Government undertakes referendum preparations as joint effort

In a cabinet meeting held on March 21 the Catalan government agreed to share equal responsibility in organising the vote on independence

President Puigdemont’s motto (“A referendum, one way or the other”) became the goal of this parliamentary term and, from March 21, it is also the shared responsibility of the entire cabinet. Several sources have confirmed to this newspaper that during the cabinet meeting held two weeks ago —with former president Artur Mas and his two ministers, Irene Rigau and Joana Ortega, also in attendance— the entire Catalan government reiterated its determination to hold an independence vote in September. Even though the document was not released on the government’s website until last weekend, on Tuesday March 21 several ministries were tasked with “the immediate start of the required administrative steps to rationalise public spending on election processes, popular consultations and public participatory processes”.

As with all government decisions, responsibility for this is shared collectively, even though the document is the brainchild of Vice President Oriol Junqueras, Minister for the Presidency Neus Munté and Foreign Minister Raül Romeva. In fact, president Puigdemont had tasked Junqueras and Romeva with organising the independence referendum to be held some time before the end of September. The instructions released on March 21 concern these three ministers, as well as Meritxell Borràs, the Minister for Administration.

In what is likely to become the norm over the coming months, the Catalan government claims that the purpose of the decision is to prepare a hypothetical snap election. Therefore, as far as the Spanish prosecutor is concerned, it is the same sort of arrangement made by any government ahead of ordinary polls. As a matter of fact, our sources claim that an instruction to rationalise spending —which the government did not issue prior to the non-binding vote on November 9, 2014— might be used to begin preparations for a constituent election, as per the secession road map, no later than six months after the referendum on independence.

Public tenders sought

On March 22 the parliament approved the Catalan budget for 2017, a tool which the government believes is fundamental to seek public tenders for the referendum. That same day the Ministry for Administration invited tenders for the supply of envelopes and paper ballots for “a parliamentary election”. It all happened the day after the government had agreed to take collective responsibility for organising the independence referendum. All responsibility for any contract to do with that government decision, regardless of the ministry that commissions it, will fall on the shoulders of every member of the cabinet. This matter raised a few eyebrows within the government over the last few weeks.

Organising an election in Catalonia falls within the purview of the Ministry for Administration. However, this time Borràs’ ministry is not issuing the order for “immediate” application which is sent to every ministry. Rather, the decision has been circulated by order of Vice President Oriol Junqueras —as Vice President and Minister of Economy, the instruction is published at his request—, with ministers Romeva and Munté tagging along. The instruction is aimed at every ministry but focuses on four. Why? The ministry of economy is responsible for public finances, budget and efficient spending. The latter is precisely the alleged reason behind the document: to economise on election spending. The Ministry of the Presidency is responsible for aiding interministerial coordination and telecommunications, which are necessary in any election process. For its part, the Foreign Ministry is tasked with devising and coordinating public participatory processes. Finally, the Ministry for Administration is in charge of election processes and public consultations.

Pressure from the Spanish prosecutor

The Catalan government’s steps towards holding an independence referendum are ever increasingly under judicial pressure. The latest reports on how Spain’s public prosecutor is watching the Catalan government’s every step on a daily basis have merely confirmed suspicions long held by the authorities in Barcelona. Our sources put it down to Madrid’s “panic-mongering” strategy which aims to cast “doubt and uncertainty” on the independence process. “First they went for the government, then the civil service and now it is private companies”. Nevertheless, the Catalan authorities hope that this will be inconsequential because the tenders currently being put out “are public and legal” and the government is firmly determined to hold a referendum

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