Speaking of Cuts

This Spanish government is fond of making cuts. They have cut deeply into civil servants’ monthly wage packet, and frozen older people’s pension. But, strange to speak, they have not decreased the 189% tax on a litre of petrol, or the more than 200% tax on a packet of fags. Here are nine suggestions of cuts that could indeed be made – if this government were speaking the truth when they reiterate that they wish to succour and save the Spanish economy. I fear this is a vain presumption, as this government has not spoken a word of truth sin ce it was elected by what they call ‘the vast majority of the population’.

First, the ridiculous and abnormally expensive Senate in Madrid should be the most important cut of all. Countries with no senate at all do very nicely thank you, such as Norway and Denmark. God knows what Spain needs a senate for. Members of Congress go there regularly to make their case. I am not sure what happens when 90% of Congress occupy seats in the Senate. Where do the senators go?

In Britain the government itself has stifled the House of Lords by removing from it the hereditary lords (dukes, marquesses, earls, viscounts and barons). The hereditaries have been replaced by trade union leaders – Lord Foulmouth of Twittering – rendering it vulgar, redundant and silly. In Belgium there isn’t even a parliament, and there hasn’t been for nearly a year. But Belgium does very well without a parliament, relying on its properly paid civil servants and a good King to govern the country – as indeed all European countries did for centuries before democracy ordered them not to. Senates are unnecessary baggage. Germany has one, but with 100 senators only. The USA has one of course, but one senator per state. What does Spain need 260 senators for? Its senate costs the taxpayer around 3,500 million euros per annum.

Second, though you may not believe it, Spanish congressmen and senators have voted themselves a pension to support their tardy retirement which stays the same throughout life as the last salary they get before retiring. This marvellous trick is called the pension vitalicio and I believe is unique to Spain. It matters not if a President of the Government makes a sorry mess of governing and is finally ejected by the voters as inept or dishonest or both; he or she will still get that pension for life. Cut this nonsense for a start. No parliamentarian is ever worth giving such an annuity. Given the politicians’ astonishing rate of absenteeism in Spain, statistics of which make your hair curl, they should be made to pay to be elected to either House. As the first thing they do when they have been elected is to work out ways of cheating the public purse, they can hardly lose, even if they must pay to join the club. If you still don’t believe politicians work that way, take a look at the expenses scandal recently revealed in Great Britain. And then read all about how politicians belonging to a certain party in Andalucía managed to pocket around seven million euros of European funds to ensure a rich future for themselves.

Third, stop allowing mayors of towns and cities to name their own salary and expenses. Make their emoluments commensurate with the size and wealth of the population, and its actual and future state of finances.

Fourth, when any politician is actually found out with a hand in the till, send them to prison for rather a long time, and, more importantly, force them to pay back every cent they have stolen from the taxpayer. If the magistrates find that senior politicans’ offspring also have had their faces in the trough, they as well as the responsible parent should be punished – for irresponsibility.

Fifth, Spain actually has more official cars than the United States of America. This is preternaturally expensive. The cars are mostly in the more than 30,000 euros bracket, and each motor requires two shifts of chauffeurs on full pay. Cut out all official cars. Every politician worth his seat owns two or three motorcars anyway. Let them use their own. If their pride requires a chauffeur, dress the wife, mistress or licence-holding progeny in trousers and give them a cap.

Sixth, annul all those VISA credit cards politicians use with such abandon, as they sign their name to an expense to be paid by the taxpayer. At the same time force politicians to travel tourist class on all flights or train services. Don’t worry about the buses – no politician has ever been seen on a bus. They will be seen on a bicycle, as long as enough press cameras are around to photograph them wobbling about.

Seventh, cut all those jobs for the boys called cargos de confianza. The country already has plenty of functionaries doing these jobs, and very well too.

Eighth, reduce all foreign embassies to one Ambassador (and small staff) and one Consul (and bigger staff); Commerce is more important than keeping face. Make the Ambassador use his official residence as offices. It is absurd for any country to maintain a palatial residence and an embassy building. Have you ever visited the UK Ambassador’s residence in-its-own-park in Paris, one of that town’s most gorgeous (and vast) private houses? Or the US Ambassador’s residence in London? Or for that matter the residence of the Spanish Ambassador in London’s Belgrave Square, imaginable only in Hollywood terms.

Ninth, stop employing the trade unions as if they were private servants. One of the subtlest moves made by Mr. Zapatero after he ‘won’ the 2004 election was to buy the Spanish unions, lock, stock and no-smoking barrel. If the government were to stop employing the unions, stop using public money to support their campaigns and finance their parties (of both kinds), stop founding foundations that founder etc., Spain could save more than 45,000 million euros, and would certainly not need to cut the salaries of hard-working civil servants by 30%, as it has done.

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About Dean Swift

‘Dean Swift’ is a pen name: the author has been a soldier; he has worked in sales, TV, the making of films, as a teacher of English and history and a journalist. He is married with three grown-up children. They live in Spain.

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