Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Another reason Spain is in the mess it's in: political affinity

Funcionaria at work
(Illustration only)
SPAIN 'Birds of a feather gather together' is the old adage about people and their affinities. Politicians, being people, are no different. In Spain, however, there appears to be very little meritocracy: you do not get a job or rise on the ladder of material success unless those who hire or pay you think you think like them. It's much the same anywhere else, really, except that Spain's recent history (in its 35 year democracy) the pendulum of political affinities swung very far to the left after the demise of Franco, almost as a revenge for nearly forty years of Fascist dictatorship. The Left governed for the first several years of democracy, and then the pendulum swung back and for several times. Now it's to the Right. The problem, though, is in attaining a reasonable standard of political maturity, not an easy task in such a young democracy.COMING SOON: SUBSCRIPTION INFORMATION

The practicalities of this conundrum are evident throughout all levels of government. Certainly, the central government must come up with the right people for the ministers and their departments, and these will naturally be of the same political persuasion as the elected government. But what happens at local, grass-roots level?

They do the same, not just with elected officials but also with the civil servants they direct. True, civil servants are supposed to be neutral, but that's utopic. Like the media, it just is not possible to be absolutely objective about everything. That's because we're human.

At municipal level -there are over 8,000 municipalities in Spain- local civil servants (the so-called funcionarios) with experience get made redundant or moved aside with every change of political hue. For months if not years after the change-over, the inexperience of the newbies is so evident that there is a form of paralysis that brings things to a halt while everyone catches up.

The smaller councils are more prone to this than the larger ones because everyone knows everyone else. As an example, a small village of 10,000 inhabitants in the mountains of Cádiz, was governed for over 30 years by the PSOE. So, for years, if you weren't a member of that party it was very difficult if not impossible to get a job at the town hall. Then the pendulum swung last year at local elections.

The losing party was/is so resentful that they do everything possible to trip up the newcomers. Politics in the raw, it might be said. But not at a time of such desperate financial straits that have crippled the council, whose resources are so limited there are often problems paying the staff,  let alone such esentials as potholes or sewage treatment, something that can be seen throughout the country.

What about the civil servants at the lower levels? They are now noted for keeping their opinions to themselves, their mouths shut. Nobody can afford to lose what few jobs are available, so all of a sudden, local political parties note a significant drop in memberships, nobody from the town hall is seen at anti-austerity measures demonstrations, and there is a frown on most brows if one needs to move some paperwork forward.

Things are getting better, although it is a moot point as to whether the expense of making a funcionario redundant can be justified in the present climate.

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