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GSD would govern with just eight ministers

Johnny Bugeja

The GSD will govern with eight ministers instead of 10 if it is elected next week, in a move that will save taxpayers £600,000 over the lifetime of the next parliament.

The party’s pledge will see two of its electoral slate become backbenchers and means that the GSD will put itself in a minority in Parliament for the first time in Gibraltar’s modern history.

Out of 17 MPs, eight will be government ministers and the other nine will be Opposition MPs and backbenchers who could, in theory at least, out-vote the government.

This, the GSD said, represents an important check on the power of Government that does not exist today.

The move is part of the wider parliamentary and democratic reforms that the GSD hopes to implement should it be elected on October 17, including parliamentary enlargement at the 2023 general election.

“We will put ourselves instantly in a minority,” GSD Leader Keith Azopardi said at a press briefing setting out the party’s package of reforms to “restore democracy”.

“We will have a system which edges toward the kind of system that we would have in an enlarged Parliament,” he explained.

The current system requires far deeper reforms in order to improve parliamentary accountability but this initiative is a “symbolic first step”, Mr Azopardi said.

The two backbenchers will be given a parliamentary role within select committees and in driving reform of procedures.

The change will result in a saving of around £150,000 a year which the GSD plans to plough back into parliamentary reform.

The GSD has advocated parliamentary reform in the form of enlargement for many years having moved a motion on the issue in 2011.

The party supported a recent Government attempt to push through proposals to enlarge the House through the addition of eight backbenchers shortly before the general election was called.

But the Government dropped the proposals in the face of a largely negative response from the public.

Mr Azopardi said the proposals and “why they are so necessary” needed to be better explained to the community.

And highlighting concerns as to the cost of the proposals, he said “reforms do not need to cost a lot of money”.

In an enlarged parliament scenario under the GSD, no more than one third of members will be Ministers.

According to the GSD, in such a scenario there will be much more direct control of the power of Government by other members of Parliament.

OTHER REFORMS
Reform is a cornerstone of the GSD programme and, to this end, the party has a number of pledges linked to creating a system of checks and balances on the Government.

For example, the next GSD Chief Minister will not serve more than two terms as Chief Minister.

The GSD will introduce legislation or seek constitutional change to enshrine this principle.

The party also wants to establish a specific monthly Chief Minister’s Questions session in Parliament.

Mr Azopardi said the GSLP/Liberal Government had done some good things in terms televising parliamentary sessions and holding monthly meetings.

But, he said, whilst there are more meetings that does not equate to more answers.

“They don’t answer the questions,” he said highlighting how some questions filed by the Opposition were never answered in Parliament orally and instead converted to written responses.

Chief Minister’s questions would therefore allow “a very focused period for contemporaneous questions to be answered” and stop the “time lag”, Mr Azopardi said.

Additionally, the GSD would provide for Opposition funding whilst in Government.

A GSD Government would increase the statutory funding provided for secretarial expenses to the Opposition so that it has greater administrative resources at its disposal in order to better scrutinise the Government.

“We are not saying that we want to be funded because we could only carry this out in Government,” Mr Azopardi said.

“We would only deliver this if we’re in Government for the benefit of the then Opposition.”

“We are not going to get this benefit because it’s clear that if they [the GSLP/Liberal Alliance] are re-elected they are not going to do any of this.”