Minister wants budget busting to be a crime

Profligate politicians should face criminal charges, Montoro says; Valencia among regions to benefit from funding package

A Spanish government minister on Tuesday threatened to press criminal charges against politicians that fail to keep their spending within budget.

In an interview with Spanish radio station Cadena Ser, Finance Minister Cristóbal Montoro said the new Popular Party (PP) administration planned to criminalize profligacy in the public sector by introducing an amendment to the Transparency Law. "We will demand criminal responsibility of public sector managers, whether they be politicians or people named by politicians," he said.

The government has assigned top priority to getting the country's public finances back in shape. Spain exceeded its deficit-reduction target last year of six percent of GDP by two full percentage points, largely as a result of the failure on the part of cash-strapped regions to rein in their spending.

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"If a government wants to spend more then it can hike taxes," Montoro said. "There can't be a lack of transparency nor the accumulation of debts that become unpayable."

Montoro late Tuesday announced a series of measures to help ease the liquidity problems of the regions. These include extending the deadline for returning 31 billion euros owed to the central government from five years to 10 years. The central administration will also disburse early some eight billion euros to the regions and make available within the next few months a line of credit from the state Instituto de Crédito Oficial to help them pay suppliers.

Alberto Fabra, the PP premier of Valencia, the region with the highest debt in Spain, said Wednesday the central government would provide an advance of 420 million euros at the end of this month.

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