Friday, January 26, 2018

Congressional Corruption Part 1

Lest we think that all is well in the Honduran Congress as a deliberative body, recent news reports in Honduras document widespread corruption in the Honduran Congress; everything from the way money ends up back in Congressperson's pockets to the way laws as published in the official newspaper, are completely different than what was voted on in Congress.  Corruption here is widespread, and deep.

The OAS mission to support the fight against corruption and impunity in Honduras (MACCIH for its acronym in Spanish) found out this week that the problem in Honduras with impunity and corruption isn't that they don't know how to follow the internationally recommended ways to combat corruption and write a legal framework that combats corruption.  Since the 2009 coup numerous panels have made legislative suggestions that have been totally ignored. Honduran legislators, the Judicial and Executive branches have have deliberately ignored them for a reason.

The problem in Honduras continues to be that the government at all levels, from the legislative, to the Judicial, and the Executive branches, is rife with corruption.   They actively choose to write legislation that facilitates corruption and impunity.  No amount of MACCIH investigating crimes and suggesting model legislation will fix that.  But only now is MACCIH waking up to the reality of Honduras.

This week the Honduran Supreme Court dismissed the first  corruption case that MACCIH brought to trial.  This was the case of the five Congresspeople who were paid off by the Executive branch for changing their allegiances to the National Party.  In return they were paid using funds Congress allocated to an NGO for social programs.  The money, some $300-$400,000 ended up in the private bank accounts of these five Congressmen.

It was a well documented case that should have easily resulted in a conviction.  Instead, the Honduran Supreme Court threw one roadblock after another at the prosecution.  First, they refused the request to have the Congressmen arrested to await trial in jail.  Next they scheduled the first trial date to be the Dia de Innocentes (Innocents’ Day).  The Supreme Couirt judge postponed hearings time after time.

Then Congress acted, or maybe the corrupt leaders of Congress acted would be more precise.  All those leaders were, at the time, members of the National Party.  The lame duck Congress came back after New Years and passed a series of laws, among then on January 18th a new "Ley Organica de Presupuesto"(decreto 117-2017)  with some interesting clauses.  The new law, as written, takes away from the Public Prosecutor's office the right to pursue crimes related to the budget of Honduras, instead giving it to the Tribunal Superior de Cuentas (TSC).  The law particularly states that while the TSC is auditing any budget item, the judicial branch cannot act.  To rub MACCIH's face in it, they made the law retroactive.

Given the new law, the Supreme Court judge dismissed the case against the five Congresspersons because the Public Prosecutor's office had no standing to bring the case.  MACCIH works with the Public Prosecutor's office, not the Tribunal Superior de Cuentas.  Not only does this destroy MACCIH's ability to investigate and prosecute the crimes it was set up to pursue, but it also closes investigations it had open on over 60 Congresspeople, including the President of the Congress, Mauricio Oliva.

Article 16 of the law gave Congresspeople the right to request, administer, and spend public funds from any source (government, NGOs, etc) that are for community development, social aid, and the improvement of law and democracy.  This change in the law legitimates the transfer of funds to the five charged Congresspersons.

Article 131 of the new law authorized the Tribunal Superior de Cuentas (TSC) to audit the use of these funds, specifically funds from 2006-2018, retroactively.  It gives the TSE 3 years to perform the audit of those years and only when it is done, and publishes its report, will changes be adduced and filed against anyone.  No criminal charges can be filed against anyone on these grounds while the TSC is investigating and writing its report.  Nor can civil charges be filed.

These changes passed with 69 votes for, and only 2 against, with 11 abstentions.  The changes shut down MACCIH's investigations and ability to bring charges against this kind of financial corruption.

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