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Opinion & Analysis

‘If you don’t like it, you lump it’

Archive Photo by Johnny Bugeja.

By Damon Bossino

There we had it. Parliamentary etiquette was quickly thrown out the window by the ‘Father of the House’ when he told me that if I didn’t like his answer I should ‘lump it’. The losers were the Gibraltarian public as the pertinent questions asked on their behalf were not to be answered so that they would all collectively have to ‘lump it’ too.

‘Octopus reach’

What provoked Sir Joe Bossano’s ire last Friday afternoon in Parliament such that questions on the Coaling Island temporary housing project received short shrift? Yes, that other project which is also being spearheaded by Community Services and Supply Limited (CSSL for short). I say ‘other project’ because it seems that the octopus-like reach of CSSL knows no bounds, given, that in addition to the Coaling island project (i) the new Victoria Stadium; (ii) the Eastern beach promenade; (iii) the Laguna elderly residential home; and (iv) the Rooke residential home all fall under its purview. It is also doing work for the Government although it is not clear what type of work or how. The arrangements remain unclear.

‘Confusing’

Accordingly, CSSL is everywhere and anywhere.
A company which we have recently found out - as a result of a slow unpicking of information being drip fed to the public following the GSD Opposition’s work in this area – is owned by a charity and therefore supposedly outside the Government’s remit yet somehow and confusingly very closely linked to it. We have learned that the whole set up is supported by Government civil servants; exists only because of the much vaunted but nebulous Government ‘National Economic Plan’ and is involved in significant and very substantial construction projects, addressing social, sporting and supposedly economic needs.

‘No answers’

On the construction of the 300 50 m2 units at Coaling Island, touted for ‘temporary housing’, for the purpose of ‘adaptable accommodation for key workers’ and to ‘temporarily house…populations from neighbourhoods subject to alteration and demolition in urban remodelling…which will result in the need for housing units’ this according to papers filed with the DPC we asked: (i) who it was intended to rehouse; (ii) which ‘neighbourhoods’ were going to be altered and demolished; (iii) what was going to be built in their place; (iv) where the current occupiers at Coaling Island were going to be moved to; and (v) what planning and aesthetic considerations had been taken account of.

As it was, the answer to questions from my colleagues Keith Azopardi and Roy Clinton on all matters related to CSSL had already left us in a general state of stupefaction – but more was to come. You would have thought that the answers to the questions raised are those to which you are entitled; but no, the Government refused to answer a single one. Sir Joe was not having it because he said rather shockingly that the Government ‘has no involvement’ other than ‘sponsoring the project under the National Economic Plan’.

How can such an answer be in any way described as a serious attempt at providing information on a construction project which straddles social, housing, planning and possibly even heritage concerns? Are we expected to accept that the Government has no view on any of these issues? Was this not the same Government who had said in a press release that it looked forward to ‘answering all questions from the GSD in Parliament this month?’

‘Disrespectful to the electorate’

What they meted out was disrespectful to the intelligence of the electorate. How is it possible that an application for planning can be signed on behalf of CSSL by a civil servant who describes himself as the ‘Head of International Division’ at the Ministry of Economic Development yet the Minister responsible distances himself as if this was a project he knows nothing about? This is the same man who said that CSSL only exists because of his ‘National Economic Plan’.

‘Need for transparency’

Some answers are provided, albeit in a confusing and piecemeal way; some we are able to glean from documents available publicly; and some questions are met with the ‘lump it’ brick wall.
All of this should worry us. Issues of transparency and Parliamentary democracy come into play. Issues also arise of due process which leads one to the inevitable conclusion that, at best, what we are witnessing here is evidence of a shoddy and confusing approach. What we are seeing is an uncomfortable conflation of the public, private and commercial spheres. No wonder the public are concerned and have not been enthralled by the supposedly Mandela-esque appearance on the pitch after a successful game of football. No wonder people are ‘greeting’ the launch of the new stadium with muted and stunned silence as more details are dished out. The bottom line is that the only one answer to all of this [shambles] is in the electorates’ hands within the next year or so.

Damon Bossino is a barrister and an MP with the GSD Opposition.

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