Spain: a question of control

15 Apr 14
Marta Riera Lopez

The role of the controller within Spanish government has recently been enhanced by new legislation. Hopes are high that this will improve accountability and independence at municipal level, leading to more rigorous financial and budgetary control

The need for control - both internal and external- within the Spanish government has always been a controversial issue: championed and pursued by some and attacked and avoided by others. In Spain, the figure of the controller is one that has an ancient tradition; its role in monitoring and ensuring the implementation of economic law is one that is recognised by the public.

A year ago we already sensed that reform of local government would be both profound and tangible. It was said that it was necessary to deal with duplication, by clarifying municipal powers and streamlining organizational structures, based on principles of efficiency and financial stability. It was also necessary to strengthen the institution of the local controller, endowing it with more independence in order to safeguard more rigorous financial and budgetary control.

After nearly 30 years of implementing earlier local tax law on this matter, the figure of the controller was revised at Christmas, thanks to new current legislation. This streamlined local sustainability, and placed the controller's role back in the limelight. Along this, the ,  the controller’s figure has been enhanced by strengthening municipal ownership of their oversight functions and their communication annually to the court of auditors.

Likewise, the state administration gets considerable powers to enforce the controller's  functions, as well as to regulate the status of staff to be selected, trained and penalized (in severe cases), enabling the government to set standards on control procedures. This latest role aims to give controllers greater scope to exercise their unpopular but essential functions.

It should be highlighted that, amongst the new features, there are some really important ones that reinforce the positive nature of the intervention. For example, every year the general comptroller of the state administration is to be sent a report on the results of the exercise. And the court of auditors will be sent the resolutions and decisions adopted by the president of the local authority, and a summary of any anomalies in the area of income.

This is to be a direct process, without the participation of the local mayor - something that has created some unease among local representatives. The law has also made it clear that external bodies, beyond local municipal structures,  may relate to the controller directly - noting that nationally empowered officials are to act as ambassadors.

The characteristics and importance of the functions exercised by local controllers, as well as their qualifications and expertise, deserve special attention.  This has begun to occur with the approval of the new regulations.

With an eye to the future - given that the independence, objectivity and supervisory role of the controller is now being emphasised -  expectations of the implemented changes are high.

Marta Riera López is auditor of the auditing authority of the Principality of Asturias in Spain  

  • Marta Riera López
    Marta Riera López

    auditor at the Auditing Authority of the Principality of Asturias in Spain

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