Spain should hold on to its regional auditors

17 Jul 13
Marta Riera López

Spain’s 13 regional audit watchdogs face closure if central government recommendations on public sector efficiency are implemented. But this would be a counterproductive step and is not what Spain needs

Back in October 2012, the Spanish government created the Commission for the Reform of Public Administration (CORA). This was tasked with publishing a compendium of proposals to make public administration ‘efficient, simple and coordinated’. It looked very good.

Eight months later, on June 21 2013, the CORA released its long-awaited report.

Much of it was based on earlier reforms undertaken in countries like Canada, the UK and France. It put forward a number of general and essential reforms, supplemented by ‘specific tasks’ assigned to each of the subcommittees that form the CORA. These cover:

  • administrative duplication
  • administrative simplification
  • media and common services management
  • institutional management

Much could be said about the different proposals put forward to these various subcommittees, but I wish to focus on just on one of them: the administrative duplication subcommittee and its proposal on audit, in particular the proposal that Spain’s regional spending watchdogs be scrapped.

The CORA recommends that the Court of Auditors be expanded to take on responsibility for all regional audits, creating a ‘subcourt’ for each area. The effect of this would be the elimination of the existing audit watchdogs and the avoidance, according to the CORA report, ‘the low performance resources for them’.

In Spain, 13 of the 17 regions have their own audit bodies. The first – the Cámara de Comptos of Navarra – was established in 1980 and the most recent – the Cámara de Cuentas of Aragón – in 2010. The Court of Auditors reports on those four regions that do not have their own audit bodies: Extremadura, Cantabria, La Rioja and Murcia.

But what the CORA report fails to take into account is the workload involved for the Court of Auditors if it were to assume responsibility for the 13 autonomous regions.

It was not until February 2013 that the Court of Auditors published the 2008 and 2009 annual reports for the regions it oversees. In contrast, most of the regional watchdogs published their reports for this period a full two years earlier, despite the fact that they have proportionately fewer staff and less experience than the Court of Auditors.

Experts say that Spain’s ‘problem’ isn’t its spending, which is 43.4% of GDP, below countries like France (56.6%), Germany (45%) and the UK (48.5%), but in weak government revenues. Spain’s tax take is 36.4%, almost at the bottom of the European league table and ahead only of Ireland (34.6%) and Slovakia (33.1%).

And we can’t ignore the position of the presidents of the autonomous regions, who are not willing to give up their institutions, regardless of their affinity (or not) to central government.

Given this data, logic suggests that consideration should be given to how to enhance revenue collection and get out of this weak position. A radically different set of proposals is needed.

Why close bodies that are pursuing transparency, efficiency, effectiveness and legality in public administration?

Spanish regions will soon be considering CORA’s proposals and whether to accept this loss of autonomy. There are months of tough and tense debate looming.

Marta Riera López is an auditor at the Auditing Authority of the Principality of Asturias in Spain

  • Marta Riera López
    Marta Riera López

    auditor at the Auditing Authority of the Principality of Asturias in Spain

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