Heritage Trust should RESIGN!
|The question of the historical Rosia Tanks has been determined not on merit or demerit, but on who can afford litigation and who cannot. This cannot be right.
A system of justice, to be fair, must provide equal opportunities to both sides. The Gibraltar Heritage Trust reluctantly dropped out of the case because of the potentially high legal costs.
On the one hand, the government was prepared to put up a fight in court backed by public money. The Heritage Trust, as a statutory body engaged in a matter of public interest, did not have that kind of financial backing.
Many people do not see this as justice; they see it as an injustice, irrespective of who is right or wrong as regards the case in point.
But in dropping the case, what the Heritage Trust have done is inflict damage on itself. They are supposed to be the watchdog of Gibraltar's heritage. They have shown that they cannot fulfil their obligations properly. The honourable way out for them would have been to resign.
That is what they should do.
Because, if they cannot effectively and properly challenge what they consider to be wrong, then they face an impossible mission.
"The circumstances which have led the Heritage Trust to drop the court case, for fear of the financial repercussions, has exposed a serious issue of principle. This centres on the inability, in practice, of a statutory organisation to have access to justice on a matter of great public interest, all the more so when faced on the other side by the combined resources of the Government and a developer," as the Opposition said yesterday.
Indeed, serious issues have been raised.
Section 4(1) of the Gibraltar Heritage Trust Ordinance says: "The Trust is established for the purposes of preserving Gibraltar's heritage."
But this is precisely what the Heritage Trust tells us they cannot accomplish!
What, then, is their raison d'etre?
The Trust's general functions are also enshrined in law.
In Section 10 of the ordinance it is stated that it is their general duty "to promote and secure the preservation and enhancement of Gibraltar's heritage."
But the Trust have admitted that they cannot secure the preservation and enhancement of Gibraltar's heritage, as exposed in the case of the Rosia Tanks which they think has heritage value and should be preserved.
So, what is the value of a Heritage Trust as at presented constituted whose only ability, it seems,are menial tasks, such as restoring plaques and inaugurating the odd statue?
But when it comes to issues of real heritage importance they are impotent.
And to what extent is their general attitude to blame? What do you think Joe Desoiza, until recently the Trust's chairman, thinks was the most important development of a recent year? Not a major heritage project but the decision of the government to give them an office!
He said: "We are immensely grateful for this decision for it can profoundly affect the nature of the Trust's future activities."
The only visible profound effect has been their abandonment of an issue that has escalated into being the biggest heritage controversy in recent years.
What did he mean when he said: Preserving and fostering Gibraltar's heritage is not just the concern of Government.
For whatever reason, it would appear that they mean the opposite given their performance over the Rosia Tanks issue.
In their latest annual report, it was said that the lack of government consultation "is most damaging in respect of the plethora of illegal building works which insidiously erode the historical fabric of our city."
He speaks of "two notorious examples of the violation of the terms of the ordinance" over which the Trust had insisted that legal proceedings should have been instituted in order to enforce compliance.
The report adds: "Sad to relate those violations have not been redressed and the threatened court actions appear to have evaporated."
A working group which was set up at the time to address this problem "came to nothing."
In future,it added, the Trust must be prepared to exercise more directly those powers with which it is still legally empowered.
Such as their caving in over the Rosia Tanks?
We are not saying who was right or wrong over the Tanks' issue. What we are saying is that if the Heritage Trust is to mean anything, if it is to gain the respect of anyone, if it is to do its duty as required by law, it must put principle before anything else.
In the case of the Rosia Tanks, they said: The reason for abandoning the case was the potentially high legal costs which could have left the Trust without funds for other projects.
But if the Rosia Tanks issue has been the greatest shame of all time, should they not have put this particular case above all others?
What else, in heritage terms, has provoked such a major controversy and public interest?
In their latest set of accounts available, the cash in hand and at bank is given as ?127,362, while their current assets less current liabilities stood at ?151,901.
So, what is the purpose of having a Trust that cannot fulfil what it says it wants to fulfil?
The new chairman of the Heritage Trust, Lieut. Commander (R'td) Joe Ballantine is now navigating troubled waters. His ship is sinking. Should not he, and everyone else in the Board, abandon ship?
That is what people are asking, because to remain in post after the spectacle of recent events is to give the impression that they wish to hold out for some misguided concept of self-importance, which may not be the case. Because it cannot be "for the purposes of preserving Gibraltar's heritage", as the law dictates, because they have shown to be unable to do so.
The heritage ship is sinking!
Why don?t they do justice to Gibraltar?s heritage by resigning as an act of protest?