- Rock’s first ever Anti-Corruption Authority set up
A seminal piece of legislation to establish Gibraltar’s first ever Anti-Corruption Authority was passed by Government majority in Parliament on Friday night, with all members in opposition abstaining after rejecting an offer of consensus by the Chief Minister to incorporate their alleged concerns into the law.
The GSD failed to support the Bill despite an undertaking by Mr Picardo to include definitions of nepotism and cronyism to be agreed by both sides in the Schedule of Offences within the jurisdiction of the Authority before Easter – insofar as these are not already provided for under existing laws. Mr Picardo had also sought consensus by agreeing to address GSD criticisms that the office of the Chief Minister held too much power under the proposed Act. As a result, the Chief Minister moved an amendment that all five members to the Authority be appointed by the Specified Appointments Commission and not by him.
This latter proposition to enhance the Authority’s independence went much further than an earlier Government amendment, where the SAC would appoint the chairman and the Chief Minister and the Leader of the Opposition would each appoint two of the four remaining members.
Unfortunately, the GSD once again showed, by their cynical attitude, that they are not interested in engagement across the floor of the House or working together for the good of Gibraltar and that they are obviously interested only in party political posturing in an election year.
Extended legal provisions to protect whistle-blowers in the investigation of corruption in the public sector have also been created.
Further refuting Opposition claims that the Bill granted him excessive powers, Mr Picardo said that everything, whether the redaction of reports or granting of certificates of finality, was reviewable by a court of law. He added that there was no question of the Government seeking to draw a narrow bill that is not deep enough.
The new law means that Gibraltar is now compliant with the requirements of the UN Convention and Commonwealth Principles on anti-corruption.
The Chief Minister explained that most of the offences the Opposition are now calling for are already crimes in Gibraltar, contained in existing laws. These include undeclared conflicts of interests, fraud by abuse of positions and misconduct in public office. Additionally, Gibraltar’s procurement rules are already among the toughest in the world and currently deal with issues related to allocation of land, tenders and contracts and specific obligations to declare and avoid conflicts of interests.
The Chief Minister also exposed Opposition inconsistencies and contradictions in their comments that the Authority did not go far enough and needed to have greater powers, reminding Parliament that in 2011 both the GSD and the PDP had argued that Gibraltar did not even need an Anti-Corruption Authority.
The then PDP and current GSD leader Keith Azopardi had declared that this would be like telling the world that Gibraltar had a corruption problem, further stating that the police had all the necessary powers to investigate cases. The social democrats had also argued that Gibraltar complied with the UK Bribery Act and the UN Convention on corruption. Yet now, Mr Azopardi defends the contrary, but – as usual – without providing any particulars.
The Chief Minister, the Hon Fabian Picardo KC MP, said: “I am very proud that we have now created the Anti-Corruption Authority. We will start the recruitment process for its members, to be handled by the Specified Appointments Commission, in the next weeks. This is hugely important in moving Gibraltar forward on issues relating to probity and standards in public life, with a lot more to do to ensure that Gibraltar reaches and remains at the vanguard on these issues.
“This Authority will complement, and not undermine, the powers of the Royal Gibraltar Police to investigate and prosecute criminal offences. No individual, public official, minister or Member of Parliament can avoid being subject to the provisions of the ACA, which will have the widest powers to obtain information, production orders and search warrants.
“Finally, even before the Authority is established and indeed once it is, I call on all citizens who believe that they have evidence of corruption to come forward with the evidence to the RGP, or the Authority, so that the allegations can be properly investigated and either prosecuted if well-founded or disregarded if not well-founded. That is what we need to all do in order to move Gibraltar forward in this area and to protect the tax payer, the public purse and the reputation of our community and its commitment to probity and the highest standards in public life.”