Saturday, April 04, 2009

Full Employment

Perhaps one of the reasons why unemployment in Spain is so high is because the members of the country’s parliament take up such a high proportion of the available jobs. It was revealed a couple of weeks ago that only 100 of the 350 diputados in the Spanish Congreso had not declared other sources of income. Now you might have thought that it was in the public interest for everyone to know about the activities of their elected representatives. Not so, the Congreso dealt with the report on the issue behind closed doors, the people have no right to know. Many of those with activities supplementing their day job are just earning a bit extra from appearing on talk show panels or giving conferences. However, there are others who have a very busy schedule which rarely allows them time to appear inside the Congreso.

The Partido Popular recently tried to crack down on the chronic absenteeism amongst their foot soldiers who had more or less given up entirely, except when it came to drawing the salary. A couple of the cases recently approved show just how easy it is for members to bend the rules on what is compatible with their role. José Maria Michavila, who made it as far as justice minister under Aznar, works with a very busy firm of lawyers. Parliamentary rules forbid members from working for public administrations, and Michavila’s company has many such contracts; so he declares himself only to have an “advisory” role. Meanwhile another ex-minister Angel Acebes got a very comfortable position with Caja Madrid, thanks to the lobbying of Esperanza Aguirre. Again this should not be permitted, but as Acebes is being paid by a semi-private subsidiary of the caja then all is apparently ok.

The argument used by many politicians to justify this situation is that the parliamentarians are people of talent who would not dedicate their lives to the greater good if they were not allowed to boost their meagre salary. The problem is that ability often has little to do with their presence in the national parliament. Closed party lists in Spain mean that only the loyal get higher positions on the list for elections. This helps to explain why the Congreso de Diputados appears to have so little to do, there is very little genuine debate and most of the members only appear for votes. Outside of the front bench teams the majority are almost entirely anonymous. The pressure is on a bit more at the moment, with Zapatero’s administration struggling to win votes following their fall out with the Basque nationalists every vote counts and members who don’t show up could get themselves into trouble with their party. Such a shame, when they have so many better things to do.

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