OPINION
Text in which the author defends ideas and reaches conclusions based on his / her interpretation of facts and data

Inbreeding

The political parties must be forced to open up their finances to independent scrutiny

The Bárcenas scandal has shown the seamy side of the party now in power in Spain, revealing its deep-seated endogamy and inbreeding. While accusing other parties of corruption, it ran a ramified network of commissions controlled from its treasury, in a long-term system that went back, at least, to the Naseiro affair in 1989, named for one of Bárcenas’ predecessors as Popular Party (PP) treasurer. Fortunately, given the dimensions of the scandal, this time the courts will find it hard to look the other way, as they did in the Naseiro case, where the resulting impunity encouraged others to proceed with the opaque racket that culminated in the Gürtel network.

It seems, at least, that Prime Minister Rajoy did not personally profit from the network. But he did tolerate and shelter the maneuverings of Bárcenas, whom he appointed party treasurer, thus legitimizing his crooked procedures.

This is the latest turn in the corruption scandals that threaten to break down public confidence in the politicians; the citizens being already depressed by the policy of fiscal adjustment that the politicians have unloaded on their shoulders since 2010. This explains the present drift of the opinion polls. They show the Spanish public's growing disaffection with the political class, which is seen as an "extractive elite" -- that is, a swarm of parasites. If this climate settles in, the consequences may be serious in terms of social crisis, anti-system violence and disruption of the party system, as in the present example of Greece.

As the Bank of Spain will introduce embedded inspectors within each bank, so the parties should be subject to internal examination

What can be done to arrest this perverse degeneration? Clearly there has to be cross-party consensus on legislative reforms that would set limits to the pathology. What is not clear is what their content would be. Some say there has to be a change in ethical values -- a euphemism that usually translates into codes of self-regulation and good practices, which are not worth the paper they are written on given that they are soon swept away by the wind of cynicism. The former Madrid regional premier, Esperanza Aguirre, says that the party should open an Office of Internal Affairs, to investigate the abuses committed by members and leaders. But this could serve for little, given the habitual endogamy of the parties, where the law of silence would impose itself.

No, what has to be done with the parties is something like what is at last being done with the financial system, our country's real "extractive elite," whose networks channeled the corruption of local town-planning rackets, following the example of the cajas (publicly administered regional savings banks). The inspectors of the Bank of Spain proved unable to prevent such financial corruption, and this is why the European Commission demanded the reform of banking supervision as a precondition to a bailout. At the micro level, the Bank of Spain will introduce embedded inspectors within each bank. And at the macro level, the Bank of Spain will be directly supervised by embedded inspectors sent by the troika (ECB, CE and IMF).

Why not do the same with the political parties? Instead of internal, and thus endogamic, inspectors, there should be external inspectors embedded in the treasury of each party. But these embedded agents must not be clients of the party, as occurs with the auditing or ratings firms that in turn advise the companies they supervise, resulting in collusion and conflict of interest. The embedded inspector must be truly independent, as ought to be the case, too, with the municipal budget inspectors. Unfortunately, both the federation of municipalities (in the hands of the PP) and the Socialists are opposed to embedded inspectors, in the holy name of local autonomy. It is to be feared that the political parties will also invoke this principle, in defense of the political autonomy they always claim - the better to protect their endogamy and their opacity.

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