Spain now has a Transparency, Access to Public Information and Good Governance Act for the first time in ten democratic terms of government in the country. Promoted by the Government of Spain led by Mariano Rajoy in 2012 and completing its passage through Parliament at the end of 2013, this legislative act changes the institutional culture in the exercise of public duties and seeks to encourage exemplary performance from public servants, tying the value of transparency into an ethical and legal framework of good governance with legally binding rules, a legal system and clear parameters on requirements and responsibility.
The application of transparency extends throughout the public administration but also applies to political parties and business and trade union organisations, expressly including the Royal Household - the first in Europe to do so within the text of a law on transparency - and those private entities that receive significant public funding.
The chapter on good governance introduces legal obligations for those in high office, and classifies three forms of infringement: conflicts of interest; economic-budgetary management; and offences of a disciplinary nature.
The new legislation also defines offences stemming from express non-compliance with the law itself and covers those who obstruct the exercise of the public right to transparency and access to information.
In the final clause of a constitutional law complementing this law (which has also been approved and amended the Criminal Code), offences are defined to punish the most serious conduct worthy of criminal sanctions, including imprisonment.
Since 10 December 2014, the day on which the General State Administration Services became liable for the public exercise of the transparency obligations contained in the law (regional governments and local authorities have a further year to adapt to the legislation), Spain has had a Transparency Portal on the website at http://transparencia.gob.es where Spanish citizens can consult all the information that the General State Administration Services are legally required to release publicly. This portal is also where the right to access to information can be exercised via a simple and direct online administrative procedure.
The portal has been developed using internal resources. The transparency information units provided to each ministerial department and all other bodies involved record all the information so as to guarantee active disclosure and provide the general public with one single point of access, as well as a personalised response to access requests with the information provided to them by the governing bodies.
Transparency Portal (Ministry of the Presidency)The Transparency Portal contains the most outstanding regulations and draft bills, the functions of the ministerial departments and strategic plans, and - more importantly - the contracts, grants, annual accounts, and budget, audit and tax information.
This basic information is accompanied by other particularly important details, ranging from the CVs of senior civil servants to information about their remuneration packages.
All this is active disclosure - information supplied directly by the public administration services ex officio - but a guarantee will also be provided regarding the right to access the information in response to questions asked and requests for information submitted by any member of the public.
A virtual service desk will remain permanently open on the transparency portal (24 hours a day, seven days a week), to which the general public may address any request for information. This is a new consultation procedure that offers increased accessibility and greater guarantees. It is available online and can be accessed from any computer or electronic device. A response must be provided within a maximum fixed deadline of 30 days, with the possibility of submitting an appeal to the Transparency Council.
Enabling access by the public to all public information has required significant effort in terms of management and special dedication by the staff involved.
For this reason, the Government of Spain has developed a specific training plan in collaboration with the National Institute of Public Administration Services and set up a specific unit within the public administration reform department to manage the portal and the information published thereon - the Transparency and Access to Information Office. The 2015 General State Budget specifically provides for eight civil servants to cover this service, while maintaining personnel resources unchanged.
On 31 October, the Council of Ministers approved the Statute of the Transparency and Good Governance Council, an independent body already in operation whose chair is elected through a parliamentary procedure and whose mission will be to ensure compliance with the law. An agreement was adopted at the Council of Ministers on 14 November whereby the Lower House of Parliament was notified of the appointment of Ester Arizmendi as Chairwoman of the Transparency and Good Governance Council.
The portal has been developed by technical personnel from the Directorate-General of Information and Communication Technologies in accordance with the functional criteria of the Ministry of the Presidency. Previously developed applications currently in use have been used to create the service, such as ACCEDA, which was re-used to create the access to information request management application included in the portal. It was also possible to take advantage of some of the infrastructure, systems, communications and user services shared by the portal with other projects already under way. The majority of the portal has been built using free software.
The Transparency Portal has been used to publish over 530,000 accessible records, with complete databases that were not previously public and that formed part of ministerial intranets or internal filing systems. The volume of data directly accessible from the portal currently stands at 75 GB.
When submitting a question or request for information to the General State Administration Services, citizens must provide an addressee. However, if that body does not have the information needed, the request will be forwarded to the correct body. In other words, no request for information will be disregarded due to a lack of knowledge or confusion among citizens regarding who has the information required. To that end, the portal includes a comprehensive workflow tool that enables such requests to be processed internally in an electronic manner and, hence, quickly and flexibly. At any event, requests for information will be dealt with by the bodies holding the information requested.
Exercising the right to access is classified within Spanish law as an administrative procedure. Hence, the request must be submitted with full guarantees for both the citizen and the public administration services. The person requesting the information must therefore be identified. This also ensures that nobody can usurp their identity and gain knowledge of their requests for information. The procedure is very quick because, besides identifying yourself and stating the information required, citizens merely need to state how they wish to be contacted by the public administration services with a response. There is no need to state the reason or purpose for requesting the information. Furthermore, the portal is not the only way to submit a request; citizens can also complete this process in person at one of the public offices.
To exercise the right to access defined by the Transparency Act, information can be requested in one of several ways:
- On the Transparency Portal via e-identification: e-DNI or password system, providing data held by the administration services on the citizen to check they are who they claim to be. (For your Personal Income Tax Return, you are asked to provide the information contained in one of the fields on this document. In this case, you are asked to provide a piece of data from a current account that you have already provided to the public administration services in the past). It is also possible to ask that the password be delivered to your home address.
- In person at a public office
Almost all the information made available to the public is in reusable formats.
The Spanish public sector has undergone dramatic changes over the past 35 years, managing to provide an adequate response to the needs of its citizens, which has given rise to a highly developed Welfare State. During this time, the public authorities have gained extensive experience but also accumulated certain inefficiencies that require correction.
Generally-speaking, it is not the case that Spain's public sector is any larger than those of the countries in the same peer group - neither in terms of public employment, expenditure or, by far, revenue. Nonetheless, the economic crisis has highlighted the need for a thorough public administration reform. Rising public expenditure and falling employment coupled with a loss of revenue between 2007 and 2011 posed a challenge to public sector sustainability.
Digitalisation of SMEs (EFE) From day one of this legislature, a thorough public administration reform programme was implemented to do more with less, and do things better because the purpose of this reform is not only to make savings but also to transform the public administration services into a driver for growth and modernity, improve public services and foster business development.
Hence, soon after the new government came to power, a General Law on Budget Stability and Financial Sustainability was passed to ensure the constitutional commitment by all public authorities to the sustainability of public finances, a 16.9% reduction in ministerial spending and government restructuring to reduce the number of executive positions by almost 20%. A series of structural measures for the civil service was also adopted in 2012, which included zero staff-replacement except in priority areas such as the efforts to combat fraud.
These measures marked the start of an adjustment process for the authorities more in line with the current economic situation and crucial for meeting the budget stability targets.
In October 2012, the public administration reform was given a further boost when the Government of Spain instructed the Public Reform Administration Commission (Spanish acronym: CORA) to draft a report to improve the way in which the public authorities operate, harness all economies of scale, avoid overlaps and duplication, and establish simple and standardised procedures.
The CORA Report, published in June 2013, provides a comprehensive snapshot of the public authorities taken by professionals from the authorities themselves with support from trade unions and employers' organisations, universities and other civil society institutions. Via an electronic mailbox set up especially for this purpose, over 2,000 proposals were received from the general public.
CORA has also studied the existence of bureaucratic burdens to the creation and development of business initiatives on a day-to-day level.
The report also addresses overlaps between the State and the regional governments and proposes a number of measures to improve coordination by fostering the role of the Sectoral Conferences and encouraging the creation of shared integrated databases and records. Where reasons of service efficiency and quality dictate, it also recommends the dissolution of agencies that overlap between authorities.
A series of measures based on the report have since been adopted, which are described below:
Savings: At 31 December 2014, an accumulated total of 18.19 billion euros had been saved since the start of the legislature (4.77 billion euros by Central Government, 10.51 billion euros by regional governments and 2.9 billion euros by local authorities). To this can be added the almost 1.7 billion euros saved by the public and companies as a result of fewer bureaucratic burdens.
Public Sector Employment: Since the start of the legislature, the artificial growth in public sector employment during the previous period has been corrected. Public sector employment (thanks to a zero staff replacement rate except in priority sectors and no chance to appeal against dismissal) has been reduced by 379,100 workers (-11.5%). However, this adjustment avoided essential services: public sector employment in healthcare, education and justice, for example, has only been reduced between 2% and 4.6%, while public sector employment in administrative departments has been reduced by 17%. This represents over 300,000 fewer jobs in ministerial departments, regional councils and public entities. A more streamlined public sector has now been attained that better matches those to be found in countries in the same peer group. For this reason, the staff replacement rate has been increased to 50% in priority sectors: In terms of the number of public sector workers, public sector employment has returned to the levels seen in 2004 and, when compared with the working population, public sector employment stands at the levels seen in 2002. As regards provincial councils, they have streamlined their structure (93 fewer bodies) and reduced their workforces by 19%.
Institutional Administration: 2,064 entities have been shut down or are in the process of being shut down: 105 central government bodies, 715 regional government bodies and 1,244 local authority bodies. This has returned the total number to the pre-crisis levels of 2003. The savings obtained to date through this process of organic streamlining in the three tiers of public administration amount to 3 billion euros.
Management of common services and resources:
- Procurement centralisation: A saving of over 176 million euros has been obtained for the State Budget by centralising contracts within each ministerial department. Development of the Procurement Platform of the Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality represents a saving of more than 60 million euros for those regional governments that use it. Furthermore, an additional saving of 59 million euros is being obtained from the framework agreements already put out to tender by the Directorate-General of Procurement Streamlining and Centralisation.
- Real Estate Asset Management Plan: To date, a saving of 51.8 million euros has been obtained through an ongoing rent review process and 462 million euros have been saved through the disposal of buildings from property assets during this legislature.
- Management of the State Vehicle Fleet: 270 fewer vehicles and 21 million euros saved.
Public sector payment default: The Government of Spain approved the Supplier Payment Plan and the Regional Liquidity Fund to inject the necessary liquidity into the public administration services so they could pay their suppliers.
- An injection of liquidity has also been made into the regional authorities in excess of 103 billion euros and the commercial debt held by regional authorities has been reduced by 70%.
- Over eight million outstanding invoices to almost 200,000 companies, mainly SMEs and self-employed professionals, have been paid, which has enabled 400,000 jobs to be saved.
- To 2015 alone, the regional governments and local authorities will save a total of 7.43 billion euros in servicing debt.
- Furthermore, these short-term emergency measures were accompanied by the approval of a plan to eradicate late payments by the public administration services, and ensure control and compliance with payment commitments made by public authorities. The E-Billing Act is enabling suppliers to save 0.7 euro cents per invoice, from a hard-copy cost of 0.76 euro cents to an electronic cost of 0.06 euro cents. The public administration services save 2.78 euros per invoice received, from a hard-copy cost of 2.87 euros to an electronic cost of 0.09 euro cents. In total, each invoice presented now represents a saving of 3.75 euros.
- The General State Administration Services alone will save 51 million euros per year by applying e-Government procedures to billing and an additional 2.3 million for no longer processing them on paper.
- Single Employment Portal: This has led to an increase from 400 job offers available prior to its implementation to reporting a total of 688,397 available jobs to date.
- Overseas offices: All those regional governments that used to maintain representation overseas, except Catalonia and the Basque Country, have signed protocols/agreements with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation or the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Competition to integrate a total of 57 offices. Effective integration has already taken place at 38.
- Management of State aerial and maritime resources under a collaboration partnership: Agreements have been signed between the Customs Surveillance Service (AEAT) and the Spanish Air Force on aircraft piloting and the Air Force has agreed to the piloting of aircraft within the scope of the Ministry of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs.
- Ombudsmen: Three regional governments have eliminated this body (Murcia, Castile-La Mancha and Asturias) and one has suspended it (La Rioja), while a further three have streamlined it (Castile-Leon, Galicia and Andalusia). In short, eight regional governments no longer have a regional ombudsman and their work is now carried out by the Central Government Ombudsman.
- External enforcement bodies: One regional government has eliminated this body (Castile-La Mancha) and one has streamlined it (Castile-Leon).
- Employment watchdogs: Castile-La Mancha, the Region of Valencia and La Rioja have eliminated this body.
- Contract appeal courts: 11 agreements have been signed - nine with regional governments and with the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla. The Central Court is already operating in these administration services.
- International vaccination centres: This measure means that the State no longer provides this service by signing agreements with the regional governments that were already doing so. Such agreements have been signed with Extremadura (eight centres), Madrid (one centre) and the Region of Valencia (eight centres). The agreement with Catalonia is currently being finalised.
Besides all the measures already adopted, the new Administrative Procedure Act and Law on the Legal Regime governing the Public Administration Services are expected to be approved, which will:
Improve administrative efficiency via a fully electronic and interconnected public administration service with zero paper: All administrative procedures will need to be processed electronically.
Improve legal certainty, increasing reliability and predictability by having a single law and regime governing relations between the public administration services and companies.
Increase the regulatory quality of the legal system. A new procedure is established for drafting regulations that guarantees participation by all citizens and companies. To do so, a public consultation process will take place prior to drafting any regulatory proposal. Furthermore, all public administration services will have an Annual Regulation Plan and will draw up an annual report to assess the achievement of targets sought by previously approved regulations.
Faster and more efficient administrative procedures. This reduces administrative burdens and shortens processing times. This includes an obligation on all public administration services not to request original copies of documents from interested parties - if they have been presented previously - and the completion of certain procedures ex officio rather than at the request of the interested parties. Furthermore, simplified processing of the common administrative procedure is introduced. This will allow the procedure to be completed within 30 days.
Increase transparency in how the public administration services operate: To do so, the announcements stemming from unsuccessful notifications will have to be published in the Official State Gazette, thereby providing all other administration services with the option to publish them in their respective official daybooks or other channels, as deemed appropriate.
Streamlining, tracking and oversight in the creation of unnecessary or redundant bodies or entities. A series of procedures are established to ensure the efficacy and efficiency of public bodies. Hence, all public bodies will be subject to constant supervision that will enable assessment of compliance with the objectives that justified their creation in the first place and questions to be raised regarding their ongoing existence when those objectives have been met or a more efficient way to meet them is found. Basically, a stricter regime is introduced for setting up public bodies and their objectives and results become subject to constant supervision, thereby avoiding the unjustified proliferation of public entities and companies that existed in the past.
Besides the above, a Report has been published by the OECD on the public administration reform concluding that "The CORA reform package is the result of a rigorous process of data collection, dialogue among practitioners and diagnosis about the weaknesses of Spain's public administrations. The reform package is substantial, evidence-based and consistent with the ongoing process of modernisation. The number of policy issues included in the CORA reform (i.e. e-government, multi-level governance relations, better regulation, budget reforms) together with parallel initiatives adopted in the last two years in areas such as budget stability, transparency or democratic regeneration, talk about one of the most ambitious processes of governance reform in OECD countries. While Spain is not the only OECD country in search of new sources of growth, fiscal consolidation and competitiveness, few others have articulated such a broad public administration reform plan".
Regeneration measures since day one
At the very first Council of Ministers' meeting with executive decision-making power under the 10th Legislature, on 30 December 2011, a reform of the Constitutional Law on the Financing of Political Parties was tackled, with a 20% reduction in contributions to political parties, and a further 20% reduction in the Budget for the following year.
In the first days of government, a decision was also taken on the incompatibility of former senior officials receiving severance pay whilst receiving any other form of remuneration.
The Law on the Prevention of Money Laundering was also reformed, extending maximum transparency obligations, including banking transparency, on a high number of public and private servants (politically exposed individuals).
The government has also stepped up the fight against tax and social security fraud during the course of this term of office.
Second Generation of Measures: Regeneration Plan
Congress of Deputies (Ministry of the Presidency)Transparency has been a part of all the government's actions during the entire course of the legislature, implementing initiatives aimed at eradicating corruption and better uncovering it, in terms of control, inspections and transparency. As a whole, this political programme was designed to regenerate public life, and constitutes the largest raft of democratic regeneration measures adopted in any of the ten legislatures in our constitutional history.
For that reason, following this first series of regeneration measures, with decisive support from the President of the Government, and ongoing dialogue, albeit not always fruitful, with other political groups, the Democratic Regeneration Plan was pushed through, with measures to fight corruption, which in March 2015 culminated its passage through Parliament and is presently, to a great extent, a reality.
This Plan includes two new laws: one relating to the economic control of political parties and the other relating to senior positions in the public administration, in addition to a major package of criminal measures contained in the reform of the Criminal Code, which will further be extended, in short, by procedural measures that form part of the reform of the Criminal Procedure Act.
Control of political parties
By way of example, under Constitutional Law 3/2015, of 30 March, on the control of the economic-financial activity of political parties, amending Constitutional Law 8/2007, of 4 July, on the financing of political parties, Constitutional Law 6/2002, of 27 June, on political parties, and Constitutional Law 2/1982, of 12 May, on the Court of Auditors, donations to political parties from legal entities, in other words, from companies, was banned.
Operation of political parties:
Financing of political parties:
- Ban on donations to parties from legal entities and entities without a legal personality.
- Ban on credit institutions writing off debts of political parties.
- Ban on the granting or negotiation of loans under conditions that are more beneficial than normal market conditions.
- Reduced limit of 50,000 euros on donations from individuals to political parties.
- Individual communication to Court of Auditors of all donations in excess of 25,000 euros.
- Publication on party website of all donations above 25,000 euros, identifying the donor.
- Obligation to pay donations into accounts opened exclusively to that effect, which must be notified to the Court of Auditors.
- Obligation on credit institutions to annually disclose to the Court of Auditors those donations paid into party accounts.
- Reimbursement of unlawful donations or their deposit in Public Treasury.
- Legal regulation of obligatory nature of resolution from Council of Ministers for subsidies in excess of 12 million euros to political parties.
- Withholding of subsidies if accounts have not been filed with Court of Auditors, if not up-to-date with tax and social security payments or if pending repayment of subsidies.
Obligation on all parties, whether or not they receive subsidies, to file their annual accounts with Court of Auditors.
Publication of accounting information, including balance sheet and income statement, and loans pending repayment, specifying the lending institution, the interest rate, the term of repayment and the subsidies and donations received.
Regulation of the figure of the person responsible for the economic-financial management of the party, including suitability and honour requirements.
Obligation of the person responsible for the economic-financial management of the party to appear before Parliament once the corresponding report has been issued by the Court of Auditors.
Foundations associated with political parties:
Inspection and sanction:
Control of senior officials
Law 3/2015, of 30 March, regulating the exercise of senior positions in the General State Administration, establishes that in order to hold a senior position, certain honour requirements that had not previously existed need to be met.
Requirements for access to and exercise of post:
Regulation and control of remuneration:
Control of incompatibilities and conflicts of interest:
Penalty system for senior officials:
Criminal and procedural measures
A major raft of criminal measures was also approved, incorporated in the reform of the Criminal Code, in the month of March. Measures such as the criminalisation of the offence of illegal party financing, the extension of prescription periods and the increase in the length of sentences banning holding office for those offences most directly linked to corruption were all approved.
And the Draft Law on Criminal Procedure is in its passage through Parliament. The government's aim is for this law to ensure not only fairer, but swifter justice. For this reason it sets a maximum investigatory term for criminal processes and regulates related actions so that procedural speed can become a reality.
And something which is essential and demanded by society: effective measures so that institutions and society can recover what has been stolen from them. To this end, we are introducing a new regulation on the seizure and confiscation of assets and the Office to Manage and Recover Assets from the commission of an offence is being created, so that the greatest return possible can be achieved to help society take back what was lost through the commission of an offence.
Noteworthy among the measures are: