Politics 12/04/2021

No one checks parliamentarians' declaration of interests

Nor are there any sanctions for those who do not declare all the properties

Cesc Maideu i Jordi Ribalaygue
4 min
Session of constitution of the XIII legislature in the auditorium of the Parliament of Catalonia on March 12.

BarcelonaThe law obliges presidents, ministers, councillors and MPs to provide a list of interests. However, it is impossible to know how accurate the data are because there is no review mechanism. The Generalitat and the Catalan Parliament admit that no body tracks whether public officials report their properties in full. Nor do they ask for documentation to prove the belongings they report because, they say, the "principle of trust" prevails. The Spanish Parliament and Senate also take the information on trust and do not verify declarations. "The lack of verification procedures makes it a weak system to promote integrity and prevent corruption," says Agustí Cerrillo, professor of administrative law at the UOC.

Vox is a party that has been annoyed with this type of requirements, both relating to wealth and activities (which check incompatibilities). Ignacio Garriga, who as a member of the Spanish Parliament received €90,000 per year, now informed the Catalan Parliament that he has €3,000 in his bank account and no property.

In 2019, ERC MP Eduardo Reyes claimed to have only €2.75 to his name, despite having earned €60,000 a year as JxSí MP between 2016 and 2017 and not having taken out any mortgages. Some former members of the cabinet are also hard up. Antoni Castellà (Demòcrates) was paid €84,078 per annum between 2011 and 2015 as secretary for Universities, and reported a bank balance of €2,000 in 2012, €300 in 2015 and €752 in 2018. In his case, he did have five properties.

The members of both the Catalan and Spanish Parliaments must notify any change in their properties and hand in a copy of their income tax every year. In any case, neither of the two chambers compares whether the properties increase over the years. The declarations are removed from the website of the Catalan parliament at the end of the legislature and destroyed four years later.

The fact that they are eliminated makes it difficult to trace the evolution of the patrimony of public managers. After having been mayor of La Roca del Vallès, a manager for the City Council of Barcelona, Spanish Health Minister and now Catalan MP, none of Salvador Illa's declarations are accessible on the Internet except for the two most recent, one made public by the Catalan parliament and the other by the Spanish government after he quit as minister. Illa has almost €13,000 in the bank and in the last year has paid off about €11,000 on a mortgage on which he still owes €6,000 (he owns 50% of a house and a garage) and has increased his payments to a pension plan by €5,000 euros, up to €48,000, after sitting on the Spanish cabinet.

Transparency International finds shortcomings and ambiguities in statements in the Spanish Parliament and Senate. "They have created the office of conflict of interest, but they do not provide it with competences. So nothing happens if you fail to comply with the declaration of interests, when in France it would be a crime," compares Manuel Villoria, director of the organisation, which calls for "independent authorities" to elucidate "the veracity of the information and cross-check it with other records".

In Catalonia, the Sindicatura de Comptes does not supervise the assets of leaders and MPs, since it is limited to auditing public funds. The Anti-Fraud Office has warned that the assets of public officials need to be better examined and followed up once they cease to hold office. It has offered to verify public sector declarations and enter them in a single register to prevent conflicts of interest. It has not been commissioned to do so until now.

Parliament suspends a month's salary for anyone who does not report changes and does not hand over their annual income tax return, but does not foresee punishment if properties are not reported. "If it is not accompanied by a sanctioning regime, it doesn't matter what is on the record," warns Simona Levi of the transparency platform Xnet. "If someone wants a conflict of interest not to be disclosed, it may be cheaper to withhold information," agrees Cerrillo.

Loss-making MPs

Some MPs' figures seem rather unstable. For example, Laura Borràs (Junts) declared in the Spanish parliament to have received €91,678 net salary as director of the Institució de les Lletres Catalanes, when the salary was €82,000 gross according to the transparency portal. It also happens with properties, such as those of Albert Batet (Junts), who in June 2015 claimed to have a house worth €27,354 and four loans - one of them a mortgage - but in the following October there were no debts and the home was valued at €160,500. Two months later, the loans reappeared with the same debt owed and all four had become mortgages. In 2019 and 2021, Batet declared not to own any property. However, he has fewer funds than in 2015: he started out with €20,000 and now has €10,000.

Pere Aragonès has also gone from having €42,560 in his bank account in 2015 to €6,300 currently. He owes €131,209.18 more than then, since he has taken out a personal loan and financed a car (Audi Q5). As Aragonès also has a mortgage, in total he owes €266,000. Those close to him say the birth of his daughter has meant he has had a lot of personal expenses. However, he has been receiving decent salaries: €85,769 per year as secretary for the Economy and then €115,517 per year as vicepresident. It contrasts with the savings of Roger Torrent, who has gone from reporting €39,000 in 2012 to €250,000 now. In the account of Carlos Carrizosa there were €10,000 when he joined Parliament in 2012, and now, after heading Ciudadanos and nine years in the chamber, only €5,000 appear - the only expense that appears is a Lexus -. Quite the opposite from his former party colleague (now in the PP) Lorena Roldán: her savings have risen from €2,000 in 2015 to €223,000 now.

Another phenomenon observed in the statements is that some do not change over the years. Maria Sirvent (CUP) recorded in 2018 that she had €6,720.93 in the bank and three years later declared the same amount, accurate to the cent. And the leader of En Comú, Jéssica Albiach, notified €30,000 in 2015 and owing €83,793.95 on her mortgage. In 2018 her statement was identical. For three years, then, she had not spent a euro from the bank account and had not even made mortgage payments.