They say before you die your entire life flashes in front of your very eyes. I didn’t die but the day I stood up and put myself forward as president of our community that’s how it felt.
You see our community has quite a mix of people. I think it’s sort of split 50:50 Spanish to English. A few of the English are permanently resident here, whilst the others use the apartments for holidays. The Spanish are a real mix from labourers to office workers, some with very good jobs and some not so good. Earning 1500 Euros per month is considered a good salary here. There is therefore a real variation in the relative earnings of the owners of property here. Some are mortgaged up to the eyeballs whilst others own their properties out right. This brings with it certain complications which I’ll explain in a minute.
Our development was the first one to be completed of a total of six in the area. One of the other developments has been finished for some time but has no licence of first occupation yet, three of them are still very much work in progress still and one hasn’t even started. So our development was a bit of a guinea pig for the town hall as we were the first. If they got anything wrong in their town planning then it was always going to affect us first…and everything that could go wrong has.
In August 2005 we finally got our licence of first occupation. Everyone piled in as we were all desperate to do up our new homes. At this point we didn’t really care that not everything really looked very finished. We were in our homes and that’s all that mattered, but that’s when the problems started.
Water and electricity was being supplied by the builder as this wasn’t set up properly yet. Daily power cuts were the norm (remember this is 2005 not 1945!). Phones…I was told to forget this for a few years (what century are we in?). The roads hadn’t been laid properly and they soon started pulling them up again to sort out their mistakes, hugely inconvenient as some of us lost access to our garages. The post was not delivered to us, we had to collect if from a box at the post office where everyone’s letters were thrown in. And the list goes on and on and on.
So it really wasn’t the best of starts and a few months down the road although we had less power cuts things were still quite bad. It was time for action. We called an extraordinary general meeting of the community with the then president and administrator and we (sort of) agreed to hire the services of a lawyer to get the developer and the town hall to sort out the many problems we were having. Lawyers don’t come cheap so it was going to cost all the owners some money to get the ball rolling. Now remember what I said earlier that some people here are already mortgaged to the eyeballs so this was going to hurt a few pockets.
Move the clock forward a few months and frustration increases as problems are still not sorted and the development appears to crumble around us. It’s now time for the first annual general meeting…and most people are not happy at all. Just one week before the meeting we had another power cut at midnight and some of the now very angry Spanish residents decide to take it out on the new Mayor (the previous one having recently been arrested on corruption charges). They all marched to his house at midnight and had it out with him on his doorstep. To say he was not impressed would be understating it, although he did later send someone round to sort it out.
So the first annual community meeting kicks off. The then president had long decided not to stand for another year as she couldn’t seem to cope with it all and the increasing anger and frustration of the owners, particularly the Spanish. The Spanish felt the blame lay with the administrators at the time (I won’t say what I thought myself) and they made the administrator flee the meeting early fearing for theirs lives after a chair was kicked across the room. It was like something out of a film, you had to see it to believe it. The English in the room looked stunned at the proceedings unfolding before them and said nothing, although if they had they wouldn’t have been heard anyway as the Spanish were shouting quite loudly and with increasing anger.
So out went the administrators never to be seen again. What now? It was like anarchy. It was time to sort out the mess….my life had already flashed before my very eyes so I had nothing to lose. I stood up and tried to calm everyone down. After everyone started to settle it was time to decide who would be the new president of this “complicated” community. There was no one mad enough present apart from myself to take on this responsibility and as I am fluent in Spanish could make sure everyone present knew what was going on. We elected the remaining board members and then everyone departed swiftly, some looking very happy, some very confused and some quite pale.
That was three months ago.
So what’s happened since then? We’re still on developer’s electricity and water and phones lines still seem like something you’d only see on Star Trek. We’re also still collecting our mail from the “communal” box at the post office. To be honest you wouldn’t be able to see any actual difference to the development since I took over as things just take so long to happen here. But I can say one thing, everyone is so much calmer. It’s as if it’s a new beginning with a new administrator, a new president and a new maintenance guy (I had to get rid of the previous one as he was just taking money for doing absolutely nothing).
In my first week we (myself and the new administrator) arranged a meeting with the Manilva town hall to discuss the ongoing problems with the roads and utilities. What a waste of time. We told the head of town planning about all our problems, he listened and made some promises but of course they were all lies and nothing’s been done.
We then had a meeting with the lawyer that we’d paid to sort out the town hall and the developer for us 6 months ago. To be honest, most of the Spanish owners were not happy about having to pay the lawyer with their hard earned cash as it seemed she hadn’t really done anything. How wrong were they (and me too actually). She’d done loads but hadn’t been able to communicate it to the owners, although I can’t say exactly why here as it’s very libellous, but let’s say that certain people restricted her movements. She felt pity for us and although we’d only paid her half her fee she even said she wouldn’t be invoicing for the other half as we already had enough problems to deal with. This actually made me even more concerned because she must have known even more than she was telling us to not even charge us for the outstanding few thousand Euros.
Our conversation with the lawyer and subsequent conversations with other people who I can’t name, have actually made me realise that corruption is still going on here. In fact it’s very much alive.
And this was just my first week as president.
The following week I had a meeting with the developer, well actually he was a “representative” of the developer, in other words a middle man. He too promised lots and delivered on nothing.
This was going really well.
Over the next couple of weeks things started going wrong. Sewage pumps and motors burning out, flooded garages, leaks, dodgy pool water…..oh well, no problem, we’ll just get it fixed. But that’s when we realised the community was skint. The previous administrator had got the community fees wrong and we’d already run out of money. The previous administrator actually took 5 weeks to hand over the documentation to the new administrator and didn’t even give her all the data electronically. They had to type in all the accounts and all the owners’ details manually into their own system, even though they both use exactly the same software. That wasn’t really very nice of them.
But as soon as we had access to the accounts we wondered how we would pay for anything. Having replaced a pump and a motor we had used every last Euro in the account. The really painful thing was that there was nearly 20,000 Euros in community fees that had not been paid. Nearly half of all the owners owed money, and some had never even paid a single Euro in the entire first year. So we called another community meeting.
This new meeting was going to be another challenge. As the previous administrator had under-charged everyone for their previous community fees we were going to ask everyone to pay what was owed from the previous quarter and also the next quarter (which would be the actual fee ongoing). So it looked like we were putting the fees up when in actual fact we were just bringing them into line. The new administrator was worried that another chair would be kicked across the room again and she said if this happened she too would walk away…with me following closely behind.
But it didn’t happen. We had the first “civilised” meeting since we started. The new administrator (GAEMU S.L. in Sabinillas) is excellent and handled the meeting brilliantly. (I would personally recommend GAEMU to any community, they are truly are an excellent company). Everyone agreed to everything. We were finally getting somewhere. We even agreed to pass on the debtors list to a lawyer to start recovering these missing thousands too which we so badly needed to keep the community running.
Next stop town hall again. This time a meeting with one of the technical people in the town planning department. It was horrible. She was horrible. She took a totally defensive attitude and told us basically that they have no money to even fit speed bumps on our road (some motorbikes like to use it like a race track). She was really aggressive towards me and she really didn’t need to be, we only went there to discuss the problems. Lola, the administrator, even had to calm her down. We were totally stunned by this attitude and the “no money” comment. Had the ex-mayor now awaiting trial pocketed it all?
We then went in to see the head of town planning again, who we’d seen a couple of months before, and he reiterated the “no money” thing. What? We still couldn’t believe this. Was it a joke? It was when he told us that he didn’t care about Manilva that we realised this was going to be as impossible a task as telling the Spanish that they can’t have any more siestas. “No money”, “don’t care”, did they really say that?
Off we went with the thought of an impossible task ahead of us to do the only thing we could do….have a coffee.
Next meeting, the developer. Not the middle man, this time with the actual one that signs the cheques. Could it be any worse than the town hall meeting? Well actually this meeting went quite well, although it seems a lot of the problems we thought were down to the developer are actually the responsibility of the town hall (not what we wanted to hear!).
He also told us that they’re tired of paying all our utility bills as it’s not their problem that the town hall can’t get their act together and connect us up to the mains supply for water and electricity. He intimated that we may get a letter soon telling us that they will soon stop paying and cut off the supplies to our development! Ouch. If it gets to this point I think we will all be camping outside the mayor’s house! Joking aside he was totally serious, they are paying thousands every month because the town hall seems incapable of sorting out the mess that they’ve created for themselves and us.
But he agreed to sort out the problems which are down to them to resolve and he’s even coming over next week to discuss one of the major issues where there’s a stalemate….the problem that the garage doors are like paper and don’t work. So something positive for a change.
And that’s where we’re at today. We’ve got a long battle with the town hall up ahead and we may even need to employ the services of a lawyer again if we really don’t get anywhere with it.
It seems that the town hall has made some huge and fundamental errors in the planning of the developments in this area and it’s going to take a long time to put them right. They’ve created a real mess here and I don’t think they really know how they’re going to get out of it. The elections are in May next year and I really hope there’s a new “team” at the town hall that may actually sort out this mess and many others in the area.
Although being president is currently taking up at least half of my week, I really want to get the problems here sorted out and make it a decent place to live. I don’t regret the decision but it’s really hard work, especially when you meet so much resistance. If I wasn’t fluent in Spanish it would simply be impossible and I’d have to stand down. In all the meetings we’ve had only the lawyer could have spoken in English and I even detected some animosity towards the English in the town hall.
New problems surface every week. It seems that one of our roads is close to collapsing as the builders of the development in progress beside ours has totally dug up their side of their road! But there’s no money….will we be left without a road? I’ll let you know in three months time.