The suspicions of irregular financing hovering over the Popular Party (PP) become more acute with each day that passes as the ruling party refuses to go beyond the "as far as we are aware" kind of blanket denial. The latest in this line of dour responses came from PP secretary general María Dolores de Cospedal on Thursday after EL PAÍS had published information from former party treasurer Luis Bárcenas' secret account books. The PP leadership is seeking to isolate this data about cash donations and possible illegal payments to key officials, treating it merely as an attack on the party. The government and its leader must understand that this is not the way to run a European democracy after the advent of the information society.
The incoherency is complete. One day we are told that the current party secretary general ended the irregular financing practices that had been going on before she took up her post (in 2008) — as indeed appears to have been the case — and the next, the story is that the PP has only one completely transparent set of accounts, with all payments to leaders and employees having been carried out completely above board and in full view of the tax authorities. De Cospedal concluded that it was hardly worth the trouble analyzing the data unearthed by this newspaper, while other PP figures, such as Senate speaker Pío García Escudero, went on record as saying that the information corresponding to their names was in fact accurate.
Finally, de Cospedal threatened to take legal action, while insisting that hers is a transparent organization. This assertion is hard to square with the fact that the party's longtime treasurer and financial manager amassed a huge fortune over a 20-year period, which he then hid from the authorities before repatriating the money under last year's tax amnesty organized by Mariano Rajoy's government.
Now the PP is trumpeting the virtues of an internal audit of its finances, being carried out by an employee (the current treasurer) and that includes declarations under oath by party leaders. Auditing one's own books will allay few doubts at this stage, besides the paradoxical nature of an audit on documents which have since been declared false and nonexistent. Of the promised external audit, nothing has yet been confirmed in terms of time frame and conditions, let alone who will be given the task.
The judiciary will in time determine individual responsibilities, even though the statute of limitations may have expired in many cases. But democracy requires much more than that: citizens must see political consequences take effect. The data may have been newly unearthed, but the problems stem from way back and have been known about since the Gürtel kickbacks-for-contracts scandal emerged within the PP in 2009. If party leaders had not reacted in the way they did then — calling the case a "set up" and a "plot" — Spaniards would not today be faced by this situation in which the governing party's credibility has simply plummeted in the midst of a deep and painful recession.
The future of this PP leadership depends on whether it can offer a rapid and clear explanation of its accounts and system of individual payments, which started back in the early 1990s when José María Aznar led the party. The PP has a slush fund problem and trying to sit this one out in the bunker simply will not work. Aside from anything else, the prime minister owes an explanation to the citizens.