Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Transparency Illusion

What should the ecotax revenue be spent on? Don't all answer tourism because that would be too simple. In terms of tourism, the best one might say is that the spend is tourism-related. There is no provision for full-on, direct tourism spending, such as with a massive ad campaign. This doesn't fall under the various "purposes" included in the law for the sustainable tourism tax (to give it its actual title). What with all the negativity flying around at present, however, any other government might think it worthwhile forgetting the law and splashing all the anticipated 60 million euros of revenue on such a campaign. Not this government, though.

Even if the government were minded to splash the cash on a huge ad promotional drive, it couldn't of course do so. And that's because of the law. Those purposes are set in legal stone. Or are they? Where the town halls are concerned, there should be some modification in order that they are guaranteed a percentage of the tax bounty. They were mightily miffed not to have received any direct funding from last year's loot. They have made their bids for this year's revenue. The committee that decides, headed by the tourism minister, will draw its conclusions later in the year. Palma, for example, wants the old Torres del Temple to be given a makeover. Alcudia would like its ballsed-up water recycling project reactivated. Tourism? In a related way, yes. The water was intended for hotels' loos and gardens.

But what does one make of a government project to be funded from tax revenue for treating occupational disorders? Around 900,000 euros, it is being said, will go towards treatment for back pain and other ailments suffered by hotel chambermaids. Tourism? Well, in a related way, yes. Hotels are for tourists, as Alcudia town hall recognises. Chambermaids work in hotels.

Where the Palma project is concerned, if falls squarely under the third "purpose" in the legislation: recuperation and rehabilitation of historical and cultural heritage. The Alcudia water recycling scheme is probably served by the first purpose, that of, inter alia, modernisation of the environment. Though to be honest, there would seem to be a bit of a stretching of the definition. When it comes to the chambermaids, the purposes are even more wooly. The only possible qualification is purpose five: the improvement of training and quality of employment.

This, however, would really represent a definitional stretching. Treatment for occupational disorders was not what was meant by quality of employment.

I'm all in favour of the chambermaids getting their treatment. It may be that the project isn't ultimately approved, in which case it will in any event be paid for by the health and employment ministries. But the very fact of the project having been raised begs more questions about the transparency surrounding the spending of the tourist tax revenue. The town halls argued that there was a severe lack of transparency when the projects were decided last time. Is there to be more? And it might be noted that the chambermaids have become something of a political cause célèbre for the government: treated badly by those devils the hoteliers, who haven't done anything for treating or preventing their occupational disorders. Something like this, anyway.

This is a government that has set great store by transparency. It even made it a ministerial responsibility. The relevant minister, Ruth Mateu, lost her job because of a transparency failure - the contracts awarded to Jaume Garau by ministries run by her party, Més. The responsibility for transparency now lies with the department for the presidency.

Either before Mateu resigned (or was sacked) or just after, it would seem that the transparency directorate intervened in a request to see documentation related to the contracts for operating the new airport to resort bus services. The request had been sent to the transport ministry by one of the taxi drivers' associations. The transparency people apparently thought better of letting the association seeing the documentation.

This apparent blocking of information has emerged along with the news that the companies operating the bus services will not incur financial losses. In other words, if the bus routes don't reach their budgeted turnover targets, there will be government compensation for the companies. And it seems that this provision was in the documentation that the transparency directorate blocked.

The association is outraged, so are other taxi driver groups and now also certain business organisations. It was always stated that the bus companies would assume all risk for the services. It would now appear that they do not. There is more than a whiff of scandal, and there hasn't been any comment yet from the government.

If the taxi drivers' association's version of events proves to be accurate, then the government's transparency will be revealed as a sham. And this will be before we get to decisions about the ecotax revenue.

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