Do you think the Balearic administration lacks transparency? What do you think?

Do you think the Balearic administration lacks transparency? What do you think?

01-12-2021T. AYUGA

In April this year, Biel Company, still then the leader of the Partido Popular opposition, grilled President Armengol about information regarding the management of the pandemic. The government, Company observed, had stated that parliament would be the “epicentre” of this management. Yet, he claimed, there were 1,400 unanswered questions. “If there is nothing to hide,“ Company asked, “why are you looking for excuses?”

In her response, Armengol insisted that from the moment that the pandemic had started, transparency had been a government “obsession”. There had been weekly press conferences, there had been a multitude of parliamentary appearances by ministers and senior officials. All economic measures and all restrictions had been explained not only to other politicians but to the public as well.

Company was no doubt stretching things by referring to the 1,000-plus unanswered questions - that’s what opposition leaders do - but he had touched something of a raw nerve for an administration which has made much of dialogue, consensus and indeed transparency, the latter of which has its own government directorate.

One can find other examples of transparency having been questioned and of it having been defended, whether with obsession or not. That’s because, as with making overt statements regarding consensus and dialogue - and on a regular basis - a commitment to transparency runs the risk of being used as a means to attack and to criticise. Shout your obsession loudly, and there is the potential for it to backfire.

There is an inevitability, and this applies to all policies as well, that holes can be picked. To a great extent, the questioning doesn’t matter. It is part of the political to and fro. Do the public pay a great deal of attention? Probably not, especially if the challenges occur in parliament. The epicentre, to borrow from Biel Company, of the islands’ democracy, the exchanges will nevertheless be quickly forgotten. But sometimes, things aren’t forgotten.

Part of the responsibility of the government’s transparency directorate is to respond to requests for public information. The Partido Popular have now registered a request for information regarding an incident that happened over a year ago. This was the notorious Hat Bar incident, when it appeared that President Armengol may have been in the bar beyond the hour that it should have closed, an hour set by her government.

More than a year on, the incident was on October 7, 2020, the PP say that they still don’t know what exactly happened on that night. And by they, the PP will be implying members of the public as well. Deputy spokesperson Nuria Riera explains that they want information about the sanctioning file opened against the bar. Hence, the request registered with the directorate.

That incident, for me, was unfortunate and that was all. But it was of sufficient importance that Armengol offered a public apology. “I am very sorry for what happened”. Meanwhile, the whole affair keeps coming back to haunt the president, such are the times when it is alluded to, and the PP insist that they don’t know what happened. Not definitively. The transparency is therefore doubted.

When one’s virtues, as an administration, lie with openness, danger will always exist. At Palma town hall, an administration that is the mirror image of the government, there has been the controversy surrounding the plans for mobility. A group of discontented associations - residents and business - has been at loggerheads with the town hall over restricted traffic access schemes. A failure of transparency has been cited.

In the case of Palma, there is a councillor, Alberto Jarabo, who entered parliament in 2015 on the wave of transparency that his party, Podemos, was making a key virtue. He has no direct executive responsibility for the mobility in the city, but he is town hall spokesperson. What does he think about charges levelled at the administration of which he is a part regarding a lack of transparency?

Then we come to the controversy of the day, the row about the way in which the tourist tax is being spent. The hoteliers federation has weighed in and criticised the government. Iago Negueruela, the government spokesperson, has responded by arguing that the federation was present at meetings of the ‘Economic Reactivation Pact’ at which there were agreements regarding the spending of this year’s revenue.

Therefore, there was transparency, according to the minister. And the minister may well be correct in saying this. But the problem lies with the fact that, in general, it hasn’t been known what has been happening with this revenue. There was a readiness to accept that it should assist with Covid funding, and the people who actually pay the tax - tourists - would probably be sympathetic. But were they told?

Maybe it doesn’t matter. The Balearics this summer attracted 25% of Spain’s foreign tourists regardless of the tax, and I doubt that it will be much of a hindrance to tourism in 2022. Even so, an obsession with transparency would be welcome. It is a virtue, after all.

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