Judicial pressure conditions the officials of the Generalitat

Investigations into the Catalan independence bid and the Court of Auditors are affecting the functioning of the administration

4 min
Image of the Government Executive Council meeting on 8 June.

BarcelonaThe causes of the Catalan independence bid, in a broad sense, have not only had effects on those being investigated or convicted, but have had a full impact on the functioning of the Generalitat and all its machinery. With the 155 and the judicial processes for the 9-N, the 1-O and the investigations with millionaire bails in the Court of Auditors, the Catalan administration has been stressed and the civil servants in charge of the legal and economic management areas are going ahead with a lead foot when stamping their signature on any decision. "There has been a kind of psychosis", says a good connoisseur of the backstage of the Generalitat, while another official notes that what was once ordinary has become "extraordinary" and costs much more to do than years ago.

The departments most affected so far have been Foreign Affairs, Presidency and Economy. One of those consulted relates a symptomatic situation: the concern has reached the point that in one case the signature was denied for a translation of a speech by a member of the Government because it contained the word independence or referred to self-determination. Or academic studies on secession processes have been commissioned and there have been difficulties in paying for them because the delegated auditor of the affected department considered that they could be subject to an investigation. Or precautions have been taken when opening new delegations abroad. And the fact is that the Court of Auditors has ended up instructing everything from the drawing up of reports to speeches and trips.

The most sensitive areas are those of the offices involved in the drawing up of administrative files and the authorisation of expenditure, as they have often found themselves in the eye of the storm. This is the delegated intervention of each Minister's office which is in charge of financial control - they all depend on the general intervention, located in Economy -; the lawyers of the Generalitat - each one is attached to a department but hierarchically depend on the central legal services - and the areas of economic management of the departments that hang from the directorates of services (directly linked to the general secretariats, which are already in political positions). In order to overcome the reluctance that often appears, several ways are explored to prevent decisions from being paralysed: more details are given about the reasons for an expense and they are better justified, or at other times it is decided that they should throw the ball away and let the general intervention or the secretaries general take charge of the decisions.

The fear came especially after October 2017 - when the machinery was already stressed by the consultation of 9-N, in 2014 -, was accentuated following the intervention of the autonomy - from Madrid a lot of documentation was requested - and has been consolidated in the last three years. There are sources that even speak of an administration "frightened" by the judicial pressure. Therefore, the concern of public workers is not limited only to the preparations for the two consultations on independence, but has already spread to everything that may be related to the Catalan independence bid and, by extension, also to areas of more sectoral management. The question is that the requests for justification of all decisions have multiplied because it is feared that everything ends in a lawsuit: the clearest example, they believe, is the case of Foreign Affairs. Facts that at the time nobody denounced or contested -such as the trips abroad of the President - in the framework of the competences of the Generalitat and that later have become susceptible to accounting responsibility in the Court of Auditors.

Lack of "legal certainty"

This makes officials go with an "excess of zeal", says one of those consulted, in terms of recruitment and when authorizing travel. "All the procedures have been reinforced", says another witness, who emphasises that what until now was considered legal in the exercise of self-government is now in a fog as a result of the writings of the Public Prosecutor's Office, the reports of the Guardia Civil and some interpretations of the courts. It should be kept in mind that, beyond the political posts, the Court of Auditors has investigated the delegated auditors - those responsible for financial control of each Minister - and has placed two former general auditors of the Generalitat, Mireia Vidal and Rosa Vidal, as allegedly responsible for accounting, from whom they are demanding millions of euros - similar amounts to those of the Ministers - for having authorized several expenses that the court considers outside the competences of the Government. But it is not only the investigation of the Court of Auditors, but also all judicial investigations that have splashed intermediate positions. "The Public Prosecutor's Office has called several civil servants as witnesses", says a manager, which he believes also explains a large part of this dynamic. Several political officials who were consulted remarked that there is "legal uncertainty" about what can and cannot be done, and that this generates "defencelessness". "The State is changing the rules of the game as it goes along", says a former secretary of the Generalitat, who points out the current paradox: the power to carry out external action has been endorsed by the Constitutional Court and at the same time is questioned by the Court of Auditors.

In this sense, there are voices that defend the Generalitat acting forcefully when it comes to defending former high-ranking officials in the Court of Auditors: to give a sense of cover - the assets of the defendants are at stake - and of defending self-government. However, the Government is also aware that any move will be scrutinized by the State and that to do so there will be officials who will have to give the go-ahead.