Government Issues Public Sector Gagging Order Months Before General Election
The Government’s published Social Media Policy is excessive and nefarious in its scope. It fails even to mention - let alone respect - Government employees’ right to freedom of expression under s10 of the Constitution. It is a disproportionate restriction on the rights of Government employees - a very significant percentage of our population. In addition, the fact that this policy comes into force only months before a general election, makes the timing and nature of the policy all the more suspect.
In a video the Chief Minister made in 2011, months before being elected into office, he spoke about the problem of perceived censorship being more acute in the civil service and how he vowed to change it. But his Government’s policy will turn that perception he warned of, into a regulation.
The policy is addressed to “all employees”. We recognise that senior civil servants in political departments need to refrain from public commentary on political controversy. But a non-partisan civil service does not require the same level of restriction on every government employee. A firefighter or a teacher, a doctor or a nurse – or those in non-political leadership roles – for example, a head teacher or university head – should be free to take part in public debate. Their knowledge, their experience, is valuable. Politicians should want to heed healthy public debate, not close it off.
The policy bans government employees from discussion of matters of current or potential political controversy, “whether local or international”. So teachers cannot discuss Brexit, nurses cannot discuss the frontier queue. And a cleaner upset with Housing or struggling to get a GP appointment isn’t allowed to tell friends on Facebook about it.
Further, this policy will expose to retribution any Government employee commenting unfavourably on any aspect of Government, even in wholly-unrelated departments. This is something, which this Government is on record for complaining about when they were in Opposition about how the GSD operated when they were in Government.
Together Gibraltar recognises the importance of a non-partisan civil service. But we also recognise the importance of allowing free and proper public debate about Gibraltar’s political life. What is needed are individual policies for different departments, and covering different ranks within those departments. Indeed, in Opposition, the Chief Minister recognised that limits on civil servants’ free speech should be limited to “issues relevant to the work done by their departments”.
When in Government, Together Gibraltar pledges to implement policies designed to protect the worker and their Government department by setting regulations that will be specifically designed to be relevant to their department and job title. Outside of that remit, the public sector worker will be free to discuss other topics just like any other regular citizen does.
Regrettably, the GSLP/Libs policy is a total u-turn on Government’s promises and manifesto commitments, and the matter is further worrying considering it has come into force months before a General Election. This policy looks more like a pre-election gagging order than anything else.