Well it has finally come to pass - the full extent of corruption in Spain is being openly discussed and debated by leading media commentators - on 1 November ABC, Spain's leading centre newspaper, published a comprehensive report on corruption throughout Spain with the front page headline: "Corruption is Drowning Spain"
I started writing my crime thriller novel, Deadly Secrets (www.deadlysecrets.es), which involves urban planning based corruption in southern Spain, in early 2006. Soon after the Marbella Malaya case broke and since then there have been a plethora of corruption cases across all of Spain. However, until now, whilst arrests and individual cases have been reported in the media there as been very little attempt by the heavyweight national media to debate in detail the actual causes and effects of corruption on Spain.
In my article on corruption in Spain, which was written in August 2009 and published in October 2009 I argued that corruption was rife in Spain due to the de-centralisation of planning powers to the regional governments and town halls; the economic boom in Spain; and the fact that, until relatively recently, Spain was a poor country so a get rich quick attitude took hold and the system was (and still is) conducive to corruption being the quickest and easiest way for politicians and businessmen to achieve massive economic gains. In short, Spain is still politically and socio-economically immature versus the other democratic G8 countries which it aspires to be a part of.
The ABC articles and editorial comment basically repeated what I had written but in more detail - pat on the back for me! In essence, it confirmed that the majority of corruption is based around urban planning, especially the re-classification of rustic land to urban land (the main theme of my novel), and the granting of favourable contracts to services companies owned and operated by "friends" of the political party in power. It stressed that corruption was endemic across all political parties and that it was greed and power which drove it rather than any particular political ideology. It also confirmed that lack of accountability and transparency, poor planning regulations and failures in the judicial system are compounding, if not encouraging, large scale corruption.
So what does it all mean? Well, in the words of ABC "We either stop this bleeding away of what prestige is left of our model or we bleed dry as a democracy, at the same time as we disappear down the foul smelling sewage pipe of corruption."
Harsh? I don't think so. I've been here long enough and seen enough of how the "system" works that corruption is definitely undermining the social, economic and political fabric of Spain - more from an outsiders perspective than the Spaniards themselves, the majority of whom seem to consider corruption a natural part of the economic process. Now, let's be fair, we have corruption all over the world, but it is the scale of corruption in Spain - it is now believed that corruption moves more money in Spain than illegal drugs, and the fact it is so engrained throughout the system which makes it different. MPs expenses are nothing but a drop in the ocean compared to what goes on here - with bribes from 100,000 euros for an "introduction" to the mayor or urban planning officer to ten million euros for the reclassification of land (not including the gain made once reclassification has been granted).
Personally I think it is totally unacceptable that a democratic country of over 45 million people, and which has basically lived off EU aid for the last 25 years, has this level of corruption. Let's hope that the debate started by ABC bears fruit in terms of changes to the powers town halls and regional governments have and also how town halls and political parties are financed. Unfortunately, I think its going to be a long slow process because it also involves a change of culture, something which can take generations (anywhere in the world).
For those of you interested my article on what shapes Spanish character and culture may help to put some of this into perspective at: http://www.eyeonspain.com/spain-magazine/spaniards.aspx.
If you want a good (fictional) read: "A very slick and well written novel, well researched and coherent. I was impressed." Kitty Sewell, bestselling author of Ice Trap then I suggest you buy Deadly Secrets - either from Bookworld Espana or via www.deadlysecrets.es.