Two Medico Sin Fronteras (MSF) charity workers, one from Catalunya and the other from Madrid, have been kidnapped in Kenya (read article in Catalan here, El Punt-Avui). The two women were taken yesterday from the refugee camp of Dadaab, the largest in the world; it is located in the east of the country about 100 kilometres from the border with Somalia. The news of the women's capture was confirmed by the Spanish foreign affairs and cooperation ministry. The Catalan woman, whose name is Montserrat Serra Ridao, is from Palafrugell on the Costa Brava; she is 40 and a technology teacher at a school in the town of L'Escala. The woman from Madrid has not yet been identified. The two women belong to the logistics division of MSF and were working at the camp where the charity provides primary health care to refugees, according to Raquel Ayora, the director of operations of MSF in Barcelona. The charity workers were involved with the construction of a hospital, along with Kenyans and people from a variety of different countries. At the time of the kidnapping, there were eight other international charity workers and 60 Kenyans in the area. The capture took place when the vehicle in which the women were travelling came under fire. According to sources in the Kenyan police, the driver of the vehicle—who is Kenyan—was seriously injured in the incident. At the moment, no one has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, although first indications suggest that the Islamist group Al-Shabab, linked to the Al-Qaeda network, is behind it.
The ratings agency Standard and Poors (S&P) has lowered the rating for Spain's sovereign long-term debt once more, reducing it from AA to AA- (read article in Castilian here, El Periódico). In addition, S&P has given a negative forecast for the future of the debt. "Despite signs of recovery in its economic performance during 2011, we see risks in the prospects for growth in Spain, due to the high level of unemployment, more difficult financial conditions, the continuing high level of debt in the private sector and a possible economic slow-down in its biggest commercial companies," said the agency in a press release. The agency, which has warned that the rating that it gives Spain could continue falling in the future if the worst prognoses come to pass, also said that the financial profile of the Spanish banking system "will continue to get weaker", with a larger exposure to problematic assets. As such, in the worst of the scenarios raised by S&P, Spain could fall back into recession next year, in part as a result of a weaker external and internal demand, with a reduction in gross domestic product of 0.5 percent, followed by a weak recovery in the future. In addition, the agency said that the reform of the labour market that has been carried out in Spain so far was "incomplete" and contributed to the fact that the level of unemployment remains high, which represents a burden to economic recovery.
Barcelona Diputació is investigating an apparent payment irregularity that has been in place since 2004 at the institution (read article in Castilian here, La Vanguardia). It was at a plenary meeting last month that it was agreed to open a review into a decree of the presidency department of the institution that was passed seven years ago, and approved by all the participating political groups, with the exception of the Catalan Socialists (PSC), regarding payments to senior members of the Diputació. The review, being carried out by the Generalitat's Comissió Jurídica Assessora, involves a thorough study of the salary system used at the Diputació, a system that could include a number of illegalities. At current, no one knows when the review could end and how many people will be implicated by its findings. In summary, the decree passed in 2004 meant that all employees at the Diputació and its autonomous associations who stopped occupying a position of responsibility but continued working at the institution, carried on receiving 14 payments of their previous salary, regardless of whether they had been promoted or demoted. Over 10 years, the bonus gradually reduced by 10 percent each year. This measure, know as the 'rucksack' (mochila) continued to be applied until the end of July this year, when the new president of the Diputació, Salvador Esteve of CiU, decided to stop applying it and hold back the payments until their legality had been ascertained. The amount of money that has been paid out through this system, and the number of people who benefited from it, is unknown, but they are expected to be significant.