Row over public accounts committee heats up
The Gibraltar Government and GSD fired fresh exchanges in an increasingly acrimonious row over calls for the establishment of a Public Accounts Committee.
The GSD believes the committee would strengthen scrutiny of public spending, while the government believes there is already sufficient oversight in place.
The first salvo came from the GSD, which claimed that Chief Minister Fabian Picardo’s arguments were becoming “increasingly irrational” and he is “merely clutching at straws in rejecting calls for a Public Accounts Committee”.
This comes after the GSD echoed the call of Lord Foulkes, the vice chairman of the UK branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, who urged Gibraltar to set up a PAC after signalling that the Rock was the only jurisdiction at a CPA conference last week without such an oversight committee.
The Opposition said a PAC would enable better scrutiny of public expenditure, adding that other small jurisdictions had such committees in place.
But last night the Government also hit back and accused GSD Deputy Leader Roy Clinton of “labouring under the misapprehension that what works elsewhere in the Commonwealth will automatically work just as well in Gibraltar.”
“He seems to think that ‘Westminster has a Public Affairs Committee so, clearly, Gibraltar would benefit from having one as well.’”
“Sadly, life isn’t as easy as that,” the Government said.
Rejection suggestions that there is a lack of transparency and accountability in public finance, Mr Picardo insisted that “Gibraltar is doing extraordinarily well and Mr Clinton and his GSD pals don't seem to like that.”
“They are rooting for our common failure so that their hair brained theories are proved right,” he said.
“They won't have cause to celebrate any time soon.”
Mr Clinton, who is also Shadow Minister for Public Finance, stated: “The Chief Minister has an unfortunate habit of painting himself and Gibraltar into corners.”
“Instead of looking at the merits of the argument and being open to discussing the creation of a Public Accounts Committee he has instead chosen to burn bridges with our friends in the CPA at a time when we can ill afford to do so.”
“For the Chief Minister to suggest that having a Public Accounts Committee would grind Gibraltar to a halt thus playing into the hands of Gibraltar’s enemies is utter nonsense as is the suggestion that his Government is more transparent than ever.”
Mr Clinton claimed that the Government refuses to answer questions in Parliament regardless of supplementaries and refuses to give information on Government owned companies such as Credit Finance Company Limited.
“Meanwhile he trumpets his so called £300 million ‘war chest’ obtained by mortgaging Government Housing Estates through another Government owned company Gibraltar Capital Assets Limited while declaring with a straight face that Government debt is going down.”
“The forthcoming budget debate will be one for the people of Gibraltar to watch as something doesn’t quite add up.”
The Government flagged how Westminster currently has 108 Parliamentary Committees which can be filled by around 1450 Members of Parliament - 650 MPs from the House of Commons and around 800 peers from the House of Lords.
“No doubt Mr Clinton would like to match Westminster and have lots more Parliamentary committees but, by necessity, they would all be filled by the same 17 MPs: every hour spent in a committee by a Government MP is an hour mirred in theoretical discussion and lost to delivering for people and in implementing the Government’s manifesto.”
The Government further highlighted how under the GSLP/Liberal Government, Parliament now meets every month.
It added that this should give Mr Clinton ample opportunity to ask his questions and to engage in debate.
The Government further demanded that Mr Clinton refute his claim that, it “refuses to answer questions in Parliament regardless of supplementaries.”
“Nothing could be further from the truth: the Government gives scores of highly detailed answers in every session of Parliament.”
“Perhaps Mr Clinton doesn't like the answers because the illustrate this community's success? Perhaps it is he who would prefer to see us all fail to prove his macabre economic theories true, whatever the human cost? Perhaps it is he who is now ‘clutching at straws?”
Mr Picardo added: “We won't allow the GSD to create a system which is designed to allow them to interrogate and berate civil servants and which gets ministers off the hook.”
“A public accounts committee is in effect a mechanism for the cross examination of controlling officers, it is not about political accountability.”
“We believe that the buck stops with ministers and that is why we make ourselves fully accountable in the Parliament.”
“We will not hide behind civil servants. A system to push senior civil servants, controlling officers and other non political individuals to the front line of political cross examination and interrogation is not going to benefit this community, even if it excites Mr Clinton's inner accountant.”