Thursday, October 29, 2015

Restoring Trust: Local police

The regional government is to establish an Anti-Corruption Bureau. This will assume a function of being the people's observer of public debt, enabling - in good transparent and participatory fashion beloved of the current administration - the citizenry to participate in debt analysis. In other words, they can see where money is spent and who receives it. Well, hallelujah, something equating to freedom of information, of which there is precious little in Mallorca, or indeed in Spain.

Might this bureau acquire wider functions? Where should the anti-corruption stop? Why not let it consider the local police as well? Or is the anti-corruption prosecution service, together with higher police forces, sufficient for this purpose? Yes it is.

The bureau is not another prosecution service. By throwing open public spending to public scrutiny, its role, theoretically, is preventative. With transparency comes the elimination of corruption, it is to be hoped. It's a commendable step for a society that struggles to be open and to explain and which can give the impression of inaction when corrupt acts are suspected. Or at least did. As we know, the cases of corruption investigation are overwhelming and they reach to the very top of Spain's society.

The successes of Mallorca's anti-corruption prosecution service and investigating judges have made them public heroes, none more so than Judge Castro. These successes have helped to fuel the demands from specific political sources for vastly more openness and transparency. One of the great achievements of Podemos has been to force an alteration of the collective political mindset. This is not a total revolution, but the polling success of Podemos (and of Ciudadanos) alerted the political class to a new reality: it couldn't just go on hiding things and turning a blind eye. For all its faults, Podemos has proved to be a game-changer, and in recognition of the contribution that Judge Castro has made to a cultural upheaval of exposure, it approached him and asked if he might consider becoming an election candidate. The judge politely declined the offer.

As the government ushers in yet more anti-corruption power, it watches on, as do the citizens to whom it refers unerringly, as the grand cases approach their times of denouement: Son Espases, Palma Arena, Noos, Matas, Urdangarin, the princess. But as it waits the outcomes and their inevitable appeals that will drag on for years long after it is no longer in government, it is faced with a different source of corruption. Local police.

The arrests in Palma won't have come as a surprise. This has been bubbling away for at least two years, while the sleaze has already come to the courts with appearances related to the "alternative" clubs and the implications of a politician (or civil servant)-police-business nexus.

This is corruption of a different type to that of the grand cases, but it is one that has seemingly been endemic and not confined to one force. When the investigations started in Magalluf last year into activities of the local police, a source was quoted as saying that they had "never had so much documentation in a corruption case".

The minister Catalina Cladera, wearing her public administration hat as opposed to her finance one, says that there is a "lack of stability" among local police forces, especially those in the resorts. But what did she mean by this? Was this an implication that other forces are prone to corrupt behaviour? Perhaps it was, but if so, then it was politician-speak. She was using the government's desire to eliminate temporary policing - which has indeed been described as causing force instability - against a background of the Palma affair. She wasn't saying - certainly not overtly -that there were issues with other local police forces, but this is how it might be interpreted.

Inevitably though, the Palma and Magalluf cases lead to conclusions being made about other forces, some of which may or may not be justified. The government wishes to create a "new model of co-ordination of the local police forces", but it is one that should be predicated every bit on prevention (of corruption) as it is on getting the police to be "closer" to the people. But her analysis that police trained on their respective islands should then operate on their islands (or indeed in their home towns) may not be the wisest. This can be double-edged. The closer the police are, the closer they might be to some of the people (and businesses or politicians) than others.

The worst thing that can happen as a consequence of the Palma affair is that all local police are tarred by the same brush. The government faces a challenge every bit as great as the pursuit of corruption by the famous and the politicians. It faces one of ensuring public confidence in the police. Maybe it needs a special bureau.

No comments: