It is obvious that the Opposition are so embarrassed about their poor record on housing that they squirm uncomfortably whenever they are reminded about it. While it is perfectly true that the Government in power has responsibility for dealing with the issues that it faces at a given moment, any Government also has a duty to remind the electorate of the political hypocrisy of those now pointing fingers.
It is deeply regrettable that the Opposition should continue with their destructive and negative brand of politics which sets out to distort reality. There are many thousands of people who have benefited from the housing policy of this Government who will see the latest comments from the Opposition for what they are – nothing more than playing politics.
The fact that 176 families have been housed during 2020, which was marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, is a good news story. This speaks highly of the staff in the housing department, in the housing works agency and in the different contractors who have all spared no effort to deliver homes for those families. It is also very good news that 61 of these came from the medical list and the social list. The Government has already explained that the family composition of persons on these lists needs to be matched with the room composition of the flats that become available.
The Government is therefore justifiably proud of its record on housing which has been a priority from day one.
There are also hundreds of individuals and families who have been able to purchase their own homes or rent them in housing projects that have been subsidised by the Government. This includes 564 in Beach View Terraces, 331 in Mons Calpe Mews, 69 in Sea Master Lodge and 73 in Charles Bruzon House. Those housing allocations have in turn led to other allocations to applicants on the housing waiting lists from the flats that were vacated by the persons who moved to these new housing schemes. In addition to this, a further 491 flats will go up at Bob Peliza Mews and 228 in Chatham Views with 665 more already under construction at Hassan Centenary Terraces. The truth is that a housing programme of this magnitude is without precedent in modern times and is a reflection of the priority that this Government attaches to housing our people.
It is important to underline the fact that the combined number of new housing units for purchase or rental is 2421. This speaks for itself and exposes the nonsensical arguments put forward by the Opposition. There are thousands of families that have been or will be housed through these projects as a direct result of the policy of the Government.
Moreover, it will be recalled that when the GSD was in office, Gibraltar residents of Moroccan origin were not permitted to register for public housing in the different waiting lists. The Government ended this discrimination and promoted a policy of equality through the grant of citizenship and nationality to many of them. This has meant that many more persons are entitled to register for Government housing now than was the case then. We have been the ones to INCLUDE persons of ethnic Moroccan origin to the waiting list, where as before they were EXCLUDED by the GSD. That is a reality that Mr Azopardi cannot get away from. Those persons are now rightly entitled to wait for housing in the same way as everybody else, a right which they were deprived of before. It is true that, while they wait, some tenants, particularly in private sector accommodation, are genuine cases of hardship. The Government always does its utmost to assist in such instances. However, it is not clear whether the Opposition are saying that applicants should jump the queue.
Mr Azopardi has done a very neat pirouette to distance himself from the housing policy of his own party in Government, even though he served as a Minister in it for two terms precisely when the lack of new housing was at its most acute. The Opposition is therefore not in a position to give lectures to anyone on this subject.
Indeed, the GSD’s hypocrisy is best illustrated by their statement that the GSLP Liberals should not refer to the past, whilst at the same time, conversely, attacking Sir Joshua Hassan and the AACR in respect of things that date from 50 years ago. Nothing can evidence, show and illustrate more vividly and in glorious political Technicolor, the GSD’s “do as I say but not as I do” political hypocrisy.
The Minister for Housing, Hon Steven Linares MP, said: “Keith Azopardi’s political tactic is to blame Sir Joshua Hassan and the AACR, blame Sir Joe Bossano and the GSLP and blame Fabian Picardo and the GSLP Liberals. He doesn’t realise that he is making a fool of himself by seeking to exonerate the GSD and himself from any liability in respect of the issues we face today. It was actually under the GSD that the housing waiting list grew from a manageable 400 to the numbers we are dealing with today. And those numbers that we inherited from the GSD did not include the many deserving persons of Moroccan ethnic origin who were then excluded by the GSD from applying for government housing. We accept that we have not resolved all housing problems, but we have resolved many – and many more than the GSD ever did. We will continue to work to resolve as many more problems as we are able to. What is clear is that if one judges the first 12 years of GSD government with the first 12 years of GSLP Liberal government, any objective observer will agree that the GSD failed our community on housing, as Sir Peter Caruana himself agreed, in words which stand as a damning epitaph of Mr Azopardi’s only 8 years in office, when he said that the GSD had to recognise its ‘short comings’ on housing which had to act as a ‘wake-up call’. Sir Peter could not have made clearer the failure of the GSD governments that Mr Azopardi was a member of. New homes only started being built after he left office. A damning indictment indeed of both the GSD generally and Mr Azopardi in particular.”