The GSD yesterday insisted that “significant” delays in the answering of questions put by Opposition MPs in parliament was affecting its ability to hold the government to account in a move that drew strong rebuke from the Government.
In a statement the GSD said that delaying the answering of important questions means that responses become stale, outdated and ineffectual.
But in hitting back the Government said this criticism was both “unfair” and “opportunistic”.
The Government said the Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo had fully explained to them that there would be a reduction in the number of meetings precisely because of the disproportionate volume of work generated by Brexit.
The GSD explained that as the elected Opposition it is charged with the responsibility of raising matters before Parliament and testing the strength of the Government’s policies.
The party flagged how upon its election in 2011 the current administration promised to hold monthly meetings of Parliament.
But, it said, since September 2018 the Opposition has only had two opportunities to submit questions to the Government on a wide range of areas from public finances to housing, health, and education.
This month the Government answered a limited number of questions which the Opposition submitted as far back as January, the GSD said.
“The purpose of question time is to scrutinise the Government and the continual irregular use of parliamentary procedures by the Government is hampering the proper role of Opposition and functioning of the House.”
The party further flagged that the agenda of the House also has 20 Bills which have been outstanding since 2018.
The Leader of the Opposition, Elliott Phillips said: “It is high time that the Government practices what it preaches.”
“It should be a matter of deep regret that the Government has allowed only two opportunities in the last eight months for questions to be submitted.”
“Whilst we have given the Government space to navigate Brexit we cannot stand by and let the clear stifling of the proper parliamentary process to continue and become the norm.”
“The repetitive use of procedures to delay the answering of Opposition questions is doing democracy a great disservice and the victims are the people who expect the Government to properly and fully answer questions put to it by the elected Opposition in good time.”
“It is clear to all to see that the Government is losing popular support and its ostrich like approach on important domestic issues at the altar of Brexit is causing deep discontent within our community.”
“Parliament must function properly so that the people of our community can see that their questions are being answered and the Government are held to account by probing questions in areas of significant public concern”
In response, however, the Government said Mr Phillips appears not to have realised that that sadly the work related to Brexit has not finished.
It flagged, for example, how Mr Picardo is in London this week in detailed discussions about the future relationship.
“Next week, Gibraltar will happily vote in EU Elections, thereby making a meeting of Parliament almost impossible given that the staff of the Parliament and the Clerk are running the European Election in Gibraltar.”
“The following week, there will be a meeting of the Parliament for questions. The Opposition have clearly not thought through the timing issues here,” the Government said adding that it is deeply regrettable that the Opposition should seek to take advantage of the situation in this way.
“They should understand that we are dealing with matters that relate to the national interest and they should show more loyalty in the face of the wider challenges that Gibraltar continues to face.”
In any case, the Opposition are also completely mistaken, the Government said highlighting the GSD’s record when in office.
“It was perfectly normal when they were in power for two or three meetings of Parliament to take place in an entire year.”
“They hold the absolute worst record in this respect with only one question-time in the whole of 2003. Indeed, the then GSD Government provided for 12 question times in the period 2007 to 2011. In sharp contrast, the GSLP/Liberal Government provided for 33 such meetings for questions in the four year term that followed. All this was before Brexit.”
However, even this year, in 2019, Parliament has met ten times and questions have been taken in three of those meetings, the Government said.