MADRID (AP) — Spain's central authorities have increased their control over Catalonia's regional spending to make sure that no funds are diverted to paying for a suspended independence referendum, the country's finance minister said Friday.
Following the weekly meeting of the Spanish cabinet, Cristobal Montoro said the government is also giving Catalan officials 48 hours to comply with a new system that scrutinizes public payments in order "to guarantee that not one euro will go toward financing illegal acts."
Montoro told reporters the extraordinary controls were justified in order to pay civil servants and suppliers procuring services in education and health, among other essentials, while at the same time ensuring financial stability and defending the country's legal order.
Last week, Spain's constitutional court decided to suspend an independence referendum that Catalan leaders had penciled in for Oct. 1 while judges decide if it is unconstitutional, as the central government in Madrid has argued.
Separatist politicians in Catalonia — Spain's richest region that has Barcelona as its major city — are still pressing ahead with the referendum despite the ban and despite the launch of a criminal investigation into three-quarters of Catalonia's mayors who have supported the vote.
On Thursday, Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras, who is in charge of economic affairs in the northeastern region, said he would stop providing central authorities with weekly spending reports.
Making these reports weekly instead of monthly, as Spain requires of all 17 regional governments, had been a measure imposed in July by Spain's finance authorities as preparations for the referendum escalated.
Junqueras dismissed the scrutiny as politically motivated and said the Catalan government would only send the monthly reports.
The Madrid-based government has also rejected calls for dialogue from Catalonia's leading officials on framing a referendum because that can only be achieved by changing the country's constitution through a majority in the national parliament. Under Spanish law, a secession referendum can only be promoted by the central government. All voters in Spain also have the right to vote on issues related to sovereignty.
In a letter requesting discussions, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, Junqueras, regional parliament president Carme Forcadell and Barcelona mayor Ada Colau accused Spain of launching "an offensive of repression without precedent."
"The prime minister can't make something illegal into something legal," said Inigo Mendez de Vigo, the spokesman for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's cabinet as well as being Spain's culture minister.
The prosperous Catalonia region generates a fifth of the country's 1.1-trillion euro economy. It enjoys ample self-government, running its own police, and has considerable powers over health and education. Taxes, foreign affairs, defense and infrastructures are in the hands of Spain's central authorities.