Allow me to write about the bicentennial of the constitution of the Diputación Provincial de Alicante, which will be commemorated today, Sunday, May 15, an institution I have been very honored to have served for ten years.
I do not intend to explore the foundations or history of this administration. For this, he has the doctoral dissertations of Manuel Santana and José Antonio Pérez Juan, professors of Legal History from UA and UMH, respectively. Rather, participation in numerous forums on the role of councils in the 21st century and thoughtful application of professional experience.
The councils yes or councils no debate is a recurring debate in Spanish politics. Therefore, unfortunately, given the current crisis situation, it will undoubtedly re-emerge. The discussion in question does not imply a savings or reduction in civil servants, since their powers and obligations will be assumed by the autonomous community, which will have to increase in size to respond to these newly ascribed powers.
For example, Generalitat Valenciana’s budget for 2022 is 22,507 million and Diputación de Alicante’s budget is 272 million euros, that is only 1% of Generalitat’s budget. Would you believe that in the hypothetical abolition of councils, the Autonomous Community would make the same investments in municipalities, subsidize the same activities, or provide the same necessary technical assistance for municipalities with smaller populations? The answer, of course, is negative, as evidenced by the data.
The function of councils lies in partially correcting the dysfunctions of city councils that are too small to face the daily challenges of management. Also, to guarantee equality of opportunity among citizens who choose to live in large urban environments or municipalities with smaller populations.
The first idea would be to directly elect provincial companies for greater political legitimacy. The current system of indirect elections of state corporations and parliamentary governments represents a unique model that has many virtues but many other shortcomings. It’s not a bad system, but it has problems: The real problem is the lack of social visibility, which makes it difficult to recognize, control, and political and social legitimacy. Another problem is that the political positions of the councils (to take part in the politics of their own City Councils and the Council) wherever necessary creates conflicts of interest and dispersion of goals. Third, the election of deputies from among the members of the parliament of the judicial party.
All this must be changed by direct election of the Diputación plenary session by the electorate. And that the electoral body is only that of municipalities with ties to the Diputación (citizens of capitals and major cities operating fully autonomously from the Diputación should be excluded from the electoral roll). The territories of small and medium-sized municipalities will represent the electoral census. The recent local reform seems to put this barrier in municipalities with a population of less than 20,000. Therefore, provincial deputies should be eligible persons from the jurisdictions of municipalities with such a small population that there is no duplication of another representative public office, so as not to create networks of patronage or conflicts of interest.
As a second idea, assemblies should be the backbone that guarantees equal opportunity among the citizens of the province. In the face of the COVID-19 crisis, the positive aspects of living in the countryside or towns became clear. In fact, thanks to the development of high-speed telecommunications networks, there is currently a growth in municipal registries in municipalities with smaller populations that allow teleworking and improve quality of life. For this reason, the assemblies will guarantee the quality of the public services they provide with the investments they make and the services they will provide.
Third, the creation of data intelligence and public policy evaluation units. The public administration of the future must bet on intelligence. Having strong information systems for both internal and external information and not utilizing their potential is absolutely inevitable. The regulatory function of the new economy also requires having the most diverse channels and information systems to know what is happening at the economic, social and labor level at all times. But not everything is solved by hoarding an enormous amount of information that contributes to making good public decisions, managing the public system, and regulating private activities quietly but effectively. In fact, today’s main problem is the redundancy of information and the difficulty of separating the bits of information from tons of irrelevant information. The challenge also lies in knowing how to connect different knowledge banks and their analytical capabilities. Thus, assemblies will be able to oversee the quality and cost of public services; something pending since the last local reform.
Fourth, Diputación as the driving force of the region’s transformation. Councils should allow municipalities to be assisted in the strategic planning of the region. Municipal powers have become too short-lived to carry out far-reaching actions. It takes more than four years to make a real conversion. Therefore, actions should be designed from the bottom up (civil society, citizenship) up (political level) with a broad consensus and allowing for development over time despite political ups and downs.
Finally, the change in the new professional profiles of Public Administration, which combines legal, technical and also digital information. Exactly digital skills are important, but so are assertiveness, empathy and communication skills, as well as social skills.
In short, councils are the engine of underpopulated municipalities and the best antidote to depopulation. An engine that helps them catch up with larger municipalities. Provincial assemblies are essential to comply with the principle of equality that dominates our legal system.