Friday, 13 April 2012

Gibraltar wasn't there: Why not?

Yesterday we published a list showing the age of consent in Europe, but Gibraltar was not there. There are other listings about other topics and again Gibraltar is not shown.

It is one thing when fully independent countries are shown in those lists, and in such cases there might be a reason why places like Gibraltar do not feature.

But surely when it comes to areas of government where Gibraltar is independent, we ought to be listed.

For example, the age of consent issue. The UK has its own age of consent and Gibraltar decides which applies here. One has nothing to do with the other, in that respect we are 'independent'.

In fact, in the age of consent listing, the 'UK' is given as England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Guernsey, Jersey and Isle of Man.

Their age of consent is 16. Gibraltar is carrying out a consultation process and eventually we will decide what age of consent we have here on a permanent basis. That will be the result of our own independent decision, which has nothing to do with what the UK has decided for itself.

Thus, we should be listed as a separate entity.

The same applies to other topics where Gibraltar's government and Parliament takes decisions which are separate to that of the UK.

There are issues appertaining to the EU and otherwise which should feature Gibraltar separately because, de facto and de jure, we take our own independent and separate decisions as an independent country would.

Should not this matter be taken up with the powers that be?

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Spain restates it wants Gibraltar's presence at talks to be demoted to that of a municipality

Spanish officials lose no time to restate that Spain wants to demote Gibraltar's presence at talks to that of a municipality. Effectively they are saying that the  much trumpeted trilateral forum is dead and buried.

There can be two flags or four flags, but not three flags - those of Britain, Spain and Gibraltar.

By two flags they mean those of Britain and Spain. By four flags they mean those of Britain and Spain, plus the flag of Gibraltar at a par with that of La Linea or some other part of the Campo area.

Although the Spanish Government agreed formally that Gibraltar be given equal status to Britain and Spain when the trilateral forum was first constituted, the present PP government in Spain is dead against it.

Spanish foreign minister Sr Margallo was saying in a newspaper interview at the weekend that what they want is a four-sided forum integrated by Spain and the UK, on the one side, and 'the authorities of the Rock and the Campo on the other.'

Nothing could be clearer than that! It means that Spain takes the view that Gibraltar can discuss with the Campo the problems that, they say, affect Spanish workers here, and the like, but important issues are for Britain and Spain only.

Relegating Gibraltar to such lowly levels has always been unacceptable in Gibraltar, even if certain elements in the Foreign Office, forever eager to have a trouble-free time in Spain, like to urge the incumbent at No.6 to adopt what has been seen by chief ministers as an undignified stance.

Those elements in the Foreign Office, who seem to enjoy supporting foreigners and not loyal British people, were exposed at the time of the Falklands war by sending the wrong signals to the claimants of that territory to the extent that they encouraged an invasion by Argentina which must have cost the British exchequer more than keeping the Falklands British! Not to mention the number of people who met their deaths by the conflict.

In the case of Gibraltar, the preamble to the Constitution was not seen as a barrier to engage Spain in formal joint sovereignty negotiations. Gibraltar's position may now have been strengthened by the assurance that no talks will be held with Spain that Gibraltarians are against. But some people ask: what is such an assurance worth?

Derelict buildings increase fear factor

Many people particularly those residing in the upper and old town area have become not only concerned, but increasingly critical with the growing number of abandoned and distressed residential properties, including the threat this poses to public peace, health, and safety, particularly to the people living in the area.

However this issue has progressively become worse and has escalated, creating a certain amount of anxiety amongst residents of the Upper Town Area…A series of fires of late in various derelict buildings, the recent discovery of a dead body in another abandoned property and at least 4 different Arson attacks over the weekend has raised the fear factor amongst many people!

The issue was highlighted at the weekend with the large fire at Road to the Lines which saw over 50 flats that had to be evacuated, two of the flats were completely destroyed. Reports also suggest that a man has already been arrested by the RGP for arson in connection with the weekend’s incidents which appear to be connected.

Buildings Left to Deteriorate For Years

Many people are also questioning the level of management of these unoccupied and derelict buildings. Properties that people feel have been left to deteriorate for years, in some cases, to dangerous levels.

Although it is true to say that this problem has not suddenly appeared overnight, as the state and management of derelict properties especially in the upper town area is an issue that has stirred great debate and public criticism in the past, particularly during the last government’s term in office.

Public Safety Jeopardised!

There are occasions when public safety may become jeopardised by the condition of buildings. By their very nature, abandoned or derelict places are often unsafe, either in structure or environment, which is why sometimes they're best observed from a distance, but this is not always the case for inquisitive, desperate or criminal minds of this world.

Personally I believe it’s a tragedy that many of these old buildings have been neglected for countless years and now lie derelict. They are an eyesore and, in many cases, dangerous, because if structures are not kept up, they also become vulnerable to collapse, and as we know already, they are a serious fire hazard…particularly to neighboring residential buildings.

People Genuinely Concerned

I have spoken to a number of people in the area in question who mostly share the same concern…that ‘anyone of these derelict properties can easily be occupied by a vagrant or homeless person or entered into by anyone else for any other criminal motive in mind. Also that anyone of the many derelict properties scattered around, has the potential to cause some human catastrophe to whole family’s residing in the area, this if a fire or an arson attack is not discovered in time’

I was told that numerous derelict buildings still remain open with easy access to such unwelcomed guest, particularly in the upper town area and this, after people say they have informed the pertinent government department of the dangers.

I took a walk round the Upper Town to see for myself.

I have to say it’s true, that many buildings remain abandoned and derelict which really is no secret. Although what is concerning particularly under the present climate regarding public concern and the current spate of fires, is that I discovered quite a few derelict government properties wide open and others with very easy access.

At the old and abandoned Police Barracks… doors to individual flats were open giving access to numerous properties. Having lived at one time in these barracks for many years, I know how easy it is to gain access to first floor landings without much of an effort, although the state of the building now, makes it less-effortless.

At a block of small flats just below the Old St Bernard’s Maternity Wing… it was even easier - doors were wide open to the building. I walked round this set of flats, no problem. There were clear signs of people having taken up unofficial residence at some point…as photos clearly illustrate.

There also appeared to be easy access to a building at Lower Castle Road… where mail boxes had been ripped open exposing someone’s or the previous owners mail, it looked a similar situation to other places I visited.

Dangerous and Unsightly Upper Town Buildings

As one walks through many parts of Gibraltar one is struck both by the beauty of many of the buildings around the rock and the unsightliness of many others. It now appears to be quite a cliché to say that the Upper and Old Town Area and its environs are ugly and unworthy of Gibraltar’s affluent life style.

A walk down to the Town Area or the Westside area of Gibraltar where there are many new buildings that are elegant, well-maintained and worthy to be proud of. Some are owned by the government and others are in private ownership. This sadly is the striking difference (with the upper town) that should never been allowed to happen!

Frankly buildings left abandoned or derelict are not only ugly to look at, but demeaning of the beauty of place like Gibraltar. They do however as we know; have the potential to pose a threat to people living in the area and to innocent passers-bys.

If I had to suggest anything on this matter before ending, it would have to be that someone comes up with a ‘management of derelict building programme’ before an incident that causes serious injury or innocent loss of life actually occurs.

Leo Olivero

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The Queensway seafront becoming a concrete jungle. Why?

What a disgrace that the Queensway seafront is becoming a concrete jungle, instead of an area which can provide recreational facilities by the sea to the public at large. Instead, up goes a skyscraper, and the large open area next to it, is also earmarked for another skyscraper. Are we not destroying Gibraltar?

When the MOD controlled all that seafront many people used to dream that, one day, when the land became available for redevelopment it would be put to the wider use. Instead, it has been given to developers to make a million, restricting its use to those who are able to buy the expensive flats built there.

To add insult to injury the large space, now empty, next to the skyscraper, another skyscraper is due to be built!

For its part, the Government has its plans to build an underground carpark at the Commonwealth Parade plus a green area. All this will cost much money. Not only that but it shows that the Government is eager to develop a large green area there.

Yet, at less cost, there is this large open space right opposite, and with the added attraction of being a seafront area. Surely that could be put to better use for the wider public interest?

Ocean Village is an example where buildings and recreational areas combine. That should be the way forward.

In fact, when it comes to the Queensway site there is already a big enough skyscraper there - cannot the rest be used to meet the wider public interest?

Under what conditions was that huge space handed over? What can the Government do about it?

Land is scarce in Gibraltar and should not be used in a manner that the public is deprived of its wider use.

Monday, 20 February 2012

The Government must not support unfair competition in the wider world of broadcasting services

The first thing Gerard Teuma did when named CEO designate of GBC was to ask for more staff and money, at taxpayers' expense of course! That is part of the ingrained mentality that exists at GBC, which the King Report confirmed.
Good management is not necessarily about asking for more money - for other people's money - but rather to make the operation sustainable without more public funds being involved. Anyone can manage if he has at his disposal a bottomless pit! If there is a Santa Claus handing out public funds all the year round!

And what is going to be done, as a matter of urgency, about the serious issues which King uncovered? Should they not be addressed before the Government pours a single penny more into GBC, especially when in the past more money and new systems simply did not work. And what the public inherited was a bigger, more expensive and better resourced operation which ironically has been producing less than before!
 We cannot go down that road again. And again.

Not only that but the monopoly that is GBC now wants to make greater inroads into online services - but again at more public expense! And not only that, but by seeking to engage in unfair competition to already established online service which have been operating for years at no public expense.

But while others have to make ends meet, Mr Teuma thinks the public should pay more for less, which is the story of GBC - never mind if there is a world financial crisis which is forecast to get worse and which is already affecting Gibraltar.
  We are now being told that we should not compare GBC with the likes of Sky and the BBC. But they expect to have parity with the BBC!

Said Mr King in his report: "There are inconsistencies in many areas, and a belief within GBC that salaries should be at a par with those paid in regional BBC stations. The problem is that the roles do not directly relate, so there is no exact template on which parity could be based, even if it were desirable."

He adds that "in the UK, broadcasting is a comparatively well paid industry (particularly the commercial television sector) and we believe GBC employees should be appropriately but not excessively remunerated. The process must be entirely fair to both staff and the Corporation."

And fair also to the rest of the community, presumably!
As if telling Mr Teuma, the King report added: "An incoming Chief Executive would have his or her own ideas, but these should take account of pay scales operating in Gibraltar; UK rates cannot simply be transposed."

There is no doubt that there is talent in GBC, but that talent is not being properly harnessed. There are those who think GBC should carry on as it is; and there are others who think that GBC has come to the end of its useful existence, and there is a case to close it down and to replace it by a new, modern  set-up operating under new conditions, with a redundancy package offered to those who do not want it.

When in Britain and elsewhere there existed only the so-called public service broadcaster, the public derived a no-choice situation and less value-for-money broadcasting. Can anyone imagine the UK with only the BBC - without all the other stations that proliferate there!

For example, let GBC have their radio station, but why should all the available radio frequencies be allocated to them? Why cannot at least one other radio station be put out to tender? It is only by having more that the public will be able to compare with the unacceptable services in both TV and radio which currently have to be endured. Why cannot the public have better? Why cannot the public enjoy the benefits that emerge from competition?

What the Government cannot do is embark on pouring money into GBC before carrying out an in-depth review about broadcasting in Gibraltar in a general sense and not in a narrow GBC sense.

It is fine for the Government to try and save money in many of the services now provided, but this concept must also include broadcasting, if they are to be consistent in what they do.

There is a new world out there with the technological advance that has emerged for the benefit of everyone. Online services and why not new broadcasting services using new technology, but without the threat of unfair competition and 'state aid.'

Gibraltar needs diversity in its media if the quality of its much-trumpeted  democracy  is not going to be questioned. We cannot make a mockery of democracy. We cannot promote monopolistic situations in its media. We cannot keep wasting public money in what is already well-proven of not being capable to deliver the quality and variety of the kind of vibrant programming Gibraltar is calling out for.

The Government must not follow the pattern of the past - and put its foot in it as well.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Complete review of the Care Agency INQUIRY 'VERY SOON' - minister tells Panorama


The Minister for Equality and Social Services Samantha Sacramento has told PANORAMA that there will be a complete and independent review of the workings of the Care Agency, to ensure the provision of proper and adequate care for those who need it.

She went on to say that it was her impression that the previous government was more interested in ‘brushing things under the carpet than tackling issues.’
Clear and specific comments emerged when we posed a series of questions to the Minister - she gives a detailed account on how she found the state the Care Agency, saying that she has spent most of her time in office so far ‘fire-fighting’ different problems in the department that had arisen on almost a daily basis.’
She reiterated that the government will put right whatever is identified and importantly there will an investigation and an audit with an examination on what happened under the last government.
Drug abuse appears to be high on the new minister's agenda, saying that the government would go back to the drawing board with a view of developing an effective drugs policy for Gibraltar as the current one simply does not work.

 What is clear from the minister's comments is that what this newspaper has been saying for years and bringing into the public domain is true and accurate reporting on such delicate and highly important community issues.
Question: During the election campaign and even in the GSLP/Liberal manifesto the government was very critical of the serious failings of social services, although you have only been the minister responsible for a relative short time - what are your first impressions and are things as bad as you thought?
Answer: There is still a lot to be done. Some of the failings are down to resource issues which were not addressed by the previous Government but a lot of these issues have now been identified and we are in the process of doing so. I do not know what the GSD Government did in relation to these issues in nearly 16 years in office. I can say that since I first set foot in the department I have spent my time “fire-fighting” different problems that have arisen on an almost daily basis where a political steer from a Minister is required. I have also seen that there are a number of very good and dedicated staff in my department and I look forward to working with them in order to bring forward the changes that we are committed to see through in our four-year programme of Government.

Question: in the light of the Panorama investigation into the care of vulnerable children which the Alliance as opposition took great interest in, even quoting these incidents in the party manifesto, do you intend to look into this issue any further?
Answer: Absolutely, although the method of how we will go about this has not yet been finalized we are very close to taking a policy decision.

Question: Another serious social problem that this newspaper has heavily criticised the previous administration is ‘Substance Abuse’ what’s your initial views on this serious social problem, bearing in mind that 75% of local crime is drug related?
Answer: It is obvious that Gibraltar has a growing drug culture and it is troubling that this is prevalent among very young people. More needs to be done to address this and we are starting a complete review and overhaul of drugs policy.
Question: The Governments drug strategy ‘A Brighter Future’ was published in 2003 the implementation of the strategy has been frequently criticised by Panorama; the strategy has not been up dated since. The public have hardly been informed how the strategy has progressed or otherwise. Is it government’s intention to review the whole aspect of ‘substance abuse’ in Gibraltar with a view of launching a new and up-dated strategy?
Answer: It is clear that the drug strategy in place at the time that the new Government came into office simply does not work. For example, on the 9th December there were only 2 people admitted to Bruce’s Farm. This is a sign that the residential model of drug rehabilitation is not working as no one would accept that there were only 2 people with an addiction in Gibraltar at that time.

It is also true that drug prevention and rehabilitation in the community is not developed enough and there needs to be serious emphasis on this service if we are to start tackling the problem.

Furthermore, I understand that the Drugs Advisory Council, which is a statutory board set up under the provisions of the Drugs (Misuse) Act has not met in well over a year.
I can confirm that it is this Government’s intention to go back to the drawing board in respect of the drug strategy with a view to developing an effective policy. We have some very good people delivering the rehabilitation programme and there have been some excellent individual results. Our emphasis has to be in making this service more accessible to the community as a whole.

Question: The issues surrounding disabled people concerns many people, none more than those affected. This is an issue covered quite extensively in the Alliances manifesto. What do you think are government priorities in respect of the disabled in Gibraltar?
Answer: The priority must be to enable equal treatment of those with disability to ensure that their needs are met and they have a level playing field. Before taking office I thought that my first step would have to be to identify each individual’s disability so that their needs could be assessed. I have now realized that my task is even more fundamental than that as there is not even a central register of people with disabilities and we are in the process of compiling that.
Question: A new Ministry of Equality comes under your responsibility. There are some high-profile and important issues like the problems experienced by Moroccan workers and the recognition of civil partnerships, which were subjects that were hotly debated before and during the election campaign. Many people were happy to see these issues feature prominently in your election manifesto. Can you give any indication at this stage how you see these matters progressing?
Answer: My focus in the short time that I have been in Government has been to attempt to try and resolve the issues at social services and expedite the completion of the Alzheimer’s & Dementia Unit at RNH. The establishment and development of the Ministry of Equality is at an early stage but I hope to be able to be in a position to make significant headway on this soon.

Question: In the light of the many stories and complaints from service users and others the question of ‘service delivery and quality assurance’ has become an important issue will you be looking at existing mechanisms within the ministry aimed at ensuring that child services or out-of home care are delivered competently and with professional integrity, that should include, supervision of social workers, internal audits, informal reviews, complaint mechanisms and professional regulation? Or even introduce a ‘code of conduct’

Answer: That will form part of the review of social services that is to be undertaken as a whole and of course the ultimate aim is to offer a better service to the end user as well as investing in our own staff to ensure that they are adequately trained to deliver the job that they have to.

 Question: There is a manifesto commitment by the Government to conduct a ‘review of social services’ do you see this as one of your priorities?
Answer: It is an absolute immediate priority and it is what I have dedicated the majority of my time in the past 2 months. We have a manifesto commitment, as you rightly say, to carry out a complete and independent review of the workings of the Care Agency, to ensure the provision of proper and adequate care for those who need it. We have said that we will put right whatever is identified as needing corrective action. This means that there will be two strands to the process. The first will be to investigate what has gone wrong in the past and the second to identify what is needed to prevent this from happening ever again. There were shocking stories under the previous Government. So I can confirm that there will be an inquiry and that there will be an audit. This is a good thing because it will identify where the weaknesses in the system are and what we have to do to change it. We have already established the names of several persons and organizations who will be able to conduct the review and we hope to be in a position to make an announcement very soon.

Question: Do you think we will see a marked difference from the way your predecessor carried out his role?
Answer: Most definitely. I intend to be very hands on the development of this ministry at a policy level. It is a political priority for the new Government to provide a safety net for those people who have been let down by the system or who have difficulty in coping with it. My impression is that the previous administration was more interested in brushing things under the carpet than they were in tackling the issues and finding solutions. It is almost as if the GSD were in denial while the system collapsed around them. A new Government is now in office looking at these issues afresh and with different ideas and policies regarding the way forward for our care and social services. I know that the way forward will not be easy. There will be an audit and there will be an examination of what has happened under the previous Government. However, I am confident that once we have overcome the challenges in front of us and with the assistance of the staff, the care and social services that will emerge will be in a better position to cope with these problems than at any time before.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Hopeful that Spain will drop its claim to our land, says Picardo...but Seruya thinks otherwise

A half-page report under the headline 'The Rock of resistance against Spain' appeared in the Sunday Telegraph; the same report was published in their online edition, but under the headline 'Gibraltar: Between the Rock and an increasingly hard-line place.'

The newly-elected Chief Minister of Gibraltar Fabian Picardo hopes that he will find a peaceful way of protecting the Rock – despite an escalation in the war of words with Madrid, said the report.

"We are always hopeful that Spain will follow us into the 21st Century and drop its claim on our land," said Mr Picardo, in his first interview with a British newspaper since winning the December election.

"The Spanish government are playing to their constituency of support and concentrating more on the theory of their claim, rather than the realities on the ground. And that is a tragedy for people of both sides of the frontier."

If Mr Picardo, 39, was expecting a gentle introduction to the 300-year-old tussle over the sovereignty of Gibraltar, then he has had a brusque awakening. Just as the newly re-elected Cristina Kirchner in Argentina has made a diplomatic push against British "colonisation" of the Falkland Islands a key policy of her government, Spain's ruling Partido Popular (PP) – itself freshly in power, following the November general elections – has been pushing sovereignty over Gibraltar up the agenda.

Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, has abandoned the tripartite talks over areas of co-operation between Spain, Britain and Gibraltar. Instead, on Wednesday, Madrid formally asked Britain for bilateral talks over the sovereignty of Gibraltar – much to the fury of the excluded overseas territory's residents.

"They want to turn me into a Spaniard," said Martin Pickford, a small businessman. "No one here wants to be suddenly told they are Spanish."

The report adds that Spain's foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, last month sparked alarm in Gibraltar when he greeted a British MEP friend with the age-old rallying cry: "Gibraltar: Spanish!" and he has further pressed the issue by writing to William Hague to demand clarification on Britain's stance.

Mr Rajoy is set to meet David Cameron in London at the end of this month, but the authorities in Gibraltar are trusting that the British prime minister will defend their interests.

Yet Mr Picardo knows that he must remain on his guard. And inside his office just off Gibraltar's Main Street, the Oxford-educated lawyer told The Sunday Telegraph that he is determined his government will not be intimidated by sabre-rattling from Madrid.

"We are seeing what appears to be a more proactive desire by Spain to raise the sovereignty issue," he said, criticising Madrid's decision to cease tripatrite talks.

"The Spanish government does not best serve the interests of its people, especially those in the local area, by snubbing an international agreement to which it has subscribed in principle.

"And with five million or so people unemployed, it seems to me the Spanish have other more important priorities than historic claims over my people."

Across the border, in the windswept Spanish town of La Linea, residents gaze wistfully at their thriving neighbour.

"Just look at it. It is obviously part of Spain, and it's crazy that it isn't accepted as such," said Pepe, 60, a retired hotelier, who did not want to give his surname. "I think it's absolutely right that Mariano Rajoy speaks to Britain about the issue."

His friend Paco, 65, added: "What hurts me most is that they are laughing at us from across there. During the World Cup they even supported Germany instead of Spain! It's not right."

. Smuggling of cheap Gibraltarian tobacco into Spain is also a problem, the paper adds.

"I am Spanish and I defend Spain, but they insult it," said Inmaculada Floria, 36.

Her husband Tomas Rodriguez, 39, a civil servant, said: "It's true that a lot of Spaniards aren't interested in Gibraltar. But here it affects us directly. For instance, a coffee in La Linea costs the same as in Madrid, and we are pushed out of the property market. It needs to be sorted out."

"Gibraltar and Spain have a symbiotic relationship and we can do a lot more to work together," said Edward Macquisten, chief executive of the Chamber of Commerce.

"But if Madrid continues to clamp down, then it won't help anybody."

Is the cannon outside his office pointing in the direction of Spain, the writer asked Picardo.

"It's pointing in the direction of the governor's residence opposite – at the representative of the British Foreign Office!" he laughed. "But that is totally unintentional as in any event it is decorative. We are confident in our position here.

Gibraltar cannot expect Spain to drop its sovereignty claim, says Seruya

But someone who does not agree with Picardo is Solomon Seruya, who years ago said he was retiring from politics but keeps putting his foot in it, writes our Political Correspondent.

In an interview with Spain's most right-wing paper, La Razon, he says Gibraltar cannot pretend that Spain should drop its sovereignty claim.

And why not? because it is a historical and political factor, he says.

What Mr Seruya should understand once and for all is that it is also a historical and political factor that Gibraltar has been British for 300 years, that it was ceded for ever and that it is the homeland of the people of Gibraltar.

He does admit that Spain cannot impose itself after all those 300 years, but reckons that, with time, the Brussels Agreement could be implemented.

The Brussels Agreement is about sovereignty negotiations, about finding a formula to hand over sovereignty to Spain.

At a time when Spain is seemingly again putting on the pressure on Gibraltar,what Gibraltar does not need is to send the wrong signals to Spain, but along comes dear Solomon, proud of being the only Gibraltarian to have been awarded by the Spanish government the 'Gran Cruz del Merito Civil de Espana.'

No surpise that he also tells the Spanish paper: "I am in agreement with Margallo that the tripartite forum should be extended to the Campo de Gibraltar to integrate the Spanish regions. "We need formulae to solve the Gibraltar problem," he said.