Spaniards lose patience with rotten institutions
By Fiona Ortiz
MADRID (Reuters) - When a corruption scandal hit Spain's ruling party earlier this year, attention turned to the Accounts Tribunal, an obscure body that audits public spending.
Surely this independent institution, with an annual budget of $78 million and 800 workers, could shed light on allegations in the media that a former treasurer for the People's Party had run a slush fund from party headquarters.
It soon emerged, however, that the watchdog lacked teeth.
The Accounts Tribunal, akin to an Auditor General's Office, had a five-year backlog in auditing party books, so far behind that if it did unearth wrongdoing, it would be too late to refer potential crimes to the justice system for prosecution.
The Tribunal's president pledged to improve efficiency. But employees have sued the board of directors - 12 people appointed by parliament - over what they claim are politicized hiring techniques that undermine independence.
The scandal over the Accounts Tribunal, frustration over delays of up to 14 years in prosecuting corruption, and a spate of high-level graft cases have heightened awareness in Spain over how weak its institutions are.
During a long economic boom that crashed in 2008, Spain prospered despite inefficiency. But now graft is holding it back as it struggles to emerge from a five-year economic crisis that has wiped out millions of jobs.
Street protests are mounting as voters fight budget cuts and tax hikes that are increasingly seen as unfair. Continued...