The political row over public debt will be the subject of a debate in Parliament after GSD MP Roy Clinton tabled a motion on the issue, only to draw a counter-motion from the Chief Minister.
The Gibraltar Government and the Opposition have starkly different views on debt, and these are illustrated by the two motions tabled yesterday.
The government insists it has reduced debt – both in cash terms and as a ratio of GDP – to lower levels than when the GSD was in power.
The GSD rejects this analysis and says the government should include debt owed by government-owned companies in its calculations. Under that analysis, public debt exceeds £1.1bn, the Opposition insists.
Yesterday, Mr Clinton gave notice that he will move a motion at the next meeting of Parliament highlighting the GSD’s position.
The motion cites the constitutional definition of debt as “all debt charges for which Gibraltar is liable”.
It adds that legislation on public finances defines debt as “any borrowing of money by the Government”.
“This House thus considers and Resolves that borrowings by Government owned and controlled companies for Government purposes, whether secured on public assets or unsecured, should thus be considered and included in the measure of public debt and audited by the Principal Auditor as ultimately Gibraltar is liable in the event of any default,” Mr Clinton’s motion concludes.
Notice of the motion was issued by the Gibraltar Parliament at 1.30pm yesterday afternoon. By 3.30pm, the Gibraltar Government had responded.
Chief Minister Fabian Picardo gave notice of a motion of his on the issue of debt.
Like Mr Clinton, the Chief Minister’s motion recorded the constitutional and legal definitions of public debt. But its final paragraph was starkly different.
“This House thus endorses the practice established under the former GSD Administration under both the 1969 and 2006 Constitutions that borrowings by Government owned and controlled companies, are not considered and included in the measure of public debt,” it concludes.
While Mr Clinton’s motion will serve to allow MPs to debate the issue of public debt in Parliament, the government majority means that in practice, it will have little chance of being adopted.