In the realm of Galicia’s “Good Cacique”

For two decades PP chief ran Ourense’s provincial authority as job factory for supporters

Ourense PP members hoist José Luis Baltar aloft in 2010.
Ourense PP members hoist José Luis Baltar aloft in 2010.NACHO GÓMEZ

In the Galician province of Ourense, the local government (Diputación) and the Popular Party (PP) are entirely interchangeable terms. For 20 years, the provincial authority has operated as a job factory that churned out faithful PP voters under former Diputación chief José Luis Baltar, who now faces corruption charges for unlawfully hiring at least 400 PP members or their relatives out of a total staff of under 1,000.

The "Good Cacique," as Baltar shamelessly calls himself, turned the provincial authority into his personal estate, which he filled with useless jobs that were nothing more than a reward for loyal behavior. He began by placing his own family members in advantageous positions: his two sons' first wives got long-term contracts in upper management, and after that he continued to create jobs through part-time contracts or by holding public competitions in which the jury members were all his own people.

The government's provincial agency reached the pinnacle of its hiring delirium in 2010, when Baltar, who was also PP party chief in Ourense, decided he would pass the crown over to his son José Manuel to ensure the continuation of the dynasty. At the PP congress convened to find Baltar's successor, all the voting members who had previously been hired by the Diputación faithfully voted for José Manuel. Two years after that, Baltar also placed his son at the helm of the Diputación itself.

But the truth is, by then the agency was already a spent horse, dragged down by debt and paying out 27.8 million euros in wages out of a budget that is not quite 70 million euros. Just running expenses such as electricity, cleaning, stamps and stationery, plus loan and interest repayment, take up 80 percent of the budget in a monstrous institution that Baltar Senior turned into a PP voter factory.

Meanwhile, the Good Cacique barely invested one percent of the Diputación's money on roadwork — and that is despite the fact that the three public works-related departments have an army of workers: 361 long-term employees, a figure that balloons up to around 500 when elections come round thanks to contract work. In other words, half of the Diputación staff work on matters relating to the nearly non-existent public works taking place in the province. Just these employees (most of whom are personally related to PP mayors and spokespeople in various municipalities) take home 11.8 million euros of the 16.3 million earmarked for the public works area. Other Galician delegations outsourced this service long ago, but Baltar insisted on keeping it in-house, and boasted about being "an exemplary employer" even as the opposition criticized the wastefulness.

Roadmenders make up a solid army of Baltar supporters. Brigades of six or more of them build sidewalks in Ourenses villages

Roadmenders make up a solid army of Baltar supporters. Brigades of six or more of them build sidewalks in Ourense's villages. Each one of these small projects lasts over half a year. In the town of Reboredo, for instance, the Diputación brigade has been working on a 200-meter stretch of sidewalk for six months. A private company would do it in less than a month, but the mayors are not complaining: "It looks perfect," as one said.

But if the employees in the public works departments represent the numerical apex of nepotism at the Diputación, the system extends like a virus to all the other agencies that answer to the provincial authority.

In reality, Baltar always got along much better with the common folk than with people in high places. Of the hundreds of jobs he handed out, a vast majority went to (besides roadworkers) telephone operators, cleaners and doormen. Their qualifications, for the most part, consisted of being PP members, or at least being related to them.

Doormen are a chapter unto themselves. Baltar filled the Diputación's cultural building with 33 of them (these days he explains that there are only 16) to watch over its three doors. Any visitor who walks into the exhibition room will be instantly surrounded by a bevy of men and women in dark uniform who politely inquire whether there is anything at all they can help with, even if they visitor simply wants to see the show. Despite this glut of doormen, in late 2009, shortly before the PP congress that was to elect Baltar's successor, the manager of the Diputación's cultural center (Francisco González, a man who had been Baltar's press chief) urgently requested 12 more people. Baltar approved the petition, together with around 100 other work contracts, without any oversight from other departments.

The battalion of solicitous doormen and women at the cultural building, which runs on an annual budget of 1.1 million euros, includes a relative of the mayor of Xinzo de Limia; the brother-in-law of the sales chief at the Diputación (who also found jobs for his wife and a sister), a PP councilor from Sarreaus; the son-in-law of the president of the Provincial Federation of Neighborhood Associations; and the niece of the man in charge of the Diputación's riding school. According to the opposition, there are also many "electoral agents" on the payroll: PP members with some influence in their home towns, who channel local votes toward the party. Many of them end up on party lists when elections come round.

The Good Cacique held open doors every Thursday to hear requests from all the mayors of the province

At the Diputación's riding center, in A Limia, 17 people were caring for 15 horses in 2008. The lucky employees included the mayor of Trasmiras and half a dozen other PP councilors. Now, the running of this riding school is being questioned in court. A tax inspection found numerous irregularities at a center that costs Ourense residents 800,000 euros a year.

Meanwhile, cleaners and ushers (even usher's assistants) make up another morass of employees considered essential in the realm of the Good Cacique. In this case, they work at Ourense's lovely, recently refurbished Teatro Principal, which also enjoys an annual budget of 1.1 million euros even though revenues barely reach 20,000. The manager of this theater is Olga Mojón, ex-wife of Baltar's son José Manuel. Just like the manager of the cultural building, Mojón also requested more personnel in an urgent report filed right before the PP congress that made her ex-husband party leader in the province.

In this fertile crescent of job creation, smaller dependent agencies have grown on the Diputación like mushrooms. The most recent one is Urbaourense, a real estate development agency of sorts that Baltar created to compete with a similar body dependent on the Galician regional government, back when Galicia was in the hands of the Socialists and the BNG nationalist bloc. He arbitrarily appointed a managing director, José Cudeiro (a former director general at the Galician government), awarded him an annual salary of 80,000 euros and put two people under him on long-term contracts. One of them was the daughter of Baltar's lawyer. Baltar also included a 200,000-euro severance package for Cudeiro, should Urbaourense be terminated. The agency lost money throughout its existence and was ultimately shut down, leaving behind debt worth 381,000 euros. Now, Baltar's son is trying to find Cudeiro a new executive position in the overflowing Diputación.

But the provincial body's job network extends much further still. There is, for instance, the Ourense Institute for Economic Development (Inorde), with no known major projects but an annual budget of 2.2 million euros and a hefty number of PP officials and members on the payroll. Until an official list detailing the exact amount of people working at the Diputación was approved, the place was like a garden gone wild where jobs grew out of control. Afterwards, things remained exactly the same. During his two decades of impenetrable absolute majorities, the Good Cacique held open doors every Thursday to hear requests from all the mayors of the province who came to press their cases. Increasingly, everyone asked him for jobs in a province with no business fabric. Baltar's reply would invariably be a yes. Never mind that Ourense's Diputación already had double the personnel of the provincial authority of A Coruña, even though Ourense has a population of 333,000 to A Coruña's 1.1 million.

Baltar's arbitrariness is well remembered by the man who was head of the publications department at the Diputación, who explains that Baltar gave a job there to the son of the mayor of his home town, Esgos. Baltar paid his salary during all the years that this employee spent at university in Santiago de Compostela, during which time "he never once set foot in the Diputación."

The agency's former head architect, Emilio Fonseca — winner of the Europa Nostra Award - recalls how Baltar treated him like dirt because he did not dance to the cacique's tune: despite his superior qualifications, Fonseca was being paid less than technicians with fewer studies in the same department. Fonseca turned to the Diputación's majority union, CCOO, only to discover that it was filled with "all the PP mayors that [Baltar] had previously appointed." Shortly after the attorney announced the charges against the man who has controlled the province of Ourense for 20 years, Baltar announced he was temporarily turning in his party membership card. The future of his son José Manuel will perhaps be decided at the PP congress scheduled for March.

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