The Popular Party (PP) government has chosen the correct path at the start of the parliamentary journey of its proposed Transparency Law: an in-principle agreement between the four political forces which together make up 90 percent of the seats in Congress. Going it alone with its parliamentary majority on such a complex piece of legislation would have been a catastrophic error given that the aim of the law — which is also to include rules on access to information and good governance — is to strengthen democracy, bolster political activity and recover citizens’ confidence in public institutions. Although some voices, such as that of the Plural Left group, have remained outside the preliminary deal, it is still promising that the four parties of government across Spain’s various administrations (the PP, Socialist Party, the Catalan CiU and Basque PNV) have agreed to improve the draft bill together. From here on, everything is still to play for and the devil, as is always the case in such matters, will be in the detail. Meanwhile, as we wait for the lyrics to be penned, the mood music is pleasant on the ear.
What we hear so far is that there will be fewer exceptions than had been suggested to the general rule of transparency on the part of public bodies. The Royal Household, political parties and unions, among others, will all be included. Additionally, the overseeing of the law’s functions will not be in the hands of the finance minister of the day, but rather an independent body is to be set up. These are the broad strokes that have allowed for the cross-party deal to be reached and must now be developed within a credible piece of legislation. If this does not happen, the PP will again find itself alone with respect to an initiative of vital importance, and not only because Spain is one of the few European countries which does not have a Transparency Law. It is also the case because the many instances of corruption which have emerged in recent months have turned this legislative project into a decisive battle in the fight against this tumor that has eroded the credibility of Spanish institutions and political life as a whole.
There are many questions that remain unanswered as regards the future legislation, starting with the possible exceptions to the principle of transparency and the method by which members of the organ set up to oversee the law are to be elected. The nationalist parties which have signed up to the deal must explain why local and regional administrations should remain outside the scope of this supposedly independent oversight body. They must also dispel fears that 17 different sets of rules will end up being laid down in order to avoid administrative conflicts. The part of the legislation which refers to good governance is particularly awkward. The penalties for bad administrators have been increased, including even the possible dismissal of town mayors. But it has yet to be established what offenses would trigger such punitive action and who would have the power to impose sanctions, unless, of course, the administrator in question was facing a judicial case.