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Can Spain’s first anti-graft commission restore voter confidence?

Body’s work begins against backdrop of huge corruption case involving Popular Party

Toni Cantó (left) of Ciudadanos has put corruption at the top of his party's agenda.
Toni Cantó (left) of Ciudadanos has put corruption at the top of his party's agenda. EFE

The members of Spain’s first-ever anti-corruption commission plan to start work this week on a project they hope will boost the ailing health of the Spanish democracy and restore the trust of the electorate in its country’s politicians.

The historic initiative was set up in parliament in early October with the backing of all Spain’s main parties except for the conservative Popular Party (PP), whose leader, Mariano Rajoy, is currently acting prime minister following inconclusive elections in December 2015 and June this year that have left the country without a government for 10 months. The PP has a poor record on transparency initiatives.

The historic initiative was set up with the backing of all Spain’s main parties, except for the conservative PP

Headed up by Toni Cantó, a deputy with emerging center-right party Ciudadanos, which has put fighting corruption at the top of its agenda, the commission is aiming to meet once a week to draw up reports for parliamentary debate and approval.

While the exact program of the commission is yet to be finalized, Cantó says subcommittees will examine reform of the electoral law, local and regional government, the justice system and party financing. But the parties involved say they are open to any ideas which will improve the workings of the country’s democracy.

The commission will not be fully functioning until a government is installed, which in all likelihood will continue to be led by the PP, now that the chief opposition group, the Socialist Party, is expected to abstain at an upcoming investiture session in Congress, which would return Rajoy to power at the head of minority government.

In the meantime, the Gürtel corruption trial rolls on, a case involving a network of graft that operated across six regions and was allegedly run by Francisco Correa, a businessman who cultivated relationships with PP officials, allegedly offering them gifts in exchange for government contracts for the organization of electoral and other party events.

Correa admitted in court last week to paying bribes and handing part of the money obtained from shady deals to PP officials.

The commission plans to examine party financing, electoral laws and the judicial system

Ciudadanos is insisting on an investigative working group within the new corruption commission to look closely at the Gürtel case, arguing this is part of the comprehensive anti-corruption pact it signed with the PP in August.

But the PP argues that any such investigation is now redundant given a trial is currently underway, and should not take place before sentencing.

The new corruption commission will have control functions in relation to the government. Anti-austerity left-leaning group Podemos, which has a presence on the commission, has formally asked Rajoy’s chief of staff, Jorge Moragas, to appear before it to explain his dealings with former PP deputies Gustavo de Arístegui and Pedro Gómez de la Serna, who are both under investigation for corruption.

English version by George Mills.

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