Together Gibraltar Rejects Government's Last-Minute Enlargement of Parliament

Together Gibraltar notes with concern the recent publishing of a proposal bill to extend Parliament to include backbenchers under the guise of enhancing democracy. Party leader Marlene Hassan Nahon raised this months ago when parliamentary reform was first suggested and our position has always been that reform should take time, with a thorough consultation process and not be rushed through at the eleventh hour before an impending election.

We recognise there are fundamental problems with our democratic system and that something must be done to tackle this. Currently, all MPs from the governing party form part of the cabinet, and exercise absolute power. There is no legislative power to speak of that can provide a check on executive power, let alone a strict separation of powers. This means that at present Opposition costs money but delivers nothing because when you have a blanket executive majority, Parliamentary procedure becomes a complete charade. The current system restricts Opposition to a testimonial role, providing no real value for the taxpayer and coming at a significant cost.

There is no culture of consensus building or cross-party collaboration. Politics is confrontational and tribal. Leaders of parties rarely, if ever, face even the slightest criticism from their MPs, and the procedure to select candidates is always hierarchical and opaque. This is in stark contrast to Together Gibraltar that is holding a truly transparent and open primary candidate election. 

With the proposed reform, under article 45(2)(b) of the constitution, if the size of parliament is increased to 25, the Chief Minister can appoint up to 13 ministers – thus providing another blanket majority. Experience tells us that if an executive can grab more power, they will. This would defeat the purpose of the reform entirely. Local traditional parties have been machines of cronyism, who operate opaquely and have strong hierarchical structures. Together Gibraltar is the only party that provides a truly democratic and transparent option to the people of Gibraltar.

The GSD position of restricting cabinet to 10 ministers is useless particularly considering how antidemocratic and opaque the GSD is when selecting candidates. This reform requires GSD votes as it needs a two-thirds majority in Parliament for it to pass and the GSD has been making noises they will vote in favour. Considering they oppose Government on everything else it is noteworthy they should agree on this particular issue. Nobody is going to believe that a GSD (or a GSLP) backbencher is ever going to go against the party line when it truly matters.

We have to question how this particular reform will be of benefit to the community at large and the procedure by which it is being done. Why do we have to do this in a rushed and untimely fashion, weeks before a general election? Why hasn’t there been extensive consultation on the matter? All these issues raise serious concerns, the optics of which suggest there might be ulterior motives behind this move. Does it serve to appease those who are wanting to enter the political arena with less of a headache, or perhaps fulfil promises made to friends or inner circles? After all, ‘enchufes’, cronyism and nepotism aren’t exactly unheard of in Gibraltar. It would be a convenient salary for those who become backbenchers whose professions allow them to be compatible with being in Parliament, for example, those in the legal profession with political aspirations or for retirees with already hefty and generous pensions. Also, the timing of this proposal and the way it has been conducted is highly ironic – enhancing democracy by imposition, a most undemocratic manner. 

All this points to be a self-serving tactic to ensure an even wider majority for any party in Government. Enhancing democracy is something we should always strive for, but it is not something that should be rushed. Democratic reform is a huge deal. It will involve a significant cost for the taxpayer and will change the way our entire democracy operates, requiring serious consultation with the public since it is their interests that those in Parliament seek to represent. 

There are more than enough politicians in number to represent a population of just over 32,000 citizens. We need to improve the quality of our democracy without increasing its quantity and cost. The taxpayer does not want to go down this path and from the many negative comments expressed it is evident they can see through the reasons for reform expressed by Government. 

Our recommendations:

The obvious step in enhancing democracy is for all parties to hold primary candidate elections, like Together Gibraltar is doing this month. This is a massive step in creating a more transparent and effective democracy. The entire membership is free to stand and will receive the same support from the Party. They will choose their pitch freely and will be voted by the membership openly and transparently. This is not a trivial or cosmetic issue – it is in fact vital for the quality of our democratic system. This is the only way to select MPs that will not be mere pawns of a party apparatus.

We need to go back to the drawing board and have open and extensive consultation without any extra cost to the taxpayer. We propose reverting the reform and opening a consultation process instead that would provide for a system that is fair, less costly and more democratic within a reasonable time frame. 

Some ideas which we could consider would be having independent MPs, reducing the number of ministers to 8, extending Parliament with voluntary MPs, the possibility of some Parliamentary votes being chosen by direct democracy, and the list goes on. We have many interesting and worthy ideas that we would like to see discussed during this consultation process and it should involve the entire political spectrum, experts in the field of democratic reform, and of course, the citizens of Gibraltar.

Together Gibraltar