Monday, March 03, 2014

Cat Among Pigeons: Council of Mallorca

President Bauzá let a cat out of the bag last week and it ran amok among the pigeons, scattering them and producing an almighty racket and squawking. These were the pigeons of the Council of Mallorca and its friends and defenders. The cat had previously only been allowed to peer through the cage of the fenced-off Council. Now, the cage door was opened, and Bauzá, having made less assertive intimations in the past, was alongside the cat with both barrels of a gun loaded. If it were down to him, he would shoot most of the pigeons dead, reduce the Council to a minimum, and he would do so immediately.

Bauzá made his feelings about the Council known at a debate organised by Deloitte for the Association of Advanced Management. It would seem that these feelings drew applause from the assembled businesspeople. And why might they applaud? Probably for the same reasons that many others would applaud. What really is the point of the Council of Mallorca? Is it not just an expensive and somewhat unnecessary level of government? Is it not a means of providing jobs for the boys and girls?

Before considering the merits of Bauzá's argument and those who have been doing the squawking, it is instructive to know something of the background to the Council. It was, as was the case with the councils on the other islands (with the exception of Formentera, whose separate council was only established seven years ago), a product of the immediate post-Franco period. The councils replaced the Balearics provincial deputation, and they were formed to reflect the needs of the individual islands and also to dilute a concentration of administrative power in Mallorca. But having established the councils, a few years later (1983), the autonomous community of the Balearics came into existence, which meant a regional government. The roles of the councils, which might then have been considered to have been superfluous, were written in to the statutes of autonomy, and there they have stayed ever since.

These statutes set out the various responsibilities of the councils, and armed with this list of responsibilities, the councils grew like Topsy, becoming larger and more powerful and creating bigger and more local government with no small amount of duplication. The councils, therefore, took on a life of their own, and it wasn't until Bauzá became president that these life forms began to become the focus for some serious scrutiny, especially the Council of Mallorca.

In the address to his business audience, Bauzá said that he would prefer to see the Council reduced to a role in which it provided legal and technical assistance to the municipalities and no more. He didn't envisage the same for the other island councils, and this was an acknowledgement and reinforcement of the particular needs of the other islands, as had been established back in the 1970s. But having put the cat among the pigeons, there was the inevitable squawking: Bauzá doesn't understand the island's institution; Bauzá is acting like a "dictator" (again); Bauzá wishes to destroy regionalism, blah, blah.

While there are those at the Council of Mallorca who are said to be privately angered by Bauzá opening up with both barrels, the loudest squawking has come from opposition parties, notably those on the left. But behind their protests, one has the distinct impression of anxieties being expressed as to a loss of significance and of potential jobs for politicians of all parties, not only those on the left. Were the centrist Unió Mallorquina still in existence, one could have imagined that it would have been squawking the loudest of all; the Council of Mallorca was once its virtual fiefdom, and we all know where that led - to the courts.

Bauzá is right to question the role of the Council, but a reduction in its powers and role might not be that simple. Apart from the statutes of autonomy, there are some of its functions, and under national reform of local government these could in fact be increased if responsibilities currently held by municipalities were to be transferred to it. But if not the Council, then it would have to be the regional government. Some organisation has to take responsibility for services; cutting out or reducing a layer of government means savings but only some.

If it is the president's intention to kick off a reasoned debate about the Council, then he has failed. He won't get one because there are too many vested interests who would not be prepared to even enter into a debate. Moreover, going in with both barrels loaded, shooting from the hip is no way to persuade. He is firing at pigeons who can strike back from on height, not at fish in a barrel. He should be more cognisant of sensitivities. If he were, then he might get a reasoned debate.

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