Budget Speech - Marlene Hassan Nahon

Mr. Speaker, Honourable members, 

Mr. Speaker I would like to start by expressing just how grateful I am to the clerk of the House Paul Martinez, on the eve of his retirement, for his years of service in this place, and particularly for always being there for me.

Mr. Speaker in my solitary position in this House, it isn’t always easy to know exactly how things go or should be done, and Paul has always been a solid steer to me, someone who I could always count on for advice, direction and mentorship, and so for my part Mr. Speaker he will be sorely missed, and whoever takes on his position will have very big shoes to fill. I do take this opportunity to wish him a very happy and well-deserved retirement. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank him once again and the referendum team from Parliament and ITLD for their sterling work during the recent referendum, and the previous same referendum barely a year ago which was postponed at the last minute due to Covid. Two referendums in the space of a year Mr. Speaker, as well as two election campaigns, the Brexit referendum, two European elections, and so much more Mr. Speaker, Paul has always been there for all of us, and for that I thank him again, and the Parliament team, Kevin, Danny, Simon, Daniel, and of course your good self Mr. Speaker.

I would also like to thank our media, our national broadcaster GBC,  for diligently and consistently reporting on the Covid crisis as it unfolded, and ensuring this community was regularly informed and updated despite all the challenges that meant for every individual and their families while members of the media braved this unknown pandemic from the frontline to give us visibility and information throughout the lockdown and beyond.

Of course, similarly Mr. Speaker, we are also eternally indebted to our nurses, doctors and healthcare workers who risked their own lives and that of their families to be there for ours during the pandemic. Thank you.

And despite the policy differences between myself and the members opposite, on the human, one to one level Mr. Speaker, I would like to extend my thanks to the Honourable members Samantha Sacramento and John Cortes for always being available to assist with the representations I bring to them from my constituents. And the same goes for the Hon Vijay Daryanani, -who despite comments from this side of the house, works so hard and in my view, Mr. Speaker, really does not deserve to bear the brunt of the cancellations and closures from entities associated with his portfolio, which are happening because of the times we live in Mr. Speaker, and not because of his approach or his efforts,- something I find quite ungenerous, infantile and unnecessary, and wastes parliamentary and people’s time Mr. Speaker. 

I also wish to thank the Deputy Chief Minister and the Chief Minister himself, for being ready to discuss issues pertaining to constituents who reach out to me and require help. On a day to day, these members opposite are always ready to assist me when I give them a shout and for that I am very grateful. I would also like to thank Denise Ghio at Number 6, who the Chief Minister has often delegated my constituent cases to, to help out with, and never fails to listen and help where she can, when I am referred to her.

 

MR SPEAKER TURNING TO THE BUDGET NOW

This budget speech will be remembered by all of us for years to come. It will go down in history as the first budget after the Covid Pandemic, and after 2 years of fear, isolation and uncertainty. In some ways it will be the budget of hope. Not because of its content Mr. Speaker, which is worrying for the future of our community, but because it marks another in step in our return to normality,  a normality that I am optimistic will come if we are patient, act responsibly, and let science lead the way. 

 

Unfortunately this budget will also be known as the moment of reckoning for the GSLP administration of the Chief Minister, the honourable Mr. Fabian Picardo. 

 

The hon. The Leader of the Opposition, referred to it as a budget “without hope.” 

The Hon. Mr Roy Clinton called it a “beggars bowl budget.” And the Chief Minister himself, much in his hyperbolic style, coined the catchphrase “the hardest budget in history.” To me, this is yet another budget of anger and frustration. Another façade of a budget. A budget-script with the latest performance of a very gifted actor in a second-rate play. A budget/fiction novel, with clever prose but a completely unbelievable plot. 

 

To me, this is the budget of decay, and I will explain what I mean in due course. 

 

Gibraltar has had enormous competitive advantages for a long, long time - what Mr. Picardo described as “the goose that laid the golden egg” but its leaders have not had the foresight to use the wealth generated by industries that were doomed, to veer away from these industries into more robust, sustainable and forward-looking ones that would guarantee our long term prosperity. 

 

They did not have the foresight either, despite what you might have heard from members opposite, to spend prudently and responsibly in anticipation of a rainy day that was always going to come sooner or later.

 

And they were warned Mr. Speaker, by me particularly, but also by other members of this house. My party, TG and I, have said many times that Gibraltar needs profound structural changes. That it had to be weened off the tobacco trade (some of which Mr. Speaker, tolerated illicit trade). That it had to move away from fossil fuel bunkering. That it had to move away from fiscal dumping and opaque finances. Because sooner or later, it was clear that these industries would come into direct conflict with an evolving world. A world in which public coffers cannot afford any more tax avoidance, where the planet cannot take more carbon pollution, and where tobacco and other unhealthy demons are being slowly exorcised from our lives.

 

And these are not the only changes. As noted by many of my fellow MP’s on both sides of the house, many global paradigms have changed in these two years. We have lost friends and family members. We have tasted isolation and withdrawal. We have become more in touch with our fear and vulnerability, and we have been reminded of the importance of the institutions that represent the common good. Throughout the Covid pandemic, the daily briefings at No.6 provided us with much needed calm and reassurance. We also followed other global leaders and the struggle of other nations, applauded our public healthcare workers, and many of us -not all. Mr. Speaker, but many- felt the financial support of the state when we needed it the most. This pandemic has reminded us of the value of the state, as the only instrument capable of navigating profound crises, and in the midst of these, be the custodians of order and the protectors of the greater good. It is from this perspective that it becomes particularly tragic to analyse the obliteration of our country’s public finances at the hands of this administration. In a world threatened by climate change and the many challenges of globalization. 

What will happen next time we need a helping hand from the state? Can we promise our children that they will be protected from chaos if they have the misfortune that we have had these past years Mr. Speaker? We certainly cannot. In fact, as raised by the Hon. Mr Roy Clinton, this Government cannot even tell us how it intends to face its debt commitments for the next three years, let alone, beyond.

 

This redefinition of the role of the state into a more interventionist, paternalistic entity, ready to step in with great might when things get tough, has to also bring a redefinition of the role of private enterprise and capital. What we cannot continue to have, Mr. Speaker, is the kind of breach of the social contract that the 2008 financial crisis brought, in which decades of neoliberal policies, low taxation and financial malpractice gave way to public bailouts for the banks and austerity for the people. The damage this political response had on people’s faith in the system was truly devastating, and the consequences of this can still be felt today. 



It is my belief and that of my party, that if we respond to the needs of our badly wounded, public finances, in a way that is unfair, or that does not make the most fortunate pay their fair share of the cost of recovery, we will also be partaking in the weakening of our democracy and institutions. If we now apply austerity to those who need it the most, we will destroy what’s left of the social fabric of the people of Gibraltar, a close-knit fabric that has been the key to the resilience of our people.

 

As a side note Mr. speaker, I’d like to share a very personal experience. Through the covid pandemic, I was forced to spend time away from my ageing mother, as so many people were, due to fear of contagion. She suffers from dementia, and at the time her condition was not great, but she was still ‘there’. There were still sparks of her feisty, powerful former self. After the lockdown was over and the vaccines delivered, I was allowed to spend time with her again, but something had changed. The isolation had caused a sharper decline than we thought was possible. 

This has made me realise the suffering of those who experience loneliness and involuntary solitude, an ongoing pandemic that plagues many elderly members of our community even when social distance is not forced upon us, and that we have to find a way to tackle as a community. Let this be a gentle reminder - visit your elderly. Spend time with them. Care for them. Love and care soothe and heal. Isolation and loneliness kill.

COVID

On this note, I would like to start my analysis by giving you my take on the Covid response of this Government, although it might be fairer to say that this response was a cross party affair between the GSLP and the GSD, their presence in every discussion and briefing  surely a testament to the official opposition’s endorsement of said response Mr. Speaker.

 

When the hon. The LOTO, says there was unity in the response, I guess he makes a mistake he and so many in this chamber make all too often. He forgets that this is not just a boys game, and that there is another significant presence in this Parliament. 

I’m talking about, of course, the presence of this honourable lady, the woman that doesn’t understand politics, that doesn’t write her own speeches, that has crazy views - because I get all of it in this house Mr. Speaker, the full spectrum of male chauvisnism - the mansplaining, the patronising, and the gaslighting to boot -  and little Marlene Hassan and her party cannot be taken seriously despite having a fair few votes more than other honourable members who do get to sit at the table with the big boys. There was no unity in the Covid response Mr. Speaker, because I and TG were left out of the discussions of the covid response team. And why? Because I had the audacity to point out that our then health minister had been posting wanderlust pictures in Tarifa while we were all scared to death and trying to get people to adhere to public health advice urgently. For this I was insulted, and later marginalised from doing my job as the leader of a party with over 20% of the votes at the last election.



Unfortunately for Government, we used this episode to reclaim our place as an independent, free thinking voice at a time in which there were none. We constantly advocated for a more prudent management of the pandemic from a public health point of view. We advocated for greater mask use and harsher enforcement of healthcare protocols. We called out the lack of example of Mr Picardo and some of his ministers, who went around hospitals getting photos taken of themselves unmasked with big groups of people. We put pressure for more and faster testing. We called out the leniency of Government regarding Christmas celebrations, and particularly, we criticised the Government endorsed, culture of recklessness that seemed to take over Gibraltar after the miraculously benign first wave. Unfortunately Mr. Speaker, what came after the Christmas “comelonas” is one of the darkest chapters of our history, if not the darkest. 94 lives lost. A total number of over 4600 cases. A proportion of cases and deaths in our Elderly residential services that far outnumbers even the countries worst hit by the pandemic.

 

Double the deaths per capita of La Linea or Algeciras. Almost three times the number of deaths per capita than the province of Andalucia. We cannot participate in the self congratulatory fanfare over the pandemic response from a public health policy point of view Mr. Speaker. We could have done better. Lives could have been saved with a more cautious and coherent approach. We believe that an enquiry into the handling of the second covid wave in the ERS is absolutely necessary, and we hope it will allow us understand what happened and, if necessary, assign culpability. This is the only way to learn from our mistakes Mr. speaker, however painful and traumatic this episode may be.

 

What we can say is, and we do so with great pride Mr. speaker despite the also massive number of cases we had in our community, which were, in our opinion, exacerbated by the culture of recklessness and the incoherence of Government messaging (does anyone remember the press conference in which we were treated to a long list of star wars puns and jokes? Was that just me, or was that not just plain disrespectful?) 

We do say with great pride that our healthcare professionals fared very well in comparison to our European counterparts, and did a heroic and outstanding job saving many lives and helping our community through these terrifying and extraordinarily hard times. I think that it would be an apt homage to them and the lives lost to Covid if we agreed on a date in the calendar year and created our own National public health day, in which we could all go out to our balconies to clap and give thanks to our healthcare professionals, as well as remember our loved ones lost to the pandemic.

 

And remember, the pandemic is not over! Just as we did back then, I say to the people of Gibraltar now - exercise great caution. Use masks indoors when outside of social bubbles. Wash your hands. Avoid large crowds. The number of cases is growing at an alarming rate, and so is, albeit slowly, the number of hospitalisations. Let’s do our bit to curb the spread and thus the mutation of the virus. We are over the worst of this pandemic, but we still need a last push to see it through. Let’s give this final push together, in real unity.

 

ECONOMY

 

Now I will concentrate on the economy Mr. Speaker, and the issues pertaining to the letter, or should I say number, of this budget.

 

The budget of decay is, as I mentioned earlier, begins with a remarkable story of unprecedented success and unparalleled governance that has finally delivered the elusive socialist utopia. Of course, little if anything at all of that narrative is true. I will therefore try to establish some differences between what life looks like on planet Picardo, and what it looks like here, on earth, for us mere mortals.

 

In planet Picardo we are the spoilt child of Europe. We have got it better than ever before, in fact, we have had it too well. “Viviendo por encima de nuestras posibilidades”, as Rajoy’s PP Government used to say across the frontier. 

 

The Chief Minister is telling us, “You are so lucky. Don’t complain. Your lives could not possibly be better. You are richer than the Germans, and being better than the Germans always sounds impressive.

 

In the real world things are pretty different. Perhaps here it would be the fair thing to do to differentiate between the two castes in Gibraltar, particularly when referring to the lower end of the earning spectrum - PRIVATE SECTOR WORKERS and CIVIL SERVANTS, with the latter enjoying very generous conditions and the former suffering from pretty dire ones. In the real word, statistics of average earnings are, like the Hon Mr Clinton said, completely meaningless. They are distorted by high earners, which amount to a disproportionate number of people due to our economic model, so generous with the wealthy. Our pensions are squalid, our unemployment benefits practically non-existent, statutory protections in the private sector are crippling, parental leave and pay are laughable. 

Too many of our citizens live in housing squalor, unable to enter a completely manic property ladder while wasting away in a never ending housing list. There is a lot of substandard housing in both the private and public markets, and inside them dwell the most unfortunate and needy of our people. 

 

None of that matters, because “YOU ARE SPOILT” And I ask myself, Mr. speaker, who spoilt us? Is it the fault of the child that he or she has been spoilt, or is it the fault of the parents, who are responsible for the child’s education? The culture of entitlement has not emerged spontaneously from within Mr. Speaker! Surely the people responsible for the culture of entitlement are those that have been promising more and more to our people in successive manifestos! Also, unless we believe that the culture of entitlement is only a decade old, surely the GSD has had a part to play in the establishment of such a culture!



We have said it before and we say it again now -  to suggest that the problem is a culture of entitlement is to avoid responsibility and engage in an exercise of victim blaming. The problem is not a culture of entitlement, but a culture of irresponsible governance and reckless political campaigning. Of giving people freebies and raises before election day in order to get reelected. Of trying to “outpromise” each other in every election.

 

In our first and only election Mr. speaker, Together Gibraltar presented a modest and costed manifesto that promised to bring an end to any capital projects that did not meet urgent housing demands. We were prudent, and promised more in the way of changes of governance and culture than tangible, costly assets. Our policy pillars were equality, environmental protection and the fight against corruption, and our star policies were bicycle lanes, better parental leave provisions, and more independent scrutiny of  public spending. No Mr. speaker, we are not responsible for this culture Mr. Speaker, and neither is the general public. OUR LEADERS ARE. 

And to have the cheek to point their fingers at the people of Gibraltar and scold them for it is outrageous.

 

DEBT

On the issue of debt, we are also millions of miles away from planet Picardo. This budget shows a contraction of our economy of 4.9% - less than half of that of the worst hit economies in Europe.

We have racked up a 158 million pound deficit between spending and loss of revenue, and 50 million more is predicted from now to according to predictions till the economic the financial year’s end. However, according to the CHIEF MINISTER, after achieving record breaking economic results year after year for a decade, our net debt now stands at some 720 million.

 

In the real world nobody believes this narrative anymore. In fact, the Chief Minister doesn’t believe it himself! He said it clearly in his speech, that if he hadn’t hidden away debt in Government owned companies, he would have had to report to Parliament and ask for the modification of the debt ceiling. 

He is congratulating himself for avoiding Parliamentary scrutiny, Mr. speaker, admitting that indirect borrowing hidden in Gov owned companies IS in fact Government borrowing, and admitting that the level of debt is higher than it is made out to be in his books. A triple admission of guilt Mr. Speaker, in one fell swoop, in one act of trademark Picardo bluster. Por la boca muere el pez Mr, speaker, especially when the fish is overconfident and out of touch.

 

In planet Picardo, the fact that the UK provided support for our borrowing with a 500m sovereign fund guarantee shows the resilience of our finances! What kind of nonsense is this? So the fact that we need someone to back our borrowing to keep interest low means our economy is robust? 

 

In the real world when one needs securities for their borrowing, it is because they don’t have the best credit rating. The UK have helped us in a time of need, and Boris Johnson has lived up to his promise, reiterated time and time again, that the UK would stand by Gibraltar as a member of its family. 

Also, in the real world jurisdictions that do not have their own currency and therefore no monetary policy, require the kind of help the UK very kindly offered us. It was a display of solidarity and support from the UK no doubt, but an endorsement of the state of our public finances -it was not.

 

Also in the real world, and as explained thoroughly and with great detail by my opposition colleague the hon. Roy Clinton, there is close to one billion pounds of what should be net debt hidden In Government owned companies. One billion. That makes a grand total of 1.7 bn net debt. Triple of the sum Mr. Picardo promised to halve  51k for every man, woman and children of Gibraltar. That is the true figure of our public debt, and it is high time they recognised it.

 

In Planet Picardo, the covid pandemic has been worse than the closure of the frontier and the MOD dockyard TOGETHER. It has been a seismic event, a meteor that has decimated our otherwise robust and healthy economy. 

 

In the real world, Of the 1.7 billion of debt, only some 250m can be attributed to COVID, which amounts to approximately 15% of the total gross debt. The Government are clearly trying to sweep a decade of systemic, economic mismanagement under the carpet of the pandemic, and make us forget that the vast majority of the problems were already here before he Covid even existed. I will not elaborate further Mr. speaker, as my  opposition colleagues have already done a great job of detailing this reality, but I would like to reiterate the view that even though Covid has hit us hard, the bulk of our financial problems existed way before the pandemic hit us, and were solely the responsibility of the Government.

 

But hey, our estimate book has many pages! So much information inside! In planet Picardo more pages mean more transparency.. In the real world they just mean more lies.




TREATY WITH THE EU

Regarding the ongoing negotiations with the EU and the framework agreement, the disparity between the reality in Planet Picardo and here on earth has been remarkable from the start. My party and I, despite having supported and even protected the negotiations from unfair, opposition attacks, have been highlighting it from the day the framework agreement was announced. We said that the framework agreement stated quite clearly that the EU, facilitated by Spain, would have the last say regarding entry to Gibraltar. It also stated, albeit in deliberately vague language, that these EU authorities would be replaced by Spain after a four year transition, and that there would have to be some form of tax and duty harmonisation for the frontiers to be lifted.

According to POLITICO, one of the most reputable chroniclers of the EU politics, “Just before the end of the Brexit transition period last year, Spain and the U.K. struck a preliminary, 11th-hour deal to avoid a hard border between Gibraltar and Spain by allowing the British territory to become part of the Schengen passport-free area with the sponsorship of Madrid.”

 

All that the recently published EU mandate does is reiterate the positions of the framework agreement, who were clearly misinterpreted by our Government, albeit in less ambiguous terms. The Commission's mandate includes proposals to, and I quote Politico yet again, "remove physical checks and controls on persons and goods at the land border between Spain and Gibraltar, while ensuring the integrity of the Schengen area and the Single Market.” The EU wants London to agree to a customs union between Gibraltar and the EU by aligning goods taxation with that of Spain, complete with, and I quote, "appropriate checks and controls in Gibraltar," the mandate says.

 

With a more honest interpretation of the framework agreement, and less self-aggrandising propaganda, this outcome should have not come as a surprise- 



It was completely predictable, so much so that Spain have not maligned the mandate, as has been suggested by some, but has send an official communiqué praising it, namely OFFICIAL STATEMENT 062 from the Ministerio de Exteriors titled:

“Spain welcomes proposed draft mandate for negotiations on EU-UK Treaty on Gibraltar.” That goes on to say: Spain is grateful for and appreciates the efforts made by the European Commission to approve a draft mandate in line with the understanding reached between Spain and the United Kingdom on 31 December.”

 

We said it before and we will say it again, although I’m sure we will be ridiculed for doing so. The Chief Minister told us he had managed to close a deal that gave us all we wanted, without any concessions. That is how things work in planet Picardo. The rest of us in the real world, however, know that deals only happen when all sides make concessions, and these concessions, unfortunately, always reflect the balance of power at the negotiating table.



Fortunately the EC’s opening position will soon be brought to its knees by the Chief Minister’s silky oratorial skills - as was Spain going to fall prey to Mr Azzopardi’s dealmaking skills when he promised to tear up the tax treaty. Fortunately Mr. Speaker, the LOTO has reined in his populist streak and now recognises that the treaty is not going away, and will continue to be with us even if we find ourselves in a no deal situation.

 

To continue with the LOTOs speech, to reiterate his ill-conceived and ill-advised narrative of wasted opportunities - which of course refers to using cross frontier workers as bargaining chips, forgetting that the loss of these workers would have had a much more negative impact on Gibraltar than it would have on Spain. This is a disingenuous argument that preys on some of the most base instincts in this community, and we will not let him fan the flames of xenophobia at this historic time, when we need more fraternity and solidarity than ever.

 

When he says that the tax treaty with Spain discourages inward investment, what exactly does he mean? Is he suggesting that we try to sign an agreement that continues to allow people to not pay their taxes in the country they reside in? Is he suggesting we should encourage or tolerate tax fraud? Should we want to go back to the fringes of the global economy by encouraging behaviours that are heavily frowned upon by international institutions? Is that what we should be encouraging at this time? Is that his future strategy for Gibraltar? Because that’s what it sounds like.

POST BREXIT PLAN

I would also like to mention my disappointment at the fact that both Joe Bossano and Roy Clinton agree that the alternative plan after a hard Brexit should be to look south to Morocco. Let us remember that, even though we have a large population of Gibraltarians of Moroccan descent, and that trade with Morocco was key for our survival in the frontier closure years,- for which we are very thankful - this is a regime that is totalitarian, oppressive and extremely unequal. It’s a bit like our relationship with Spain - we love our neighbours, but we have serious issues with their central government. Let me remind the House that Morocco uses, in its claim over the territories of Ceuta and Melilla, similar arguments to the ones Spain uses to substantiate its claim over Gibraltar, much against the wishes of the people who live there. It is a grossly inadequate alternative to perhaps the largest, wealthiest, most democratic and most egalitarian group of nations in the world. Morocco is a developing market, with a population of 36 million and a GDP which is a little over half that of Andalucia, one of the poorest regions in Europe.

I am not saying that we should not seek out economic opportunities with Morocco and with all available markets,  I am simply saying that a replacement for access to European markets and a future plan for our post Brexit economy, it is not.

 

The other option is of course, tying our future even more closely to the future of Boris Johnson’s Brexit Britain project, a project Mr. Speaker that I’m afraid does not align with Gibraltar’s values of openness, diversity and solidarity, nor does it generate great confidence throughout the electorate. 

I believe Mr. Picardo is right to say that our relationships with the UK - although he should really say the Johnson administration - are tighter than ever, but he forgets that this Conservative Government will not last forever. What will become of this special relationship, in which he has been so servile, when other governments come along? What will happen when the pendulum swings away from the politics of isolation and identity, back towards international collaboration and interdependence? How will his willingness to take part in so much Tory propaganda go down with his successors?

One thing I can tell you for sure -Gibraltar is not ready to take any backward steps in the road to nationhood and decolonisation. Not for Spain, not for the UK, not for the Queen, not for anybody. For better or for worse we are British Gibraltarians, with a distinct identity, our own constitution and our own Parliament. The Chief Minister now seems to suggest that a crown dependency status might be positive for Gibraltar in the future, maybe he will care to explain in his reply what the benefits of such an arrangement might be, and how this would be feasible as a matter of international law.

 

To think that this is the alternative plan to some form of close relationship with the EU is truly disheartening, and it makes my remainer pro-European heart weep. And I’m sure that most progressive, internationalist citizens in our community feel exactly the same way. 

There must be a better way, and a good government should be able to find it. Other leaders, in our very successful past, rolled up their sleeves and found a way to meet the demands of our people, and even though I have little faith in this government’s promises, I sincerely hope it succeeds in the enterprise of signing a treaty with Europe that brings mutual prosperity and a free flowing border, while respecting our red lines on sovereignty.

 

MONEYVAL

 

Another important issue and potential threat looming on the horizon, is the pending review from the Council of Europe’s anti-money laundering body MONEYVAL 

 

In planet Picardo, this time also populated by my GSD opposition colleagues, the results were outstanding and recognition of our fabulous financial centre and our flawless laws. 

 

In response to the 2019 report conducted in Gibraltar, the council of experts stated that Gibraltar needs to invest more efforts in identifying, investigating and prosecuting money laundering and in confiscation of proceeds of crime. 

As we explained in our press statement last year (and despite the sugar coating applied by govt and the GSD, who illustrated once again that they are not just weak in opposition but at times shockingly ill-informed on matters of public importance), we have clear shortcomings when it comes to our Anti Money Laundering and Combating Terrorist Financing controls. We fared on a par with  Malta, who were found to be severely lacking. Malta were recently grey listed by Moneyval, which reflects very poorly on the country, with financial institutions around the world deeming the jurisdiction (and it’s firms and residents) to be of a higher risk when providing services. 

This has a significant impact on jurisdictions’ ability to obtain financial services, and has a quantifiable negative impact on GDP that could be as high as 10.6% . As a financial hub, reliant on access to global financial markets, we have a lot at risk. We need to be assured by govt that appropriate measures are being taken to address the shortcomings identified, and if they are not, we need to take them urgently. We simply cannot afford to be grey-listed at this stage Mr. Speaker.

 

The assessment made clear that while our legal framework is for the most part adequate, as a nation we have failed to execute on the measures created to counter money-laundering and terrorist financing, and there has been little in the way of prosecution of such shortcomings to the degree that the report states that ‘the effective investigation and prosecution of Money Laundering offences remain undemonstrated.’

 

It is interesting to note the GSD’s out-of-character lack of criticism at the time, perhaps borne out of a wish not to highlight the weak controls applied by legal firms to aid in the prevention of Money Laundering? Is this another example of the GSD and the GSLP working together for the benefit of the barristocracy? Sitting at the top of the tree, it is imperative that the legal firms set the tone for their clients and the finance sector. While our circumstances are unique, we note with caution the parallel that can be drawn between our assessment and that of Malta, which was treated nationally and globally as being of significant concern for the jurisdiction.

 

COMMUNITY CARE

 

On the issue of Community Care Mr. Speaker, I was disappointed to learn how the hon father of the House seems to also live in a distant planet. I feel I have to use this opportunity to, yet again defend my father’s name - as he is not present to do it himself, unfortunately. 

 

Given the Hon. Member’s penchant for lengthy history lessons, and given the fact that Mr Speaker allowed him the indulgence of doing so, let's remember that the father of the house treated me as “my father’s daughter” inelegantly, unnecessarily and unfairly. The honourable minister forgot that I am a voted member of this House in my own right, and on my own merit, and that my late father does not deserve to be associated with what the honourable minister considers to be my mistakes – on which we clearly disagree because I always act in good faith and try and help people as best I can. 

But now that he’s involved him Mr. Speaker, let me also remind him that this member’s father beat him every single time, and that his daughter is here 50 years later with her own strong mandate and her own politics, in VERY DIFFERENT times, and would appreciate being referred to in her own capacity, unless of course, the situation by virtue of direct and personal association, calls for it. 

 

Even if it might seem impossible to believe by someone of his generation, Mr. speaker, I do understand exactly what the problem is regarding Community Care. 

 

It is he who seems way too comfortable endorsing a system that requires the opaque and unaccountable management of public money, and the use of a ridiculous double-speak when scrutinising what is, undeniably a pension policy issue and not a charity issue. In the 21st century, these botched jobs are simply not good enough Mr. speaker. We want a system that is transparent and fair, that can be discussed openly and that provides decent standards of living to our pensioners, without discrimination. 

The current system is none of these things. Community Care has served its purpose, but it is no longer fit for purpose. The time has come to address the problem of our pension system head on, so that future generations don’t have to inherit this mess. Regarding our position on the Community officer alliance scheme, it is completely unfair to land us in the same place as our Opposition colleagues. We have not been populist about this issue, promising the reestablishment of the scheme for all. We have not demonstrated in the street for free parking in midtown or against osmosis. 

 

We have had a fair and prudent position, laid out a day after the march, that stated that we would look at the situation of those aggrieved on a case-by-case basis, and offer those at risk of hardship the opportunity to take part in the scheme for a transitional period. But after this period is over it is our opinion that it is better to reform the entire pensions system than to continue tweaking the current mess we’re in. 

We believe this would be better for future generations, for our international relations, and for the welfare of our pensioners.

 

TAX INCREASES

 

As for the measures included in this budget that are aimed at boosting Government revenue, we agree with Action on Poverty that the words of the chief minster in Tuesday’s speech are lacking in empathy for those in need.  It was a very confrontational speech, fighting windmills and making up imaginary villains and foes that he is going to, single handedly and heroically, put in their place. 

Of course he was always referring to those entitled Gibraltarians who dispute his narrative or those who require the assistance of our wholly inadequate, welfare system. This is what is popularly referred to kissing up and kicking down, the opposite of what a socialist government should aspire to do. The fiscal measures implemented are tougher on the working and middle classes than on those who could really make a difference in helping to fund the post Covid recovery.

In its Journal of Economic Studies, in a study named “Tackling income inequality :The role of taxes and transfers“ the OECD states that, and I quote: “personal income tax is the most progressive tax, although there are significant cross-country variations. Social security contributions, consumption taxes and real estate taxes tend to be regressive in most countries.”

Despite this, very little has done to really implement fair, progressive tax raises. In the area of Personal Income taxes there have been no changes to the tax rates or bands under either the Allowance Based System or Gross Income Based System, even though those on the Gross Income Based system continue to pay 18% for income over 500k and below 700k, and 5% on all income over and above this figure. 

5% Mr. Speaker. A regressive tax system that allows the super rich to get out of paying their fair share of the resources our community so desperately needs. 

Category 2 Individuals have seen an increase in Minimum tax payable from £22,000 to £32,000 per annum, while the Tax “cap” for income taxed under the certificate has been increased from £27,560 to £37,310. There is only one word to describe these measures: PEANUTS. 

 

HEPSS individuals (High Executives Possessing Specialist Skills), despite being some of our highest paid professionals, will continue to pay the same rate of taxation, with the only difference that to qualify they will have to be paid 40k funds more. So the richer the HEPSS you are, the less taxes you will pay. This is doubly absurd, it defeats the propose of having such a measure, as we will have less HEPSS in Gibraltar who bring in valuable skills and assets, and will therefore end up raising little revenue, if any at all. What happened with the plain old “raising taxes for the rich”? Is it not a socialist mantra anymore? 

Can’t we just tell all the extremely highly paid members of our community that they have to pay in accordance to their means, if only while we get our economy back on track? Mr Picardo’s new catchphrase that what matters is, and I quote from his speech, “what we offer to people who have the least, not what we demand from the ppl who have the most” has to be the most nonsensical and anti socialist mantra I have ever heard. Who is buying this nonsense? Are the good old, honest socialists in his party listening to this trite?   

 

Instead, we raise electricity bills by a huge and sudden 16%, which will be a massive blow to some of our most vulnerable. We raise contributions to Social insurance, which will despite what Mr. Bossano will lead you to believe, always impact more on those who have the least. Even though SI contributions are somewhat adjusted to earnings, they have caps that make it so that they will always amount to a higher percentage of earnings for low earners than for high ones, and there is only one word to describe that, Mr. Speaker, and that is REGRESSIVE. 

 

We understand the need to raise corporate tax slightly - at the end of the day this is tax based on profits, not on income, and we welcome the fiscal stimuli for employment that go along with it. We are concerned however, that without a proper government strategy (lets remember that government is, by a lot, the biggest employer and investor in Gibraltar), our economy will never fully modernise. We will find ourselves, much like other developed economies, transitioning to a more unequal model in which new technology is harnessed and exploited by the already privileged few, thus increasing the inequality problem. Alas, there is no economic modernisation strategy in the horizon, only as the hon Roy Clinton put it, “begging, borrowing and scraping”.

 

BERTHS

We don’t not agree in the slightest with the policy of selling the small bats marina births urgently and allowing them to be freely transferrable once sold. 

 

Could the Chief Minister please explain to us, after the mess created by subsidised, affordable homes entering the private real estate market at extortionate prices, why the government would introduce a new distorted and unfair, government subsidised market? And what about the price? The Chief Minister stated that the return is close to the price of development, so what kind of a business venture is this? If we sell boat marinas at less than cost price, what kind of value are we giving the taxpayer? This policy is just absurd. If the berths are a socialised enterprise, then they should be rented and available to all Gibraltarians. If they are a for-profit venture, then they should make a significant profit, as all real estate that is sold in Gibraltar always has significantly more demand than supply. This is just a way to make a quick buck. It will create government subsidised social inequity, frustrate people, continue to distort our real estate markets, and squander yet another valuable asset that belongs at all of us.

GHA

Another important chapter that did not feature in the chronicles of Planet Picardo is the state of complete disarray of the GHA. Waiting lists are enormous, appointments almost impossible to access, phone lines saturated, professionals overworked, management is all over the place, corners are being cut left right and centre, mental health services continue to be inadequate and overrun, and in the meantime people are getting more frustrated, sicker and more worried. The lacklustre provision of our healthcare, that never had the opportunity to really recover from the covid pandemonium, has become another serious health hazard for the people of Gibraltar. Behind these seemingly anodyne numbers and statistics, there are people suffering and lives deteriorating. We posted a few testimonies of people who experienced this a few months back, and despite the promises made, things seem to be getting worse, not better. Also, let’s not forget that the national Dementia strategy has not yet been implemented, despite the growing nature of the problem, and more and more people with dementia living alone, vulnerable and undiagnosed. 

 

MENTAL HEALTH

Mr. Speaker, perhaps the one thing we can all agree on in this House is the severity in the lack of Mental Health support services. And although government paints these services as rosy and robust, Mr. Speaker I assure you the reality on the ground is anything but. I have often appealed to members opposite on the pressing need for a cohesive “start to functional” approach for mental health sufferers. Whatever they are doing right now, it is simply not working Mr. Speaker. Those who know me will know that the lion’s share of my time as an MP is spent working with very fragile mental health sufferers who have no structure, support or pathway to a long-term care plan that will deliver long-lasting results. Unfortunately, this leaves untrained and unsupported people like myself in this field trying to help these desperate on the brink, something I consider both dangerous and irresponsible Mr. Speaker. I can’t stress enough how much of a priority a long-term mental health policy is for our community, and I urge government to take immediate action on this now. 

We eagerly await the policies due to be implemented next month, and we hope they adequately address the recommendations of the report from Public health England, a report that was hidden from the public for over a year and STILL remained relevant when published.

EQUALITY

Mr. Speaker it is all well and good for government so congratulate itself for its record on equality and although some of it is deserved, much of it is not. For example, despite surrogacy legislation being passed as far back as January, same sex couples wishing to retrospectively be listed as parents of children born before the legislation was enacted are still struggling to acess this right. A little equality is not equality, so please Mr. Speaker I urge the Justice and Equality Ministry to finalise the implementation of this law so that same sex parents stop getting turned away at the civil status office when seeking legal recognition of their parenthood.

I  would also like to raise the lack of gender balance in our public boards, which are perennially male dominated. 

I ask the government what is so hard about finding equal numbers of women to appoint to boards. Are we less capable? Are we less considered? I cannot understand why Mr. Speaker we often see pictures of public boards packed with men in suits when our women deserve at least an equal share of representation in those platforms. A little equality is not equality, Mr. Speaker.

And when will we see a truly egalitarian maternity/paternity leave plan for parents so that society can move forward equally and with the same opportunities Mr. Speaker? When will those residents of the Queens substandard filthy hostel be treated as equal citizens and relocated to premises worthy of the country with the highest GDP per capita in the world? “Immediately” Mr. Speaker, should be the answer to these pressing equality issues…

IMMEDIATELY.

P A U S E ……

 

Menopause, Mr. Speaker, is something that not many will go through in this House. But outside of this House, women in the workplace are encountering challenges managing menopause while they are at work. Mr. Speaker I propose to move a motion at the next available opportunity in Parliament aimed at increasing awareness and support for women in menopause in the workplace and after consultation with the Chief Minister, he has agreed to support a motion of this nature. I have also discussed it with the Leader of the Opposition who has indicated his support for the motion as well, and I look forward to presenting it in due course.

On the Crimes Amendment Act and the referendum Mr. Speaker, I was proud to work with two other party leaders in this House, the Honourable the Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister to send a message to the women of Gibraltar that we stood by their rights to bodily autonomy. We collaborated to project the important message that women deserve healthcare in our own jurisdiction and I am glad that the result has meant that the days of judgment, and persecution are finally over. 

I have to say I did find it disappointing to note that the ministry of equality was nowhere to be found in this campaign, given that reproductive rights are part and parcel of equality rights in any democracy worthy of its name.

DISABILTY

Mr. Speaker I also welcome the rise in disability benefits as announced by the Chief Minister and remind him that these individuals should always be at the forefront of our economic planning, because we are duty bound to help make the lives of those living with disabilities as easy as humanly possible. This is why Mr. Speaker, I continue to campaign for a change in government policy on its decision to not renew cross border key worker posts in favour of untrained, often unqualified, local workers. After liaising with parents of special needs individuals directly affected, who have been working with these carers some for many months and forged bonds, trust, and friendships, it was clear to me that this was an erroneous and cruel policy. 

It was also cruel, Mr. Speaker, when  Government accused me of exploiting these individuals. May I remind the House, that much to the dismay of the members opposite, we are not a one party state Mr. Speaker. On this side of the House we are all paid members of her majesty’s opposition and as such it is our duty to carry out our role of holding this government to account with diligence and commitment. This means listening to and representing the constituents that come to us seeking support, and I will continue to do this always, regardless of the Chief Minister’s manipulative retorts. So I urge the members opposite to respect our role as Opposition.

ENVIRONMENT

The issue of the environment doesn’t seem to be much of a problem on Planet Picardo, even though it is potentially much more harmful than the Covid pandemic and is waiting for us just around the corner. The tragic climate phenomena we have seen in recent months, with record breaking heat waves and deadly floods, should be yet another wake up all reminding us that regardless of our economic situation, the fight against climate change CANNOT WAIT.

In the meantime we continue with our completely cosmetic Green Gibraltar farce, something that will not change judging by the measures implemented in this budget. The fact, for example, that there have been no applications for deductions on improvement of EPC ratings is telling of a failed policy, much like the rest of this Government’s green agenda.

The Chief Minister says that Government are leading by example by buying electric cars. However, where was his example when import duties for all cars was dropped to zero last year? While entire world is heavily incentivising the purchase of Electric Vehicles, we drop duties for all cars, including huge, diesel guzzling SUV’s. This was more than a wasted opportunity Mr. Speaker, this was a direct attack on the environment.

And let’s not forget that, after ten years of GSLP Liberal lip service to the environment, we are still pumping out our raw sewage into the sea. Let me say that again. We are pumping out RAW SEWAGE into the SEA. Ten years after the production of a sewage treatment plant was promised in the 2011 GSLP Liberal Manifesto, and then mysteriously disappeared from the 2015 manifesto. 

So to sum up, more cars on our roads than ever, raw sewage failed promises, the only thing green about this Government’s policies is that they would make Dr Seuss’s character ‘the Once-ler’ green with envy.

 

CANNABIS

One item of good news in this budget is the announcement of the imminent publication of a Bill for an Act to make provision for the regulation of medicinal cannabis and connected purposes. All I can think to say is, imagine how many people we would have been able to help if they had taken my proposal seriously Mr. Speaker, when I brought it to this house over four years ago. The amount of pain we could have spared some of our most sick and vulnerable. But of course Mr. speaker, we weren’t so desperate for cash back then. Back then, Mr. Cortes was adamant that no legislative change could happen without a pronouncement of the Drugs Advisory Council and more clear, clinical, medical evidence. Maybe the Chief Minister in his reply will care to explain to us what has changed, other than the prospect of a lucrative business that is already attracting the attention of big money in our community.

 

EGOV

 

Special mention must be given to the eGovernment scandal that both my party and the GGCA have highlighted on several occasions, a case that clearly illustrates the problem of accountability that we suffer in our democracy. Close to 14 million, Mr. Speaker, is the bill the taxpayer has footed so far for an eGov platform that is an absolute shambles. Apart from the ETB, which is a fully integrated back-office service, the rest is nothing more than a list of glorified emails, that have to then be processed manually by civil servants as they would in a counter. The lack of value for money provided for this investment is abysmal.  Also, the way in which the contracts have been adjudicated is unorthodox, to say the least. When questioned on the cost of this disastrous service, the Hon. Minister Isola provided a reply that conflated real eService expenses with other recurring IT&LD expenses as a smokescreen to evade proper scrutiny, and was called out for it by the GGCA in a recent press release. His reply? Silence. No acknowledgment whatsoever. 

Then TG called it out. His answer this time? Can you guess? “You just don’t don’t understand.”

No answers. No admission of responsibility. No shame. Mr speaker. No shame at all…

CONCLUSION

Mr Speaker, I called this the budget of decay for a simple reason. As we all know, parties in Gibraltar do not win elections, they lose them. And they do so always too late, after exhaustingly long mandates, overstaying their welcome, trying to subvert democratic rules and finally decomposing in front of the very eyes of the electorate. This was true of the last GSLP administration, true of the last GSD administration, and will be true of this administration. And the rot has already begun Mr. Speaker. It was always clear to me that the moment the money tree wilted, the cracks would begin to show, but the Covid Pandemic has accelerated a process that had already started, albeit subtly, around the time of the last election. Cronyism had already started to get out of control. Contracts were going to the usual suspects. Freedom of speech was starting to suffer. The civil service was beginning to show signs of disarray. 

The Chief Minister’s petulance was turning slowly into disregard and disrespect of the electorate.

It is clear that this GSLP will not go down without a fight either, and now we know what this fight looks like. 

LIES LIES and more LIES. SPIN SPIN and more SPIN.

The GSLP will rather decompose in plain sight, than accept any responsibility and attempt to mend its ways. It is like the Scorpion in the fable of the scorpion and the frog. True to its nature, it cannot but sting the frog that carries it to the other side of the river, even if it means drowning them both.

Where is the anti-corruption authority promised in the last manifesto and other manifestos before it? What has this liberation movement without equal in our history done to make our institutions more accountable and democratic? Nothing. Mr. Speaker…A big fat zero.

As for the excuses, they have two firm favourites. “You don’t understand” which is usually directed at TG, and “You did it worse”, whch is directed at the GSD.

The former is as sexist as it is laughable. And the latter… we’ve already had a decade of “you did it worse”, and the argument is still going strong. The option for the electorate is clear. If you do not want another 12 years of the same finger pointing, we need to bring about real change in the next election.

We disagree on the LOTO’s diagnosis of why this community has succeeded in the past. Our democracy is far from being vibrant. It might be vibrant on our streets and cafes, but it is not vibrant inside these four walls. Our lack of transparency and accountability, and our lack of proper democratic checks and balances make our democracy a very flawed one, in desperate need of reform.

As for voting for or against this budget, it makes little difference. Government will continue to break the rules and cheat regardless. Civil servants will get paid regardless - at least until long the money runs out. Opposition will complain about our democratic deficits regardless, and get nowhere regardless. Until one day, a new party comes in, a young, fearless party with no baggage, willing to take on the big challenges of our time. It is for this reason that I will abstain from voting on this budget. We will simply not take part in this ridiculous farce until we can change the reasons that make it so farcical. And the Chief Minister will no doubt accuse me of not being consistent with my previous position in other years Mr. Speaker, but in light of what is unfolding before our very eyes, the inconsistency would be to vote FOR the appropriation Bill.

The age of entitlement is now well and truly over, but what has the decade of GSLP government done to help us prepare for this? Will we be able to get out there and compete in the big wide world if some of the privileges we are used to are taken away? Have we fostered the opposite of the culture of entitlement? Are we still as strong, resolute and resilient as we were? 

Will we be able to see through the lies and the spin, and land back on planet earth, ready to stand on our OWN TWO FEET? Or do we want to continue living on Planet Picardo until it is too late?

This is the budget of decay, because I believe it marks the beginning of the end. 

And so do more and more of our fellow Gibraltarians.

 

END