The verbal duels between Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, of the Popular Party (PP), and the Socialist spokeswoman Soraya Rodríguez are a regular occurrence in Congress. But Tuesday's encounter between the pair set a new record for sheer tension.
The face-off began when the Socialist representative denounced government officials for receiving hefty bonuses for party work on top of their salaries as members of Congress – in the case of Santamaría, €600,000 over the course of seven years. She said the payments were awarded thanks to the PP’s secret cash box, which contained millions of euros from donations that are currently under investigation by the courts.
While a cash bonus that is declared to the Tax Agency is not the same as a cash-filled envelope handed under the table, for a long while there was considerable confusion over what exactly Rodríguez was trying to say. In fact, Santamaría acted as though she had been accused of accepting the latter.
The confusion stems from the fact that former party treasurer Luis Bárcenas, who is currently in preventive custody on charges of bribery, tax evasion and more, has stated that he personally kept secret party ledgers reflecting illegal donations and tax-free cash payments to many party officials, including Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. His deputy Santamaría does not show up in the handwritten accounts kept by Bárcenas.
After the parliamentary battle Santamaría, who usually demonstrates considerable self-restraint, exploded with rage in the halls of Congress: “I never received an envelope in my fucking life!” she exclaimed.
Tuesday's encounter between the pair set a new record for sheer tension
But the Socialist spokeswoman was talking about bonuses, not envelopes.
“Did it not occur to you that without the existence of secret cash boxes in the PP, you could not have had those bonuses paid into your bank accounts?” asked Rodríguez, staring at the members of government. “Did you never think of returning it until your conscience was clear that its origin was not unlawful?”
Santamaría looked disconcerted but immediately hit back.
“Would you like me to take into account the two salaries that you made, thanks to the compensation you received from my ministry until the government eliminated it?” she retorted.
The deputy was referring to the fact that until recently, every member of every administration in the history of Spanish democracy received around 80 percent of their salary for the two years after their exit from power, as a form of compensation. This income was compatible with any public position that the individual in question might hold. Practically every minister under former prime ministers Felipe González, José María Aznar and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero earned this extra money.
Mariano Rajoy abolished the rule in July 2012, which means that Soraya Rodríguez, who used to be state secretary for cooperation under Zapatero, received this bonus for eight months.