thought it would be clear to everyone that the last thing I want to do is silence Mr Feetham, far from it. I want Mr Feetham to have as many opportunities as possible to express his views, as that is what best serves to alienate people from the GSD.”

“The fact is the GSD have had two years to contact me on this issue to make representations on the issues they now say concern them and they have not done so. They are just trying to wreck this excellent Council as they try to wreck everything that they have not thought of, whether or not a particular initiative is good for Gibraltar.”

“Although they might not care about Gibraltar, we do and we will therefore not be deterred in seeing through the establishment and operation of the Consultative Council,” Mr Picardo said.

COMPOSITION

The duty of the GCC is to advise the Government and specifically the Chief Minister on any issue on which advice is requested in respect of, for example, the governance and public interest of Gibraltar, the conduct of or performance of public policy and the Rock’s international obligations.

Members of the Council will be: the Chief Minister, who will act as Chairman, the Deputy Chief Minister, the Minister for Justice and the Leader of the Opposition.

As Life Members; all individuals who have held the post of Chief Minister, and all individuals who have held the post of Deputy Chief Minister. As Ad Hoc Members, any person as may be appointed by the Chief Minister.

However, the GSD said this was harmful because the vast majority of members of the Consultative Council are connected with the Government.

The only members unconnected with the Government are the Leader of the Opposition and past Chief Ministers and Deputy Chief Ministers, who have not been members of the ruling party.

PRIVY COUNCIL

The Opposition further hit back at comparisons between the GCC and the Privy Council stating that this is “not a justification”.

“The Privy Council advises Her Majesty on the limited matters falling within the Royal Prerogative.”

“The Privy Council does not have a political dimension that interferes in the democratic powers and process that is vested in Parliament.”

“The unelected Consultative Council is political, with its purpose being to advise the Chief Minister on the wide objectives and remit identified in the Act.”