Thursday, January 14, 2016

Actions Of A Vindictive Government

You can cut a government so much slack. Or perhaps it's a case of giving it enough rope with which to hang itself. There will be no hanging or lynching, though. There are too many willing to give it all the slack it wants as retaliation for the Partido Popular. Which is understandable, until you begin to appreciate just what this government is up to. This assumes, however, that the government itself knows, because it is giving an excellent impression of not knowing. Instead it glosses its policies with vagueness. There's a new economic model rising. Is there? And what economy might be left to be modelled?

The tourist tax was one thing, but now we have a series of measures that have emerged from the most ominous sounding of the government's raft of legislative devices - the decree. It has decreed. The very term smacks of finality, albeit that parliament needs to apply a compliant rubber stamp. It also has a sense of taking no regard of any alternative interests. For a government whose motto contains the insistent dialogue, it seems to be short on conversation, except with itself. It is pulling a fast one.

The decree of "urgent measures" that the government has announced in suspending or quashing elements of three key bills introduced by the Bauzá administration - farming, land and tourism - has echoes of a similarly urgent decree that the previous PSOE-led government passed. It was one from 2008 which dealt with, among other things, building on land deemed to be wetland. From that decree came all manner of complications, most of which still exist. A major one is the Ses Fontanelles commercial centre development in Playa de Palma. The Bauzá regime was left with the consequence of the decree. If it were to deny construction, there was a massive compensation claim to be paid. There are other examples, such as in Puerto Pollensa. Somewhere along the line, these are issues which will have to be resolved, with the Ses Fontanelles development now seemingly an impossibility.

The 2008 decree created legal uncertainty. The current government is creating the same. It says that it is not, but its certainty can only ever be short-term. If there were to be a change in government in 2019 and a return of the right, then its decree will be overturned. This is tit-for-tat politics, something which Mallorca is highly adept at. The decree oozes vindictiveness directed at Carlos Delgado and Biel Company, the ministers responsible for the three laws in question. In the case of Company and his farming law, the government has succeeded in ostracising one of the very few business associations that operate in harmony with other parts of its industry. Asaja, the agricultural businesses association (of which Company was once president), has long worked from the same script as unions in seeking to improve opportunities.

Asaja has declined an invitation to form part of a committee which will have as one of its briefs the current serious problem of lack of water. It has done so because it objects to the government decree which puts a halt to development of farm land for purposes other than just farming. While it's true that the Company act may have favoured larger landowners, the thinking behind it was sound. There is a vast amount of land devoted to agriculture, and yet the primary sector is responsible for not much more than one per cent of GDP. The law wanted to improve productivity, to create new opportunities and jobs. The decree will do precisely the opposite.

Farming unions like the fact that the government will be dedicating some of the tourist tax to agroforestry in order to "modernise" it. But what does the government mean by this? It talks of modernisation in one regard and turns it back on it in another. Joined-up thinking? Hardly.

While the hoteliers are the usual suspects when it comes to opposing the government, the farming businesses and the builders have not been. Now they are. The builders are warning of a collapse of recovery because of restrictions the decree imposes on redevelopment and some new construction in the tourism sector. The two industries - tourism and construction - go hand in hand in Mallorca. Attack one, and you attack the other. For a government - any government for that matter - looking to boost employment, the decree makes little sense. Except that it does, if you are a vindictive government. 

And an aspect of this restriction will limit the room for manoeuvre in transforming mature (obsolete) parts of the resorts. In this regard, the hoteliers are absolutely right in saying that the government lacks an overall strategy for tourism. It can wish to assign some of the tourist tax to resort infrastructure, but then puts a clamp on the means of doing this. Joined-up thinking? It most certainly is not.

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