Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Gib tales (2) - Call me

Let's look at public utilities in Gib - gas, electricity, water and telecommunications. No this is not boring, this is very relevant to today's current news post!

First things first. There is no natural gas, the only gas is bottled, ie butane. With the majority of people living in flats, often without lifts, electricity tends to be the most common energy supply used in homes. Restaurants, bars and clubs tend to use gas however.

Electricity is provided by Gibraltar's own power station, and a new one is set to come on stream in 2011. Gibraltar Electricity Authority (Gibelec) is responsible for generation, distribution and supply of electricity. Electricity is one of the products in Gib that is relatively expensive.

Water is perhaps the most interesting of the utilities. Courtesy of the Gib govt web site:

There are no permanent natural water supplies in Gibraltar, main sources used to be the water catchments on the rock face,

Old water catchments...

which collected rainwater and supplied the reservoirs hollowed out inside the Rock, and wells on the sandy plain to the north. The main supply is currently provided by an efficient number of distillers, distilling sea water located at the North Mole.

Water is provided by AquaGib and there are two parallel supplies - one of distilled seawater for drinking water, and one of seawater for such things as toilets, fire hydrants, and various other non-drinking water supplies. The water supply is worth a post in its own right, but not for today.

Call me ....

Telecommunications. The major provider in Gibraltar is Gibtelecom. Yes everything here does include 'Gib' in the name. It's still known locally as Gibtel which was one of its predecessors.

Gibtelecom has a turnover of around £31.5M. It is owned jointly by the government of Gibraltar, and Telekom Slovenije, which bought a 50% shareholding in 2007.

There are almost 90 fixed lines per 100 population, and Gibtelecom also provides mobile and internet services. More than 80% of households have an internet link.

Of course telecommunications has been a source of controversy between Spain and Gibraltar. Although Gib was allocated its own International Direct Dialling (IDD) code back in the 70s Spain refused to acknowledge it.

When IDD was introduced in Spain, Gib was included as part of the Spanish numbering system, with a code of 9567. Even a few years ago, we were ringing this code from Spain.

In a nutshell this meant that only 30,000 numbers could be dialled from Spain and led to a shortage of new numbers that could be allocated to Gib residents. And at the same time, international callers using cheap rates that went via Spain, meant that callers either heard the Gib number didn't exist, or if they were connected - Telefonica (Spanish company) kept the profits.

And as for mobiles. Well, Gibtelecom was prevented from roaming agreements with Spanish operators.

Same old story?

The Cordoba Agreement of 2006 removed these restrictions (and included a whole load of other stuff) and it finally came into force in 2007. So now Gib really really has its own IDD and we can even get roaming in Spain. Note when roaming in Spain, please choose any other operator than grasping Telefonica.

Today's news story.

Well only that Señor Sanchez wants a piece of Gib's arse via the telecoms industry.

According to the Gib Chronicle:

Having watered down his controversial plan to charge visitors to the Rock, Alejandro Sánchez, the mayor of La Linea, has now set his eyes on another element of the Gibraltarian economy in his effort to find revenue streams for his cash-strapped town.

The mayor said he would ask Spain's Ministry for Foreign Affairs and its Finance Ministry for details on the income generated in Gibraltar by online gaming.

 The mayor said this business would not have been possible without the Cordoba agreement, which radically expanded the number of phone lines available to Gibraltar. He also noted that fibre optic lines linking Gibraltar to the world run through La Linea.

With that in mind, the mayor wants a slice of the action.

"La Linea wants to know what it is getting in return, given that without those cables passing through our town, that business would not exist today," the town council said in a statement at the weekend.

No doubt Señor Sánchez has taken into account the income taken by Telefonica, resulting from the restrictions previously placed on Gibraltar by Spain ?

Why on earth is anyone claiming financial compensation for some other country's industry just because something goes through their land/air space/sea space (sore point that one)? Oh. Because they are short of money. And Gib is a profitable on-line gaming centre. So what? Nothing to do with La Linea. At all.

And, regarding yesterday's post about what is anyone in the UK actually doing for Gibraltar? Well it seems William Hague gave a short speech at the Tory Party Conference saying that in his election campaign he had stated he he would not let Gibraltar down, and that now he was in government he intended to defend Gib's interests strongly.
Hmm hope so.

Territorial waters dispute soon. Honest.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Gib tales (1)

Here is the first in a new series of posts about Gibraltar for my friends who may not know much about the place. And anyone else who is interested.

When I first arrived 14 years ago on holiday I knew two things - 1) that it was British, and 2) that my father spent some time here when he was in the Royal Navy. Oh, and that there were wonderful apes/monkeys - correctly speaking, monkeys - Barbary Macaques.

Monkey outside the tax office - don't think they have to pay taxes though...

So the format of these posts (if they ever get past this first one) is that there will be a few facts about Gib, followed by a news story/current event.

Here we go with a few of the basic facts.

Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory, a former Crown Colony. Here is Wiki's quick summary:

The British Overseas Territories are fourteen territories of the United Kingdom which, although they do not form part of the United Kingdom itself, fall under its jurisdiction.They were acquired during the time of the British Empire and have not become independent or ceded to another country. The name "British Overseas Territory" was introduced by the British Overseas Territories Act 2002, and replaced the name British Dependent Territory, which was introduced by the British Nationality Act 1981. Before 1981, the territories were known as colonies or Crown colonies.

and there is more info about the territories here. Britain retains responsibility for foreign policy and defence (hang onto this point, it is important).

People from Gibraltar are Gibraltarians. English is the official language but locals also speak Spanish and Llanito. Do not expect to find a little colony of Brits here.

The Gibraltar government is elected by Gibraltar residents. The current party in power is the Gibraltar Social Democrats (GSD), led by Peter Caruana, who is the Chief Minister. The next election is due in 2011.

It is NOT an island - a common misconception - but is connected to the Iberian peninsula by a narrow isthmus, with the border town of La Linea. It is about three miles long by 3/4 of a mile wide, so its overall area is approx 2 1/4 square miles. The population is around 30,000 people.

Gibraltar is the nearest airport in the world to its city. Coming across the frontier into Gib currently involves driving, cycling, or walking across the airport runway. When planes are due to land/take off, the route across the airport is closed leading to queues and delays.

Runway - and past that, La Linea, and Spain. (For the pedants I had better quickly add that La Linea is actually past the rather nice MOD properties and Western Beach. Spain begins at the built-up bit).

Thousands of cross-border workers - from Spain - cross the frontier every day for higher wages than they can get in Spain, (assuming they can currently even get a job in Spain), and to take money out of Gib. Figures range from between 4000 workers to 12000. The truth is probably at the lower end for legitimate employees, but just add on all those people working on the black, mmmm, easily near the top figure.

Some important dates in Gib's history are:

711 - conquered by Muslims

1309 - taken by Spanish

1333 - surrendered to a Muslim siege

1462 - recaptured by Spain

1704 - taken by an Anglo-Dutch fleet as part of the Spanish war of succession

1713 - Treaty of Utrecht - Spain cedes Gibraltar to Britain in perpetuity

Onto this post's current news issue, which has been rumbling on for some time now.

The proposed toll

The mayor of La Linea, Alejandro Sanchez, has proposed a €5 toll each way for some people to enter and leave Gibraltar. As the stories change virtually every week, it is difficult to say who would be included and excluded.

Residents of La Linea would almost certainly be excluded. Included? ... Gib residents? Tourists? Spanish residents from San Roque? Algeciras? Sevilla? Madrid?

It seems, according to most local newspapers, that the coffers of the La Linea Ayuntamiento (town council) are rather bare. To the extent that council employees have not been paid for some weeks and have been staging strikes outside the town hall.

Well where better to go than to hit rich Gibraltar? Huh?

1) Is there anywhere in Europe where you have to pay to cross a frontier? Remember the Europe of free movement ?

2) All Gibraltarians are not rich. Jobs are hard to find (often done cheaper by someone who doesn't live in Gib and working on the black) and the cost of living is higher than in Spain. Unless you smoke and drink spirits of course, in which case Gib is paradise. But unemployment benefit in Gib is not a patch on Spanish benefit. What do Spaniards get? Some 70% or so of their last wage? £80 a week here for a married couple. For 13 weeks. Not for a couple of years like the Spanish system (wonders why Spanish coffers are slightly empty?)

3) What is everyone doing about it? Caruana? Our MEPs? Giles Chichester? Trevor Colman, Earl of Dartmouth? Ashley Fox? Julie Girling? Graham Watson?

Well the three Tories - Chichester, Fox and Girling have at least said something. A combined effort of writing to British Foreign Secretary William Hague, EU Commission President José Manuel Barosso (Portuguese), and dear Señor Sanchez.

And the result so far?

The Ayuntamiento de Andalucía and the Spanish government in Madrid have said this proposed toll is illegal. And they can't actually do anything about it as it hasn't happened or words to that effect. Much the same from the EU. Not sure what William Hague has done (his website is rather bare on his Gib efforts, somewhat like his head, oops not fair that one) or whether Señor Sanchez ever responded to Ms Girling.

So where are we? Not knowing what is going on basically. Now Señor Sanchez has come up with a crafty little wheeze. He is considering fiddling with two routes in and out of Gib, one toll-free - and the other - the toll route of course.

Oh and the Mayor of La Linea thinks the entry charge for the Upper Rock national park in Gibraltar is illegal. Hello, Señor Sanchez. This is not a toll to cross the border to a foreign country to go to our homes. This is an entry charge for a nature reserve. Not heard of that before? Nor is it any of your business what the Gib government does within Gibraltar.

Gibraltar is not a nature reserve. Or a theme park. We don't deserve to be charged to go in and out of the place we live. And neither do the people who want to visit Gibraltar, or the cross-border workers who come here every day. Or even the Spaniards who regularly come here to fill up with cheap fuel, tabs and booze - or is that the problem too? Possibly spending money in Gib rather than La Linea? Go fill your coffers elsewhere Señor.

Next post - territorial waters dispute.

And you thought living in Gib was an idyllic peaceful place in the sun?

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Grapes - and anis .....

'Catalina, Catalina,' shouted José. Which invariably means there is some free food in the offing. It was grapes from his daughter's finca.

It took me by surprise the first time our Spanish neighbours started giving us food.

Not just fresh food - but even cooked meals, if the family didn't eat it all - we got the leftovers. I felt like I was on the receiving line in a soup kitchen. OK so I haven't done soup kitchens but I have had the free hand-outs at the Krishnas. Fortunately, unlike Krishna food, the Spanish food from next door wasn't the same every day and eventually I got used to it and started to enjoy the novelty of someone providing me with free, fresh and tasty meals.

It's not just our immediate neighbours either. Because we live in a small community people regard each other as neighbours when they live a few streets - or more - away. And when there is a glut of veg, the Spanish don't want it to go to waste so huge bags of food are liberally handed out. Well, only to people they like I suppose. Artichokes, cucumbers, cabbages, courgettes, tomatoes, onions, aubergines, broad beans, runner beans - whatever is the crop at the time.

But like everywhere, the economy is on a downturn and people are struggling. So the freebies don't happen too often these days.

What to do with a few kilos of grapes though? Partner doesn't like fruit, and I eat it for breakfast sometimes - but not that many grapes. Even though they were Moscatel grapes. He came up with a bright idea. At New Year, Spaniards have a custom of trying to eat 12 grapes before the 12 midnight chimes have finished. They also drink the odd few glasses of cava but that part isn't relevant for this.

So grapes matured in anis are a traditional Christmas/New Year thing. Our neighbours usually given us some every Christmas in a glass with the accompanying liquid. They invariably do it early in the morning so it basically blows our heads off for the rest of the day.

Off we went to buy the bottle of anis. Most makes of anis are sweet but there are a couple of dry ones. Anis de Mono is our poison of choice.

i washed the grapes, and filled the jar. A whole bottle of anis went into the grape jar!!!!!!!!

They plumped up in no time, swelling out with the anis. After a couple of days, I had to try one. Yummy. Of course. I decided to spoon a little liquid into my teacup which I was eating them in (run out of bowls - all in the dishwasher).

Wait!!!! Where is that potent incredibly strong grapey anisy liquid? Not there. Just some watery nothing in particular. All the anis had magically transferred itself to the grapes. How could it do that? More to the point, how come when my neighbour dished up grapes and liquid - it tasted like pure alcohol?

Got it. My crafty - and generous - neighbour wasn't really giving us the left over dregs from the fermenting grapes. She had topped up our glasses from a brand new bottle. No wonder we always felt rat-arsed.

The jar got topped up with more grapes on our next visit :) and the left overs were given to the chickens who seemed very happy. No chickens were fed grapes with anis, I add hastily.