Saturday, May 10, 2014

Whose Observatory of Violence?

Who controls the crime statistics?  Honduras has an Observatorio de Violencia, long a part of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Honduras (UNAH).  The Security Ministry has outsourced its collecting and reporting of crime statistics to a private company,  Ingenieria Gerencial, owned by the Security Minister, Arturo Corrales.  Just about no one believes the crime statistics Corrales has been peddling.

So in February, Corrales announced the formation of 30 separate municipal Observatorios de Violencia, modeled after the successful program in Colombia, the  Observatorio para la Prevencion de Violencia y Lesiones de Colombia.  This program, and the existing Observatorio at UNAH, both owe their existence to pilot projects done by the CISALVA institute of the Universidad del Valle de Cali, in Colommbia 2002-2004, financed by Georgetown University and USAID.

In 1996 the Organization of American States Pan American Health Organization recognized that violence was a health problem, and in 2008 published a manual of best practices derived from what was learned in the Colombia pilot program.  The manual was written as part of a project to roll this program out in several Central American countries.  Ultimately Panama and Nicaragua were part of the initial pilot program.

Honduras was considered for that pilot program, but because of internal political considerations, was dropped.  The OAS wrote in the methodology manual for these municipal observatories in 2008:
It should be noted that Honduras was selected for the first phase [of the roll out by the UN], and later postponed for political reasons, in actuality the methodology has been successfully implemented developing a national observatory and a local observatory in the capital city of the country, founded in the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Honduras, UNAH, with the technical aid of the UN Development Program (PNUD in Spanish) and financed by the Swiss Agency for International Development.
So basically, the OAS/Pan American Health Organization is saying in 2008 that Honduras already has a national program that follows the best practices methodology they're promulgating, and doing it successfully.

So why is Arturo Corrales rejecting the Observatorio de Violencia at UNAH and proposing to supplant it with 30 municipal Observatorios doing the same work?  Corrales falsely claims you cannot do this at the national level:
The objective for establishing these municipal observatories of violencis is to characterize the causes of death and this can only be done at the local level, not the national level.
But the OAS, who after all, wrote the best practices manual, just said that the methodology was successfully being implemented at the national level in Honduras by the UNAH Observatorio de Violencia, so either Corrales is unfamiliar with the actual program and methodology, or he's being disingenous.

The irony here is that the UNAH Observatory already has proposed to do exactly this, almost a month ago.  For the last several years it has been establishing local observatories of violence in selected municipalities.  On March 27,   they announced the creation of a local observatory in Tela and said they sought to extend this to the whole country.  In fact, there already are local observatories in Comayagua, Choluteca, San Pedro Sula, Choloma, La Ceiba, and Juticalpa.  At least some of these are places Corrales intends to install his own observatories.  Maybe instead of developing a competing program, Corrales should embrace the existing one?

Why should Honduras spend money on setting up municipal violence observatories when everyone including Corrales agrees the UNAH program is exemplary? Migdona Ayestes, head of the UNAH Observatorio de Violencia, thinks it may be that Corrales doesn't understand the mission and function of an Observatorio de Violencia.  She arranged to meet with him  to explain it to him.

However, there seems to be two other  answers here.  On the one hand, these would be the "Official" observatories that would collect and disseminate statistics through the Security Ministry.  That should give everyone pause.

Corrales, though, went on to say that they would be more inclusive, involving more of civil society, and let them be able to take local preventative action and measure the results of such actions through their local statistics.  So its also about decentralization, taking the responsibility for crime fighting decision making from the Security Ministry and making responsibility for devising strategies to fight crime the responsibility of Mayors and their local observatory.

This kind of local decision making is a part of what is envisioned in the OAS best practices manual.  How that will translate in Honduras, where the police force is nationally controlled by the Security Ministry remains to be seen.
It has the benefit of taking responsibility for crime statistics away from the national government and puts it on municipalities, which Corrales must like.  Currently his job performance is evaluated by the national crime statistics, hence his investment (and profiting) from producing and reducing them.

There's no explanation for where the funding for these local observatories is coming from.  The OAS manual calls for an IT professional and a computer to host the database and map server/gis system that registers and displays crimes, and these cost money.  There is not necessarily such a person already in every municipality who can be freed up to support such a program.  The computers need to allocated, and the specified software packages installed and configured on them.  Presumably Corrales is freeing up money from some other part of his budget to cover the expenses of such a program roll out and operation.  It certainly wasn't in his 2014 budget.

So right now it looks like Honduras will have competing Observatorios de Violencia for the forseeable future.

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