Saturday, January 28, 2017

Spending The Tourist Tax

The committee for the impulse of sustainable tourism has 32 members. The executive committee of this committee has 16 members. Which of the two really makes the decisions on spending tourist tax revenue? The question is asked because it is supposedly the larger of the two. The executive committee, though, came up with its projects for how the revenue should be spent. By no means was everyone on the larger committee happy. The same was presumably the case with the executive committee.

The government's apparent desire for transparency has led to an absurd mix of committees - one half the size of the other and with its membership roughly reflecting the make-up of the larger committee. The key members of both committees, where the spending decisions have been concerned, are the government ministers (with Biel Barceló the president of both committees), the island councils' representatives, the unions, and the representative of the farming advisory council. Between these there are ten members on the executive committee. On the larger committee there are eighteen. Majority rules twice over.

There is the distinct sense of a sham about all this. The government loves to talk about the involvement of "social agents" (business, unions, associations), but it is clear that what the government wants, the government gets, regardless of what some social agents (and others) might think. The priority given to water projects was probably fair enough, but as for the rest of the spending, it isn't representative of all those who comprise this committee. Indeed, there is an impression that certain social agents carry greater weight than others, such as the single representative of the farming community rather than town halls, business and even the environmentalists.

The government can legitimately point to the low amount of revenue from last year, which should be twice as much when the committee meets to decide 2017 spending, but who's to say if the wishes of all will be satisfied next time round? One doubts that they will. Part of the problem with the approach the government has adopted - the numerous "purposes", the array of interests represented on the committee - is that it raises expectations that are then dashed and lead to arguments and controversies.

Palma town hall has had its nose put out of joint more than most. It hasn't received a cent. Mayor Hila would like Palma to be added to the four islands in there being a guarantee of revenue distribution. He has made a comparison with the situation in Catalonia, where Barcelona has a 33% allocation. Whether Palma deserves to be given some form of preferential treatment is up for debate (personally, I don't think it does), but one wonders if there hasn't been an underlying context to the city's failure to get any revenue: the relationship between Hila and President Armengol. It was only a few weeks ago that the government didn't agree to investment for Palma under the law on "capitals". Comment at the time referred to the difficult relationship.

But more than this, there is the somewhat unseemly attempt by town halls (not just Palma) and by others to grab a piece of an admittedly not very large honeypot. When they don't have their wishes satisfied, you end up with the arguments. On top of this, there is Barceló insisting that tourist tax legislation has been introduced and implemented and that the revenue is now being spent: all within the space of fifteen months and "without any problem". Who is he trying to kid? The committee is just one example of a problem.

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