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The people versus corruption

By Mr Grumpy - Fri 19th Nov 2010

I have lived in the same village for the last 6 and a bit years – a very small, inland village with just (Officially at least) 952 Inhabitants and just under 500 (legally recognised) homes.

I say ‘official inhabitants’ and ‘legally recognised’ homes because of the circus and laughing stock that our village has become over the last 5 years or so. The question of legality has become so contorted over the years that I am no longer sure that anybody – the Alcalde included – has a clue what the exact situation is.

I for one have no problem sticking my hand up to be counted as one who doesn’t know.

The situation as I last understood it (and I may have been completely wrong, or the situation may have changed further still over the years) is as follows...

A number of years ago, just before the Spanish property boom, an unscrupulous developer decided that the requirement of having a minimum 10’000 sq mt plot, before being able to build on rustic land, did not apply to our village. Although this law is generally observed by every other municipality in Spain, it was decided that that would not be the case in our village. As such the Mayor and the Town Hall architect gave permission for a number of houses to be built illegally. A few weeks later the Mayor was voted out of office, but on the very last day of his tenure he signed the permissions for a further batch of properties to commence.

It was only after the new Mayor took office, and the first wave of owners of the new properties made contact to request their certificates of habitation, that the provincial government looked a little closer. They investigated and found that around 300 properties had been given permission illegally and were in various stages of completion - ranging from simple foundations being dug, to people actually living in an otherwise completed property. All permissions were immediately withdrawn, and all building work stopped. The builder naturally went to ground and an investigation found that the Mayor and Architect had acted illegally in taking bribes, and taken to court.

Those who were living in their completed houses could not apply for Water, Gas or electric because they did not have their Cedula (certificate of habitation), and could not register on the Padron because their houses did not officially exist.

(It needs to be said that there were a number of loosely associated legal problems going on with other properties in the village also, I am simply generalising the ‘problem’).

I was fortunate in that I bought an old Finca. The law states that in an area that has been declared ‘rustic’ you need 10’000 sq mt in order to build a new property – however, you can reform an existing property to its original footprint if it sits on a smaller plot. This was the case with my property, but because renovation had only recently been completed, the cedula had not been issued. We applied and it was declined because the new Mayor was not issuing any permissions, licenses or cedulas for anybody, regardless of the circumstance (err... even if they needed it for a legally built home in order to get water and electric connected?)

So, living from a temporary builder’s supply of electric and a 600mt long hosepipe running across the fields from the nearest water supply, we have managed quite comfortably for 6 years (this is where anybody that knows me would suggest I was being 'Ironic').

Things became slightly more complicated when my daughter was born – we needed more room. An architect advised us that it was quite an easy project to extend the property if we could get an ‘obra mayor’ licence from the Town Hall – this was declined. As much as we loved our Finca we looked at the option of moving to a larger house – an Estate Agent advised us that properties like ours were in great demand, and we should be able to sell it quickly and at a profit if we could get a Cedula to make it easier from potential buyers to arrange a mortgage on the property. We couldn’t.

Our latest mayor is basically too scared of his own shadow and being tarred with the same brush as his predecessor, and way out of his depth with the procedures of local government, that he has simply decided to do absolutely nothing in his 4 years of office. At least that way nobody can accuse him of being corrupt.

The other month I wanted to put a swimming pool in my back garden. I got a quote and asked the Builder the legal procedure – basically all I needed was an ‘obra menor’ – or small works license – from the Town Hall in order to excavate the hole.

I went to the Town Hall to request the license. I was given the application form and told that application for the license would cost 2% of the project (or a minimum of 200 Euros ).

That’s just to apply – I would still be charged that fee regardless of whether they said yes or no !

So how much money is they making by simply rejecting applications for work being done?

I did some rough calculations in my head the other day: If there are 300 homes in the village at varying degrees of construction – all ‘illegal’, then by making them legal the village would have the following benefits:

* 300 Houses (let’s say with 750 residents) would sign on the Padron and generate extra revenue for the village from the regional government.

* 300 legal Houses would then pay the required municipal taxes.

* If the ban on all building and reform was then revoked, these 300 houses would then obviously wish to complete the building works already started – many of the other, already legal houses may also like to make improvements to their property – all to the benefit of the construction industry in the village. Pretty welcome in these times of 20% unemployment I shouldn’t wonder.

* Regardless of whether they be holiday or permanent homes, having people live in these houses would also result in benefit to the local economy – the shops, bars and restaurants.

- So you can probably imagine what my reaction was when a representative of one of the political parties came knocking on my door asking why I hadn't registered to vote in next year's election. It seems that my choices are between a previously corrupt regime, who caused the problem, and when voted out of office denied any wrong-doing or a party that has put the blame firmly on their predecessors, but in 4 years failed to anything about rectifying the situation. Corruption or incompetence ? - and they question my choice in abstaining ?

Comment on this Blog

Thanks Penny, it is indeed a simplistic overview of a complicated situation (by a simple person) as I conceded in the Blog. I have attended countless meetings by the councillors over the years as part of a residents association and am non-the-wiser. As with your situation in Parcent, it seems that many Towns and Villages have their own unique set of issues to contend with it and a solution for one will not always suit another.
Mr Grumpy - Fri, 19th Nov 2010
Excellent article Mr Grumpy, and one that I'm sure a lot of people will have sympathy with, although I am sure that the Town Hall will say that this is a simplistic view of a complicated situation. Just out of interest, do you know if your Town Hall councillors draw a wage or recieve much recompense for their work? In Parcent generally the councillors do not, and their voluntary hard work has turned around the Town Halls finances and got us out of debt - at a time when most Spanish villages owe a fortune. Not many building licences are being granted because they don't have the staff to oversee the required work, check it complies with new regulations, fulfill new EU stipulations about sustainability etc. and they are being continually (and personally) hounded by the opposition who were in favour of a huge development of thousands of new homes here. There's a great story if anyone wants to report on it
Penny Lapenna - Fri, 19th Nov 2010

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