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GSD questions ‘pre-electoral’ frenzy of Govt announcements

GSD Headquarters. Photo by Johnny Bugeja.

The GSD has hit out at the Gibraltar Government over "the glossy frenzy” of pre-electoral announcements and openings which, it said, “mask value for money, conflict of interest and accountability issues which are now the hallmark of Fabian Picardo’s Government”.

Over the course of this week, the Gibraltar Government unveiled three new schools, namely St Mary’s Lower Primary School, Governor’s Meadow Lower Primary School and Bishop Fitzgerald Upper Primary School.

The Government has also announced a number of new projects including the refurbishment of the land frontier, the refurbishment of the cruise terminal, as well as Central Hall Gardens and artist studio spaces at the Moorish Castle.

“Beyond the opening of St Mary’s school is the reality that the Government entered into arrangements by which the tax-payer would pay around £1.1M a year to rent the school and that the developers are guaranteed 14 years rent because the option to buy does not kick in till then,” the GSD said in a statement.

“If the option to buy is exercised at the 14-year point it will cost the taxpayer another £28.9M to buy the school which means the total deal will have cost the taxpayer in excess of £44M.”

It added that the delivery of Bishop Fitzgerald and Governor’s Meadow schools came about because an entity was “awarded the high value Bayside and St Anne’s plots even though that entity had not even participated in the tender to those sites”.

“As a quid pro quo they built these schools with the Government making a reduced contribution of £8M,” the GSD said.

“But the allocation of the high-value Bayside and St Anne’s plots was a direct allocation in practice.”

“The fact that the entity was ultimately owned by the same people who had made a donation to Government to underwrite the ballooning costs of Campion Park and that a sister entity was awarded the £1 Billion Eastside project also without putting in a tender for the site is of course also part of the overall facts.”

While the GSD welcomed the opening of schools and improvement to the educational infrastructure, it stressed: “But it is also important to remind ourselves how these things came about, how a cash-strapped Government is funding these things and what the consequences to the taxpayer are.”

“It is also important to remember the serious tendering, transparency and value for money questions that arose with the allocation of these high-value land assets.”

“Additionally there are overall questions of the unaccountable and impossible to verify presentation of overall Government spending on schools.”

“The Chief Minister in his 2023 budget speech claimed that his Government had spent £160 million on new schools.”

“Unfortunately there is no way to independently verify this statement as there is nothing recorded in the Government’s own estimate books.”

“Furthermore there is nothing to show how much of this was borrowed money by mortgaging the housing estates and whether the schools were built on a value for money basis or to meet electoral timetables both before 2019 and now.”

“With no transparency on expenditure or reports from the Principal Auditor the Chief Minister cannot prove any of his statements as to money spent or indeed value for money as we have indicated today there are serious issues of value for money, tendering and accountability that arise beyond the electoral photoshoot.”

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