Enhanced Democracy Or More Jobs For the Boys?

The proposal to enlarge the Gibraltar Parliament from its current slate of 17 MPs to 25 through the addition of back-benchers to have 15 MPs on the Government side (5 of whom would be back-benchers) and 10 on the Opposition side (3 of whom would be back-benchers) will not have a quantitative or qualitative impact on the level of democracy in Gibraltar. Under the proposed model, the Government benches’ majority in Parliament remains absolute and the opportunity to provide genuine democratic Parliamentary reform is being missed. Is there a difference between a 10 to 7 majority or a 15 to 10 majority? The Government side retains the ability to consistently outvote the Opposition in every matter presented to Parliament. It claims that it will now enhance democracy by mimicking the Westminster model. But really, it is never going to have any parallels with Westminster, because our community is nothing like the way the UK model works, neither in size nor the constituencies model. The only meaningful, yet detrimental, difference will be the increase in the costs of our Parliament, which is estimated at short of £200,000 per annum, and by extension, the extra burden on the taxpayer with no tangible benefits to democracy.

If anyone truly believes that this enlargement of Parliament on both sides is going to really enhance democracy, time will prove that this is a farce. Smoke and mirrors yet again from a Government looking to cling on to power and an overall majority at any cost. It is evidently clear that the only effect of this ‘reform’ is to rubber stamp the status quo and add one more hollow accolade in the government’s list of self-congratulating press statements, manifesto ticks, and photo opportunities. It is unfair and wrong to ask the taxpayer to foot the bill for a model of enlarged Parliament that simply sits a few more government cheerleaders, no doubt more lawyers from the predictable law firms who will enjoy another title by their surname, sitting on a back bench with the pretence of enhanced democracy –while we are supposed to believe that they might just revolt against the incumbent under the banner of such ‘enhanced democracy’! Does Gibraltar need more connected individuals riding the gravy train? That is not an enhancement of democracy. It is self-serving and irresponsible governance. The only enhancement it will result in is the enhancement of the Punch and Judy show.

Worryingly, this move goes against the advice of the Commission for Parliamentary Reform and is being steamrolled through, months or even weeks as far as we know, before a general election, in the hope that the electorate doesn’t have time to catch its breath. Some have even begun to postulate that the government’s haste to bulldoze all meaningful consultation in this manner may stem from the need to appease certain GSLP hopefuls waiting in the wings and who may have been promised a candidature in the next GSLP/Libs slate. The need, therefore, to increase the size of Parliament may serve the purpose of allaying some of the fractures that are rumoured to be developing in the party between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ guards, as well as to placate currently serving ministers that may fear that up and coming starlets may place them in line for the chopping block.  And of course the GSD, who in principle have been ‘for’ an enlargement of Parliament, is effectively duty bound to go with this proposal, although some would say that the two parties may just be two sides of the same coin with similar interests in perpetuating this farce, and this in itself is evidence that Gibraltar needs real and honest change.

The predictable rhetoric from government and the GSD towards Marlene Hassan Nahon at this morning’s meeting of the Select Committee for Parliamentary Reform came in the form of: “You stood with the GSD ticket which was in favour of parliamentary reform” four years ago. Marlene Hassan Nahon and Together Gibraltar do believe that there is scope for a model which would enhance democracy. We just don’t believe that it has to be this particular one, weeks or months before an election, without public consultation and when the Committee has not met once in the four years in the life of this Parliament, to discuss this until this morning.

For the record, had there been an opportunity to participate in the reforms, in an open and truly engaging manner with the people of this community, proposals like substituting or adding some Parliamentary seats for independent candidates to contest allocated slots for independents within the electoral race, would have been one way to enhance democracy. More seats does not necessarily mean enhanced democracy.

Further, the timing and underlying purpose of this proposal is disturbingly familiar to just before the last general election when the government wanted to lower the voting age to 16. Regardless of the merits of that proposal, because there are merits to the argument for amplifying the vote to 16 year-olds, the impulsive and poorly researched manner in which it was conducted then, was similarly suspicious, appearing once again as Government wanting to give itself an electoral advantage months before a general election. We never heard again of this intention, after Marlene Hassan Nahon strongly opposed it at the time.

At the Select Committee for Parliamentary reform, Marlene Hassan Nahon reminded the committee that prioritising democracy at this present moment would be best served by starting to properly resource the existing Members of Parliament within Opposition who are given no office space or other means in which to serve their constituents. Meanwhile, we are about to add more members to the House with a recurrent cost of c.£200,000 per annum.

Together Gibraltar is for ‘enhancing Parliament’, including but not limited to the enlargement of Parliament, but doing it this way, weeks or months before an election, after an entire Parliamentary term without having even met once, is meaningless, an insult to the integrity of this Parliament, the intelligence of the electorate, and above all, a wasted opportunity for genuine Parliamentary reform.

Together Gibraltar