Angel Luna: “Announcing social benefits with a lot of hype frustrates expectations”

Angel Luna Gonzalez (Madrid, 1952) stripped himself of his socialist militancy to join the Sindicatura de Greuges. He entered in 2014 as Deputy Ombudsman and since November 28, 2019 he is the Síndic Major after the Pepe Cholbi’s departure. Luna, with his sharp and lethal words, has gone from being the scourge of the Consell de Camps in the tribune of Les Corts – still echoes that stone he threw on the floor of the hemicycle to stage his innocence against the accusations of the PP – to defend the rights of the Valencian people.

Luna is a lawyer, a former mayor of Alicante and one of the most lucid people to have walked the political scene in Valencia. He claims that it didn’t cost him anything to go to bed as a politician and get up the next day as one of the pieces of the Sindicatura de Greugeswhere impartiality is the obligatory flag. He swallowed one of the harshest periods of Valencian parliamentarianism and has not enjoyed the honeys of victory. He would have been in the pools to become a councillor but he assures that his current position is the one that has given him the most satisfaction in his political career. The Lawyer’s Will. Luna had that socialist profile that fits little with the new policies of Podemos and Compromis. He was an old-school politician.

-Let’s start at the end. -Does anyone listen to the Síndic de Greuges’ recommendations?

-Yes, many administrations do. Others, not so much.

-Isn’t it better that his recommendations were obligations so that they would not be forgotten?

-It’s not possible. The institution of the ‘ombudsman’ has existed in Sweden since the 18th century. In order for it to be binding, there should be a more formalistic procedure with an adversarial process, with parties and evidence. Ours is a simple procedure, available to anyone, and it is about alerting the administration to things that are done wrong. As it is free without a lawyer or a solicitor, it has the counterbalance that it is a recommendation. The strength of the obligation lies in the prestige of the institution and in the threat that it represents to make irregular behaviour publicly known.

-Have the coronavirus pandemic changed the type of complaints filed?

-There are quite a few claims that have to do with services of an urgent nature that get tangled up. Also with the lack of health care, the difficulty to access health centres and collapses in the administration. The pandemic has come to complicate actions that were already complicated.

-There’s an avalanche of welfare benefits and a bureaucratic plug. -In the end the policy doesn’t match the reality?

-There is a frustration of expectations. When social aid for emergency situations is announced with great fanfare and then the ordinary administrative procedure is applied, a delay is seen due to a lack of agility and capacity in the administration. This is where the frustration of expectation that has been generated in people with the announcement of this aid takes place.

-Is it better not to promise so as not to frustrate expectations?

-There are several steps to follow. Firstly, the administration’s ability to respond must be carefully assessed; secondly, we must be more cautious when promising aid and, finally, the most important thing is to modify the procedures so as not to put the citizen in a maze. We have initiated a line of action to remind the public administration that it does not have to ask citizens for documents that are already in their possession. My soul falls to the ground when I see the queue at the door of Alicante City Hall of people waiting to collect a census certificate. The administration itself puts the citizen at risk by simply queuing for a document that may be digitized.

-Is the Valencian inclusion income and the minimum vital income the paradigm of this situation of collapse?

-They’re a good example of that. The minimum vital income and the Valencian inclusion income are very good, but the way in which the minimum income has been implemented, which has forced the Generalitat to modify the Valencian inclusion income by decree law, has generated chaos and an obvious problem for the citizen. As long as there is no agreement between the two administrations (Government and Generalitat) to manage the two instruments, we will have many problems.

-Why do administrations create so many obstacles?

-That’s why I have no explanation. I cannot conceive that a minimum vital income has been set up without there having been an agreement with the Autonomous Communities to do so in conjunction with benefits of the same nature.

-Homes for the elderly have been the most vulnerable space in this pandemic with hundreds of deaths in recent months. Years go by and the problem in these centers remains with few solutions.

-Residences are a competence of the autonomous community and are publicly or privately managed. The key is that a sufficient level of inspection is required to ensure that services to citizens are provided in a legal manner. Altabix, for example, has had many inspections, but they are carried out and then do not have strong consequences. And we have made many recommendations about this centre. What matters to me is that the model works, whether it is public or private.

-The last data shows that in the Comunitat Valenciana more than 5,000 dependents have died in 2020 without receiving the benefit they deserve. How is it possible that someone takes two years to be assessed?

-We say it in every resolution. The system decentralizes the assessment in the town halls but it does not really decentralize the decision of the council. It is a model that has many problems since 2017, when the decree was approved. Here in Alicante, on December 31st they are going to fire 80 workers in the social services area because the council subsidizes the hiring of employees every year but the money does not arrive on January 1st. The contract runs out and they wait to receive the aid for the following year before starting again. They hire new people, they spend months with the social services at a lower level of performance and time is wasted. Now, the Regional Ministry has put in place multi-year agreements to solve this but I don’t know that any have been signed. I don’t know if it’s the best system, but it’s clear that it doesn’t work.

-Social policies are more effective than effective?

-that it is fulfilled requires two requirements: firstly, an administrative procedure that is simple and agile so that it works in a short time, and secondly, sufficient staff to process the files. Neither one nor the other is given.

-And why doesn’t it happen?

-Procedure is one thing to think about. The delay in the valuation of dependents is still there, the data confirms it. And secondly, the lack of qualified personnel is an obvious budget problem.

-Change of third. You ask that the use of the tongue not be used as a throwing weapon.

-The language has been a flag of political confrontation for a long time. Since I became a Síndic, ex-officio complaints are made in bilingual format and every time we start a case we put a paragraph in which we say the language to be used at the citizen’s request. We ask the administration to send us the documentation in the language in which the file has been started. There is a very high percentage that respects this. Others refuse. Article 9 of the Statute is very clear, full stop. But complaints for linguistic reasons do not carry much weight in the total, sometimes they seem more like a campaign.

-How does the Síndic worry about this generation of young people who have grown up between two crises?

-Yes, of course I’m worried. And that is why we have opened a complaint so that the administration realizes, for example, that there is a social gap in telematic training. Everyone doesn’t have the internet. From this house you can do specific things but it is difficult to do global things.

-The new education law, the Celáa law, predicts an avalanche of complaints to the Síndic?

-It’s difficult to predict if there will be an avalanche of complaints, but experience tells us that they tend to arrive, as happened with multilingualism, because they are campaigns but there is someone who immediately takes the problem to court. At that point, we take a step back.

-Eight educational laws in a democracy.

-It is incomprehensible and regrettable for the country that there is no basic consensus to have an education law that lasts over time and allows for the establishment of a system with a horizon.

-Do you like the new law?

-Some things yes and some things no, as in everything.

-What’s not to like?

-I’m not going to answer that, it’s in the pipeline. But anything to reach as much consensus as possible would be good.

-The reform of the law of the Syndicat de Greuges is pending. -Does it bother you that they say that the institution is a nest of plugging?

-Yes, it bothers me because it’s not the purpose of the law. The rule is from 1988 and is the daughter of the 1981 Ombudsman Act, like all first-generation ombudsman laws. And they all had the same mechanism for providing jobs. With the reform of the statutes, ours was in 2006, there was a parallel reform of the ombudsman laws. All of them were modified except ours. The law is outdated in the way it deals with cases and I have called for a reform of the law. That is the main thing.

-Are the institutions allergic to transparency?

-From the mayor to the last of the councillors, for example, they have the right to have the same information. Then there is the obligation to respect it. Complaints about the lack of transparency we receive from all political colours and it is a real problem. The pandemic has paralysed the plan to take anyone who does not provide information to the Prosecutor’s Office, but we will do it.

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