Corruption has risen to the top of the list of concerns among the Spanish public, so it would seem that the time when the phenomenon had no effect on electoral results has passed. A recent succession of scandals has seen the mood change, especially given the parallel story of economic gloom, spending cutbacks and tax increases. There appears to be general consensus that corruption is widespread in public life, and that the political parties protect those of their number who are guilty of corruption. Those are the conclusions we can draw from the Metroscopia opinion poll that was published on Sunday in EL PAÍS. Despite the negative findings, it appears that more than two-thirds of those surveyed opine that only a minority of politicians are actually corrupt.
Thanks to their habits of tolerating doubtful or criminal conduct, of failing to strengthen controls on spending, and of blocking access to data that ought to be in the public domain, politicians are running the risk of becoming the scapegoats of the crisis. Punishment of corruption demands stringent action by the courts, but its prevention requires another antidote: transparency. Spanish society has to reduce the levels of opacity with which all levels of public administration now function. With a law that would have permitted public access to all the contracts signed by the regional governments of Valencia and the Balearic Islands, these regions would probably not have ended up with so many politicians under investigation. Nor would the presumed misuse of public funds on the part of the king’s son-in-law, Iñaki Urdangarin, have been so easily accomplished, or the channeling of the public funds for mass layoff programs in Andalusia into private pockets. And if the various levels of administration were obliged to allow public access to documents on land re-zoning, contracts and privatization, the reasons for these decisions would have to be explained, obviously tending to prevent corruption.
The government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero prepared a draft bill on transparency in its second mandate, but the early dissolution of Congress prevented any debate of it. Current Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s administration passed its own draft bill last summer and, after some criticism, announced the reasonable desire to consult the other political parties on the matter. The present intention is to call in a series of experts for further discussion. This is all very well, but the Transparency Law must urgently be brought out of the parliamentary backwater in which it is currently languishing, in order to get this legal vehicle moving forward at an adequate speed.