Sunday, March 13, 2011

Hello, Goodbye: María Salom and the Council of Mallorca

María Salom is not a name likely to ring many bells with you, but it may become familiar in the future and give us (well, me) the opportunity for some plays on her name: Salome, biblical seductress; Shalom, the Hebrew for peace and, idiomatically, for both hello and goodbye.

Hello to María Salom. Who is she? Salom is a member of the Partido Popular and is being lined up as president of the Council of Mallorca, a candidature that helped to cause the rupture in the party on account of Jaume Font having been overlooked. The candidature brought further into the open the splits within the party, causing indignation among leftish elements opposed to the perceived anti-Catalanism and alliance with the PP nationally of the local leader, José Bauzá, and causing Font to go off and form his own party.

Salom's candidature is widely believed, by the indignant left, to have been one dictated by the national party. She herself was closely aligned with Madrid, having been a deputy in the Cortes before assuming a similar role in the Balearic parliament last October. Back in the Mallorcan mainstream, and with local elections looming, she has been making her views known about the body over which she hopes she will preside.

In January, Salom referred to the Council of Mallorca as an "inefficient and expensive mastodon". She said that she would press for an ending of the Council's "accumulation of functions" and their duplication with other institutions. This was to be applauded, but her choice of animal to describe the Council was open to an interpretation she may not have intended. The mastodon has been long extinct. The Council's extinction would not be lamented, but when you are looking at becoming its president, you don't presumably advocate making yourself redundant. Or do you?

She is now saying that she will lop off some 15 million euros of the Council's budget and divert it towards social policy. Amongst savings in her sights are those on "advertising material and other superficial items that are not a priority". Whatever might she have in mind? How about the 400,000 euros the Council splashed out back in the summer of 2008 to start a campaign to promote the use of Catalan in restaurants? Yes, you have read this correctly. 400,000 euros.

This was just an example of the idiocy that the Council has got up to. Let me stress, this is not to deny the promotion of Catalan, but when it is being directed in a pointless fashion, as it was with this restaurant campaign, any good intentions are exposed as daft. As daft and as pointless as the Council often portrays itself and as pointless as it is as an unnecessary tier of additional bureaucracy.

One would imagine that this would be just the sort of thing Salom would put a stop to. Not only because it was a waste of money, but also ideologically, if one assumes that she is on-message where Bauzá's anti-Catalanism is concerned.

What one has thus far heard from Salom regarding the Council, short of her actually wanting to close it down, makes much sense. So why is there another sense? A sense of unease.

Partly, this has to do with the charge that she is a put-up job by the PP in Madrid and, therefore, an instrument of how the national party perceives the future for regionalism (not very favourably). But there is also the matter of her past.

The Sóller Tunnel case was the first great corruption scandal to hit Mallorca following the introduction of autonomy. It claimed the first president of the Balearics regional government, the PP's Gabriel Cañellas, who was forced to resign when he was implicated on a charge that involved the payment of some 50 million pesetas (300,000 euros) for electoral purposes. The case was eventually dropped, in 1997, primarily because of the invoking of the statute of limitations.

In August, 1989, a bank account was opened into which was paid a sum of money by ... María Salom. She was, when the case first came to court in 1995, cited as one of the signatories for bank accounts into which went euphemistic "donations" from a company called Cuart, owned by a friend and business partner of Cañellas, which was granted the concession for work on the tunnel.

Salom was never charged. She appeared as a witness, but that was all. She has since responded to questions about the case by saying that it would take too long to explain. Which it probably would. She was only young at the time when that first bank account was opened, 21 in fact. And she was a woman. She was probably just doing her job.

None of this would probably matter or would have been raised, had it not been for one thing. Font was supposedly denied the candidature as president of the Council because he was, at the time, implicated in a corruption case (the charge has now been archived). Bauzá has made much of not allowing anyone implicated to be forwarded for electoral nomination. Once Salom was presented as candidate, the whiff of possible hypocrisy brought the Sóller Tunnel case back to the fore.

What would take too long to explain casts a shadow over her candidature. It may be unfair that it does. She is saying much about the Council of Mallorca with which it is hard to disagree. But there is still the worry that she is somehow a stooge for an anti-regionalist and pro-Spain PP. It doesn't really help that, by coincidence, her husband's surname and now part of hers is De España. However, if she were to become president, might she in fact go further than she has thus far alluded to? Hello to the presidency, but goodbye to the Council of Mallorca. It would be a seductive message.

Any comments to please.

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