By Roy Clinton, Shadow Minister for Public Finance
Sir Joe Bossano wrote a thank you email to all depositors in the Gibraltar Savings Bank just before the end of 2023. In that email Sir Joe boasted that deposits were at approximately £1.7 billion but then disclosed that:
“£1 billion is invested in Gibraltar, in assets purchased by the Savings Bank through a wholly owned company, in loans to the Government and to Government Companies and in providing short-term funding by purchasing loan notes from developers engaged in projects that are sponsored under the National Economic Plan”.
In this article I will explain what this £1 billion is made up of and highlight the failings in transparency as to how this money is being used by Government. As will be seen below most of this £1 billion is being used by Government as indirect borrowing for a number of projects and they persistently refuse to fully account to you for these monies.
THE £1 BILLION BREAKDOWN
The full audited accounts of the Gibraltar Savings Bank for each of the five years ended 2019-2023 have not been Gazetted or otherwise published. I have prepared the following analysis [set out in the table below] of the £1 billion as at 31 October 2023 based on answers to written questions in Parliament.
This shows the amount owed directly by Government is £372.7 million i.e. the Savings Bank owns all the debentures issued by Government as direct debt. Thus the Government has in effect borrowed this amount from the Savings Bank and it has been used for general purposes in the Consolidated Fund.
The other ‘investments’ require deeper analysis as follows:
OWNERSHIP OF COMPANIES
The Savings Bank owns two companies on a 100% basis. The first of these being Gibtelecom which it first acquired a 50% interest in 2014 after the Government announced it was buying out the joint venture with Telekom Slovenije for EUR 47.7 million. The Government then raised additional finance for itself by selling its remaining holding of 50% to the Savings Bank.
GSBA Limited was incorporated on 30 April 2014 with an issued share capital of £11 million owned by the Savings Bank. In its initial years of operation it bought the Treasury building on Main Street (GSB offices) for £4.6 million and its last filed balance sheet for 31 March 2019 listed investment properties valued at £12.3 million and a subsidiary valued at £850,000. The subsidiary is the Gibraltar National Mint Limited which has never filed accounts since incorporation but is active in the issuance of coins.
GSBA Limited has now begun borrowing substantial amounts from the Savings Bank to fund Sir Joe’s National Economic Plan. Of the £60 million borrowed approximately £39.5 million has gone to projects such as the Rooke Nursing Home and the Eastern Beach Sheds via Community Supplies and Services Limited. The exact funding structure via intermediary companies such as Gibraltar Community Projects (ultimately owned by the GDC) is impossible to determine as Sir Joe answered me in Parliament on 19 January 2023:
“GSBA, in turn, issues loan notes to a number of other companies and one or more of those companies issues loan notes to Gibraltar Community Projects. That is not enough. He wants to know the date, the time, the amount, the rate. Well, he is not going to get any more detail. That is all I am telling him, okay?”
This is what Sir Joe later described as his Financial Jungle something which frankly should not arise when considering the transparent use of Savings Bank money.
CREDIT FINANCE COMPANY LIMITED
This company with a £30 million share capital which is owned by the Gibraltar Development Corporation (GDC) has been the subject of controversy since the 2015 elections if not earlier.
As per its audited accounts for 31 December 2022 it describes itself as follows:
“Credit Finance Company Limited is a licensed money-lending institution. It was set up to provide finance on projects considered to be of benefit to the economy and the community. This includes the issue of commercial loans and the funding of pension commutations under the Pensions Act and lump sum retirement payments under the various Early Exit Schemes.”
This company has borrowed £418 million from the Savings Bank. It owns 49% of Shell LNG Gibraltar Limited with a combined equity and loan investment of £17 million. It then has effectively lent to the Gibraltar Government £150 million to cover Early Exit Schemes and the Commutation of Pensions. A further £276 million has been lent to other Government entities via the purchase of loan notes. The following is the record of my exchange with Sir Joe on 15 March 2023:
“I do not see why the Minister cannot tell us which government entity is borrowing £276.8 million from Credit Finance at call.”
Hon. Sir J J Bossano : “Mr Speaker, it is not that I cannot do it; it is that I am not prepared to do it. Of course I can do it.”
This again is a demonstration of the lack of transparency as to how Savings Bank money is been used by Government.
GIBRALTAR PROPERTIES LIMITED
This company which is ultimately owned by Government via Gibraltar Land (Holdings) Limited has borrowed £80 million from the Savings Bank. In answer to questions in Parliament last month on 21 December 2023 the Chief Minister indicated that this money “has been used for the construction costs of Hassan Centenary Terraces.” This is a marked departure from prior funding models for Government affordable housing schemes.
THE BIG QUESTION
The big question about the Billion is why? The Government would have you believe that it is all part and parcel of its investment strategy to use the Savings Bank as a sort of Development Bank. The fact of the matter is all of the above I have described should properly have been done by the Government and recorded on its books. The Government have effectively borrowed £1 billion from the Savings Bank and considers it can use more to fund any pet projects such as the stadium as it sees fit. The £ 1 billion of investments are also illiquid in that they cannot be easily sold or realised.
So if we consider this £1 billion as Government borrowing then it is easy to see how the GSD has been consistently saying gross debt is higher than the Government claims. Take Sir Joe Bossano’s £ 1 billion, add the £300 million housing estate mortgage and £500 million borrowed from NatWest and you arrive at £1.8 billion.
What you’ve had so far under the GSLP/Liberals is a huge increase in indirect debt funded by the Savings Bank and worse still done without the transparency you are entitled to. We will continue to highlight this because you deserve clear and complete accountability as to how your money in the Gibraltar Savings Bank is being used by this Government.