Friday, August 31, 2012


The judgement by the European Court of Justice, which might not be a judgement at all but that’s another story, on the issue of the EC giving Spain environmental jurisdiction over part of Gibraltar’s British territorial waters is making headlines across Europe.

It is not the judgement itself that is raising eyebrows but the fact that one of the judges on the panel was Spanish. Señora Silva de Lapuerta was appointed to the Court by the Spanish Government. She was previously a Spanish State legal beagle and even handled cases involving Gibraltar. Given that the Partido Popular is in power in Madrid it is no surprise that she is of the PP. Indeed her family has right wing links back to the government of Franco that closed the border with Gibraltar in 1969 when daddy was the minister for public works.

It would therefore seem obvious to anybody, let alone keen legal minds at the European Court of Justice, that Señora Silva de Lapuerta should not have been sitting in this case. Either she should have recused herself or the ECJ should have sought her recusal. It was no more appropriate for a judge appointed by the Spanish Government to have sat in judgement than one appointed by the British Government.

Now Gibraltar’s court system is based on the British courts where the judiciary is totally independent of government. Our judges guard their independence jealously and from time to time there are clashes between the elected government of the day and the judiciary. However there is only ever one winner and it is not Westminster.

If you look at a British judge in his or her robes and wig you might say – there sits a Tory. Not only that but a Tory who is a Freemason and a leading light in the golf club. Indeed you might be right or totally wrong but the fact is that the British judiciary over the centuries has handed down the law and totally ignore the bleatings of government ministers or MPs.

Many years ago I was told you knew a good football referee when both sets of fans left a match moaning about his performance. May be a bit simplistic and the world of football has changed but you will find that Britain’s judges have upset Conservative and Labour governments over the years in equal measure regardless of their own political leanings.

Which brings us to the European Court of Justice. The ECJ is not independent even if it claims to be simply because the European judiciary is not separated from government. If London, Paris, Berlin or Madrid appoints a judge to serve at the ECJ, because it is a political appointment, the judge will be expected to serve his or her political masters. The ECJ might protest that a judge is a judge and their nationality is of no consequence but you know and I know and even the president of the ECJ knows that is baloney.

Given what we know of Señora Silva de Lapuerta can you imagine the furore in Spain if she had ruled in the ECJ on the side of Gibraltar rather than Madrid? It would never happen because the Spanish judge is a daughter of the Franco regime and the right in Spain have a very different view on justice than the court in Luxembourg.

It is that which is reverberating around the media across Europe because it is quite obvious that judges appointed to the ECJ by politicians are political judges and they are not independent. They might interpret the law but they cannot hand down justice.

The European Court of Justice can never live up to its name.

Friday, August 24, 2012


Britain has always had a large number of citizens who would describe themselves as euro sceptics. However in contrast Spain has gained so much from its entry to the EC that the people have been firmly behind the European project. However with the economic crisis all that has changed dramatically.

In a survey carried out by the Pew Research Centre 30 per cent of Britons are satisfied with the direction their country is taking but 65 per cent are dissatisfied. In Spain the satisfieds make up only 10 per cent of the population and a far higher percentage, 88, are not happy at all.

In Britain in 2007 52 per cent of people viewed Europe favourably compared with a massive 80 per cent in Spain. This year the UK rating is down seven percent at 45 but the support in Spain has collapsed by 20 per cent to 60.

In the corruption stakes Britons believe Italy is the most corrupt country (38 per cent) followed by Greece on 30 but only 13 per cent believe Spain is corrupt, one per cent more than think their own country is. Gibraltarians will cast a wry smile over that assessment and agree more with Spaniards themselves who view things very differently. They give their own country and Italy a 63 per cent corruption rating with Greece just on 24.

In 2007 30 per cent of Britons were satisfied with their country, the same figure as this year. Fifty-one percent of Spaniards were satisfied in 2007 but that has tumbled by minus 41 per cent to just ten per cent.

The contentment with the economic situation in both countries follows a similar dip. In 2007 69 per cent of Britons were satisfied, now just 15 per cent are, a drop of 54 per cent. In Spain the 2007 figure was 65 per cent and is now six, a drop of 59 per cent.

However the attitude of Spaniards to the EC and indeed the euro has many implications for Gibraltar. In recent months concern has been raised here over the UK holding a referendum to leave the EC (which hopefully Gibraltarians would have a vote in) and how would the Rock fair outside of the union should the vote be for withdrawal.

We also need to watch trends across the border. Willie Walsh the supremo of the united British Airways – Iberia conglomerate revealed they are holding senior meetings on a weekly basis to plan for Spain’s withdrawal from the euro. Everybody knew Spain was in a financial mess but leaving the euro has never been previously discussed.

What if that did happen and in turn Spain decided it would quit the EC? The implications for Gibraltar could be massive. We may not have been particularly well served by Brussels on matters relating to Spain but if our neighbours become a rogue state without any checks or balances then we could be in very dangerous waters indeed.

Friday, August 17, 2012


On Monday morning I settled down to breakfast in a rural hotel in Olvera in the Sierra de Cádiz. I had found a copy of Sunday’s El País in reception and flicked through the pages as I munched on my mollete. I stopped at a page on which there was a picture at the top of a grim David Cameron and Nick Clegg facing away from each other and decided to read intently.
My main reason for doing so is I believe there is a lot to be learned from how others see us. However having read the lengthy piece I was rather puzzled. There was nothing wrong with the report indeed it was a very British review of the state of the coalition two years on from the last general election. Yet there was no Spanish angle to it. I checked the by-line in case it had been written by a British journalist: by the name I suspect not. Perhaps the plight of the Lib Dems is plain for all to see whether you are British or Spanish.
One key point the article made is that the next major challenge to be faced by Nick Clegg will not be in parliament or at the polls but before his own party. In September he will have to address the Lib Dems party conference. He will do so with the Lib Dems two flagship policies in the bin. The changes to the voting system were kicked in to touch by the electorate in a referendum and the plans to reform the House of Lords have been dumped by Cameron because he can’t deliver the required votes amongst his Tory MPs. So Clegg will have to stand before his party to defend the coalition but with nothing to show for it. The leader will have no clothes.
In all likelihood at that conference will be the Leader of Gibraltar’s Liberal Party Dr Joseph Garcia. He has attended before but never as the Deputy Chief Minister of Gibraltar. Like Clegg he is the leader of a junior partner in a coalition government but the differences between the two could not be more marked.
In Britain the centre left Lib Dems are in government with the centre right Conservatives whereas we have a coalition formed by two parties of the left. The Lib Dems in their grab for power could have sided with either the Tories or Labour and probably backed Cameron due to the national loathing of Gordon Brown. Yet in Gibraltar the GSLP and Liberals went to the polls as long term partners on a joint manifesto. The Lib Dems manifesto still haunts them.
The Lib Dems are not just in trouble with the Tories but the electorate. Those MPs who were elected, some of whom now sit at the cabinet table, won their votes on promises they never expected they’d have to keep. My niece voted Lib Dem. A graduate just out of uni she believed Clegg and his cohorts when they pledged they’d oppose any rise in university fees. She feels betrayed and won’t be voting for the Lib Dems again. The next UK election will be fought out between Labour and the Tories: if the Lib Dems are lucky they will be reduced to a rump.
If our Liberals have a problem it is one of identity: just what in the GSLP Liberal manifesto is theirs? I know for a fact that Dr Garcia worked hard on drawing up the document with Fabian Picardo with input from both parties but what measures are socialist and what are Liberal?
We had a united GSLP Liberal opposition and now we have a very united GSLP Liberal government. Apart from the obvious names do you know which ministers represent which party? In the UK the differences between the coalition partners are all too plain to see.
The GSLP is of the socialist tradition, a sister party of the Labour Party in the UK. The Liberals are closely aligned to the Lib Dems in the UK and to the Liberals internationally. Unless the parties are to merge I believe it is important they still maintain distinctive identities for I suspect for many Gibraltarian voters the GSLP Lib Dems are already one party.
Perhaps the political miracle was that the then younger Dr Garcia was able to marshal his forces alongside the old political war horse Joe Bossano to deliver an effective GSLP Liberal opposition through several parliaments. The job in government is far easier as after all Fabian Picardo cut his political teeth as one of Dr Garcia’s troopers. Picardo now leads and when Dr Garcia attends the Lib Dem conference Nick Clegg should ask him for a tip or two on how to follow but more importantly how to make a coalition work.


I was interested to read the recent statement from the Glacis Estate Tenants Association voicing their view that they welcome the proposed improvements to their estate but oppose the building of an additional floor.
Shortly before the General Election last December I sat in on a meeting where a group of women who are residents at Constitution House on the Glacis Estate voiced their concerns and aired their complaints. They brought with them photographs of the state of the blocks of flats in which they live.
Their complaints included:
Children from a nearby school playing truant and hiding out on the top floor of their high rise block of flats.
Fires being started deliberately in the rubbish shoots.
Acts of vandalism in the lifts and public areas.
The lack of smoke and fire alarms in public spaces.
At least one person openly selling drugs from one of the flats.
The poor maintenance and structural state of some flats.
A general lack of policing and security.
The women made two comments on their situation. The first was that as their estate and the Laguna opposite were the first that visitors from Spain see when entering the Rock they were ridiculed because of the perceived “poor state in which Gibraltarians live”. They are second class citizens on their own Rock.
The second was that it was shameful that their estate was so run down especially as it was opposite the luxury developments on the harbour on the opposite side of the road. They seemed to suggest it was shameful that the residents of the luxury harbour apartment developments should have to suffer their poor estate alongside.
I made the point to them that their situation was shameful wherever they lived: because everybody had the right to live in dignity. Many of the residents of these estates live in shameful conditions yet they are still clinging on to their dignity. Their situation, as the GSLP Liberal government recognises, needs to be rapidly addressed.
Ask yourself would it be acceptable for the luxury harbour developments to have school children playing truant on the top floor? No it wouldn’t!
Would it be acceptable for vandals to set fires in their rubbish shoots? No it wouldn’t!
Would it be acceptable for a drugs dealer to openly operate from one of the luxury apartment? No it wouldn’t.
The answer would be “No it wouldn’t” to any other such question you may set. The rationale may be that if you pay one million pounds for a luxury apartment you are buying a better quality of life than those on a government estate. I would argue that the million pounds buys you a luxury apartment with a view over the harbour but the quality of life should be the same wherever you live: be you rich, middle income or poor.
Due to the situation in these blocks of flats and on these estates the residents are not only poorly housed but suffer stress, low living conditions, live in fear of vandalism and violence with pressures on their children from the truant and drugs culture. Google Glacis and you will find the search topped by two drugs raids on the estate.
As the GSD government left office without one single government housing scheme in progress or in the planning stage the GSLP Liberal administration has had to start from scratch. This state of affairs would have been understandable if the GSD was intent on pursuing a scorched earth policy so the incoming government had to clear up the mess. However given the election could have gone either way it means the GSD had made absolutely no provision for future government housing or the need to reduce the lengthy waiting list should it have been returned to power. This was bad politics and showed sheer contempt for the needy in Gibraltarian society.
The urgent need has to be to carry out major programmes at Glacis, Laguna and the Moorish Castle Estates not to just reclad them to make them look better but to solve the major problems beneath that cladding these communities of tenants have to live with. This is not a housing problem but a cross ministry problem from education to policing. Out must go the truants; out must go the drug dealers; the rubbish shoots have to be secured; fire and smoke alarms have to be installed; vandalism has to be eradicated and if the Royal Gibraltar Police does not have the manpower or the inclination to make them secure then private security should be employed. It is simply not acceptable to take the view that “these estates have social problems because they are where poorer government housing tenants live: what else would you expect?” What might be the norm for a British or Spanish inner city sink estate should not be acceptable in the small community that is Gibraltar.

Friday, August 10, 2012


Members of the far left Spanish political party, Izquierda Unida, have been demonstrating at the border with Gibraltar with ex-MP Antonio Romero. He is actually on hunger strike in protest at the Rock being one of a number of ‘paraísos fiscales’. I say hunger strike, apparently his refusal to take food lasts for a whole 48 hours. Antonio, that is not a hunger strike, that is a summer diet and you’ll look better on the beach later this week for it.

Of course the protest in La Línea is largely symbolic. The IU needed an offshore location, which our financial centre says it no longer is, and there was Gibraltar on its doorstep. Romero says there are ten ‘paraísos fiscales’ in Europe and 50 around the world.

The former IU MP slammed the government of Mariano Rajoy and the EU for tolerating Gibraltar’s existence. He pointed out that Gibraltar hand 30,000 inhabitants and 80,000 registered companies, the former is certainly true, I am not sure about the latter. He accused Gibraltar and the other offshore centres of being places where black money, cash from crimes and drug trafficking was hidden along with elite sports people stashing their dosh to avoid paying tax.

Far be it from me to add fuel to Romero’s fire but I recently reported here that as far as the majority of Spaniards are concerned the sovereignty issue with Gibraltar and the fishing dispute did not register on the radar of their concerns. With a financial crisis raging that is no surprise: but in such circumstances much mischief could be stirred up by claiming the Rock is bucking the economic malaise purely because it is a ‘paraísos fiscales’. That, however unjustified, may resonate with the señor and señora out on the street without a job or roof over their heads so it is an issue we need to be sensitive too.

The Spanish Government does have a problem with ‘paraísos fiscales’ at this time when it needs every euro it can lay its hands on but the problem isn’t Gibraltar. In an article in March of last year I revealed that Spain’s major companies had 272 subsidiaries located in 27 countries that were consider ‘paraísos fiscales’ but Gibraltar wasn’t one of them.

At this time of economic calamity in Spain its major companies have cracked it. If they earn profits overseas they bank them offshore and do not pay any tax back to Hacienda. However if they find themselves in financial trouble they rush to Madrid for help. Nice business indeed if you can get it.

The renowned Spanish BBVA bank is one of the main sources for banking off-shore at its Cayman Islands offices. Back in 2010 its branches on the islands had 10,575 million euros in deposits, more than its holdings in Argentina where it was the second largest bank.

So not only are Spain’s major companies avoiding paying tax to Madrid by going off-shore they are using a Spanish bank to do it. In 2008 BBVA is reported to have managed 121,295 million euros in off-shore funds. The bank took in funds free from the interference of Hacienda in the Dutch Antilles, the Cayman Islands, Hong Kong, Jersey, Holland, Panama, Puerto Rico, Switzerland and Luxembourg – but not Gibraltar.

The study in to BBVA was carried out by Carlos Cordero an economist at Sustencia. He stated that the Spanish bank was doing exactly the same as 35 of Spain’s other major companies. I quote: “All the Spanish multinationals use strategies of fiscal elusion. The data of the Agencia Tributaria confirms that the major companies pay, on average, ten per cent tax, which is much less than  a small business, the small self employed workers or the salaried.”

So yes Spain has a problem with ‘paraísos fiscales’ but its problem lies with the BBVA, its multi-nationals and numerous off-shore centres but not with Gibraltar.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


Gibraltar’s new air terminal, or the Caruana Gin Palace as I prefer to dub it, is a monument to one man’s vanity.

Like the man himself it is all glitz and glass but inside it is empty and clearly not fit for the purpose. It is a tribute to Peter Caruana’s ego but has still yet to fully function for the purpose it was supposedly built – as Gibraltar’s new air terminal.

The fact that the then Supreme Leader should have designed and constructed a colossus to match his ego is no surprise. However what is clearly unacceptable is his belief that you the people of Gibraltar should pay for it.

If anybody was in any doubt that the former Supreme Leader acted like an Eastern Bloc despot of old it is the project that Gibraltar never needed yet which has ended up costing you, the Gibraltar tax payer, 85 million euros and counting. Here is a building fit for Ruritania and its empty corridors shall for ever be roamed by the political ghost of Peter Caruana. Be careful when you sit in one of the numerous loo cubicles, his ghost could be sitting on your knee. His rictus grin of “therapeutic” satisfaction at his poisoned legacy to his nation is enough to cure anybody’s constipation.

When the GSLP Liberal coalition came to power Caruana was quick to insist that the new government should not look back but go forward. This is of course what a government has to do: it has to govern for the now and the future and Fabian Picardo and his team have been engaged in just that.

There were those who support the new government who wanted to look back, to see blood on the carpet, but as I have stated here before the now and future comes first but justice for the sins of the past will come in due course. For Caruana and his GSD junta it is coming slowly but surely.

When the airport terminal started out the budget was put at 24 million pounds that has now spiralled to 85 million euros. Such a spread can only be put down to incompetence by the GSD government in mismanaging the creation of the building that Gibraltar never needed.

Incompetence is one thing and Caruana and the GSD are in the dock for that. However the former Supreme Leaders’ ego trip to create a Gin Palace in his own image and likeness has cost Gibraltarians many millions of pounds. My question is this: why should you pay?

I accept the government (which is really you) is saddled with the major part of the bill but the “Clerk of Works of the Casemates” then run amok with nobody to keep him in check. His vanity had to be fed at any price because he knew it was you who would pick up the tab – but why should you?

On June 6 I asked in Panorama – Should Caruana be prosecuted? It wasn’t a politically motivated question: it was a legal issue. I asked two questions: should the former Chief Minister Peter Caruana be prosecuted for breaking the 1991 Nature Protection Act? And, why didn’t the Royal Gibraltar Police enforce that law from 1997 until the present GSLP Liberal Government was elected to office last November?

This prompted an email from a Panorama reader named Paul saying: “In the case of Community Care, my understanding is that it was (and is) a charity set up for the benefit of Gibraltar pensioners. I also believe that it had many millions of pounds in the bank when the GSD came into office. What I am not clear about is how Caruana managed to gain access to those funds and then spend them all. It may be that he was a trustee; in which case he has flagrantly breached that trust...”

So looking back as Caruana begged the government not to do we find the list starts to build up and believe me it will grow longer. In the case of misspending on the airport project my argument is simply this. GSD incompetence you the taxpayer are saddled with. However where Caruana on his ego trip personally intervened to send the costs spiralling then those items should be for his own account and not yours.

Caruana misspent millions of pounds of your money on this folly? Does it matter? Every million pounds wasted on the Gin Palace is a million that cannot be spent on the health service, community care, our roads, the police, creating jobs, on housing, the young, the elderly plus all the other needs our society is crying out for. So now you tell me: does it matter?