Thursday, February 16, 2012

Democracy 101: Separation of Powers

Porfirio Lobo Sosa doesn't understand the separation of powers embodied in the Honduran constitution.

On January 31 of this year, a Supreme Court decision went against a law he championed, a tax on businesses of one percent of gross income.

The law was approved by Congress on April 24, 2011, published in La Gaceta on May 30, 2011, but supposedly took effect as of January 1, 2011. The Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional because it was a retroactive change to the tax code, something prohibited by Article 96 of the Honduran constitution.

The law should have been written to take effect on passage, not retroactively. Congress, and Lobo Sosa, should have known that what they proposed was illegal. They ignored it and proposed and approved a patently unconstitutional law.

Enrique Castellón, head of the Honduran IRS equivalent, the Dirección Ejecutiva de Ingresos (DEI), told the press on February 8, 2012, that the government would not refund the money already collected last year, some 800 million lempiras, on the grounds that the judicial decision from the Supreme Court was not retroactive!

But it gets worse.

On Valentine's day, Porfirio Lobo Sosa told La Tribuna that he would seek an international jurisdiction to review the Supreme Court's decisions concerning the Executive Branch. He went on:
If we have to make legal reforms, well we will have to propose them; I hope that the Court will not declare them unconstitutional, because it is the refuge of many now who go there; what recourse do we have as a State to defend ourselves?....For example, the matter of the one percent [tax], has an effect of more than 1,200 million lempiras on the Honduran treasury and so, if the court makes a mistake, well they say it is unappealable.

As if to reiterate how much he doesn't understand the legal framework of his country, he continued:
I think there should be an international legal body where one could go to verify the justice of a decision [by the Supreme Court], we will have to see how to do it, because if we are there, we're snarled up.

So, in Lobo Sosa's mind, there needs to be an international court above the Supreme Court to which he can appeal their rulings on his domestic law making.

It looks like the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute better spend some of their State Department allocated Honduran budget educating Honduran government officials on basic democracy 101 and the contents of their own constitution.

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