July 29, 2008

A vicious circle

honduras corruption"I don't understand why people want to leave. This country is wonderful!"
Cartoon: Dario Banegas, La Prensa, Honduras

Just a little blah, blah, blah to tide you over until I can get some photos uploaded and arranged on some articles that I've written and some guest blogs.

I've been in Honduras for almost seven years now. Maybe I'm a little slow, but with the Honduran election cycle starting again, I just had one of those light bulb moments.

I've known for a long time that the political party hold on people is very strong. You aren't going to get anywhere by claiming to be an independent. You state your party loud and strong for everyone to hear if you want to reap any of the benefits. You had better hope that they win.

There are no Civil Service protections for government employees like in the US. There may be laws on the books, as there are laws prohibiting nepotism, but they are completely ignored in Honduras. Winning an election or being appointed Minister of Anything is the same as being crowned king. You own that agency, city or state. It's your kingdom, its employees are your serfs, and its finances are yours to do as you see fit. You can deposit big chunks of the budget right into your own bank account. Nobody will stop you. The President is the King of Kings and he is the only one you answer to. Those people who voted for you? Heh. Who needs them anymore? That is 'Democracía' in Honduras.

What is really sad is that the Honduran people believe that they have democracy. They think that is how it is supposed to work. Winning office means getting rich. It's expected and, to a large part, accepted. How rich probably depends somewhat on how much international aid money is going to be available.

Sure, in the US, after the elections, the top guys in each agency are out and the new presidential supporters are in. The jobs of the secretary who knows where everything is filed and the clerk who knows how to record a deed are safe. Here in Honduras, everybody is out! Who is around to train the new guys? I mean everybody is out down to the guards and janitors, if the new king or his knights have any friends who want those jobs. Every government job is doled out to the "politically deserving" and the brothers-in-laws and nieces. Off to Tegucigalpa we go to mamar la teta gorda!

Okay, that part I knew. El Jefe told me long ago. I'm just telling you in case you didn't know. I read a study once from the UN or some other international organization which said that this complete upheaval in the government has such a severely detrimental effect on the economy that it takes an entire year to recover, that is, to just return to the same sorry state it was in the prior year. Everyone knows that if you need a permit, want to apply for residency, or even get an ID card or register a car, you had better get it done before the new government takes office or be prepared to wait a long time.

Now that we are entering into the period of election campaigns, all of the new candidates are resigning in order to campaign. So I started thinking about the timeline:

2006 - New President, all new government, complete chaos, decline in economy.

2007 - Government begins to be operational again and the economy recuperates to 2005 level.

2008 - Government is operational, employees know their jobs, things run as smoothly as a Central American government can run, UNTIL mid-year when the ministers and other top guys resign to start their campaigns. New guys come in. They know nothing, fire employees and replace them with their friends, change procedures, once again employees and institutions are in learning mode.

2009 - Election year; campaigning requires lots of people and who more likely than government employees who had better make their stand if they want a job next year? The opposition party will object to new laws, even if they like them, just so their party can get credit for them next year. End of year means sabotaging records and computers for the next administration, throwing out work in progress, and stealing anything that's left of the budget plus a lot of the furniture and equipment.

2010 - New President, all new government, complete chaos, decline in economy.

Seems like the government is operating at its best maybe a year and a half or two years out of four. Throughout the entire four years, mayors, congressmen, ministers have to steal as much as they can since chances are they will do a lousy job and never be elected again. Is it any wonder that nothing gets done and that Honduras remains a third world country?

Please don't say that it's the same in the US! Can you get a drivers' license, license plate, business permit, or birth certificate in any year regardless of the political cycle? I think you can. We can't. How often are you told that you can't get a _________ (name that document) because there is no ink, there is no paper, or there are no forms, or come back in a month after the clerk has been trained? People are told that daily in Honduras. It's NOT THE SAME!

Update, 8/10/08:
I just read in La Prensa the other day that the economy is declining right now because foreign investors are staying away because of the uncertainty of the upcoming elections (1 1/2 years away) and the leftist leanings of the current government.
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