Public accountability is another of Together Gibraltar’s priority policy pillars. Unlike the others, however, this is one that successive administrations have promised to fix for decades - to no avail. Actionable statistics and economic indicators are difficult to obtain and when found, are out of date. Employment figures are skewed through zero-hour contracts and debt is hidden in webs of Government owned companies.
Cronyism is rife; It is commonly known that tenders for public contracts, when they do happen, tend to favour the party faithful, as do promotions within the civil service. Law firms have unfettered access to the political classes, with lawyers from the same law firms taking it in turns to lead both government and opposition. People feel powerless and uninformed, and many have lost faith in both the system and the political class. Our democracy is being compromised on a daily basis by this lack of accountability, and these corrupt practices that continue to occur, unchecked, right in the face of our community. Together Gibraltar intends to address all of these issues and bring democracy and accountability back to the people.
Together Gibraltar will be true pioneers in reforming our governmental machinery, enhancing accountability and transparency and opening up Government to real, independent scrutiny. We will empower Parliament with tools to exercise real checks and balances, provide full disclosure of information and ensure our institutional watchdogs have the independence they need to serve their purpose. We will implement watertight internal controls and safeguards as well as review existing processes and practices to identify weaknesses that require attention.
This will allow us to restore public trust and entice the masses back to political engagement.
Our ‘Public Accountability and Transparency’ (PAT) Proposal is divided into three key areas offering three lines of defence.
1. Ministerial Policies & Standards
2. Governance, Supervision & Enforcement
3. Reporting & Disclosure
Ministerial code of conduct
No Minister or Senior Official will have unfettered powers of decision. Government must ensure that all ministers and senior officials exercise their power responsibly and within their remit and are held accountable for their decisions. Together Gibraltar will implement a ‘Ministerial Policies and Standards’ code, which will include a series of rules and principles that ministers and their respective ministries will have to adhere to, including prudent management of all their expenses.
Conflict of interest
Widespread public perception is that ministers and their close circles are benefiting directly and/or indirectly from Government contracts. We will:
Create and maintain a “Conflict of Interest Register” and disclose its contents publicly.
Enforce a policy whereby no ‘Politically Exposed Person’ can enter into an agreement or contract with government owned companies without scrutiny of the value and fairness of said agreement.
Public Fiscal Sustainability
The Statistics Office requires the resource and leadership to be able to deliver better feedback to both Parliament and the general public. Collaboration across all the ministries is an imperative.
Together Gibraltar will provide extensive information on economic, social and population indicators, periodic consultations and surveys to gauge perception on public services and the success of specific policy changes. The office will produce a quarterly publication of ministerial expenses and accounts delivered in a timely fashion.
The last annual audited accounts available (which were incomplete) are dated 2016, and this was only presented to Parliament in January 2019. Information that is this out of date cannot facilitate decision-making. Information needs to be available whilst relevant.
Together Gibraltar will conduct a review on the efficacy of the Gibraltar Audit Office, with a view to introduce legislative and constitutional changes to extend discretionary powers, remit and scope of services. Mandatory penalties will be enforced on Government-owned companies that do not file their accounts on time.
Public Accounts Select Committee
We note that Lord Foulkes, Vice Chairman of the UK branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, recommended that Gibraltar establish a Public Accounts Committee – a committee sitting in parliaments across the Commonwealth. Our current Government did not accept this recommendation. Together Gibraltar has reason to believe that there is a shadow budget – a great amount of off-balance sheet financing and unaccountable spending. We believe it is only right this is brought into the open and presented to a Public Accounts Committee.
Together Gibraltar will establish a Public Accounts Committee to scrutinise reports and make recommendations to Parliament. This will add a further layer of defence and assurance to internal controls and will be instrumental in preventing and detecting waste, fraud and abuse relating to ministerial programs and operations. It will also promote integrity, efficiency, and effectiveness within ministries.
Together Gibraltar will start governing with a clean slate and are better positioned than other parties to deliver the legislative and constitutional changes needed to address public accountability. We will empower our Opposition to hold us to account and endeavour to give them the tools to be effective in their role.
Access to Public Records
Together Gibraltar believes government documents and information hold the truth, and the truth matters because it democratises us. Access to public records is every citizen’s right. People want to know where their money is being spent, how decisions are being made inside government and who is influencing. The Freedom of Information Act 2018 should have provided public access to information held by public authorities. However, according to the Gibraltar Regulatory Authority this is yet to be in force following receiving assent by His Excellency, The Governor of Gibraltar in August 2018. We will therefore bring the Act into force without any further delay. Together Gibraltar value the importance of information being accessible, and we will be at the frontline of a revolution to change the culture of our government reporting to be more open and accountable to our people.
Our vision for the future of government reporting is one where quarterly and bi-annually performance reports are made public to educate our citizens on the true actual state of the public purse. Where information is not withheld and is made available in a timely, understandable manner.
The Complex Web of our Public Debt
Our public debt is the accumulation of perpetual annual budgetary deficits. Our Government has taken on too much debt allowing them to go on an unsustainable spending spree. There are 34 entities wholly owned by Government, that provide a structural web of companies that assist in facilitating complex transactions such as off-balance sheet financing. The true level of debt is believed to be hidden behind this structure in a creative and misleading accounting manoeuvre.
There seems to be no emergency brake being pulled on debt financing. The GSLP/Lib have continuously avoided providing meaningful answers as to how this finance was raised, where the funds have been allocated, how this affects our economy, and how this will be repaid. We need answers to understand what burden this debt will impose on our taxpayers and on future generations.
Together Gibraltar will:
Immediately appoint an examiner to investigate and undertake an in-depth audit review of our sovereign debt to unravel these complex transactions and lift the veil on the true level debt.
Aim to disclose the true principal amounts due and the full terms of these finance arrangements.
Provide a detailed plan and forecast on how we aim to repay any significant debt to safeguard our economy and ensure the long-term sustainability of our finances. Together Gibraltar will be a prudent Government who will provide you the assurances you deserve.