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Govt’s bullish view on economy fuels expectation, Feetham says

GSD MP Daniel Feetham has warned that painting too rosy a picture of the state of Gibraltar’s public finances risks inviting “optimistic claims” from sectors across society and jeopardising positive industrial relations across the board.

In a budget address before Parliament yesterday afternoon, Mr Feetham said the Government had entered into “piecemeal agreements” with some of those sectors but not others.

This, he said, was difficult to understand.

“We do not detect a holistic industrial relations policy other than to keep one sector or another happy on a given day,” he told MPs.

Mr Feetham said that by not being realistic and not putting the full picture of public debt, including debt held in Government-owned companies, before Parliament for scrutiny, the Government risks exacerbating such a situation.

Sectors will not temper their demands whilst the Government “crows” that Gibraltar is in the top 10 per capita wealthiest communities in the world, he said.

“By not being realistic, by not putting everything - company debt and spending - before this Parliament in an open and transparent way so we can assess the true state of our public finances…you are going to invite optimistic claims from sectors across society,” he said.

“If you say we are the third or fourth wealthiest nation in the world or portray an image of cool Gibraltar where money is no object without tempering that with everything else we have been saying from this side of the House, and then do unilateral deals with this part or that part of the public service, you are going to have other parts of the public service wanting part of the action.”

Additionally and in scrutinising the GSLP/Liberals handling of public finances, Mr Feetham restated the GSD’s long-held position, insisting the Government was “taking risks” that it should not be taking in this arena.

The Opposition cannot fully asses that risk because of the way the Government has chosen to manage Gibraltar’s finances, Mr Feetham said.

“If we are wrong, let the Government open its books, all its books including the accounts of Government owned companies be open to the Opposition,” he said restating the call for a public accounts committee to be set up.

He added that if the Government wants the Opposition to temper its criticism, “they have to be open and transparent with us not on the one hand refuse to show us the money, claim we are the best economy since slice bread and then say please do not castigate us when we see people being treated badly.”

According to Mr Feetham the story of this year’s budget debate was not the budget measures outlined by Chief Minister Fabian Picardo but Sir Joe Bossano’s contribution.

He said that Sir Joe found it necessary to appear on public television three days before the Budget to issue a “health warning” over rises in recurrent expenditure and how they are not sustainable was a “vindication” for the GSD’s stance over the last two political terms.

“We were saying and warning about huge increases in recurrent expenditure, how those were not sustainable and, indeed, no direct correlation between economic growth and the soundness of our public finance or that recurrent revenue which had already been converging dangerously by 2014 would continue to outstrip recurrent expenditure,” he said.

Additionally, he called on members of the public to consider the “multiple flip flops” in the Government’s statements as well as its “inherently contradictory positions” before assessing the veracity of what either side of the House is saying.

“In 2010 when gross public debt stood at £520million he said the GSD was addicted to debt. Today it stands at £1.24 billion,” Mr Feetham said.