Saturday, February 13, 2010

Corrupting the Public Record: Gacetazo

It started simply enough; on January 22, 2010, edition 32,120 of the Honduran La Gaceta was published. La Gaceta is the official publication of the Honduran government. It is published daily by the Empresa Nacional de Artes Gráficas (ENAG), 16 pages long, and contains the laws, resolutions, and decrees of the Honduran government that have been approved for publication. For congressional laws and presidential decrees, this is the last step in making them legal and placing them in effect.

This year on January 13, the National Congress passed a law, 207-2009 (also referred to as decree 293-2009), that allocated the rights to build, administer, and maintain a dam and reservoir in Nacaome, Department of Valle, Honduras. This contract for 25 years was allocated to the Italo-Honduran consortium, Compania Eléctrica Nacaome, Sociedad Anonima (ENASA), and was pushed through Congress supported by the de facto regime's Secretary of Transportation (SOPTRAVI), José Rosario Bonano, also responsible for hundreds of road contracts that are now being reviewed for irregularities. The building of the dam, and its use to supply water for drinking and irrigation was to be financed by the Italian government, while the turbines and machine room for generation of 30 megawatts of electricity were to be financed by the Spanish government.

So on the morning of January 22, when edition #32120 of La Gaceta was printed, this was pending legal business needing to be published.

Except that particular morning, there were two different editions of La Gaceta, both numbered #32120.

A mere twenty copies contained a copy of law 207-2009, making it official. These 20 copies were delivered to a representative of ENASA, for which they paid 20,000 lempiras, according to a receipt filed with ENAG.

The other 580 copies delivered to subscribers did not include Decreto 207-2009.

To be legally published, Martha Alicia García, the current director of ENAG, says that the text of a law must come from the Executive office with a signature of the Minister of Government. An order to publish must be issued by the director of ENAG, and it must then go through the production process, be reviewed for errors, and be published. This usually takes at least 24 hours.

The decree allocating the contract for the administration and maintenance of the Nacaome dam and reservoir was passed by the National Congress and, in theory, approved at the last cabinet meeting of the de facto government, the night of January 21.

However, there appears to be no signed order by the Minister of Government or from the de facto President ordering the publication of the decree, nor is there a signed order from the director of ENAG ordering its publication, nor did it take the normal 24 hours to get it into production. The decreto, in theory approved around dinner time, was then published in a special edition of La Gaceta, with copies all given to a representative of the consortium that benefitted, for which they paid 20,000 lempiras, less than 12 hours later!

The Assistant Director of ENAG, José Everaldo Robles, said such payments are normal and this one was based on the additional pages that were needed to print the law, at a rate of slightly more than 1,000 lempiras per page. While he did not find it suspicious that there were two editions, one with the law and one without, but he was concerned that the one with the law was of limited circulation. Martha Garcia, the Director of ENAG, agrees that it is usually the group that benefits that pays for the pages necessary to publish the decree that grants them the benefit.

The allocation of the rights to build the dam and generation equipment was questioned almost immediately, on January 23, by the National Electric Company's Employee's Union (STENEE in Spanish) who felt the National Electric Company (ENEE) should build and operate the facility. Multiple investigations, by Congress, by the Public Prosecutor, by the National Electric Company, and others, have all begun, with a scapegoat, the ex-Minister of SOPTRAVI, clearly in their sights. Edition #32120 of La Gaceta has been officially annulled. All of the laws and decrees published in either version of edition #32120 of La Gaceta have been put in limbo until they can be republished.

The administrator of the file room where the negatives of the pages of each edition of La Gaceta are filed has disappeared after asking for permission to take a leave of absence, along with the keys for the file room. The ex-President of Congress, Jose Alfredo Saavedra, under whose leadership the Congress approved supposedly approved the decreto in question, disclaims any knowledge saying he only oversees the discussion, not its content.

When we say that the de facto regime exploited their months in office to enrich themselves and those behind the coup, we expect the evidence to be obscured and the tracks hard to follow. Not that there will be a paper trail a mile wide documenting insider deals and corruption so clearly.

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