Juan Carlos Martínez Lázaro. Professor. IE Business School
26 February 2013
The day that the Spanish stop viewing corruption through the prism of political struggle and see it as stealing taxpayer’s money, we may have a chance of putting an end to it.
“Look who’s talking...!” This is the only retort that Spain’s political system has managed to come up with in response to the longstanding issue of corruption. For years now corruption, be it individual or collective (the irregular funding of political parties), has been used as a political weapon. Whenever someone in public office or a member of a political party is accused of charging commissions either for themselves or for the party, the other political parties and their friends in the media always see it as an opportunity to throw mud at the party that the person or persons in question belong to. Meanwhile, the accused party always tries to deny it, downplay it or excuse it. And when it becomes impossible to deny the obvious, they launch a counter offensive which consists basically of saying “Well, look who’s talking…!”
When PSOE, the Spanish Socialist Party, accused the Center-right Popular Party (PP)’s of having a connection to the so-called Gürtel corruption scandal, the PP responded by citing the EREs corruption scandal which occurred in Andalucía. When the PP attacked the PSOE about the Campeón corruption scandal, the PSOE responded by talking about the Orense PP office corruption scandal. And then there are the local party versions, such as the Unió Mallorquina political party scandal, and the thousand court cases it is now facing, Catalonia’s Convergencia party and the Palau scandal, the Unió Party and the Pallerols case, the Basque Country’s PNV Party and the De Miguel case, the famous case of the GIL family and the plundering of Marbella… It’s got the stage now where everyone is accusing everyone else.
Generally speaking, we are more shocked by corruption committed by the members of parties that we do not support, and we tend to deny, forgive or downplay the corrupt practices of parties that share our ideological views. If I vote for PP, I think that the Gürtel case sounds like a setup by the socialist party or an over-liberal judge, while the EREs scandal simply sounds like a disgraceful carry-on. And vice versa. Just like the fans of a football team will always be outraged by a referee’s indulgence of a rival team, and will hardly notice or will always justify any favors done for their own team.
When it comes to finding out who is the worst offender in this particular contest, we rarely take into consideration just how much it is costing the citizens of Spain. If a company has to pay a person or a political party money in order to secure a contract, then the price of that product or service will include the commission that it has to pay. To put it another way, the cost of the service is 10, but seeing as the company will have to pay a commission of 2, it will sell it to the state administration for 12. And, in theory at least, everyone is happy. The company who sells its service, the state department that buys it with money that doesn’t belong to it, the citizens who use the service, and the person or party who gets the commission, if that is who the money is for. But only in theory, because in the end the surcharge is still 2, and the people who pay for that are the taxpayers. It’s true that for a long time we were blissfully unaware, because all these public works and services were financed by debt and more debt. But the debt era is over and it’s payback time, and now we are paying more taxes for fewer services.
What makes me feel indignant is that I wonder how much of my taxes went on paying commissions that have been paid right left and center over so many years. Or had you forgotten the Naseiro case or the Filesa scandal, to name just a couple?
The sooner we Spanish stop seeing corruption through the prism of political struggle and see it for what it is, namely the robbery of taxpayer’s money paid for by you and me, the sooner we might be able to stamp it out, or at least keep it down. What is not acceptable, is that there is an institutionalized system of backhanders for parties and individuals that forms part of the day-today of our country, and which we only used to complain about when it was attributed to political adversaries, rather than gauging the overall impact on our collective pockets.