CGPJ chief must be accountable for behavior, says corruption watchdog

Spain rates low for lax government controls in Transparency International report

Spain must pass stronger laws on judicial accountability targeting the “existing practices” of the president of the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) and insist that he make appearances before Congress at least on an annual basis, Transparency International (TI) recommends as part of a continent-wide study on corruption released on Wednesday.

The Berlin-based global organization has also called for the de-politicization of the CGPJ, and the appointment of its members “by lot and chosen from a list of qualified magistrates, professional lawyers and jurists.” Public hearings should also be held in front of the Congress as part of the selection process, TI said.

The report, entitled Money, Politics and Power: Corruption risks in Europe, was released at a time when the CGPJ is currently embroiled in its most serious institutional crisis since the restoration of democracy, ignited by lingering questions concerning the 20 long weekend trips to Marbella taken by CGPJ president Carlos Dívar and later charged to the judiciary.

Dívar was reimbursed for 13,000 euros for the four- and five-day trips to Marbella’s Puerto Banús between 2008 and March of this year in which he claims he was on “official business.” However, an investigation by EL PAÍS shows that Dívar, who also serves as Supreme Court chief justice, did not meet with certain judicial and government officials on days that he said he did.

Inefficiency, malpractice and corruption are neither sufficiently controlled nor sanctioned"

A criminal complaint filed by CGPJ colleague José Manuel Gómez Benítez was dismissed by the Attorney General’s Office, which did not investigate the allegations.

Although the 63-page TI report doesn’t make specific mention of the Dívar controversy, the global corruption watchdog also says Spain should “strengthen the independence of the prosecutor’s office from the government, especially when working on criminal cases.”

It also states that the Spanish government must ensure that law enforcement agencies that investigate corruption should be protected from “unfair professional dismissals.” One such recent case involved the sudden dismissal in February of all the workers at the National Office of Fraud Investigations (ONIF) who took part in uncovering the Gürtel contracts-for-kickbacks schemes in regions controlled by the Popular Party (PP).

Transparency International also called for the de-politicization of all appointments on the Constitutional Court, Ombudsman’s office and the Court of Audits, as well as the prohibition of re-election and extending of officials’ mandates.

In a broader view, TI says that among European countries, Spain ranks among the worst offenders in terms of lax government controls against corruption. “Inefficiency, malpractice and corruption are neither sufficiently controlled nor sanctioned,” the report says, while laws guaranteeing public access to official information are “non-existent.”

Earlier this year, the PP government of Mariano Rajoy unveiled a draft “Transparency Law,” but the month-long consultation period has elapsed without any further announcement being made.

In the World Economic Forum (WEF) executive opinion survey, Spain ranked 13 out of the 25 European nations where business professionals assessed the ethical behavior of firms in their own nations. In a global count of 142 nations, Spain placed 39.

TI found that there was a correlation between corruption controls and high budget deficits, in countries such as Spain and Portugal.

“In 2011 there was an unprecedented movement of thousands of angry people, known as the ‘indignados’, who took to the streets outraged at incompetence and corruption among politicians,” the report points out. “The movement was most pronounced in Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain. The public administrations in these countries were found seriously wanting in terms of the legal framework of accountability and integrity mechanisms, and its implementation in practice.”

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