The Parliamentary contracts that were not investigated

The case of the former secretary general is the first to be reviewed by the Anti-Fraud Office

3 min
The table of the Parliament during the last legislature with Josep Costa and Roger Torrent.

BarcelonaParliament's secretary general, Esther Andreu, had to resign after the Anti-Fraud Office concluded that she should have communicated her "conflict of interest" in the selection process for ushers, which her son. This is the first time the Anti-Fraud Office has reviewed any of Parliament's selection processes, although previously there had been two other cases susceptible of incurring in conflict of interest –according to the parameters established by the Anti-Fraud Office– or complaints for not complying with Parliament's staff regulations or the selection process's rules, as ARA has been able to verify.

To avoid these situations, the Anti-Fraud Office has made at least two recommendations to the bureau of a "preventive nature" that have not been rolled out: to develop a protocol to manage situations of conflict of interest in the field of parliamentary administration and to adopt measures to identify "risk factors" during the processing of procedures. In fact, right now there is no code of conduct for senior officials in the parliamentary administration, only one for MPs.

So far there have been at least two selection processes that, despite there being a possible conflict of interest or deviating from the competition rules, were not reviewed by any external body. The most recent case is from 2019, during the presidency of Roger Torrent, but the ARA has also been aware of another between 2007 and 2008. The parliamentary bureau chaired by Torrent started a process to contract eleven usher positions on June 19, 2018, One of the candidates was one of Parliament's lawyers then partner –this was recently denounced by former deputy Speaker Josep Costa on Ràdio 4–. Unlike in Andreu's case, the Anti-Fraud Office did not analyse the possible conflict of interest. But not only this: in this case there was also another dubious step that was also not investigated. During the procedure, the number of positions was increased by three when the process was already underway and, therefore, it was possible to work out who had more chances of obtaining the positions.

This fact explicitly went against the process's rules, published on June 19, 2018, and Parliament's personnel regulations. Article 53 says that positions can only be increased "between the date the process is announced and the date the process starts." That is to say, once the scores of the various assessments are already known, the number of vacancies can no longer be modified. The extension was made on March 21, 2019 with an agreement by the bureau that went ahead thanks to the votes of the PSC and Cs, and the abstention of ERC. Costa and Eusebi Campdepadrós (JxCat) voted against it saying that it was an "arbitrary and illegal" decision, in addition to warning in a dissenting vote they were risking legal responsibilities. The process, however, was not challenged, nor was any investigation made to find out who had benefited from the controversial expansion in positions. At that time, the secretary general and head of legal services was Xavier Muro.

Similar situation

Ten years earlier, something similar already happened. During the presidency of Ernest Benach, on January 8, 2007, a call for one lawyer position was made, which was extended to two (i.e. double) when the most important tests had already begun. Only three lawyers competed for the position and only one was left out. The third applicant did not appeal the decision, but according to several sources he was "discouraged" from doing so. At that time Muro was secretary of the tribunal and Imma Folchi was the secretary general. Legal sources consulted argue that a change in the number of posts halfway through the process is a significant alteration of the competition because it affects "free competition", since more posts could mean more people apply to join the process. In this case the procedure was not investigated either.