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Uncertainty and opacity on Bankia

The governor of the Bank of Spain is resigning, but explanations in Congress are still wanting

On Tuesday the Congress of Deputies made two mistaken decisions: it blocked the possibility of a commission of investigation into the Bankia case, and rejected the request made by the governor of the Bank of Spain, Miguel Ángel Fernández Ordóñez, to explain himself, reducing any possible appearance to one before a sub-commission behind closed doors. Both decisions resulted from the Popular Party (PP) majority, but the Socialist Party (PSOE) main opposition declined to press for a commission.

Fernández Ordóñez’s resignation confirms the PSOE’s suspicion that any investigation run by the PP majority would lead nowhere. Parliamentary investigation commissions have a checkered history. Well may the PP fear the implications of a bank crash in which major figures of the party have played a role. Meanwhile the PSOE has taken up a halfway-house position of demanding appearances by the Bank of Spain governor and the chairman and his predecessors at Bankia, though it does not rule out calling for a commission.

Foreign distrust of Spain is due precisely to the uncertainty and opacity prevailing in a country whose 2011 deficit one day stands at six percent of GDP and shortly afterwards is revised to nine; where one day the fourth-largest banking group is said to be making money, and then after a hurried nationalization confesses the loss of billions; and where beatific smiles are seen at the news that a former Bankia executive is to receive a golden handshake of 14 million euros, from a bank left without assets. A serious country ought to be capable of facing up to its problems. The US Congress did this in the financial crisis of 2008. Explanations were sought and given, resulting in firmer resolve in the search for solutions. The Spanish parliament ought to take note, if the financial and economic earthquake is not to do further harm to our political institutions.

So clear is the need for detailed explanations, that Fernández Ordóñez has hastened his resignation, finding that the PP wished to prevent the open congressional appearance that he had requested. The Congress has the right and the obligation to determine whether the Bank of Spain’s governor had his reasons for the strategy of bank mergers, or whether his management was inept. In any case, a mere change of governor will not restore the bank’s dilapidated prestige. It is not just a matter of a settling of accounts between old political predators, bringing out each other’s dirty laundry, as the opponents of a commission are claiming. Confidence in Spain’s regulatory organs is at stake.

A parliamentary investigation is not a matter to be defended alone by a volatile minority party such as United Left (IU). The Congress, being a body directly elected by the citizens and not under direct government control, is the first institution that ought to intervene in this crisis. This demands commitment from mainstream political parties. If the Spanish taxpayers are to pay the cost of the Bankia crash, it cannot be asked of them that they do so blindfolded.

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