THOUSANDS of protesters took to the streets of Valencia yesterday (Sunday) in a demonstration publicly condemning corruption after over 24 politicians from the right-wing PP party were arrested at local, provincial and regional government level.
Corruption in government and public authorities is said to cost every taxpayer in Spain €5,000 each – at a time when taxes have been increased and spending on social necessities cut back dramatically.
At least 75 social and political associations, unions and charities called the protest, where banners were carried reading: “CorruPPt officials, give us back our money;” “Corruption = unemployment,” and “Corruption and paella: nobody does it better than Valencia.”
The march set off from the city hall square after a manifesto was read, then ended outside the regional High Court of Justice.
Former city mayoress Rita Barberá – who insists she knows nothing about any corruption and never signed off a 'dodgy' public works contract in her 24 years leading Valencia – lives close to the court, and demonstrators stood outside her house shouting: “Rita, go to Picassent,” where the main jail in the province is based, and “give back our money.”
The main reason for ending the march outside the court was symbolic, however – one charity rep said it was to show that the people of the region wanted justice done and a 'zero-tolerance approach'.
And with the misuse of public funds being thought to have illegally financed the PP's electoral campaigns, the protesters want the court to investigate whether the polling station results could be declared invalid.
Two huge but unrelated rackets uncovered in January, one involving the regional hydraulics company Acuamed and the other centring on business promotion entity Imelsa – both firms 100% owned and managed by the provincial and regional government when the PP was in power – have brought to light how backhanders were given by businesses in exchange for lucrative public works contracts, invoices for these works inflated, and the surplus given out in cash in illegal commissions.
All this unnecessary extra expenditure – much of which was not declared to the tax authorities - includes €91 million overcharged by the public-sector-owned school-building firm Ciegsa.
Its former managing director Máximo Caturla generated these excess costs in just three years, and photos of him driving his bright-blue Jaguar E-Type through the streets of Dénia (Alicante province) have just been published.
The PP in Valencia city hall has been forcibly dissolved and placed in the hands of an independent management company, whilst in the regional government and provincial council, it is likely that most members will be replaced by completely new faces.
It was even considered whether the party within the Valencia region should change its name to mark a fresh start, but other politicians say they will not escape their reputation by calling themselves something different.
The recent spate of corruption arrests, which have also affected former members of the national government, has left acting president Mariano Rajoy in a difficult position as he attempts to drum up support to form a government.