Friday, January 29, 2016

Spinning For All It's Worth: Corruption

There are things that are always with us. In Spain, at any rate. Like the poor, there are the corrupt. Of the latter, perhaps we had been lulled into the falseness of belief that the well had been run dry and that the bucket had lifted all that remained and had deposited it either at His Majesty's Pleasure or onto the blue conference chairs of the defendants at Palma's School of Public Administration. If not Nóos, there are other legends of public life demanding judgement in various corners of the land.

The fact is that the well seems only to have been tapped. There is no drought here, and had there been any thoughts that there was, they have been dismissed. Here comes another hurricane. First, there was Acuamed. "We build the future of water." This is its slogan. While anxiety grows about a future of water scarcity, this government agency for public water works finds itself in the eye of the storm. Embraced in this affair are contracts that FCC had with the ministry for agriculture, food and environment. Bill Gates might be wondering about his shareholding, though the period under investigation does pre-date his acquisition of almost 6% of the stock.

If there is any solace for Mariano Rajoy, it will lie with the fact that the Acuamed affair seems to more or less correspond with the period when PSOE were in government. He can breathe a certain sigh of relief. But no sooner had Acuamed been sprung from the well, than along came "Taula". The table case in Valencia, so it is being said, might finally shed light on unknowns and mysteries surrounding irregular funding of the Partido Popular. It's appropriate that it should be Valencia, one half of the PP's nexus of alleged irregularities, separated by the seas of some 250 kilometres from these shores. Rajoy might be able to assign responsibility for Acuamed elsewhere. With Taula he cannot.

These latest affairs do not make it any easier for Rajoy to form the next government. He has said as much. But his latest offer to PSOE, one by which Podemos would be marginalised, can be seen as despicable. For all its faults, a central principle of Podemos is its stance against corruption (as is also the case with Ciudadanos). Rajoy is neglecting this. The public might not.

If the latest scandals weren't enough, the acting premier would have been aware of the latest report from Transparency International. Ranking the perception of corruption, country by country, as it does each year, Spain has registered its worst performance ever. It has slipped another place - to 36 out of a total of 168 countries - with its score having dropped six points since 2012, the period of the Rajoy administration.

The report does not suggest that there is systemic corruption. Nor does it say that there has been more corruption as such. It measures the perception of corruption, and in this regard the various cases surrounding public procurement are key: they are at the heart of the Acuamed affair, just as they are with Nóos, Palma Arena and Son Espases. It also observes, however, that such cases were more likely to have arisen during periods of good economic times when there was plenty of cash to be potentially diverted. Rajoy has presided over austerity, so maybe this, as much as any initiatives the government and the PP might claim to have instituted, has been a factor in any decline in corruption.

The PP, fighting to hold back the hurricane being unleashed by the latest affairs, points to a different report which suggests that it is the most transparent of all political parties in Spain. This comes from something called Dyntra, the Dynamic Transparency Index, which measures public information and so transparency. While Dyntra might give the PP a boost for what it has done over the past four years, the much wider report from Transparency International does not. It suggests, for example, that the government's law on transparency leaves much to be desired. A comprehensive programme to combat corruption is required. The PP will argue, as it is in order to give it any chance of clinging to power, that it has been "relentless" in tacking corruption over the past four years. Its relentlessness would not match that of Podemos, though. Comprehensiveness would come from parties other than the PP (or PSOE). Yet here is the PP trying to squeeze out the party which a significant part of the electorate supported for its anti-corruption principles.

While the PP will be spinning for all it's worth as it seeks to hang on, there has been a pathetic image that cuts deep. It is of María del Carmen García-Fuster, until now in charge of the treasury of the PP in the city of Valencia. She is in the back of a car, scared, frightened. The fates have caught up. Eventually, they do.

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