Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Rubbish Of Son Real

In the years that I have been writing about Mallorca there is one story which, when one takes all its component parts, accumulates into a vast volume of work which relates all you need to know about institutional incompetence and grandiosity, practical failure and political infighting. This is a story which has reached its denouement: the accumulation of rubbish found by a partially hidden hut. The location of the hut is the Son Real finca near Can Picafort. The accumulated rubbish is (now was, because it's been cleaned up) thousands of unused "green cards", promotional leaflets and DVDs.

The story of Son Real and the sub-plot that was the "tarjeta verde" is one that I have followed over the years. Partly, this is because the finca is quite near to me, but more importantly because it has been a story of quite staggering stupidity and ineptitude that has crossed over into the scandalous.

Where to start with this story? Let's start in the middle. September 2008. One evening in that month a number of government officials and businesspeople attended the official opening of the "interpretation centre" at Son Real. The grand fanfare for the opening included a statement as to expected numbers of visitors to the finca. 20,000 per annum, paying five euros a time. The work on the centre and other property on the finca had cost three million euros. This was on top of the over 17 million euros that the Balearic Government had paid for the finca in 2002 (when the story really started). At a rough estimate, it was going to take two hundred years for there to be a payback.

The investment was justifiable because of Son Real's importance, but it was an investment which was the first example of grandiosity. The finca was acquired with the help of funds raised by the eco-tax, a project therefore which was in keeping with the principle of the tax - environmental conservation with a tourist application. Six years later, it was evident that it had limited tourist application. The 20,000 per annum visitors would have also included local residents and school groups.

As a way of attracting tourists, the government of Jaume Matas, which scrapped the eco-tax in 2003, launched an alternative scheme. This was the green card. At a cost of ten euros, the card offered discounts, such as one for Son Real. When an audit of the card's performance was undertaken for 2008, it was found that the regional government had received the princely sum of 13,524 euros. The card was an unmitigated disaster (the practical failure) and was made more so because hoteliers couldn't be bothered selling it and even when they did, weren't handing over the cash. On top of this, no one had the faintest idea how many cards had actually been sold.

Matas and the then environment minister, Jaume Font, had launched the card in typically grandiose fashion, employing Michael Douglas and Claudia Schiffer. The card was to be operated by a body called the Fundación Balears Sostenible, a creation of the Matas administration which was linked to the tourism ministry and which also took on responsibility for managing certain sites - Son Real and Costa Nord. 

In June 2010, police raided the Costa Nord headquarters of this foundation. Its new director said that there was a "leak" of some three million euros in its accounts. He also said that he was surprised, on taking up his appointment, to find fifteen pallets of publicity and other material stashed away in a storage facility: the green card and accompanying leaflets. The foundation became just one element in anti-corruption investigations that related to the Matas government and to the tourism ministry in particular.

It is an assumption, but some of the material from those fifteen pallets may well have been what was found scattered around Son Real. Wherever it had come from and whoever had sanctioned it being stored at the finca, the fact is that the green card was quietly dropped at the end of 2012, while the foundation was absorbed by the tourism agency and its responsibility for Son Real transferred to a department within the environment ministry.

The green card, as I say, was a sub-plot in the whole Son Real story. How awfully appropriate, though, that its remains should be found as piles of rubbish on the finca, one which was supposed to have benefited from it. The truth is that Son Real has received no benefit and certainly not from political figures. The most ludicrous of the political scraps occurred when Jorge Campos, an arch anti-Catalanist, took over as director of the foundation and insisted on flying the Spanish flag at its entrance. The greatest failure, though, has been in the finca's management. The environment ministry is now meant to be managing it, but Santa Margalida town hall has consistently criticised it for its mismanagement. All that money, all that grandiosity and now all those unused green cards. What a terrible waste.

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