Monday, 4 April 2011

The constitutional mystery of the Police authority Chairman

Leo Olivero

The government, the governor and that phantom body called the 'specified appointments committee' have between them made what appears to be a charade of selecting the new chairman of the Gibraltar police authority (GPA). The whole matter if not farcical certainly has a more than questionable look about it, particularly in the selection of the new chairman for this important and supposedly 'independent public authority'

A few weeks ago in a government press release the announcement came regarding the appointment of Mr. Richard Garcia as the new chairman of the GPA after the retirement of Mr. Eddie guerrero. Mr. Garcia only last year retired himself from the governments top civil service post of chief secretary. Although during his time as chief/sec Mr. Garcia also served as the Gibraltar government's representative on the GPA board, a position he held since the GPA was created in 2006 and until shortly before his retirement.

At this point - I would like to make one thing clear, I have absolutely nothing against Mr. Garcia and in no way is this article an attack or intended at casting any aspersion on his integrity or credibility, or even of his competence in being able to perform the role of GPA chairman; this is not the point of my argument!.

What I am trying to get across to readers is that the selection of Mr. Garcia is not the correct one; it leaves many reservations and is suspicious to say the least! To have chosen

Mr. Garcia as the new GPA chairman, a person who must carry tons of 'government excess luggage' which he now brings to the chairmanship of the GPA.

The GPA is an important element of the 2006 constitution, its role to 'ensure that policing in Gibraltar is efficient and effective, the authority should also seek to improve policing performance and standards, and to 'ensure the public have a say in how they are policed and importantly hold the commissioner of police to account for the services delivered to the public.' this is why independence of the GPA and its chairman is pivotal and cannot even appear to be influenced particularly from a political perspective!

Police authorities were established with the specific intention of insulating the police from direct governance by elected politicians, and also of guaranteeing a measure of independence for police services in the performance of their duties.

This is the reason why separation of powers between the police and government is considered an important principle of any democracy, this point must be clearly seen to be the case, at least in the eyes of the public!

Must be beyond reproach!

For these reasons alone, the selection of the person who is to head this independent body to oversee local policing must be in every sense of the word beyond reproach! 'even the perception' that the police service in Gibraltar has the potential of being under any political influence is a serious situation that has the potential to weaken local democracy.

Gibraltar in this sense is not the uk; our structures are minute in comparison. In fact we are known to be rather weak on the required social buffers, particularly when it comes to warding-off in-coming influenced-based-projectiles!

As already mentioned when Mr. Garcia retired as chief secretary he was the governments own representative member of the GPA for over 4 years. In this sense it would only be logical to think that as the governments representative on the GPA board until recently, he would be fully in tune and still mentally consistent and aware of the governments own position and views on all aspects regarding policing and how it is to be delivered in Gibraltar!

In the press release the other week the government pointed out that the selection of Mr. Garcia had been made by 'specified appointments commission' who ever they are? This press statement also said that 'Mr. Garcia brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to bring to bear on this new role as chairman of the GPA. True, he does bring wealth and experience, but some may quite rightly say from a government based perspective! It's bound to be, after a 30 year odd successful civil service career coupled with a recent 4 year stint as the government's special envoy on the GPA!

New GPA independent chairman is also a government paid consultant!

This vitally important matter surrounding the independence of the GPA and the new chairman is even in more serious doubt right now! One other important issue emerged last week when Panorama revealed that Mr. Garcia performs consultancy work for the government, be it on an ad-hoc basis! This means to me at least, that the new GPA chairman is still on the 'governments official financial books 'there must be a conflict of interest here somewhere? And also considering that his previous position of chief secretary has not even been filled yet! I can even imagine that Mr. Garcia still users his old office at convent place to perform is consultancy work!

Other important issues?

Although other important issues surrounding the selection of Mr. Garcia as the new GPA chairman makes me even more suspect and critical of the whole selection process, including why, in my view, Mr. Garcia is a totally unsuitable choice for this position!

This of course, if clear cut independency of the GPA is what Gibraltar really wants?

In my opinion the important central issue of independency of the police authority is a major point that requires the holder of the post to be completely free of the slightest possible influence (intended or otherwise) from the government! Even the idea or any suspicion that the GPA or the police could be under "political influence" could seriously undermine democracy and drastically reduce confidence in the police!

Let's look at the selection of Mr. Garcia more closely. The public were informed that the appointment of Mr. Garcia was made by the specified appointments commission (SAC) no one actually knows who is on this completely unknown commission that is put together when one of these constitutionally related positions becomes vacant.

Who are the SAC? A constitutional mystery may be? But there are more mysteries ahead?

Here is how the whole Gibraltar police authority structure is put together:

The SAC under clause 56(1) of the constitution consists of:

Two members appointed by the governor, acting in accordance with the advice of the chief minister following consultation with the governor; and two other  members again appointed by the governor, and again acting after consultation with the chief minister, one of whom shall chair and have a second and casting vote.

So basically it's not complicated, straight forward really, with the governor and chief minister do all the picking and choosing of SAC members!

The police authority consist of the ten members comprising of a chairman appointed by the governor acting on the advice of the specified appointments commission (who as we know is formed by the governor and chief minister) from among persons proposed by (wait for it) the governor or the chief minister; and one member appointed again each by the governor and the chief minister. Than there are other independent members, which you will not be surprised to know, is also appointed by the governor, this time acting on the advice of the public service commission from a list of persons which shall have been approved (yes your right) by the governor and chief minister.

Its clear in all this, that the governor and the chief minister control the whole selection process from start to finish, from the specified appointments commission to that of the GPA chairman including their own two representatives from the convent and convent place, and for good measure, they both have a hand in selecting the seven members that forms the 'independent body known as the Gibraltar police authority'

Wearing two hats and sitting on two chairs?

But there is another matter to point out, at the moment and since the retirement of Mr. Garcia from his full-time position as chief secretary, the governments member on the GPA has not been filled by government, not even on a temporary basis! A position I say again, that use to belong to Mr. Garcia's, who has now been promoted to chairman.

One could be forgiven to thinking 'if Mr. Garcia really ever left his old chair on the GPA board and could now be wearing not only two hats but sitting on two chairs'

The whole issue in my view has turned into a ridiculous and potentially dangerous situation. I mentioned earlier that the integrity of Mr. Garcia is not being questioned here! But his selection is! This coupled with all the other surrounding points I have raised makes the whole selection of a new chairman of the GPA, one, that does not really fill me with any great confidence that independency of the GPA has been taken seriously or is apparent in any great way shape or form!

I was a police officer long enough to know that history provides several examples of attempts to use police as a political apparatus; I think the potential is there for any level of political interference and pressure in policing, a position which could itself reveal or expose serious blind spots in police governance in the future.

Just how independent the corresponding police service will be time will tell!

How the governor and chief minister can ever agree to all this, must be a marvel or a constitutional mystery? Although one, which we shall never know the true nature of such deliberations?

Astonishingly and in actual fact and basically at the end of the day, it is the 'public alone' who the police authority must appear to be a truly independent body, this without all the shroud like happenings that currently surrounds this important public authority!

1 comment:

  1. Why not make the post of Chairman an elected one?