Monday, October 23, 2017

Santa Margalida Livid About Tourist Tax

Joan Monjo, Santa Margalida's mayor, says that he has instructed a lawyer to prepare a report into a possible legal challenge to decisions made regarding the distribution of tourist tax revenue.

The committee which makes these decisions that are then ratified by the government's cabinet, announced spending plans earlier this week. There had been a total of 122 projects to be considered. This was whittled down to 62 plus eight ongoing from last year. A joint Santa Margalida-Muro project was not among the 62.

This project required 360,000 euros, equivalent to 0.73% of the 49 million euros for the 62 (the complete spend will be 64 million to include the eight projects from 2016). It was for an archaeological route on the Son Real finca. In August, Monjo supplied a good deal of detail about this project. It would connect two historically important sites - the Talayotic settlement of Son Serra de Muro and the neo-Romanesque church of Son Serra de Marina. It would embrace other sites of high heritage significance - the dolmen of Son Baulo, the Son Real necropolis, the old Arab farmhouse of Santa Eulària, the Sa Nineta talayot. There would be secondary elements, such as the Punta del Patró and the coastal towers that were built in the 1940s for submarine target practice.

In addition to the actual route, the money being asked for would have gone towards promotion in different forms, including geolocation and audio guides. Moreover, it would also act as a cycling route. Monjo said of it that it was a project which encompasses the restoration of heritage, cultural enrichment and a contribution to reducing tourism seasonality. On every point, it was a project that conformed fairly and squarely with "purposes" for spending tourist tax revenue, and bear in mind that the amount was not that significant.

The annual plan for the spending of the tourist tax was published in the summer. Like all government documents it is convoluted to say the least, but it sets out criteria for justifying interventions to be made with tax revenue. These were assigned maximum points values. Therefore projects would be evaluated according to how they met these criteria and to their meeting specifications for all the documentation which has to be presented by those seeking funding. Under "project character", for instance, the plan refers to the acquisition and/or rehabilitation of emblematic places with high cultural and environmental value. This makes specific reference to the fact that 2018 is European Year of Cultural Heritage.

Given all this, why has it been turned down, especially when one considers that the Son Real finca was the stellar project in terms of spending for the old ecotax? The finca, much of it, was acquired by a government with similar political constituent parts to the current administration - PSOE and the PSM Mallorcan Socialists who are the main part of what is now Més.

Monjo seems to be in little doubt as to why: the political make-up of the committee. He explains that the government calls for projects to be submitted, establishes the bases for funding (the annual plan) but then it is "the government and its ministries which take the money". He adds that it is a "perversion of the system" and also notes that the government is having a laugh at municipalities such as Santa Margalida which are where the bulk of tourist tax revenue is raised.

Is he right in his assessment? Well, I don't know that he's entirely wrong, or at least that's the impression one has about this spending committee. It is weighted towards the government, each island council has representation and Palma town hall has representation separate to all other town halls, which are themselves represented by their federation. The government, the island councils and Palma reflect each other in terms of their political components - PSOE, Més, Podemos (or variants thereof)

The committee, and one can't help but feel this, is something of a charade. It includes environmentalists GOB who vote against the spending plans because they believe all the money should go towards the environment. Business representation, such as through the Confederation of Balearic Business Associations, can appear almost irrelevant. It goes along with the projects because it knows it can't do anything else. The town halls have the same representation as GOB: two members, one of whom abstained when it came to the spending decisions.

Where Santa Margalida is concerned, it is politically opposed to the government. It is a coalition of El Pi (Monjo) and the Partido Popular. Monjo, never short of a few words, has not exactly endeared himself to the government, while the internal workings of Santa Margalida town hall are such that there are regular buttings of heads with Més, in the form of ex-mayor Toni Reus, an influential figure in the party. Indeed, Suma pel Canvi, which is the coalition opposition grouping which includes Més, says that the route would go past an agrotourism property in Muro, which is managed by a company of which Monjo is the sole administrator. Which may be the case, but what real difference does this make?

Is the decision to exclude the project all down to politics then? Monjo seems to think so. Because of the rejection, he says that the town hall will withdraw the money it spends on archaeological excavations. Once more, therefore, Son Real is a political football between the government and the town hall, the latter having felt over the years since it was acquired that it has never been managed satisfactorily. And in this regard the town hall is right.

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