GSD ‘lacks credibility’ on parliamentary scrutiny given party’s ‘dismal’ record, Govt says
The GSD’s complaints that disruption to the parliamentary calendar is denting its ability to scrutinise Government decisions are “over the top” and “lack any credibility” given the party’s “dismal” record while in office, the Gibraltar Government said on Monday.
No.6 Convent Place was reacting after the GSD said that parliament’s failure to hold a full ‘question and answer’ since last September meant it had over 250 questions on key issues of the day waiting to be answered by the Government.
In a statement, the GSD said that while it understood the demands on the government and had tried to accommodate the need for delays, the concept of parliamentary scrutiny “is fast becoming a farce.”
In in its reply, No.6 said the Opposition had been “unfair and ungenerous” given the impact of Brexit and the Covid-19 public health crisis on government time.
It also described as “particularly callous and unfair” that the Opposition should seek to highlight this at a time when the government was communicating to the community the impact of what it described as “the deadliest month in the modern history of the people of Gibraltar”.
In the statement, No.6 accused Mr Azopardi of being “a little disconnected from the reality of that pain that many in our community have gone through in this month” and the “mammoth efforts” being made to bring the Covid-19 pandemic under control.
“I have worked well with Keith Azopardi on the issues raised by the pandemic,” said Chief Minister Fabian Picardo.
“I am surprised he has chosen to issue this statement calling for us to have Parliamentary meetings for questions on the day we announced the highest death toll in our history.”
“Gibraltar has been in lockdown until today [meaning Monday]. Mr Azopardi knows that and his statement smacks of simple grandstanding.”
“I am very much looking forward to going back to monthly meetings of Parliament and to answering questions in Parliament in the normal way, as well as starting and continuing the work of our Select Committees.”
“But let’s be very clear, we will not be able to do that until the pandemic is under control.”
“We are not the United Kingdom. We are a small administration and our priority is the pandemic and the negotiation of the treaty with the EU.”
“We will marry those with a resumption of Parliamentary activity insofar as we are able.”
“One thing is certainly clear: we have complied with all Constitutional requirements in respect of meetings, and those requirements were set in a Constitution which Mr Azopardi helped to draft and promotes.”
The back up its argument, the Government said that even against the backdrop of Brexit and the pandemic, Parliament had met more times than when the GSD was in office.
It reminded the Opposition that the GSLP/Liberals had implemented a policy of monthly meetings of Parliament when they were first elected in 2011.
There were 33 meetings in the period 2011- 2015, compared to 12 meetings during the last term of office of the GSD.
Even after the Brexit Referendum, Parliament managed to meet 16 times in the period 2015-2019.
“The record for the least number of meetings in a year is still held by the GSD who only held one meeting in 2003,” No.6 added.
“It is obvious that 2020 has been an extraordinary year where extraordinary measures have been taken all over the planet in view of the pandemic.”
“However, despite this, Parliament in Gibraltar still got together on 29 occasions during 2020 in order to conduct its business, including the swearing-in of the new Governor.”
No.6 acknowledged that the Opposition had given the government space in relation to meetings of Parliament, and that Mr Picardo and Mr Azopardi had discussed and “agreed by consensus” the adjournments that had taken place.
“It is therefore rather underhand for the GSD to now try to give the impression that they have been pushing for more meetings when the impression that they have given the Government is the exact opposite,” No.6 added.
“They have agreed every extension and every adjournment that has taken place.”
“For this, the Government extends its thanks to the Opposition.”
“The Government, for its part, is very much looking forward to being able to answer all opposition questions and take parliamentary business as normal.”
No.6 said it was “also wrong” for the Opposition to raise concerns about the notice that they are given as to when a Bill is to be taken, adding that in the normal course of events, MPs would have six weeks to prepare between publication of a Bill and debate in Parliament.
“The essence of their complaint suggests that instead of preparing for Bills when they are published, the Opposition choose to prepare for Bills when they are about to be taken,” No.6 said.
“This rather lazy approach says more about the way in which some GSD members divide the time between their parliamentary responsibility and their busy private work than its says about the procedures and practices of Parliament.”
“Their lack of preparation is obvious to anyone watching the proceedings.”
The Government acknowledged that some Bills were taken urgently before the standard six-week period had elapsed, with the notice period reduced to one week.
But it argued this should still provide plenty of time for an Opposition MP to prepare, adding that this was the time period that applied to every Bill before the 2006 Constitution.
It added that it was ironic that the GSD had also complained that the Government took too long to proceed with Bills after publication.
“Such contradictory behaviour suggests that Mr Azopardi us simply knocking about wondering what subject to issue statements on, whether or not the position he sets out is in stark contrast to his actual behaviour,” No.6 said.
In relation to the work of Select Committees, the Government said it had been agreed that priority would be given to Gibraltar’s departure from the EU “and this is exactly what has happened”.
“Gibraltar is a small country where Ministers need to grapple with balancing work on a threat to life, a historic new relationship with the European Union and with the normal business of Government,” the statement from No.6 said.
“These raise inter-governmental and inter-departmental issues which means that everyone is involved.”
“In this context, the Opposition need to understand that the answers to questions are compiled by officials and civil servants, many of whom have been re-deployed to other important tasks, some of which are lifesaving.”
“The Government consider that the latest comments from the Opposition are unfortunate because they conveniently ignore their own dismal record in office and that this Government has already done much better than them even with the serious international and public health challenges that we continue to face.”