CORRUPTION SCANDAL ROCKS COUNCIL

Former Estepona Mayor Antonio Barrientos, his chief of cabinet José Flores and councillor Manuel Reina were jailed without bail last Friday to await trial on charges of bribery, peddling political favours, embezzlement and money laundering. Barrientos had resigned as mayor before hearing the sentence and had been expelled from the Socialist Party shortly after his arrest earlier in the week in the anti-corruption drive known as Operation Astapa. They join two others – councillor José Ignacio Crespo and an engineer identified only as X.W. – who were jailed without bail last Thursday. Another 21 people were provisionally freed on bail ranging from €15,000 to €500,000. The latest detentions raise the number of people accused of this type of crime in the province over the past three years to 200. ‘Pot of Honey’ The latest scandal in the Estepona has once again underlined the fact that local councils have been too friendly with urban developers and construction companies. Referring to the detention of Antonio Barrientos, former deputy prime minister Alfonso Guerra said: “There’s a strong temptation to stick your hands into the pot of honey when it passes in front of you.” The ‘pot of honey’ is the juicy income that was once obtained from granting both legitimate and illegal construction permits to the big companies, who were only too willing to slip a little something to the people who granted them. The Malaya scandal in Marbella sounded the death knell for that type of crime and the Estepona scandal will no doubt bury it. ‘Law bred speculation’ In an interview with El Mundo newspaper, the Junta de Andalucia’s Councillor for Housing and Territorial Planning, Juan Espadas, said corruption “was fertilized by laws that allowed speculation”. Now the Junta is imposing a region-wide Land Law and a Territorial Plan that, in theory, will leave little room for the local councils to continue handing out building permits to all comers. The effects are already being felt. For the first time since the central government in Madrid started giving the regional government more powers over local matters – in the early 1980s – local councils are laying off people rather than hiring them and they are also cutting back on spending on such frivolous matters as local ferias, romerias and other colourful events close to the Andalucians’ heart. Such events won’t be abandoned altogether because – for the moment – they are still a tourist attraction. But the speculative building will stop, according to Sr Espadas. From now on, local councils will have to allocate at least 30% of all available building land to the so-called VPOs – officially protected housing for local people not foreigners – which has a top selling price of €174,000 but usually sells for less. And Sr Espadas the Junta will look very closely at any reclassification of land from rustic or protected to “suitable for construction”. While the Junta’s new laws will have an impact on construction in the region, the law of supply and demand has had an even bigger one. It can take anything up to five years to sell a property now as money gets scarce for local people and foreigners are made wary by scary tales of demolition, expropriation and huge fines in the foreign press. As for that other bone of contention, golf courses, Sr Posada said they were still viable as a tourist attraction – as long as they were not used as an excuse to build hundreds of houses on land where water was scarce.

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