January 10, 2012

Liar, liar, pants on fire

Honduran congress
Honduran congress

Here I am, lowly blogger, doing the job the Honduran media should be doing — exposing the big fat lies of Honduras' elected representatives. [All links in Spanish unless otherwise noted.]

On Monday I received a mea culpa sent out by the congress stating several things, the most amusing of which was that they will set up a committee to make sure that in the future they read the things they are approving before they approve them. Now there is a concept! They blamed approval of the Securiport contract and new $34 security tax on the President and told us that they are always working for the pueblo. Numerous congressmen have been in the news crying that they didn't know what they were voting on, blaming it on President Lobo, who later decided not to the tax after the uproar, and President of Congress, Juan Orlando Hernández, who interestingly did not vote at all on the issue.

The missive also stated that the decree was passed at 2:26 in the afternoon, not in the madrugada (middle of the night) as the news had reported (though the new exit tax passed the same day was passed at 11:30 pm). As proof, they included a link to the main page of the voluminous Congressional website. So after navigating the congressional website, I found the 24 pages of files of attendance and votes for December 2011, a mere 472 PDF files. Luckily, the latest file uploaded and one of the only file names with a date, was the attendance record for December 14.

Plowing through the records

Imagine my surprise to see that the "attendance" record is 114 pages long, logging all the ins and outs, requests to speak, time of speaking, etc. of the congressmen during the approximately 14-hour session. It was in time order, not by name. No way could I determine who was there without doing a multi-page spreadsheet logging the 114 pages of ins and outs, and I wasn't interested in doing that.

Even the 10-page individual records of the votes on each issue are not in alphabetical order, making finding the several hundred votes for that day very difficult. Each voting record is in a separate 10-page PDF image file that can't be searched and is not in alphabetical order!

The 472 PDF files have titles like "Art. 52" and similar which give no indication of what the issue was much less any details within the files. Article 52 of the constitution, Article 52 of a contract, or Article 52 of a law or regulation, and which one and what was the change? Your guess is as good as mine, there is no information whatsoever.

So while this congress continually claims to be the most transparent ever, they manage to present mountains of information in such a way that it would take a full time staff to find and wade through and document their votes and still there is not enough information for even the congressmen to determine what they were actually voting on.

They also like to refer to their televised sessions as transparent but the truth is that even if you have the time and patience to watch their TV channel 24 hours a day (and be subjected to hours of Juan Orlando Hernández government-paid presidential campaign propaganda commercials), you still won't know how congressmen voted unless you take a photo of the TV at each vote and have the seating chart (by which the for and against votes are shown in green or red) memorized to compare against the photo later. There are no names shown for votes, so while a diputado (congressman) could publicly rail on and on against something during the televised session, he could actually electronically vote for it and no one would know unless they have the time to search the voluminous files at the website.

The congressional website has only posted four laws in the past 5 years and none at all for this congress which started in January 2010 and brags that they have passed more new laws than any congress before. What were those laws and where are they? Under "Conozco su diputado" (Know your congressman), pages of photos with a name underneath are presented with no information about what departamento (state) they represent, what they stand for, what their voting record is, nothing at all except which party they are with. If you want to know who your elected diputados (congressmen) are, you won't find out at the congress website, because the sad truth is once you elect them, they cease to be your representatives and become the "party's" diputados.

Information on motions, dictamens, decretos, actas, and so forth are similarly lacking with little or no information posted in 2010 and 2011 and none in 2012. The little information that is there is presented in such a manner that only the most determined would spend the days or weeks required to sift through. Only in the rarest of cases are proposed laws made public in advance or published on the congressional website after they approved. So you might find out, as I did for example, that they approved several acts conceding "amnesty for debts with the state" (there were several of these in the madrugada on December 14), but good luck finding out who got the amnesty or for how much.

One of the biggest factors of non-transparency is La Gaceta, which is the government's official publication of laws, regulations, and so forth, which could easily be online but is not. Individual organizations of the government include publication of some laws on their websites, but you have to be a detective to find them and often they are not posted for months or years after they are passed. I know because I've spent more hours than I care to admit trying to find the text of various laws. Transparent? No way.

Who voted how?

In Big Brother comes to Honduras [in English], I mentioned that two of the three congressmen that Proceso Digital interviewed didn't know about the new US $34 travel/migratory/security tax and the third voted against it.

From Proceso Digital's interviews earlier this week, here is a translation of what they wrote:
"Meanwhile, the Liberal legislator Waldina Paz expressed that she voted against this decree. "I am against more taxes. That was approved in Interairports package. I asked them if what they wanted was the buildings constructed with dollars of the people," she said."
Go to page 8 of the vote results and you'll see that Jariet Waldina Paz also voted 'si' on this issue. She did vote 'no' on the increase to the InterAirports exit tax.

Proceso Digital also wrote (translated):
"Another of the interviewees was the Nationalista parliamentarian Antonio Rivera, who said he was unaware of what the decree in question referred to, adding that "I have no knowledge of the decree because I was not present at the parliamentary session."
Not only was Diputado Rivera present, but he voted in favor of the decree. Go to page 4 of the vote results and you'll see that Antonio César Rivera Callejas voted 'si'. Rivera did not vote for or against the InterAirport increased exit tax. He now says he doesn't remember voting on it. He's joined by Diputados Carlos Martínez Zepeda, Celí Discua Elvir, and others who say they just don't remember voting on this issue.

Scanning through the yes votes, a couple of diputado names caught my eye. You might think that congressmen elected in tourism areas would look unfavorably upon additional taxes for travelers which could serve to harm the tourism industry, but I found that the sole diputado for the Bay Islands, Romeo Silvestri of Roatan, and Gonzalo Antonio Rivera of La Ceiba, Atlántida, also voted in favor of this travel tax. In fact, there was only one vote against it. Of the 109 diputados present, 68 voted for the tax, one abstained and 39 didn't vote at all.

Of the other seven Atlántida diputados, only Ramon Antonio Leva Bulnes (PN) voted in favor of the increased tax. Rodolfo Irias Navas (PN), Margie Dip (Margarita Dabdoub Sikaffi- PN), Marcio Rene Espinal Cardona (PN), Daniel Flores Velasquez (PN), Jorge Alberto Elvir Cruz (DC), and María Aracely Leiva Peña (PL) did not vote at all.

Then I became curious about the votes on the other travel tax passed that same day, the increase in the exit fee proposed by the executive power and then later vetoed by the same. I waded through pages of documents to find the vote on the increased exit tax, though it was identified only as "approve 2nd modification to InterAirport contract". The vote on this issue was 88 in favor, 15 against, 8 abstained, and 14 did not vote, for a total of 125 diputados present.

Of the nine Atlántida and Bay Islands diputados, Romeo Silvestri of the Bay Islands and Ramón Leva, Marcio Espinal, Daniel Flores, Margie Dip, Gonzalo Rivera, and Jorge Elvir of Atlántida all voted for the increased exit tax to be paid to InterAirports. Rodolfo Irias and Maria Leiva did not vote.

Excuses, excuses

Some of the gem excuses that have been given to reporters:

Juan Orlando Hernández, President of the Congress: "the $34 should be absorbed by the airlines and in no manner is to affect the final users." Oh, please, that is such a huge insult to the intelligence. He also made a dismissive comment that most of the pueblo (voters) can't afford to fly anyway so it won't affect them.

Secretary of the Interior, Áfrico Madrid: "there was no public bid because Securiport is the owner of the technology." Are we to believe that Securiport is the only company in the world that provides the technology for immigration control in every airport in the world?

Olancho Diputado Francisco Rivera: He blamed the media for not reporting on the issue when it was discussed in session. Now that's really hypocritical. The media has been denied all information about this contract and only found out about the tax after the airline association was notified that they must begin collecting it. José Francisco Rivera Hernández incidentally voted for both travel taxes.

Cortés Diputado Wenceslao Lara (PL): "I am sure that this Nacionalista government is the worst that we have had in the history of Honduras, because they are in charge of disgracing our country, making our already impoverished society even more poor." Proceso Digital quotes him as saying that he voted against the new travel tax, but the voting records show that Lara did not vote on either tax issue.

Francisco Morazán Diputado German Leitzelar: lamented that they continue playing with the dignity of a noble pueblo and qualified those who approved this law as bats. "They operate in the night and sink their teeth into the heart of the Honduran pueblo." Diputado Leitzelar did not vote for or against either tax issue.

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