Como Se Dice, “Budget”?

Exhaling forcibly and slowly, I found myself tearing up quite a bit while watching the miners march along Madrid’s Paseo de la Castellana yesterday. At that moment, I wanted to be a Spanish coal miner more than anything in the world. Tough, steely and sweaty.

Seeing their strength and dedication gave me an immense sense of pride despite having almost no attachment to the mining industry itself. I do feel horrible for these guys and the diminishing coal industry in general, even though my conservative inner devil starts mumbling something about subsidiaries, but I tried to ignore that devil because I felt a strong bond with the marchers and the thousands of people who came out to support them.

As the miners passed by us, I enthusiastically shouted “Viva la Roja!”. Quickly, but gently, my sweet husband reminded me that this wasn’t the Spanish selection, so then I just shouted, “Viva!”

After the march, I was still picturing my life as a sexy, but tough Spanish miner as I arrived home to the news of the day: Rajoy had finally cut his terrible hair. No, I kid.

Yesterday, we all enjoyed the news of Rajoy’s latest and most severe tijeretazos to date. Cuts that are meant to help budget the economy properly so we can finally dig ourselves out of this dark, dim economic hole, which is ironically similar to, um, a coal mine. I don’t know how killing the economy is supposed to help create jobs and stimulate the commerce within the country, but whatever.

However, I am dying to tell you my experience with the Spanish form of budget control at the government level. (Somebody call Wiki leaks, stat!)

Let me take you back to my dark, dim days of teaching English here in Madrid. In some ways it was also like working as a coal miner. Dark. Very, very dark. But it wasn’t all bad. While some of you TEFL slackers were busy wiping noses and making chocolate sandwiches for little Spanish whippersnappers, I taught mainly adults and I had the pleasure of teaching almost exclusively in the city’s various ministries.

Please, please, get up – I can’t stand it when people bow to me, it’s just so unbecoming.

Anyhow, at one point, I had a ton of classes at the Ministerio de Fomento (Public Works Ministry), where I have to say I had some of the nicest students you could imagine. All of them were at a high English level and I had a good mix of students who mainly just wanted to chat and debate, etc.

One day towards the end of the year, I entered the labyrinth of what is the Fomento building near Nuevos Ministerios and I noticed five or six large rolling pin boards set up along the main hall with columns of paper running down to the floor. Each column was a list of names and corresponding euro amounts.

When I got to my class, I asked my students about it and they told me something that has stayed with me for five years. In fact, every time I see a Spanish politician talking about the necessity to control national spending, I think of what my students told me.

Apparently, these boards are set up every year at the end of the fourth quarter of the fiscal year. On those boards are lists of the public employees of Fomento, which is probably somewhere in the thousands. Next to the names are corresponding amounts of money.

Why?

Well, it’s because if the Ministerio de Fomento actually manages to save some of its determined yearly budget, they are required to spend that money before the year runs out or they will be penalized and their budget for the next year will be reduced.

So what do they do with this surplus of taxpayer money at the end of the year? Do they dedicate it to charity? Save it for a new building project that would benefit society? Give it to the homeless, the church? Buy los indignados some shampoo?

No.

They actually split it among the Fomento employees for personal use. So, say an employee needs new eye glasses or their kids needs school supplies, they would get a share of the surplus amount.

Let me repeat that.

There is a surplus of taxpayer money at the Ministerio de Fomento every year and every year, these greedy pigeons doll out that surplus amongst themselves in order to buy a copy of “Everybody Poops”, or “Todos Hacemos Caca” for their kids or something.

So, budget cuts or not, someone in the Spanish government should take a fiscal responsibility course because saving money and spending wisely should be rewarded, right? Why in the world would there be a massive spending spree at the end of the year when there is (taxpayer) money left over?

So, I try not to get politically sassy over here at Pass the Ham, but I just couldn’t resist sharing this little story with you. It’s stuck with me for some time now and just when I think I’ve got a hold on the Spanish way of life, I’m reminded that, damn, things sure are screwy around here sometimes!

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3 Responses to Como Se Dice, “Budget”?

  1. Hi, thank you for sharing this story. It made my jaw drop. Then I remembered that I am in Spain and it got back into place, but for my Norwegian brain this is just hurting my eyes to read. The crisis is heard about everywhere every day, and how it’s getting worse and worse for the ‘trabajadores normales’, how there are recortes and increasing of the impuestos and then … I learn this? Certainly hard to see the logic in a lot of these things.
    Oh well- thanks again for sharing and have a lovely Sunday evening!

    • Hamatha says:

      I’m glad you find it as absurd as I do. I’ve been telling this story for years, but now, with the crisis, it has taken on a whole new meaning. It’s just so unbelievable that this would be something that actually happens, you know? Who came up with the idea to doll out this money amoung the employees ever year and why in the world would everyone think that this is the correct thing to do?

      Oh, Spain…

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