Podemos attacks Zara owner’s €320 million healthcare donation

The anti-austerity party argues that the public health system should be funded by taxes and not from private contributions from business moguls such as Amancio Ortega

Inditex founder Amancio Ortega in 2018.
Inditex founder Amancio Ortega in 2018.Europa Press
Elsa García de Blas

The Spanish anti-austerity party Podemos has questioned donations made by Inditex founder Amancio Ortega to Spain’s public healthcare system. The business mogul – who, with a fortune of €56 billion, according to Forbes magazine, is Spain’s richest man – promised in 2017 to donate €320 million through the Amancio Ortega Foundation so that public hospitals across Spain could buy new equipment to diagnose and treat cancer patients.

Forty percent of high-tech equipment in public hospitals in Madrid is more than 10 years old

But the Podemos candidate for Sunday’s Madrid regional elections, Isa Serra, argued that the public health system should not accept the donation in an interview last week with the radio network Cadena SER. In a message on Twitter, she explained her position: “The public healthcare system cannot accept donations from Amancio Ortega. It should be funded with taxes. The same ones Inditex avoids and evades. €600 million in three years.”

There is no proof that Inditex, the parent company of fashion labels such as Zara, Bershka and Oysho, avoids paying taxes using legal means common to transnational corporations such as Facebook and Google. But in 2016, The Greens-European Free Alliance group presented the European Union with a report accusing the company of using its subsidiaries in the Netherlands, Ireland and Switzerland to avoid paying €585 million in taxes between 2011 and 2014. Inditex rejected the findings and maintained that the study was “seriously” wrong.

“Mr Amancio Ortega, Isa Serra is right. A dignified democracy does not accept handouts from millionaires to equip the health system, it makes them pay the taxes they owe and respect the rights of their workers.”

The question over whether the public health system should accept donations from Spain’s wealthiest man has since become a hot topic in the regional election campaign for Madrid. At a debate on Monday, organized by EL PAÍS and Cadena SER between candidates for Madrid premier, Ciudadanos (Citizens) candidate Ignacio Aguado said refusing donations “only benefits the ego and the sectarianism of those who propose it,” while Serra insisted “the public healthcare system cannot depend on the charity or mood of billionaires.”

The public healthcare system cannot accept donations from Amancio Ortega

Podemos candidate for Madrid, Isa Serra

At an earlier event on Monday to launch Aguado’s campaign, the leader of Ciudadanos (Citizens), Albert Rivera, said Serra should “look in the eyes of a cancer patient” and tell them that “your ideological sectarianism does not allow you to accept these donations.”

Serra, who has been supported by Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias, argued that the other problem with donations is that they are “finalistic.” In other words, “they do not come from an expert analysis that studies where the resources should be distributed. This leads to inequalities and first- and second-class patients and illnesses,” she wrote on Twitter.

In an article on the Spanish online newspaper El Español, Ciudadanos deputy Francisco de la Torre, who is a tax inspector by trade, replied that it is the health department that decides where the money goes, arguing: “You spend less money on buying hospital equipment that is given to you … honestly, you don’t need to study a master’s degree to know this.” The PP candidate for Madrid, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, has called on Serra to apologize for her statements on Ortega’s donations.

Podemos candidate for Madrid Isa Serra at the debate on Monday.
Podemos candidate for Madrid Isa Serra at the debate on Monday.Europa Press

During the debate on Monday, Serra was also criticized for her lack of professional experience. According to the tax return Serra filed in 2015 when she was a regional deputy in Madrid, she never had a paid job before entering politics.

Acting Finance Minister María Jesús Montero, from the Socialist Party (PSOE), meanwhile argued that a fair tax system is “not incompatible” with business donations to “services that are for all citizens.” The government added that it is planning on raising minimum taxes for large corporations to 15%.

Amancio Ortega Foundation

Since 2015, the Amancio Ortega Foundation has been supporting a program to help provide public hospitals with new equipment to treat and diagnose cancer. When the €320-million donation was announced in 2017, it was warmly welcomed by patients and the healthcare sector. Public hospitals in Madrid, for instance, urgently need new new equipment. According to an investigation by EL PAÍS last March, 40% of high-tech equipment is more than 10 years old.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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