Fabian Picardo, the GSLP-Liberal Chief Minister has admitted openly that some government public spending is unauthorised. He did so in a NewsWatch interview broadcast on GBC on the 1st March 2022.
In that interview the Chief Minister rambled and spun, but sight should not be lost of his very pointed acknowledgment that there has been unauthorised spending of public monies.
Such wrongful expenditure carries with it serious repercussions, as already explained in earlier articles.
He acknowledged the function of Parliament, but ignored that meetings have not been held in manner that meets the requirement for some spending to be authorised by passing Supplementary Appropriations Acts.
CONTROLLING OFFICERS ACCUSED OF NOT ACTING PROPERLY
He went on to say that his Government had not given permission for that overspending, saying that there were “… some departments where controlling officers are not acting properly.”
It is a statement that brings into focus the need to act on what is a serious matter, which undermines public confidence in how public (our) money is being used.
OBLIGATION TO ACT
The law (Public Finance (Control and Audit) Act) says that, if it appears to the Financial Secretary that any public officer has neglected his duty, been careless or is at fault, in a manner that leads to improper payments or payment of any money that is not vouched, then he “may” seek payment personally from that public officer.
The use of the word “may” does not suggest much discretion. In that context there is much law that points to “may” meaning ‘must’.
FINANCIAL SECRETARY HAS RESPONSIBILITY
If no action is taken by the Financial Secretary, in the public interest, to protect against improper spending of public money, which is now publicly admitted by the Chief Minister, there is an argument favouring the notion that personal liability is adopted by him.
If no action is taken the matter becomes one for action by the Principal Auditor. He himself will become implicated in the wrong process if he does not deal with the issue.
In turn there would be no clearer admitted breach of the constitutional obligation to govern for “the peace, order and good government” of Gibraltar.
SIR JOSEPH BOSSANO
Despite the obligations that exist in law on the part of the Financial Secretary and Principal Auditor, Mr. Picardo confirms in that same interview that Sir Joe Bossano will pursue all unauthorised expenditure.
Hopefully that will include bringing it to the attention of the Financial Secretary with a view to the necessary action being taken in law.
PARLIAMENT BEING SIDESTEPPED
Mr. Picardo acknowledged, in the same interview, that permission has been given for some overspending. He kept referring to that being done by the Cabinet. The law does not require that, it provides that the Finance Minister, namely Mr. Picardo, authorises it out of moneys already allowed by Parliament for that purpose. Is that what is happening?
However, the position is that Parliament’s approval should be obtained, implicitly within a reasonable time scale. Is that happening?
Parliament has not met for six months nor, according to Mr. Picardo is it going to meet until May.
The cathedral of democracy is the elected Parliament, more so in Gibraltar, despite its failings due to any lack of separation of powers between the executive and the legislature. It is the only place where any questioning of the government of the day, currently the GSLP-Liberal Alliance Government, can happen.
If Parliament does not meet, it is not just the arbitrary spending of money that undermines good government, it is the very core of the little democracy that exists in Gibraltar that is shaken, and so does not support good government.
It is not a valid excuse to say that Brexit, with the consequent Gibexit treaty negotiations, and Covid-19 have overwhelmed the ability of Parliament to meet. It is an excuse that cannot justify the arbitrary, autocratic, and arrogant governance that is now dominant in Gibraltar.