Monday, December 22, 2008

That's Just The Way It Is

There was a very revealing report in "The Diario" yesterday. The paper had spoken with mayors around the island and discovered a universal admission that works related to hotel renovations occur without licences having been granted. The typical period of time needed to go through the licensing process is six months - at least. The mayor of Alcúdia was one who admitted that this happened. The reasons for this revolve around the lack of qualified personnel to hurry along the process and the necessity of dealing with other agencies, most notably the ministries for the environment and the coasts. Miquel Ferrer, Alcúdia's mayor, emphasised that, regardless of the licence situation, works had to be undertaken with the correct levels of safety.

This is the context, therefore, of the Son Moll hotel collapse in Cala Ratjada. The town hall of Capdepera, that under which Cala Ratjada falls, is by no means the only administration that "allows" (inverted commas stressed) these works to go ahead. The admission by the mayors, which will come as absolutely no surprise but is nevertheless extremely significant, throws into relief the background to the tragedy of the deaths of the workers at Son Moll. The point is that it is pretty much accepted practice that work happens without licences being in place. It may not be right, but virtually it is the de facto state of affairs - the way it is. The Son Moll case has merely acted to highlight what has been going on and does go on.

One has to ask the question. Was the absence of a licence the cause of the accident? This is obviously one for the investigators. But if all other procedures were in order, as is being claimed, can the lack of a licence really be held as a contributory or crucial factor, especially when such a lack is known to be a fact of building works for hotels? The general workers union has been arguing that the mayor of Capdepera should be indicted for not preventing the renovation at Son Moll. Maybe it has a point, but the union will know, as well as anyone else, what the system is.

We're getting into deep legal water, so I don't intend to go far, but the licence issue may just be, if not an irrelevance, then a less-than-crucial factor. I said the other day that the case reflects a societal failure - one of accepting that certain rules have to be, how can I put it, massaged. But it demonstrates also an administrative failure. When the Balearic Government announced that it would seek to reduce bureaucracy in order to facilitate the zero- or low-interest-financed modernisations of hotels, one hotelier expressed his doubts that the town halls would be quite so amenable. Yet, it isn't just the town halls. This appears to be a multi-agency failure, and one possibly with a degree of turf wars amongst the various bodies and their organisational cultures.

If one takes Alcúdia as an example - and remember that it was in Alcúdia that Sunwing went ahead with a modernisation and received a hefty fine for doing so - imagine what would happen if all the hotels applied for a licence to undertake works? Total logjam. Consider just how many hotels there are, not just in Alcúdia, but across the island. Their renovations are a part of the wider construction industry, one upon which the island's economy is so dependent. Yet, the administrative system behind the industry cannot cope. It's small wonder that work goes ahead without all the relevant permissions. And everyone appears to know that this is so. How many other modernisations are currently in progress across the island that are similar to Son Moll? If indeed it is the case that the owners filed their application in August, one might say that they should have waited till the end of the 2009 season before proceeding - by which time, one presumes, the licence would have been effected. But that would lengthen even further an already drawn-out process. Businesses and indeed the whole economy cannot be stalled or held hostage by the inadequacy of the administrative system.

It has taken the deaths of the men at Son Moll to bring the whole licence issue to the fore. It should now be down to the Balearic Government to resolve how the system of licensing can be made more efficient. I wish them luck.

Yesterday was a day for revealing stories. "The Diario" has also turned up something in respect of the projected golf development on the Son Bosc finca in Muro. And that is ... The mayor of Muro, who has supported the development, has a business association with the head of the Garden hotels group, which in turn is one of the companies that has a major shareholding in another company - Golf Playa de Muro. Another local hotel chain - Grupotel - is also a shareholder.

The mayor says that he has "no relation to or direct interest in the golf course". The exact business association is that he is a member of a further company, one in the name of the head of Garden hotels, with the same Inca address, but one established for activities on the mainland. In this respect, he doesn't. The connection to the golf development is, therefore, rather distant in terms of the companies involved, but the mere fact of any association is bound to raise questions. And that is what the paper has done. No-one is suggesting anything untoward, but the mayor's independence when it comes to what is a controversial development may appear to have been compromised.

Yesterday's title - Madonna, "La Isla Bonita". Today's title - American best known, well only really known, for this.


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