Politicians sadly come way down the scale in the public’s esteem. Whilst it is one thing to not particularly believe what a politician promises or says – to view them all as crooks is another.
Already Barack Obama is back tracking on pledges he made on the campaign trail. That the pundits tell us is pragmatism and is therefore acceptable. Nobody, as of yet, is suggesting that the new president is a corrupt man.
However the real problem comes when people do not know where to turn because corruption is all around them.
I am not going to dwell on Marbella which has gained an international reputation for corruption through the GIL and post GIL eras. That municipality has been brought to its knees in public debt so the legacy of that criminal era will not only be witnessed by jailed councillors and businessman but in the very daily lives of its residents.
Today I cast my gaze on Estepona, Marbella’s neighbour to the west. On June 16 the National Police raided the town hall and town planning office and duly arrested the socialist mayor, Antonio Barrientos, on corruption and money laundering charges. Held in jail with him till last week when bail was agreed were his chief of staff and two councillors from PES (formerly members of GIL) that had been his coalition partners up till the local elections in May 2007.
Currently 63 people are implicated in the ‘Astapa’ town planning corruption case who are now awaiting trial. The number is largely made up of councillors and businessman. Estepona is deeply in debt and is struggling to make ends meet. The new socialist mayor is David Valadez, a staunch opponent of Barrientos, and who therefore is not implicated in his alleged crimes.
None the less councillors from the socialist PSOE, PES and Partido Andalucista are caught up in the ‘Astapa’ scandal. The only parties not tainted are the Izquierda Unida and the opposition Partido Popular. The IU says its will back Valadez’s administration but the PP has refused insisting on fresh elections as it says the current coalition is not above suspicion.
Well that is fine as far as it goes except now the Málaga prosecutor is seeking a jail term of 21 months for the PP president in Estepona, Ignacio Mena, at a court hearing that started today.
The complaint was laid by a local businessman and dates back to the time when Mena was himself the councillor for town planning between 2001 and 2003. The prosecutor claims coercion on the part of Mena and relates to the construction of an apartment and his alleged paralysation of permissions at the town hall to the benefit of another businessman. If convicted then Mena, the former GIL councillor Víctor Sánchez Pinacho and another businessman face jail terms.
Whilst there is nothing to link the PP to ‘Astapa’ if Mena is convicted then it drags the local party in to the corruption mire. So then who do the local people trust?
On January 16 the action group representing the people of Estepona has called a new street protest. They are angry that the town hall has taken no action to reduce or halt the major rises in local taxes and municipal charges and believe that only a major demonstration will keep the pressure on the councillors to act.
The group made up largely of local residents’ associations say the new charges for rubbish collection and water are simply too high. In addition they are facing major increases in the IBI property valuation tax. In a statement the action group pointed to “the precarious situation of many families and the poor situation of businesses and industry” in these times of economic crisis and their inability to meet this new financial burden.
They too are demanding fresh elections but that was before news of Mena’s court case broke. So it could be that the socialists, PES, PA and PP would all go again to the polls with councillors either in prison or facing trial. Only the IU and Estepona 2007 minority parties would be seemingly clean. So the question then for the people of Estepona is - who do you trust? Who do you vote for?
The January 16 march will undoubtedly be peaceful as have the demonstrations of the past. However when people feel their case is hopeless, that they are being taken for fools, then violence can easily surface. We only have to look at the present crisis in Greece.
The situation in Estepona is a tragedy for the local people. Yet Marbella and Estepona are not isolated cases for this scenario is played out in too many town halls, which endangers the very bedrock of democracy in Spain.