Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Conflicting Interests

The first scandal affecting the government since the March elections was caused by the announcement a few weeks back that David Taguas, the former director of the government’s economics office, was going to take up a very well paid position with the constructors association Seopan. Now it may come as a surprise to some to find out that Spain actually has legislation on conflicts of interests and the speed at which people can pass between the government and the private sector. So a report had to be produced on the proposed appointment, which allegedly comes with a salary of €300,000.

The report duly approved the move by Taguas on the interesting technicality that Seopan is a “non-profit” organisation. This treats it as if it was some kind of NGO, rather than the association representing private companies whose interest in profit is very well known. If he had gone directly to one of the member companies then that would have been classed as a conflict of interest. In his government position, Taguas would have had access to all of the most sensitive economic information; we have to assume he’s not being offered the post because of his bricklaying skills (although he seems to know something about laying golden eggs). One of his proposals whilst working for the government was to put back retirement to the age of 70, like so many of those who make such proposals it's unlikely that he will need to work so long. Taguas has almost as good a suntan as Eduardo Zaplana, who has also recently found a very well cushioned landing on leaving active politics.

David Taguas came from the circle around Miguel Sebastian, and there has been talk about the emergence of a group of “beautiful people” surrounding the government who are motivated as much by their own economic wellbeing as by any particular loyalty to party or government. The issue has caused problems within the PSOE, even Zapatero said that he was disagreeably surprised by the appointment; although I have read that he knew about it some time before it was announced. The issue got to the Spanish parliament yesterday with the presentation of a motion condemning the appointment. The vote saw a very rare case of rebellion by one of the PSOE’s own members of parliament who decided to vote in favour of the condemnation of Taguas, although there are suggestions it might have been an error. Such an act is a risky business in Spanish politics, where the chances of being elected to parliament depend entirely on where the party machine places you on the closed list of candidates.

In the end it was the Catalan nationalists of Convergencia I Unio (CiU) who came to the rescue of the (minority) government. This could be interpreted as a significant signal on the very day in which the government’s differences with another potential ally (the PNV) were being highlighted. When in power in Cataluña, CiU showed that they have their own issues with conflicts of interests, and there is little doubt that they will be expecting something in return for helping the government out on this occasion. In the meantime, the mother of all legal loopholes remains open.

No comments: