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26th July 2021, 18:58

​Marlene Hassan abstains from voting on Budget - asks why Gibraltar suffered so many Covid deaths compared to La Linea

Marlene Hassan Nahon abstained from voting on this Budget, citing the Government’s lack of transparency and accountability.

The Together Gibraltar Leader said the lack of proper democratic checks and balances make our democracy a very flawed one, in desperate need of reform.

And she said the Chief Minister appears to be on a different planet, claiming his assessments on the important issues of the day are far from realistic. She said it is important to understand why - per capita - Gibraltar suffered twice as many Covid deaths as La Linea and Algeciras.

Marlene Hassan Nahon reflected on 94 lives lost to Covid and a total number of over 4600 cases: a proportion of cases and deaths in our Elderly residential services that - she said - far outnumbered even the countries worst hit by the pandemic.

The Together Gibraltar Leader argued the Government’s messaging on Covid was incoherent.

She also said that any culture of entitlement is not the fault of the general public, but the fault of successive governments who have tried to “out promise” each other at election time. She said it was outrageous for Mr Picardo to call Gibraltar “the spoilt child of Europe” and point the finger at the public.

Ms Hassan said the Chief Minister had claimed the covid pandemic has been worse than the closure of the frontier and the MOD dockyard together. Yet - she said - of the 1.7 billion pounds of debt, only some 250 million can be attributed to COVID, which amounts to approximately 15% of the real total gross debt (including government-owned company debt). “The Government are clearly trying to sweep a decade of systemic, economic mismanagement under the carpet of the pandemic.”

She said the Chief Minister had effectively congratulated himself for avoiding Parliamentary scrutiny, when he said that if all government company borrowing was displayed as direct borrowing of the government, the Government “may have exceeded the 40% to GDP limit provided for” in law and the Government would not have been able to pay BEAT. She said he had admitted “that indirect borrowing hidden in Government-owned companies IS in fact Government borrowing, and… that the level of debt is higher than it is made out to be in his books”.

Ms Hassan said in Mr Picardo’s world, the UK providing support for our borrowing guaranteeing 500m of borrowing guarantees the resilience of Gibraltar’s finances - she said in the real world, “when one needs securities for their borrowing, it is because they don’t have the best credit rating”.

Of the Treaty negotiations with the EU, Ms Hassan said she hopes a treaty with Europe can be agreed that “brings mutual prosperity and a free flowing border, while respecting our red lines on sovereignty”. But she said the Chief Minister had spoken of a deal that gave us all we wanted, without any concessions. She said that in the real world, deals only happen when all sides make concessions, and - she warned - these concessions, unfortunately, always reflect the balance of power at the negotiating table.

Ms Hassan referred to the call in 2019 by the Council of Europe’s anti-money laundering body Moneyval for Gibraltar to invest more efforts in identifying, investigating and prosecuting money laundering and confiscating the proceeds of crime. She said Gibraltar could not afford to be grey-listed (by the Financial Action Task Force), as Malta has been.

Regarding Community Care, she said Together Gibraltar would “look at the situation of those aggrieved on a case-by-case basis, and offer those at risk of hardship the opportunity to take part in the scheme for a transitional period. But after this period is over it is our opinion that it is better to reform the entire pensions system than to continue tweaking the current mess we’re in”.

She was critical of the tax measures introduced by the Chief MInister, describing them as “kissing up and kicking down, the opposite of what a socialist government should aspire to do”. Referring to the 5% rate for all income above £700,000 a year, Ms Hassan said Gibraltar has “a regressive tax system that allows the super rich to get out of paying their fair share of the resources our community so desperately needs”. She said social insurance increases would “impact more on those that have the least”.

The Together Gibraltar leader was critical of the decision to sell berths at the Small Boats Marina. She said: “after the mess created by subsidised, affordable homes entering the private real estate market at extortionate prices, why the government would introduce a new distorted and unfair, government subsidised market?”

Ms Hassan said the GHA is in a state of complete disarray: “Waiting lists are enormous, appointments almost impossible to access, phone lines saturated, professionals overworked, management is all over the place, corners are being cut left right and centre, mental health services continue to be inadequate and overrun, and in the meantime people are getting more frustrated, sicker and more worried.” She said she couldn’t stress enough how much of a priority a long-term mental health policy is and she highlighted that the National Dementia Strategy has not yet been implemented.

On equality, she said that despite surrogacy legislation in January, “same sex couples wishing to retrospectively be listed as parents of children born before the legislation was enacted are still struggling to access this right”. Ms Hassan also talked about the lack of gender balance in Gibraltar’s public boards, which she said are “perennially male dominated”.

On disability, she re renewed her call for the Government to review its decision not to renew the contracts of cross border carers “in favour of untrained, often unqualified, local workers”. Ms Hassan said she had spoken to parents of special needs individuals who had been working with the cross border carers for many months and developed trust and friendships, labelling the government policy “erroneous and cruel”.

The environment had been directly attacked, she said, by Mr Picardo’s decision last year to remove import duty for all cars. Ms Hassan drew attention to the fact that Gibraltar continues to pump out raw sewage into the sea 10 years after the GSLP-Liberals made a manifesto promise to tackle the issue.

She welcomed the Public Health Minister’s comments that medicinal cannabis legislation will soon be brought to Parliament, but asked rhetorically how much pain could have been spared had the Government taken her proposal seriously four years ago.

Ms Hassan again criticised the GSLP-Liberal’s eGovernment efforts, saying that after almost £14 million spent “the lack of value for money provided for this investment is abysmal”.

She claimed it was a “Budget of decay”, because she believes it will mark the beginning of the end for the GSLP-Liberals.