The problem with sanctions persists seven months later
The government has only collected 4.7% of the fines police gave out for breaking the restrictions due to the covid-19 during the first state of alarm, from March 14 to June 21 last year: 8,000 out of 170,000. One of the causes is that of the 170,000 fines, only 90,000 have been processed, just over half (54%). In the best of analyses, therefore, 8.9% of the fines processed have been collected. In any case, this is a clearly insufficient balance if the aim is to ensure that these complaints act as a deterrent of irregular behaviour. And it should be borne in mind that the data, provided by the Department of the Home Affairs, is seven months old. As of June the management of these fines passed on to the Health Department, which has not provided any data.
It is clear that the main problem is not that there is no collection, because that is not the ultimate goal, but the administrative and legal mess that this situation reveals. The experts warn of "weakness" and "arbitrariness" in the legal basis of the entire procedure, which was initially based on public safety laws and later, when it began to be processed, on public health laws. The first option, which means higher fines, requires having disobeyed a previous requirement by a police officer and is difficult to enforce legally. The second option reduces the fines' amount but had no system for imposing sanctions. The Government solved this in August by passing a new law.
Then there is the administrative problem, with an explosion in the volume of fines which needed to be processed. The Department of Home Affairs tried to solve this by assigning a hundred lawyers to it. Th Health Department's takeover did not speed up the situation either because the appropriate structure was not available: in December the Government had to draft in 300 civil servants to speed up the procedures. Likewise, in several cases the management of fine collection has been referred to the town councils of the towns where the police action took place.
Ten months have passed since the beginning of the pandemic, seven since the Health Department took over enforcement of restrictions and five since the decree law that gave it legal backing and regulated the fines for covid, and yet right until now it is being patched up. We insist: the problem is not collection, nor in fact the very existence of the fines; the behaviour of the vast majority of society is entirely responsible and the feeling of collective protection has soaked in.
Likewise, we cannot forget that the context of uncertainty created by covid is difficult to manage. But, precisely for this reason, that which can be controlled, which does not depend on the evolution of data, the appearance of a variant or the supply of vaccines, must be controlled with a certain level of diligence. Because there are many public workers involved and they must be provided with certainties that make their job easier. There are many actions every week, not all of them as evident as the unpleasant cases of Pallejà and Matadepera this weekend, and it cannot be that the administration's response is not up to scratch.