Gibraltar’s political parties should avoid turning the forthcoming general election into “an auction for votes”, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said.
With the political temperature rising and Gibraltar set to go to the polls at some point during the coming year, Mr Picardo said the Brexit context meant politicians should exercise restraint in preparing their manifestos and campaigns.
The issue was raised recently during exchanged in the Gibraltar Parliament, with both the government and the Opposition agreed on the need to avoid short-term electoral promises.
“It’s hugely important for this community that the next election is not an auction between political parties,” Mr Picardo said.
“This is a time for responsibility, it is a time to ensure that we strengthen Gibraltar’s foundations, not weaken them. It’s not a time to go out there and in desperation buy votes.”
“The political class should step up to the plate and…ensure that our prosperity is one that endures, not one that is mortgaged to electoral success in the next 12 months.”
But while there was consensus on this issue, the Opposition has been highly critical of Mr Picardo’s handling of public finances since the GSLP/Liberals were elected into office in 2011.
The GSD believes that Gibraltar’s public finances not as healthy as the government would make them out to be, and that public debt is being channelled off the balance sheet through government-owned companies.
Mr Picardo has repeatedly dismissed those criticisms, insisting that Gibraltar’s public finances are properly overseen not just by his own administration but by independent statutory officers including the Principal Auditor.
He described calls for an external assessment of Gibraltar’s public finances as “financial colonialism of days gone by”.
“What makes you think that anybody outside Gibraltar can do a better job than Gibraltarians?” he said when pressed on this matter.
“You have to respect the integrity of people and the fact that they live up to their constitutional and statutory obligations.”
And he added that while it was politically legitimate to criticise the way in which the government was using public finances, it was damaging to “pretend” that Gibraltar was going bust.
“We shouldn’t be pretending, for the purposes of the political debate, that we’re about to go bankrupt,” he said, adding that Gibraltar’s economy had returned surpluses “for the past 20 years”.
“We’ve demonstrated that we’re managing the public finances in order to be able produce surpluses.”
Mr Picardo said his message of restraint in the forthcoming election should not be interpreted as a call for austerity.
He added that it was important, against the context of Brexit, for Gibraltarians to step back and assess “how lucky we are” when compared to other European countries.
“This is not about austerity, this is about maintaining what we have,” he said.
“Austerity is about cutting what we have.”
“We’re very lucky to be where we are today, that’s what I’m saying.”