Friday, September 22

Telde, the Canarian municipality that fell into the pit of corruption, paid off its debt and now takes flight

In Telde, the fourth most populous municipality in the Canary Islands (nearly 103,000 inhabitants), there are those who throw their hands up every time the topic of corruption is brought up. First, the reaction comes in the form of alarm. Later, grimaces with the mouth. And finally, look to the sky in the form of a plea. The embezzlement of public funds, illegal commissions or fraud are widely known crimes anywhere in Spain. But, when they occur in the neighborhood where you live, the reception is different. They not only evoke rage and anger, but also indignation. Especially impotence. Because the neighbors know that they are the ones who are going to suffer the most from the theft of money from the municipal coffers.

It is difficult to find a citizen of Teldense who does not reiterate the same thing: the streets, the paving, the maintenance of parks and gardens, the culture, the associative movement. Everything has hit a setback in recent years due to the lack of services. The city council approved a “very tough” adjustment plan in 2012, as cataloged by some political formations, to reverse a debt that was reaching astronomical figures. There were several causes behind it, all of them linked to the darker side of politics. And it was this chain of catastrophic misfortunes, together with the most global ones such as the financial crisis of 2008 or the pandemic, which has caused many to feel that Telde lives in a spiral of permanent crisis.

The good news is that there is light at the end of the tunnel and there are fewer and fewer cobwebs in the City Hall safe. The outstanding debt has gone from 133 million euros in 2013 to 2.21 million at the end of 2021, according to data from the Ministry of Finance and Public Administration.

The government group that landed in the town hall in 2015, led by Carmen Hernández (Nueva Canarias), who is still the mayor of the municipality today, set itself the goal of cleaning up the accounts before undertaking major changes in the town, a purpose that has been more than fulfilled and much sooner than expected. But in return, Telde suffers a palpable paralysis in all its districts due to its obstinacy in paying what it owed in the shortest possible time. One fact: in 2020, one in three euros was used to pay the debt, according to the Canary Islands Institute of Statistics (ISTAC).

The administration unions, who denounce lack of personnel in all departments, wonder why the amortization of said economic obligation was not prorated for a longer time. “It has been useless that it has been done in a few years because we, as workers and citizens, have not seen improvements,” they point out. The council remembers that it did so because the cutback plan ordered it. Anything left over went into the same drawer. “I couldn’t fix a street, I couldn’t open nursery schools, I couldn’t hire more staff… Nothing,” adds Carmen Hernández.

In the end, an explosive cocktail of diminishing infrastructure and care has been formed in a region known for its high tax pressure. The Tax on Economic Activities (IAE) in Telde is the second highest in the entire Canary Islands, the Tax on Mechanical Traction Vehicles (IMVT) in the region leads the classification in the Archipelago and the Tax on Constructions, Installations and Works (ICIO) more of the same. But the debt has already been settled almost completely. The majority of politicians, neighbors and social agents consulted by this newsroom agree that the recovery is taking off.

“In this new stage, people are recognizing that we have told the truth. That when I told them that until we paid the debt we couldn’t invest in the city, but that as soon as we fulfilled that objective we would begin to do so, it wasn’t a lie,” says Hernández. “We are trying to recover basic and public services. We have already come a long way, but we still have a lot to do”, adds Héctor Suárez (Canarian Coalition), first deputy mayor and councilor for the Territory Government.

Local businessmen echo the air of optimism. “Work is already beginning on the service. Right now the entire commercial zone has just been paved, when until then the only thing that was done was patching and patching”, indicates Mónica Muñoz, president of the Telde Open Commercial Zone. “Telde meets the conditions to be an economic engine of Gran Canaria”, says Ángel Medina, president of the Cencosu-Spar group and of the conservation entity of the El Goro business park (Goroeco).

The path to the pit of corruption

Just over 20 years ago, Telde was a city that was growing like few others in the Canary Islands. Social groups remember the municipality as the “envy” of the community for having been able to provide public works to practically all neighborhoods and for having carried out outstanding social demands. “If necessary, the population would sit in the center of the road until the administration resolved a lawsuit,” underlines José Luis, a member of the Bentejuí Neighborhood Association of Lomo Cementerio.

However, with the arrival of the new century, corruption clouded the economic growth of the region. The 2003-2007 legislature was marked by the so-called Faycán case, a plot of illegal commissions in which it was shown that several members of the council, led at that time by the Popular Party (PP) and the Federal Association of Neighbors of Valle de Jinámar (AFV-Ciuca), organized a “system of illicit obtaining of funds”, as the sentence of the case points out, “with the false excuse of financing the Popular Party of Telde using for this purpose the positions they held in the local corporation ”.

Those convicted, among other illegal conduct, reached agreements with companies that sought to be awarded contracts for works, services or supplies with the Telde City Council, demanding that they charge commissions in exchange for being favored in the adjudication of the procedures. False invoices were also prepared to be presented for collection at the town hall to compensate the businessmen for the losses incurred by the payment of these illicit commissions, which in some cases reached 20% of the budget for the execution of the work.

The Faycán case, as well as other pieces of the plot such as the Grupo Europa case, led Telde to gain the fame of being a municipality where the law of the jungle reigns. Some of their neighbors confess to having maintained contact with residents who preferred not to say where they lived out of embarrassment. “That if we were all corrupt, they told us… It was a very sad feeling,” admits Marta Hera, from the Concepción and Caña Dulce Festival Board. The collective movement also lost strength due to the “pressures” that were attempted on the associations, adds Leo Hernández, from the Meclasa Neighborhood Association.

Along with corruption, Telde suffered constant government changes and little political stability that led to outdated urban planning plans and abandoned pharaonic works. In the center of the urban nucleus, the tome of the Palace of Culture stands out, a building never finished that has meant a waste of 14 million euros, according to a study recent edition of the Association of Spanish Geographers.

In 2015, when Carmen Hernández (Nueva Canarias) took over the mayorship of the city council, she commissioned an economic audit detailing the extent to which the economic health of the consistory had deteriorated. What he found was a total debt of 191 million euros, of which 33 correspond to expropriations by final judgments and 44 to invoices without budget appropriation generated during the previous mandate (2011-2015), which the PP led, first with Ciuca and Canarian Coalition and, later, only with the nationalists.

“Telde could be an example of everything that should not be done in public management,” Hernández emphasizes. “The city council has been sentenced in terms of expropriation for more than 34 million euros, which has ultimately amounted to 50 million with interest, because it did not appear in court to defend that matter”, puts the mayor as an example of the “bad policy” carried out by the corporation.

First the debt; then everything else

The adjustment plan approved by Telde in 2012 forced it to reserve significant sums of money for the debt that could not be used to improve public services. There were cuts. A lots of. “Culture was dismantled, nursery schools were closed, waste collection, parks and gardens were cut… More than 100 officials were put on the streets,” says Hernández.

In 2015, the debt with the banks amounted to 101.8 million euros. In 2021, that figure has fallen to 2.21 million. Among the municipalities with more than 50,000 inhabitants throughout Spain, only Alicante and Benalmádena show a similar reduction in that period of time. “In the first term [de 2015 a 2019] we dedicate ourselves to ordering, to creating a base structure, to laying the foundations for social and economic recovery”, continues the mayor.

The problem is that those “foundations” are a little more cracked than before. In 2010, Telde allocated 44.3 million euros to public and basic services, while in 2020 it allocated around 12 million less (31.9). The first deputy mayor, Héctor Suárez, acknowledges that a “great effort” is being made, but that the results are not achieved overnight.

Several neighbors say they feel “abandoned” and the unions remember the “endless queues, the previous appointments that take forever or the delay in issuing a simple registration certificate.” According to data from the Concerted Plan for Basic Benefits of Social Services, Telde only has 10 social workers, while San Cristóbal de La Laguna (21), Santa Cruz de Tenerife (24) and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (38), the others three municipalities with more than 100,000 inhabitants in the Canary Islands outnumber it.

Even so, the mayor is excited and boasts of management: “We have opened the nursery schools that were closed, we have fixed playgrounds, we have built a new town hall, we have rehabilitated a thousand homes in Jinámar… People are seeing with facts, not with words, that this government fulfills”. Meanwhile, groups and social agents consulted clarify that now, with some healthy accounts, is when it is up to the city council to transfer all the effort it has invested in paying the debt to promoting the development of the municipality. “We have been in crisis for nearly 20 years. Now it’s their turn to get us out of this,” they conclude.