Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Weaknesses Of Strong Government

Election night two years ago - Balearic regional election, just to make clear - was notable for the disaster which everyone suspected was going to strike the Partido Popular and for the beaming smiles on the faces of Biel Barceló and other members of Més. This coalition of a party's time had arrived, even if it was only with slightly under 14% of the vote.

The collapse of the PP signalled the next few weeks of at-times heated negotiation. Eventually the pieces fell into place. Més, PSOE and Podemos agreed on change (and we're never allowed to forget these agreements). The government would be different. There was to be, among things, an anti-corruption office (which has yet to be manned or even established) and bucket loads of participation and transparency.

A key difference was to be the absence of any stench of scandal. The PP, with ample justification, was labelled the party of the corrupt. This, however, was a not entirely accurate description of the Bauzá regime. There was much wrong with that regime, but scandal was in minimal supply. It was knocking around elsewhere - in Palma most notably - but even that only emerged later (and as yet still allegedly). Such relatively squeaky-cleanliness didn't prevent Més (and others) adding PP corruption to the list of their potential vote winners.

Almost two years on from that joyous (for Més) election night, the platitudes have worn thinner than they originally were. Casting the Més contracts affair in a similar fashion to the one-time Unió Mallorquina is somewhat fanciful, because it is not in the same league as the UM. Indeed, it may turn out that nothing illegal has happened. But there is a similarity in that a partner in a government pact has brought crisis to a PSOE-led pact. President Armengol can assert that her government remains "strong", but she's desperate to keep up appearances. It has never been strong by its very nature. It is now weak and terminally ill.

A firewall has been erected around Barceló. Armengol has helped to build it. Such is the government's weakness that it cannot afford Barceló to go. This started to become ever more obvious as Armengol sought ways of shoring up the government which would prevent Més from walking out on it and forcing a new election. Transparency proved to be a main bargaining point. In the end, Més accepted losing the portfolio to PSOE.

For the time being, the government can continue as it is, pretending that all is well and "strong". The anti-corruption prosecutor may have to something to say about this or he may not. Meanwhile, though, the affair is not going away. Podemos believe that Més should assume greater responsibility, meaning that they believe there should be other ministerial resignations. Certain conspiracy theories are doing the rounds regarding the timing of the revelations about the contracts. One has to do with Antoni Noguera in Palma, who arranged a contract with Jaume Garau. Was the timing something to try and prevent him taking over as mayor in June?

There are also further questions about the contracts and Garau. It has now also been revealed that when he was in charge of European funds during the 2007-2011 administration, he awarded a contract of over half a million euros to a consultancy to take charge of the operational programme for funds for the period 2007 to 2013. In 2013, when he was no longer a government senior official, he became joint administrator of that consultancy.

The tasks for which the contracts were drawn up are being queried as well. Were they in fact necessary or indeed appropriate? When the contracts were first revealed, I wondered about more than one of them. For instance, there was the study of the "business fabric" in the Balearics. This was awarded by Barceló. He may be the vice-president, he may be responsible for innovation and research, but isn't the business fabric an issue for a different ministry, i.e Iago Negueruela's employment, trade and industry ministry? Negueruela is with PSOE.

What about the "barometer of tourist satisfaction", also awarded by the tourism ministry (via the Balearic Tourism Agency)? The Gadeso research organisation already has such a barometer. Perhaps the ministry wanted one which would reveal rather better barometers of satisfaction than Gadeso's does.

If the government survives until it's time for the 2019 election, what will the contracts affair mean for Més? The party's retaliation in the past few days has been to go back to calling out the PP, even dragging up ancient political scandal such as the Rasputin case. This reveals its already electorally weakened condition. It has little else to fall back on, and the electorate is unlikely to fall for such diversionary attempts. There was supposed to have been transparency and cleanliness. There has been neither.

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