Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Honduran Congress Calls Foul over Change in Budget Bill

Was it a premeditated corrupt act, or simple incompetence that caused the 2012 budget that was published in La Gaceta to not accurately reflect the budget passed by Congress. And who introduced the change?

The 2012 budget was discussed, modified, and passed on December 14, 2011, the final day of the Congressional session, when few Congress members were around. It was published as Decree 255-2011 in La Gaceta on December 22, 2011, after the current Congressional session ended and everyone was home preparing for Christmas.

However, the Honduran Congress is now up in arms because for the second, or possibly third time since the current administration took over, they say the bill that was printed in La Gaceta did not accurately reflect the bill that Congress sent to the Executive Branch.

In this case, the controversy is over Article 132 of the budget. By law, nine percent of the budget must be passed along to the Municipalities of Honduras. In the past, that has meant the full nine percent with no deductions. However, Article 132, as printed, allows the government to credit funds given to other government entities for projects in a particular Municipality as part of the nine percent. This would represent a significant decrease in their operating budget, but would greatly benefit the bottom line of the central government.

The problem is, that clause, which was supported by the Executive Branch, was considered unjust by the majority in Congress during debate on December 22, and the clause was amended to grant the Municipalities the full nine percent with no deduction for other government projects. It should not have appeared as it does in the printed version.

By definition, the printed version is the law.

So the question is, what happened so that the version printed is not what Congress says it approved and voted upon.

To understand where the error might originate, we have to understand the path of a bill after it is approved by Congressional vote.

First the bill goes to a Congressional commission which modifies the original text of the bill to incorporate any changes or amendments approved by Congress. They then send it along to the Executive Branch.

Could they have screwed up and not incorporated the amendment of Article 132? or, as El Heraldo asks, did they make a mockery of Congress by not incorporating its will?

Once the budget bill is in the Executive Branch, it is supposed to simply forward it to La Gaceta for publication, without any changes. Might someone in the Executive Branch have reintroduced the original language of Article 132 to help with closing the national budget gap?

This is not the first time this happened. The most recent example was with the motorcycle bill, which we blogged about here. The Executive Branch inserted a "clarification" not discussed by Congress, in the language when the bill came to them. As passed, the bill allowed only a driver to ride on a motorcycle. However, when published, the law "clarified" that as long as the passenger was a woman, or a child under the age of 12, that would be allowed.

Such a "clarification" is of course, a complete violation of the Honduran constitution's separation of powers, which gives the Executive Branch only the power to veto or approve bills as passed by Congress, not change the language. Interpreting the intent of Congress in legislation is supposed to happen through the court system.

Since the Executive Branch has seen fit to change the language of Congressional bills in the past, it seems quite possible that they introduced this change, since they benefit from it.

Now, the bill has become law with the original Article 132 text, meaning municipalities won't necessarily get the funding level they expected, or that Congress intended.

Congress is working with the Association of Municipal Governments to introduce an amendment to fix the problem. Meanwhile, Jose Saavedra, a member of the budget committee of Congress, promises to introduce a resolution calling on the Executive Branch to provide an explanation of how the change occurred.

Mind you, the Executive Branch has ignored previous requests for explanations.

Who needs that pesky constitution anyhow?

1 comment:

John (Juan) Donaghy said...

No wonder the Resistance has been calling for a constitutional convention to rewrite the Constitution and "refound" Honduras. But I'm not sure that they now sill have the strength to call for this since many are now getting involved in electoral politics.