Parliament has granted 62 age-based leaves since 2008
During the previous legislature, under Roger Torrent's speakership, 18 were authorised
BarcelonaSince July 2008, when the possibility of accessing age-based leave in the Catalan Parliament was created, 62 requests have been granted for this special regime that allows staff to get paid without working. According to data delivered by Parliament in the framework of the freedom of information requests made by ARA, seven were authorised during the speakership of Ernest Benach, when the special system began, and from here they have increased exponentially: fourteen were awarded under Núria de Gispert, eleven under Carme Forcadell and up to eighteen under Roger Torrent. During this 2021, with Laura Borràs as Speaker, 12 have been granted although they have been temporarily suspended, as the board decided to put an end to this system and is studying whether it can revert them. The decision comes after the ARA uncovered that Parliament allocates €1.7m per year to pay 21 officials who no longer work there.
Thus, despite successive Speakers' assurances they did not know about the system, the truth is that during their terms not only was the Catalan chamber paying salaries to officials who did not go to work, but new age-based leave was authorized. This, however, was not done directly by the Speaker or by the Parliamentary Bureau; instead, it is the secretary generals who are responsible for receiving applications and managing age-based leave. This post is appointed by Parliamentary Bureau and is responsible for managing Parliament's administration.
Therefore, those who have given the green light to the 62 leaves have been Imma Folchi (who later herself took advantage of this system) during the speakerships of Benach and De Gispert; Pere Sol (who also requested the special regime before retiring); Xavier Muro, under Carme Forcadell and Roger Torrent; and the current secretary general, Esther Andreu, now under Borràs, has granted 12 temporarily postponed age-based leaves, at the same time as the model was reduced from five to three years of collecting wages without working.
In order to have access to age-based leave, certain formal requirements must be met: reaching the age of 60 and having worked in Parliament for more than 15 years. Leaves can only be postponed due to the "service needs" of each department. Despite the fact that, as the data show, age leaves have been a constant since they were created in 2008, until now successive speakers have claimed ignorance or not lack of data. On Wednesday former Speaker Roger Torrent assured from Madrid that he had no information about this special regime and that had he known he would have acted differently. A justification similar to the one given on Monday by De Gispert, consulted by ARA: "I did not know that the figures [of the salaries] were so high. It was neither discussed nor given importance. We did not debate anything, but assumed it as a done law". Forcadell has not pronounced on this issue, while Benach has justified its implementation by the "context". Borràs, in turn, has claimed to have initiated a reform to tighten the conditions of access, although it did not put an end to this special regime of working without pay.
The episode of age-based leave, uncovered by ARA, has also generated tension between the members of the Parliamentary Bureau. This Thursday the second vice president of the Bureau and socialist MP, Assumpta Escarp, who is in charge of transparency in the chamber, has reproached Borràs for not giving all the information on age leave at the meeting on December 21, when the body approved to tighten the conditions for access to this special regime, but not to eliminate it. "Things have been done wrong" and age leave "should not have existed," she said in an interview with Radio 4 and La 2, but she also said that "the chain of trust has been broken" with the Speaker for not having told them, according to her, all the implications of the case. However, on Wednesday on Més 324 Borràs denied it: she said that all the groups were aware of the changes. To prove it she exhibited a document negotiated with the staff council of the chamber that had been led by secretaries Aurora Madaula (JxCat) and Ferran Pedret (PSC). President Pere Aragonès also spoke about the issue on Planta Baixa on Tv3, although he only said that he welcomes the end of this privilege.