POLITICS

Congress to tighten travel expense rules, but smaller parties call for more

PP and Socialists agree to start publishing total cost of all deputies’ trips

Congressional Speaker Jesús Posada explains the new rules regarding personal expenses for politicians.
Congressional Speaker Jesús Posada explains the new rules regarding personal expenses for politicians.Juan Carlos Hidalgo (EFE)

The standing committee of Spain’s lower house, known as La Mesa del Congreso, has validated new rules agreed by the governing Popular Party (PP) and the main opposition Socialist Party (PSOE) that aim to exercise greater control over deputies and senators’ travel expenses.

The announcement comes in the wake of one of Spain’s most recent political scandals, involving accusations of personal trips made using public money by Extremadura regional premier, José Antonio Monago.

From now on, members of Spain’s Congress and the Senate will have to specify whether their trips are between Madrid and their constituencies, and whether they relate to official business or are part of their political activity.

Congress itself will not have greater control over travel expenses, but rather the party in question will be in charge

But the public will not see a breakdown of how much public money each deputy spends on travel. Instead, a global total will be published every three months, without specifying which deputy, or even which party, spent what. Smaller parties, who were not involved in the agreement reached by the PP and PSOE, say the changes are not enough.

Official trips were already subject to prior authorization by the Mesa, but those involving political activity – such as party rallies, for example – will now be controlled by the corresponding party, which will be able to approve or reject requests. What’s more, if the planned journey is not made within 15 days, the deputy will have to return the funds granted for the trip.

As such, Congress itself will not have greater control over travel expenses, but rather the party in question will be in charge.

Until now, no control system was in place, and deputies and senators were able to travel at no personal cost without specifying the reason for their journey. The situation led to the controversy involving Extremadura premier José Antonio Monago, who charged 32 flights to the Canary Islands without being able to justify that all of the trips were related to his official duties.

I do not believe that Congress needs to know about and publicize the trips made by all deputies” Congressional Speaker Jesús Posada

Only last week Congressional Speaker Jesús Posada stated that he was opposed to the introduction of any kind of control to govern politicians’ travel expenses. But he has since done a U-turn, approving the new rules.

“Personally I don’t believe that Congress needs to know about and publicize the trips made by all deputies,” he said on Tuesday. “What we are going to guarantee is that public money is being spent correctly.”

The total quarterly cost of politicians’ trips has not previously been made public, and from now on it will start to appear on the Congress website every three months. If any party wishes to offer a breakdown of its travel costs, the new rules permit it to do so at its own discretion.

PSOE spokesperson Antonio Hernando has announced that Socialist deputies will soon begin to publish their schedules listing “nearly” all their activities. PP spokesperson Alfonso Alonso said that “it was a solution to the controversy with a system of control and supervision,” but without limiting the freedom of parliamentarians. Alonso did not commit to publishing the breakdown of PP politicians’ trips.

Once the agreement was reached by the PP and the PSOE, it was sent to the remainder of the parliamentary groups, who considered it insufficient.

Plural Left spokesman José Luis Centella said the move was “progress, but it’s insufficient with regard to transparency.” In his opinion, “the work of deputies should be public, and that includes journeys.”

Joan Coscubiela of the Initiative for Catalonia Greens (ICV) described the new rules as a “missed opportunity.”

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