Catalan Audit Office continues to pay former execs bonuses
Former board members who were part of the civil service have received around €14,000 per year since they left
BarcelonaThe Catalan Audit Office continued paying seniority bonuses to four former executives after they had stopped working there. According to a freedom of information request made by the ARA, former board member Agustí Colom – proposed by ICV-EUiA in 2004 – has received €150,142 since he left office in 2011; former trustee Montserrat de Vehí – proposed by CiU in 2001 – has been paid €108.913 since she left in 2007; the body's secretary general from 2004 to 2011, Montserrat Vendrell, has received €52,355 euros; and former director general Joan Colom – proposed by PSC in 2004 – has received 27,411. In total, the Sindicatura has paid trustees who no longer worked there €338,822.
Why? According to the Audit Office, this is due to the seniority that career civil servants reached during their service, in accordance with a 2004 law. The Audit Office uses this law to pay board members a higher seniority bonus than all other civil servants. Throughout the Spanish state, civil servants receive a bonus for every three years they have worked for the administration. Top earning civil servant at the Generalitat or State bodies see their salary go up €47.67 a month for every three years they have been working for the administration. At the Audit Office, however, the bonus is equivalent to 5% of their salary, meaning their salary increases by €500 per month for every three years they have worked for the body.
This difference between the amount of time these four board members worked for the Audit Office explains why they received different amounts after they left the body. Those who worked there for six or seven years were paid two seniority bonuses, or around €14,000 a year (in Spain most workers get paid double in June and December), since they left office until their retirement. Members of the board are not necessarily part of the civil service: candidates don't take a competitive examination and are instead appointed by the Parliament. Currently only Agustí Colom receives the payment, because the others have already retired. Montserrat de Vehí received it from 2007 to 2016; Montserrat Vendrell from 2011 to 2018 and Joan Colom from 2011 to 2013. In practice, it was a permanent salary after they were dismissed despite the fact that the Catalan Audit Office charter states former board members should not receive any compensation when they leave.
Compatibility with other positions
Collecting these bonuses is not incompatible with holding other public offices. After going back to their careers as civil servants, two former trustees have also held other political posts. Agustí Colom, a professor at the University of Barcelona, was a Barcelona city councillor for En Comú under mayor Ada Colau in 2015 and De Vehí, who is a state official, was the director of the School of Public Administration of Catalonia from 2011 to 2015 under president Artur Mas. It is not unusual for a senior official who is a civil servant to receive seniority bonuses when providing special services. However, it is exceptional that they receive such high bonuses as is being paid by an organ they no longer work for. Receiving an additional 5% bonus every three years is especially beneficial in the case of high salaries. In the case of a board member at the Audit Officer, the salary (€120,192 per year) is actually higher than a Catalan minister or the Spanish president before counting in the bonus.
For example: according to the information provided by the body, recently departed director general Jaume Amat –who was appointed at CiU's behest in 2007– received €8,585 per month in basic and supplementary remuneration, and €2,375 per month for his seniority at at the Catalan Audit Office, while for all his years working in other parts of the administrations he received a seniority bonus of €315 per month. In total, he received about €11,000 per month, plus an additional €917 for being director general. Jordi Pons, also a civil servant and a board member from 2007 until last February, who was appointed at the behest of ERC, received €8,585 per month in basic and complementary remuneration, a €2,243 per month seniority bonus for his time at the Audit Office and a €180 seniority bonus for the rest of his working life at other administrations. Both Amat and Pons relinquished these bonuses when they were reinstated in their original civil service positions, after they were replaced in February. In allegations made to ARA's freedom of information request, Jordi Pons claims that, despite having the "legal right" to receive these bonuses, he informed the Audito Office that he "would not request" them when he returned to his teaching position at the University of Barcelona.
The Audit Office's Justification
Civil servants's seniority bonuses always continue adding up throughout their working life, regardless of what part of the administration they work for. The civil service's regulations state that, when a civil servant is appointed to a top post and takes leave from their usual position, they continue to acquire seniority and must be paid accordingly when they return to their usual post in the administration. The rule states that it is their regular employer at the civil service which must these seniority bonuses, yet in the case of the Audit Office it is not so.
How does the Audit Office justify this? In the answer given to ARA, it says the following: "According to the case law, the three-year seniority bonuses merited at the Audit Office by an official on leave to serve at this institution must also be included in the set of their economic rights [...]. They have the right to continue receiving three-year seniority bonuses when they leave office. It is the administration where the official is working that must pay these bonuses. When the administration cannot pay these due to legal reasons, the Audit Office itself will pay these seniority bonuses".
This newspaper has consulted experts to assess the case. Carles Ramió, professor of political science at Universitat Pompeu Fabra, does not want to go into the legal side, but discusses the difference in the seniority bonuses compared to other civil servants: "Although it is legal, socially it can be considered a privilege. It is an exception to the ordinary civil service system". Josep Maria Aguirre, professor of administrative law at the University of Girona, affirms that the law allows a civil servant to receive 5% seniority bonuses while part of the board of the Audit Office, but that these seniority bonuses should obey the regular administration's rules once they have ended their time at the Audit Office. He adds that part of the problem is that Parliament and the Audit Office pay such high seniority bonuses compared to other administrations.
At the Anti-Fraud Office, which is the other statutory institution that depends on Parliament, it also pays its staff and senior officials 5% seniority bonuses –applying the same rule as Parliament–. Responding to ARA, however, it states that it does not pay this bonus to any official which has left the organ. "We do not pay seniority bonuses to civil servants who have worked for the Anti-Fraud Office nor have we had any requests. Neither our law, nor the internal regulations of the Anti-Fraud Office nor any other agreement foresees it", the organ concludes.
Not all statutory bodies have these conditions. The Council of Guarantees uses the same rules as the State and Generalitat administrations, and, in this sense, it does not pay any former staff seniority bonuses. The same happens at the Catalan Ombudsman, which did have 5% seniority bonuses regime but reverted to the general Catalan administration seniority bonuses in 2008.
It is up to statutory bodies, which have organisational autonomy, and to Parliament, to decide whether or not to maintain differentiated seniority bonuses for civil servants and top officials.