The effects of corruption from the past are being seen time and again, producing a feeling of impotence when it comes to staunching the flow of public money into private pockets. Owing to the sheer number of investigations now underway, the perception is that corruption is now worse than it ever was since the time of Franco, when in fact most of the present scandals concern events of the past. The battle must be waged on two fronts: the huge scale of the under-the-counter economy, which foments both public and private corruption; and in terms of the internal renovation of the political parties, removing those in positions of power and influence who are suspected of misconduct, so as to reestablish a reasonable level of public confidence in the politicians.
If a tolerant approach permits the consolidation of what has been termed the “misgovernance of public life,” Spain will easily slip further down the slope of corruption. The firewalls supposedly built into institutional and party structures are plainly defective or inoperative. The habit of falling back on the courts as arbiters of good and evil has redounded to the discredit of the political class as a whole. Judicial processes are too slow to bring criminals to justice within a reasonable time-frame. The “Gürtel case,” the “Palma Arena case” and the mass-layoff subsidies fraud in Andalusia have all been in the courts for years, with no end in sight. While the courts must do their work, it is also incumbent on the political parties — especially those that are, or have been, in power — to clean their own houses. Their reluctance to do so intensifies the feeling of impunity, just when the pinch of the crisis affecting the ordinary citizen is coinciding with scandals about politicians with their hands in the till.
What does not make sense is to tough it out, as we do in Spain, when there is suspicion of misconduct
No country is entirely free of corruption scandals. However, in other climes they are treated with greater rigor. In 2012 Christian Wulff resigned as German president, not because he was actually charged, but merely because the prosecutor had called for an investigation into a low-interest loan and certain favors involving a cinema producer. A French minister, Jérôme Cahuzac, resigned three months ago, without having been charged, when it became known that he had an offshore bank account.
What does not make sense is to tough it out, as we do in Spain, when there is suspicion of misconduct, maintaining friends and party members in prominent public posts. Also unacceptable is the notion that voters’ approval at the ballot box can wash away alleged crimes and irregularities: in 2011 dozens of politicians presumably implicated in dishonest practices calmly ran for office again. The electoral processes that are upcoming in 2014 and 2015 are an excellent opportunity to renew party slates with some new faces, ones without corruption charges hanging over them.
The political world must devote less effort to using the other side’s corruption as a weapon, and more to cleaning house. For now, everything remains pending, from the application of professional supervision to party accounts, to the enactment of an effective Transparency Law, which has been awaiting parliamentary approval for more than a year.