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GSD says parliamentary scrutiny without answers to questions is ‘fast becoming a farce’

Pic: Johnny Bugeja

The GSD has called on the Gibraltar Government to hold “a proper” question and answer session in the Gibraltar Parliament, adding it has a backlog of over 250 unanswered questions and that the concept of parliamentary scrutiny “is fast becoming a farce.”

Parliament has not had a full ‘question and answer’ session since late July last year, with the parliamentary diary disrupted by the demands of Covid-19 and Brexit.

The GSD acknowledged that pressure and said it had accommodated the government’s need for flexibility in the parliamentary diary.

But the party added it was now necessary to restore normality to the parliamentary calendar to ensure public scrutiny or accountability of ministers in areas of their responsibility.

It said the absence of full ‘question and answer’ sessions meant the government was “avoiding uncomfortable debate or scrutiny.”

“Ministers aren’t being scrutinised if they cannot be questioned,” said Keith Azopardi, the Leader of the Opposition.

“Beyond that there is a need for major reform so that the Parliament is in regular fixed monthly sessions.”

“At the moment the Opposition turn up to Parliament without knowing whether questions or Bills will be taken and if so what Bills or questions.”

“We often get a few minutes notice that certain Bills will be debated or questions taken.”

“This is completely unsatisfactory. It is government by ambush.”

“It is the Government manipulating the parliamentary agenda with no real scrutiny and unfairly against the Opposition to avoid transparency or real accountability.”

“Parliament is supposed to hold Government to account as an independent institution.”

“It is not supposed to simply be an extension of the Government with it solely deciding when it meets, what will be discussed and whether or not they answer questions.”

Mr Azopardi said the parliamentary calendar should be fixed with people knowing when questions will be taken and what Bills will be debated and when.

He added that the daily agenda should also be public so listeners or viewers can more easily follow proceedings or tune in when they know something of interest to them will be discussed.

“There should be standing Committees debating and scrutinising important issues of policy,” he said.

“Before the 2019 election the Government said it had a commitment to parliamentary reform.”

“It needs to put its money where its mouth is or be seen as having no real commitment whatsoever to expose itself to Parliamentary scrutiny.”

According to the GSD, the party still has unanswered questions tabled as far back as September 2020, as well as subsequent questions tabled in October, November, December and January.

The party said its MPs have over 250 pending questions on all manner of important subjects such as Covid, the health service, education, contracts awarded by Government, tenders, the use of taxpayers’ monies, the environment, social services or the New Year’s Eve Agreement.

Additionally, the GSD’s motion on the tax treaty, which was supposed to be debated in September, is still pending and may not see the light of day till the end of February or later.

The delay was such that in many cases, questions were either withdrawn or answered by government press release that avoided any scrutiny by follow-up questions from the Opposition.

Likewise, the Select Committees on the environment, constitutional reform and parliamentary reform have not met since the election.

The GSD said the delay was in part driven by the Government’s insistence that the Chief Minister should always be present in Parliament.

“That is unnecessary,” the GSD said. “Ministers should be able to answer questions on their departmental responsibilities without the need to engage the Chief Minister’s time always.”

“Or is it that they are unwilling to do so without assistance?”

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