Referendum date by end of March

Government has proposed a referendum date toward the end of May, but is keeping an open mind.

‘We have to make a decision shortly – during this month,’ Education Minister Alden McLaughlin said at a Constitutional Review meeting in East End Monday night.

The question had been raised as to whether more time was needed.

But whether the referendum is held in May, June or July, he added, people must give Government ‘the opportunity to go to the UK and hammer out the best possible constitution document we can.’

Mr. McLaughlin said the review team was hearing that people want to vote yes or no on more than one issue. ‘We are exploring whether that is possible or not.’

One clear message was that people do not want any change in the qualifications for people to get elected to the Legislative Assembly, he reported. Regarding single-member constituencies, ‘people want a say on that question.’

Mr. McLaughlin said the fact Government was going to a referendum was proof they want to know the people’s will. It is proof Government does not want independence.

‘We are equally determined not to let the process drag out. We run the risk the UK will get fed up… The UK wants the process to come to a conclusion.’

Since the proposals for constitutional modernisation were unveiled in January, there have been 11 public meetings to discuss them. Six more meetings are scheduled, including one each in Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.

On Monday night, Mr. McLaughlin was joined at the Elliott Conolly Civic Centre in Gun Bay by district MLA Arden McLean, who is also Minister for Infrastructure.

The audience was less than a dozen. Only two people spoke, both in support of single-member constituencies.

Mrs. Suzanne Bothwell, director of the Constitutional Review Secretariat, emphasised accountability in her summary of the proposals for change.

If elected ministers are not functioning, they can be removed by their fellow MLAs, she pointed out. She asked whether official members should be removed from the Legislative Assembly or should they be accountable to the people in some way.

Regarding the governor, she noted the proposal that all of his actions should be open to judicial review.

Mr. McLean discussed several changes sought. He told the gathering that what Government proposes is not new: ‘It is in line with what the UK is giving other Overseas Territories.’

He quoted from a joint statement by UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Gibraltar Chief Minister Peter Carauna after their negotiations on modernisation of Gibraltar’s Constitution.

The main elements of constitutional reform included defining the powers of the governor, with the elected Gibraltar Government enjoying the remainder. The governor’s powers are limited to external relations, defence, internal security including certain aspects of policing and certain aspects of public service appointments.

The governor’s powers to withhold assent from laws passed by the Gibraltar Legislature are restricted to certain defined circumstances. The governor’s special legislative powers are restricted to only matters that are his responsibility.

The financial secretary and attorney general cease to be members of the House of Assembly. Public finances become, constitutionally, the direct responsibility of a minister.

Whereas currently all executive authority under the constitution vests in the Governor, under the new constitution it will vest, as in the UK directly in Her Majesty the Queen, and (except in the areas of the governor’s responsibilities) it will be exercisable on Her behalf by the elected Gibraltar Government.

The bulk of responsibilities for policing in Gibraltar are transferred to a statutory Gibraltar Police Authority.

A new Judicial Service Commission is constituted to advise on the appointment and other matters pertaining to the judiciary. Save in very exceptional circumstances, the governor must act in accordance with the commission’s advice.

Mr. McLean said Gibraltar got where they are today because both sides of their legislature came together and said ‘Let’s move forward.’