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.