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ERG pushes back on Political Funding campaign

‘Back in mid-September, Equality Rights Group (ERG) launched its Political Funding campaign with a series of full page advertisements in the Chronicle, a call which has been well received across the community. Proof of this has been that all Party Manifestoes have necessarily drawn on the Campaign.

‘Our points are few but clear,’ says ERG Chair Felix Alvarez. ‘All Parties must provide an annual public statement of all their income and expenditure. Included must be a full list of all donations regardless of size of sum provided, identifying their donors. This public accounting should also include donations in kind, not only in money terms, and must apply not only to election campaigns but to the entirety of the Party’s annual activities. Needless to say, the same applies to individual politicians, whether independent or not. Donations to Parties should find no loophole through any mechanism of diversion of funds through individuals.

‘ERG, to date, however, has not commented on the responses of the various political players in the present elections; the reason being that we wanted to deal fairly with all the Parties once their statements were made public. This is the appropriate time, therefore, and we will now address the responses.

‘We welcome the fact that both Together Gibraltar (TG) and the Gibraltar Social Democrats (GSD) have addressed the issues in their Manifestoes. We understand those responses to be initial and partial considerations still requiring analysis, and we are happy to enter into further dialogue further down the line in order to assist. Nonetheless, both Parties have made proposals for the establishment of a Public Register as part of an overall approach to further transparency in political funding, and this can only be satisfying.

‘As far as TG is concerned, we applaud the move to crowd funding they’ve put in place for these elections. Yet, at the same time, we must highlight that online mechanisms can easily become platforms for concealment and cannot be relied on to achieve full political transparency in these matters. For this reason, we applaud the initiative but urge them to place emphasis on the more laudable proposals which they also present for full open auditing, registration and accountability of political funding but underline that this must be applicable throughout the political calendar year, and not just during elections to which they may have limited themselves thus far. Partial fixes are no fixes at all.

‘In further comment, both TG and the GSD propose different ‘starting point’ threshold sums from which public reporting must begin. And we say that this approach is dangerous.

‘Only the open accounting of all donations made, however large or small, and whether monetary or in kind, can avoid the possibility of loopholes arising whereby larger donations may be concealed and funnelled through in the form of multiple, smaller ones which will inevitably fall below what may otherwise appear to be a reasonable reporting ‘radar’. All donations to politicians and/or political Parties, in our view, are donations that should not escape full open and public accountability, along with the identification of the persons or bodies providing the funding. No one needs shielding from public view when there is no shame or wrongdoing attached to up-front and transparent political funding or support if this is undertaken in a manner which is respectful and open to our democratic values. The public interest requires that it be so, and ERG will continue to advocate the fullness of the approach be applicable in Gibraltar.

‘Lastly, the GSLP/Liberals’ response to the issue of political funding has, unfortunately, been disappointing. To put it bluntly, the main feedback ERG is getting is that the GSLP/Liberals, for whatever reason, are playing political hide-and-seek with this crucial matter; and Dr. Garcia’s recent comments on the political funding question is inadequately premised on ‘might be’ statements which fall far short of the requirements and clear assurances needed in the public interest.

‘Lastly, ERG fully appreciates the validity of overall references to political State Funding schemes applying to Gibraltar, but providing more secure and assured money to politicians and political Parties in itself only engrosses their financial status without adding one iota to the public’s clear and reasonable requirement to full public accountability of those who would direct the governance of our country, Mr. Alvarez ended.’