The political institutions in Gibraltar are based on the British model. Yet Gibraltarians share a key characteristic with their Spanish neighbours – family. The Gibraltarian and Spanish concept of family is totally unknown to Essex man or indeed woman. In Britain family is going home for Sunday lunch with mum or sending the grandparents off to an institution as soon as they start to dribble. However to be “de la familia” is at the very essence of life on both sides of the border.
The family applies not only to blood relatives but to those who share a political belief. It is at the core of low level corruption in Spain where the party in power at the town hall is expected to care for its political family. As I write the former mayor of La Línea, Juan Carlos Juárez, is on trial for allegedly giving over 100 municipal jobs to then GIL members and sympathisers when he came to power in 1999.
So does this “de la familia” or more widespread corruption exist on the Rock? I first asked a politician who is a household name from the governing GSD camp. He told me: “I should say that in my years in public life generally I never witnessed any attempt at corruption, bribery or the like. The more significant issue is probably the extent to which at a practical level, influence is enhanced by the degree of accessibility any one group of people can have over others in engaging with decision makers. That, of course, is a problem everywhere. This is not to say there may not have been more explicit issues in Gibraltar over the years, though I suspect they may have occurred at a much less extended level than has unfortunately been the case with our neighbours.”
Curiously a number of people have spoken to me off the record on this subject. In no instance was any case of political corruption identified rather in a small community they preferred nobody to know they’d even discussed it. Fabian Picardo, who could be the next leader of the GSLP, had no such qualms. It has to be said he has recently been the victim of malicious unfounded whispers. Fabian stated: “As in every aspect of life in Gibraltar, there are rumours rife of corruption all the time. Nothing has ever been proved against anyone to date. I give people the benefit of the doubt – even my political opponents (although they are rarely as kind to me). No-one is guilty of anything until proven guilty in my book. There are calls for an anti-corruption authority to be set up in Gibraltar to quash even the rumours. I do not think that there would be anything wrong with such a body being established. It would put paid to the allegations in my view if people had to put up or shut up!”
Of course the proposal to establish an anti-corruption authority comes from the lawyer Robert Vazquez. In his blog Llanito World Vazquez writes: “Gibraltar is plagued constantly with rumours of corruption and bribery. True, indifferent or false does not matter. These rumours are destructive and give a negative image. There is a need to deal with this situation for the benefit of the jurisdiction and of citizens. Dealing with it will also avoid the complacency and resignation to this subject that is often seen and shown to be prevalent.”
Has there been or will there be a corrupt Gibraltarian politician? The answer is of course “yes” because politicians are human with all the accompanying frailties. Yet having a corrupt politician is a far cry from having a corrupt political system as is the case in Spain. Therefore all political parties and the public in Gibraltar should endorse Vazquez’s anti-corruption authority because justice in this matter must not simply be done but be clearly seen to be done by all as well.(The above article was the last section of a triology on pollitical corruption in Spain and Gibraltar published Panorama)