Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Recognition Of Corruption

I don't expect everyone who reads this to be interested in Balearics politics. I don't expect everyone to be interested in politics full stop, be it Balearics or otherwise. But these politics, regardless of interest or the right to vote, do affect us. Just as they do anywhere. For those with no more than a casual interest, one suspects that knowledge of local politicians will go no further than those who do have an effect. Biel Barceló can probably therefore be taken to be the politician in the Balearics who is the best known among the current crop. He is best known, where most will be concerned, for the wrong reasons. He is the champion of the tourist tax, he is the maker of holiday rentals legislation. If there is a devil among the local political class, then one need look no further than Biel.

In all truth, I can't say that I have always taken much of an interest. I know when I truly started to. The beginning-point was the same one that started to deliver politicians into the hands of the prosecutors - the anti-corruption prosecutors specifically. "Caso Andratx" emerged in late 2006. What at first appeared to be no more than a tale of everyday municipal corruption assumed a life of its own. One domino, then the next, and no sooner had Eugenio Hidalgo, the mayor of Andratx, been the first domino to fall than far more important names filtered through the murk and the sleaze. And it went to the very top. Even now, Jaume Matas, the one-time president of the Balearics, keeps regular appointments with our learned friends.

It became my lot, therefore, to satisfy a curiosity as to who these people were and why they were. Over the years, very few can, in my view, be considered worthy of having any great attention paid to them. If I don't believe this, then I can hardly expect others to. Balearic politicians are generally uninteresting characters. They exude little or any charisma. They are for the most part anonymous beings lifted onto a stage of small-island politics. Small fishes in a small pond. But it has of course been the very smallness of this pond, with its Mediterranean potential for intrigue, rivalry, vendetta, family ties, loyalties (good and bad), fast and looseness with rules, and corruption that has elevated certain members of the political class above the level of the mundane. Has been and continues to be.

The local citizenry, those with full voting rights, are similarly less than totally interested in these people. The latest survey of politician recognition by the Gadeso Foundation proves the point. Which politicians do the citizens know? President Armengol, yes (seven per cent do not). Biel Barceló, yes. He comes second with 81%. Thereafter the recognition decreases. It is perhaps alarming to note that the minister responsible for the largest budget, Patricia Gómez at health, can muster only 44%, two per cent more than Vicenç Vidal at environment, who has the third highest budget.

One fancies that Barceló is as known as he is for the reasons mentioned above. Tourism-related matters have more impact than others. On small islands where tourism is all, then you would expect this. But I would wager that his recognition owes much to the specifics of policy, such as the tourist tax and the rentals legislation; the latter especially. If it is the case, therefore, that tourism bestows on its ministerial titleholder greater awareness than all other members of the government (bar the president), then there should be a rightful wariness as to who that titleholder is. The caprices and whims of policy - tourism policy - affect millions more than the one million plus citizens of the Balearics. It is the only ministerial position that carries a sense of the international. And Biel is that minister.

There is, though, an additional factor. Who is the one minister in the current cabinet to find him or herself under a potential cloud of corruption? It is Biel. For a further wrong reason he therefore finds his recognition soaring. Daily are the developments. A director from the tourism ministry resigns, and then another one resigns. Ranks are closed, and the president publicly announces her confidence in her beleaguered vice-presidential colleague (although there will be only comparatively little interest in the fact that Biel is also vice-president).

The cycle thus continues, the one I set in motion eleven years ago. Is it the case that these islands actually need some corruption (alleged or proven), even if it is insubstantial when compared with Matas's industrial-scale misdoings? Is it corruption that provides an element of charisma where little otherwise exists? Do small islands need to feed off it, if only in a voyeuristic manner?

Maybe it's better to have low recognition after all. High recognition can be for all the wrong reasons.

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