GSD unveils plans to get public finances ‘back on track’
The GSD on Thursday unveiled its three-pronged pathway to transparency, standards and value for money in getting Gibraltar’s public finances “back on track” and rebuilding the taxpayers’ trust in Government.
Speaking to reporters in their College Lane headquarters, GSD leader Keith Azopardi and shadow minister for public finances Roy Clinton said that, if elected to Government, these measures would deliver “greater transparency and curb the prospect of waste, abuse and corruption.”
Mr Azopardi said the agenda of transparency and value for money has been a “big, big issue” for the GSD for a long time.
“I came across an interview when we won the 1996 election where we campaigned on a policy for financial transparency and doing an interview precisely on that issue and saying that we wanted to deliver that in Government,” Mr Azopardi said.
“Eleven years after the GSLP were re-elected in 2011, many of the same themes now arise again.”
“When we used to complain in the 1990s about the lack of transparency of the Bossano administration, and the borrowing levels we have now seen in the second incarnation of the GSLP, there has been a reversion to the old ills of the past, and in a much worse way.”
“If we were worried about the lack of accountability and transparency in 1996, the lack of accountability and transparency in 2022 is far worse than it was, and the need for these financial controls is much more extreme.”
This will be one of the “central planks” of the next campaign of the GSD as it prepares for the next general election, Mr Azopardi told reporters.
“We want to get back to basics, back on track on issues of transparency, accountability, value for money, and indeed, an end of financial abuse or waste,” Mr Azopardi said.
Mr Clinton added he believes the taxpayer has generally lost trust in the Government’s ability to manage Gibraltar’s money in the way they are expected to.
“Frankly, without transparency you can’t have trust, and without standards you don’t get trust, and certainly without value for money you don’t get trust either,” Mr Clinton said.
Mr Clinton said that what the GSD is proposing is a “positive pathway” in which the GSD will tackle the foundation stones underpinning public finance.
This, the GSD, said would result in an investigation of how monies have been spent and flowed through Government companies; a law that would prevent parties who are politically compromised and close to the Government of the day from being awarded the benefit of public contracts, and a number of measures to enhance value for money for the taxpayer.
It set out 10 points under three sections, namely Transparency, Standards and Value for money.
“A GSD Government will commission an independent investigation into spending by Government-owned companies and the flow of monies through these,” the party said.
“This will ensure clarity of spending and accountability.”
“Millions of pounds are channelled via these companies and often without any clarity or explanation. It is time that the taxpayer should get that clarity.”
The GSD said the results of this investigation will be made public, adding that this will happen immediately on being elected and will affect all Government and Gibraltar Development Corporation-owned companies.
They added that it would also introduce transparency in tendering, where the names of parties that tender for contracts will be published in a register whether they are successful or not.
There needs to be clarity of who seeks contracts or tenders, the GSD said.
The party’s plans also include for greater powers for the Principal Auditor, and that office to be given greater independence.
Enhanced legal powers for the Principal Auditor are to be combined with an obligation that the Principal Auditor must submit his Audit for particular financial years within 18 months of the close of a financial year, the GSD said.
It added that it is not acceptable that the last publicly available Principal Auditor’s report is for 2016, which was six years ago.
“This means there is no effective accountability provided via this mechanism,” the party said.
“To ensure the Principal Auditor can finalise his reports, a future GSD Government will commit itself to take any supplementary appropriation bill within six months of the close of any financial year.”
“Those commitments will be made legal obligations.”
On Standards, the GSD said it will implement an Anti-Abuse Law, adding that the Government’s announcement for an Anti-Corruption authority is “a little too late.”
“We will introduce a specific law that controls or prevents persons closely or directly related to a Government Minister, or on the Executive of the political party of the Government as defined in that law, to tender for or be awarded any Government contract, lease or development or for any of those defined persons or a Minister to take the direct or indirect benefit of a Government contract, lease or development,” the GSD said.
“These restrictions will also apply to companies and trusts the beneficiaries of which are those individuals.”
It will also introduce an independent Commissioner for Standards who will be tasked to investigate any possible breaches of the law or rules relating to interests, public contracts or tenders.
The Commissioner will have a specific remit and legal powers to investigate abuse, corruption or breach of standards by any person, the GSD said.
The GSD also said it will see the introduction of a clear and robust Code of Standards for Ministers and public servants which will enhance standards in office, transparency and accountability.
The Code will be made public and breach of the Code can lead to investigation and action by the Commissioner for Standards, the party said.
The GSD will make a commitment to value for money, including the creation of a Value for Money team accountable to the Finance Minister to audit public spending on a value for money basis and ensure that any waste, abuse or corruption is stamped out.
“This will deliver greater value for money to the tax-payer to the benefit of everyone,” the GSD added.
“It will mean greater financial resources can be released to social priorities and to those in greater need.”
There would also be the appointment of a Contracts Award Panel for the award of high-value contracts, the members of which will include lay persons and a person nominated by the Leader of the Opposition, to enhance public and independent scrutiny the party said.
It added that the supervision of contracts and tenders would be strengthened and enhanced by a specific Monitoring Section which would form part of the Value for Money Team.
This would ensure a greater delivery of efficiency and curb any abuses or waste, and it would also deliver better performance in the interests of the taxpayer, the GSD said.
“Given the state of public finance from the few comments the Government has made, I think it is essential that these areas are tightened up on,” Mr Clinton said.
“In parallel, of course, with measures that need to be taken on public deficit, but it is part of our plan to get Gibraltar back on track and that means getting back to basics on services and public finances.”
“These are the ABCs of financial management, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.”
“These are positive measures we propose in terms of how to get Gibraltar’s public finances in the right way.”
“It isn’t a criticism of the Government, per se, but it’s what we will do if we were in Government to tackle a lot of the issues the public have with this Government on public finances.”
Mr Azopardi said there is “no real sense of faith anymore” that this Government will deliver on a programme of transparency or value for money.
“A lot of its commitments have been hanging around, or festering, in their manifestos for a decade, some of them, without any real progress despite promise after promise that they will deliver certain things,” Mr Azopardi said.
He highlighted the recent announcement of the Anti-Corruption Authority and the lack of a Ministerial Code as two such examples.
In the past, the GSD has issued a stark message on prudence over spending in previous election manifestos.
Mr Azopardi told reporters that the announcement on Wednesday was “only part of a package of financial measures” the party will present in due course.
He added that the electorate was ready for this message at this moment in time.
“In terms of priority of spending, in terms of how we deal with deficit and in terms of how we pull Gibraltar back from the economic precipice, those are matters that we need to deal with,” Mr Azopardi said.
Mr Clinton said Gibraltar is at a stage where it is “beyond prudence,” adding that the Chief Minister Fabian Picardo has talked about the Government managing its finances in a way to get out of this deficit.
GSD public finance proposals already being implemented, Govt says
The Gibraltar Government has said many of the public finances proposals mentioned by the GSD are already being implemented, and welcomed their support.
In a statement issued hours after the GSD press conference, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said he welcomed much of what GSD leader Keith Azopardi had announced, and invited him and public finance spokesman, Roy Clinton, to meet to discuss this.
“Not least because most of it is already being delivered by the GSLP Liberal Government that I lead, albeit delayed by the global pandemic and the need to finalise the Brexit negotiations, and a lot of it is in keeping with the reform agenda that the PDP and the GSLP Liberals have been defending since 2011,” Mr Picardo said.
“I will not dwell on the more partisan aspects of what Mr Azopardi and Mr Clinton have said and will instead address the substance of their largely constructive proposals.”
“We have made many positive reforms already, but as the world evolves and after a decade in Government, we must do more.”
“That is why I already announced on Monday that Samantha Sacramento will be leading a Ministry for Standards in Public Life and Regulation.”
“That Public Standards and Regulation Super-Ministry will deal with the Public Sector, the Parliamentary and Ministerial Codes, as well as the Anti Corruption authority.”
Mr Picardo said he was pleased to see the GSD following that announcement with this similar set of proposals.
“None of which they implemented whilst in Government and many of which they breached, and trust we will be able to work together in the coming months to deliver many of these improvements by agreement,” he said.
“Additionally, I look forward to constructively considering other aspects of the proposal made today with Mr Azopardi in the Select Committee on Parliamentary Reform.”
"Before then, I will be inviting Mr Azopardi and Mr Clinton to meet with me and the Deputy Chief Minister in order to seek consensus on our reform and Anti-Corruption agenda around the question of Standards in Public Life.”
“I have no doubt we will find ourselves, aside from the usual day-to-day politicking, very much 'on the same page' on many of these issues,” Mr Picardo said.
“We must continue always to ensure that we deliver the utmost transparency and accountability to our people and reform our laws and procedures as practice internationally evolves.”
“We will be the ones to deliver that change from Government now and the next election will, therefore, not be about these issues at all, given that we will have tackled all reasonable aspects of what Mr Azopardi has today referred to, and which may still be outstanding, well before the election is due next year.”
“I look forward to a positive, cross-Parliamentary engagement on these issues in coming weeks and months.”
In a response to the Chief Minister’s statement, the Leader of the Opposition, Keith Azopardi, said: “Mr Picardo’s reaction has a lot of Alice in Wonderland about it.”
“Gibraltar has lost faith and trust in his Government delivering on an agenda of transparency, value for money or curbing abuse.”
“He now promises to bury this issue in another committee which never meets or progresses things.”
“As he has done with other things.”
“I’m not going to play Mr Picardo’s games.”
“The Government has singularly failed to deliver accountability and everyone knows it.”
“The GSLP cannot deliver and have no real desire to do so.”
“They need to be replaced by people who will.”