Wednesday, November 29, 2006


For all you fans of this blog who might have wondered why there has been silence for a bit - well, I was in England, and not just in England but also taking a rest from the Internet. For those of us whose work revolves around the Net, it is good to get a break from something that can become too all-consuming.

So much for that. Back in Mallorca, and there is a ripping scandal unfolding in Andratx on the island’s south-west coast. The mayor, Eugenio Hidalgo, has been arrested on suspicion of corruption and money-laundering. For Spanish watchers, this will probably come as little surprise. However, the regularity with which those in public life are being collared is both alarming and reassuring. A senior police officer in Palma was recently arrested for taking bribes. Back on 6 September, I reported that the head of the Balearics Guardia Civil was under investigation for misuse of funds. On the mainland, there was the scandal that hit Marbella (surprise, surprise) earlier this year.

Arrested along with Hidalgo was Jaume Massot, the Balearics director-general for planning. Apparently, some 40 people are under suspicion.

This all has to do with alleged kickbacks in the classification of land for building, while the money-laundering charge has also to do with the possible purchase of winning lottery tickets in the days before winners’ names were published. Hidalgo claims that his wealth came from winning a Christmas lottery, but was it his ticket or someone else’s?

Of course, he has not been found guilty, nor has Massot, but the arrests have led to some soul-searching here regarding the image of the island. But it isn’t just a Mallorcan problem; it is a Spanish problem.

My take on this is that there is still a feeling - held by some - that it is ok to flout rules in the hope that mates in high places will take no action. In Hidalgo’s case, he was once a member of the Guardia Civil. If he had felt that this was a good cover, then he was wrong. It is the Guardia’s Serious Fraud Squad which is pursuing the investigation. The fact also that the scandal is headlining across Spain means that there is unlikely to be a lack of transparency.

While acknowledging that corruption can occur anywhere, this latest case highlights - possibly - the last throes of the old way of thinking. I have commented before on the immature nature of Spanish democracy, which is not a criticism but a fact. Corruption is a facet of the undemocratic society, and Spain is still only 30 years into its learning curve. More worrying would be the lack of will to pursue corruption. But this is not the case. The strength of actions, led by the Guardia, to tackle corruption is evidence of a strengthing institutional basis that is fundamental to a functioning democracy. (It should also be noted that both Hidalgo and Massot are associated with the Partido Popular, the ruling party in the Balearics.)

Whither Hidalgo? Who knows? But the case, far from being seen as a negative comment on Mallorcan life, should be seen as a positive - one that may finally rid the island and the country of the mentality that it is acceptable to treat the rules as options.

Weather note: November has seen almost unbroken calm and warm weather. But that old thing of the month’s end bringing a change is at it again. Overnight, there was lightning and thunder, and the temperature has dropped significantly, bearing in mind that Sa Pobla was registering 24 degrees three days ago.

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