SNAG Says It’s “Shocked” By “Attack” From Government

The Special Needs Action Group (SNAG) says it is “completely shocked, but not surprised” by what it says can only be described as an “attack by the Government” on an NGO and one of its committee members earlier today.

A statement continued: “Contrary to the honourable Minister Cortes’ assertions, SNAG is fully aware of the complex recruitment process needed to staff schools, and in particular the desperate need to staff schools more adequately given that we have been pressing the Government on the need for more SNLSAs, not only for St Martins School, but also for all LSF’s in mainstream schools who are also struggling.

“What SNAG does not comprehend, and we are by no means alone in this, is why the Government does not work with the benefit of forward planning given that it has plenty of time and resources to pull from to ensure that pupils, families and the affected staff do not have to experience the fiasco that they have had to endure during these summer months in the lead up to start of term. It is for this reason that our comments regarding utter disregard stand because any regard for the stakeholders would have ensured better communication and more advance notice for pupils and their families in reference to start of term announcements, teaching staff and SNLSA’, bus allocations and so forth, so that pupils and their families could have better prepared themselves.

“The honourable Minister fails to understand, or conveniently chooses to ignore the fact, that the high number of concerns of very anxious parents and even affected staff, are due to the official Seesaw communications of one of the affected schools showing exactly how late parents have been notified of key information. SNAG has been in consultation with the Parents Association of St Martins School which proves that we are not misguiding anyone here, but rather quite simply stating a fact. The Parents Association of St Martins School is the same body, whom until very recently, the honourable Minister has been very pleased to mention in all his public statements regarding St Martins school – but the fact of the matter is that we can’t always sing to the minister’s tune all the time and that, sometimes, the minister could be be wrong, however incredulous that might sound.

“SNAG finds it totally unacceptable that an official Government reply to an NGO should have stooped down to such a toxic level involving petty party politics. It is a great disservice not only to the hard work that SNAG does as an NGO, but also to all the people who use our services and also to the people of Gibraltar who should be subjected to a better official response from any administration. SNAG never thought it would see the day it would have to issue this reply to a Government statement but it is with a heavy heart that we highlight the complete disregard for our constitutional right to political expression and freedom.

“HMGOG has sadly demonstrated that this liberty is not as freely enjoyed as one would have thought and expected and this can be seen in their response to SNAG in which they opted to muddy the waters by issuing a statement which tries to discredit SNAG and its 9 committee members by bringing petty politics into the fold. SNAG is made up of nine voluntary committee members, from different backgrounds and political affiliations, and the honourable Minister by now knows that all our decisions are taken after a democratic vote among the committee members. It seems that HMGOG is warning anyone who belongs to an opposing political party that they will not be allowed to work for the community and they will boycott their committee and discredit their hard work.

“In an attempt to attack Ms Sanchez, the Government has only succeeded in insulting the rest of the committee and all those whom we raise concerns for, who the Government assumes would so easily and readily allow themselves to be used by one woman.

“SNAG fails to understand why Ms Sanchez is continuously the victim of attacks which seem to be used at diverting readers from the issue at hand because the solutions for the mounting problems are never readily available.”

Ms Sanchez goes on to comment ‘In my capacity as the Chairperson of SNAG and as an executive member of the GSD, I have always maintained the two roles very separate. I could have opted to keep my political affiliations very quiet and asked to be co-opted closer to the elections, as some others will do, but I instead chose to be completely transparent in the knowledge that I would be subjected to toxic attacks, as I have been, and will continue to be unfairly subjected to. I have a level of professionalism that allows me to keep my roles separate, as well as my full-time career separate too. What I do in SNAG is completely voluntarily and vocational because I believe, with all my heart, that things need to change for the future of our next generation with SEN/Disabilities with this or any administration. I would have expected any honourable minister to have had the same level of professionalism and to have known how to keep those two things separate too. Albeit, all Ministers can be certain about one thing – no minister will push me away from what I do, not with this or any other statement. I will stop what I do if and when I decide the time is right.’  

A statement continued: “SNAG notes the Government’s comments about dialogue with great surprise and can provide plenty of emails to minister Cortes evidencing the fact that we have been asking for catch up emails to highlight several matters – but that since Ms Sanchez joined the GSD executive, a fact which he has very clearly demonstrated today that he and his administration have a very clear issue with, the meetings have, for some reason, stopped. This seems highly unfair as we again reiterate that there are 9 members on the committee and Government should not boycott an NGO due to an individual’s political orientation – we would like to remind the minister that we actually live in a western democracy.

“Finally, in regards to PossAbilties, SNAG finds it very odd that PossAbilties is continuously mentioned in almost every reply issued to SNAG by the Government. PossAbilties is an NGO, as is SNAG. The honourable Minister should also note that it is actually an even newer NGO than SNAG, since he is in the habit of keeping track of dates. To recognise the good work of one should also involve the minister recognising the good work of the other including the investments SNAG makes to all of the local schools? SNAG has on numerous occasions applauded PossAbilties for their good work and it seems odd to us that the minister should remind us that PossAbilties exists. Perhaps the minister prefers to highlight the good work of those NGOs that do not speak uncomfortable truths publicly and discredit those NGOs that do? We fail to understand what the Honourable Minister is trying to do or suggest, but what he should be trying to do is foster a working relationship between the two organisations so that we can offer even more in terms of SEN services by way of NGO support. If the honourable minister needs us to congratulate our fellow NGO once again, for his peace of mind, we will gladly do so – Great work PossAbilties! Perhaps the honourable minister will someday extend the same courtesy to us, not that we need it, as the support from those we work with everyday is more than enough for us.

“It is with great sadness that SNAG issues a second statement in which the Government has not only dismissed our concerns but also that of the parents we represent, by attacking us labelling us as 'politically motivated’. We stress that we will not be deterred to continue doing what we do. We will continue to provide the support workshops, classes and donations of much needed equipment to those that need them.

“Our previous press release still stands as does the comment about the EBN morning allocation because, as the minister rightly pointed out, there are families who do prefer morning allocations and children who need it, but unfortunately these families have been let down this year by a department that, despite plenty of advance notice, has not prepared in advance to accommodate for these children’s needs.

“It should be noted that SNAG is not ‘insulting’ anyone by raising the concerns of the many parents, families and even professionals that continuously come to us, on the contrary, we always praise the extremely hard work of the professionals that sometimes have to work in under resourced/under funded departments and also praise our fellow NGOs for their hard work. The great ‘disservice’ to our community is being done by the HMGOG, who believe never to be in the wrong, and always getting it right!”