The Health Department has only collected 150 fines out of the 92,000 fines imposed since the summer due to anti-covid measures
The department took over the management of sanctions at the end of June
BarcelonaOne year after the pandemic, the management of fines for non-compliance with the measures against covid remains a dead end in Catalonia. If two months ago the ARA explained that until mid-January the Department of Home Affairs had collected 5% of the penalties for the first state of alarm - those imposed between March and June last year - what has followed is insignificant. The Health Department, which since the end of June has taken over the management of complaints for breaching the restrictions, has only collected 150 fines, 0.16% of those received since the summer and up to mid-February. In this period, the department has processed less than 2% of the penalties - 1,635 - of the 92,032 that it has received.
It is no coincidence that in late December the Generalitat approved, in one of the agreements of the executive council, to incorporate 300 workers in the Health Department, including administrative and lawyers, dedicated to managing the fines of the pandemic. These are the data provided by Health at the request of the ARA in accordance with the transparency law, because the press service has not provided this information. Until now, no balance sheet of the department's management of the sanctions for anticovid measures had been made public because only Home Affairs had provided figures.
How does the health department explain the collapse of the fines? "It is a department that did not have a structure designed to deal with a sanctioning regime", says Josep Maria Aguirre, professor of administrative law at the University of Girona. Apart from this, Aguirre explains that the infractions for not wearing a mask are the only ones that have "a certain automatism", because the decree law 30/2020 of the Govern says that the penalty is 100 euros - which is reduced to 60 euros if paid within a few days. The rest "require human intervention because they have to be assessed and weighted", since the amount of each fine has to be specified according to whether it is minor - which results in a penalty of up to 3,000 euros -, serious or very serious.
Aguirre adds that the announcement made in the summer to report people who smoke without complying with a distance is "enormously complicated" to apply. For this reason, he predicts that the Health Department will prioritise sanctions that are easier to process and others that are intended to be exemplary, such as the rave in Llinars del Vallès on New Year's Eve.
Notification 11 months later
The slowness of the Government in managing the covid fines means some sanctions are notified at their prescription limit. This is the case of Anna, who explains that 11 months later she has received a complaint of April 18 last year, when she wanted to go to buy fresh fish in Bruc. She came from Esparreguera, where there was no fishmonger, but found a control of the Guardia Civil that made her turn back. Although they took her details, at no time did they tell her that she would be reported and so she was surprised when two weeks ago she received a fine of 300 euros.
Minor complaints, most of which are filed, should be time-barred after a year, but the first state of alarm halted the administrative deadlines for two months. Despite this, both the Home Affairs Department and the Health Department are racing against the clock to have enough time to process all of them. In fact, the response of the Secretary General of Health, Marc Ramentol, to the ARA's request is that they do not provide all the information requested because they have to assign staff to deal with sanctions, "a priority action", as otherwise it could affect the statute of limitations on infractions.
Since the summer, and in view of the collapse of the Government, some Catalan town councils, as provided for in decree law 30/2020, have taken over the management of minor covid-related fines.