Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Wandering Ministers Of Mallorca

A few years ago during the time when Francesc Antich was Balearic president, a whole host of politicians and various others took themselves off to Brussels in order to present a unified front in lobbying against what they thought might be contained in an EU directive. They were concerned specifically with Europe-wide rules for pyrotechnics and pyrotechnical products. There was concern that the directive might place unfavourable constraints on that key element of many a Mallorcan fiesta, the correfoc.

In addition to the politicians (numbered among whom were no fewer than forty mayors), there were demons' representatives, unionists, businesspeople, writers and artists: a contingent of some 150 people. Once in Brussels, demons put on a show, views on the directive were given, and everyone returned to Mallorca, having gone off on a fairly pointless mission. There was no intention that the directive should interfere with traditions in a harmful manner. When it was finally published, this principle was made clear.

It was never adequately explained how much this jaunt cost. It was unclear if the government had paid for everyone or if at least some had paid for themselves (the suggestion was that the government had coughed up). It was one of those relatively minor controversies which crop up from time to time and allow the opposition to do some shouting before everyone forgets about it.

The trip was in fact made in February 2009. At that time the full force of crisis had yet to truly dawn on Balearic politicians. Had they planned their trip a year later, one suspects the numbers would have been considerably lower. The trip was, though, to later be held up as an example of unnecessary expense.

When the Bauzá regime swept to power with a mandate for austerity, this sort of jolly would no longer be tolerated. Maria Salom, newly installed at the Council of Mallorca, having replaced Francina Armengol as its president, saw to it that a body called Eurolocal-Mallorca was scrapped. One news report described this body as "another strange consortium" that had been created by Armengol. It had been in existence for two years by the time that the PP took over. There was little evidence of it having done anything other than to send people off to Brussels for a chinwag.

Bauzá didn't do himself any real favours by occasionally disappearing to Madrid with entire entourages that included tame journalists, but in general the austerity rule was applied to trips. It still is applied, and Podemos have helped to ensure that it sticks. Or have they?

It might be recalled that during the Bauzá administration there was the business with the education minister Joana Maria Camps clearing off to Menorca on a regular basis; Menorca is her home island. The teachers' assembly, which had it in for her anyway, took the issue to court, noting that between May and December 2013 she had been to Menorca on 32 occasions, quite often over weekends. Back and forth the matter went between different courts before the whole case was "archived" at the end of 2015.

It is the memory of the days when justifying the travel of ministers (and others) was open to liberal application and the memory of the Camps case that now dominate thinking. The fact therefore that two PSOE ministers made a total of 28 trips to their home islands in 2016 has come under a spot of scrutiny.

Marc Pons (transport, land, energy) went to Menorca on seventeen occasions. These trips are contrasted with three to Ibiza. Pilar Costa (minister for the presidency) went to Ibiza eleven times and twice to Menorca. Ministers clearly do need to go to the other islands - they are after all Balearic ministers - and in some respects the more they go the better, as it ensures that the other islands don't feel left out. In the case of Pons, given his portfolio, there is probably more justification than most. But it is the fact that the visits are loaded in favour of home islands, which was very much the case with Camps, that has raised some eyebrows. Moreover, there is also the fact that ministers from other islands receive 22,000 euros a year on top of their ministerial salaries to go towards the cost of living in Mallorca.

It is being pointed out that both ministers paid for their own trips on occasions, but should the number of trips really be considered excessive? They're not in the Camps league, that's for sure, and is it not almost inevitable that this will happen with ministers from other islands? A rule of thumb has been adopted whereby there is a balance in ministerial representation from Menorca and Ibiza. This being the case, is it that surprising that there is something of a bias in the trips made? At least they're not going to Brussels for no particularly good reason.

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