September 8, 2009

Mel Zelaya, champion of the poor

Mel ZelayaWhat's the big deal? I'm president!

Renán Sagastume, President of the Honduran Tribunal Superior de Cuentas, presented a report to the Attorney General of L. 123 million in irregular payments and personal expenses of ex-President Zelaya. This represents the investigation of only part of the 200 boxes of presidential documents that were recuperated.

During his administration, Zelaya had not allowed auditing of his expenses and often refused to even answer questions. These documents were turned over for audit by the current Presidential Minister.

The largest among those payments was L. 77,945,478 to consultant Robert Meyering. He was hired by Zelaya without a public bid as is required by the constitution (article 360). In order to accomplish this, Zelaya declared "a national emergency" when there was none in his first attempt to circumvent the laws of the country shortly after he took office.

Originally, the public was assured that the project would save the country US $46 million and that if didn't save at least US $20 million, the consultant would not have to be paid. The project Mr. Meyering worked on was the first of Zelaya's failed, expensive, poorly thought-out ideas. The L. 77 million produced nothing for Honduras and the project was abandoned. (numerous newspaper articles in Spanish)

Among the list of personal and irregular expenses of ex-President Zelaya paid with public funds are:

L. 4,411,500 Publicity without bidding
L. 4,915,617 Helicopter rental
L. 4,172,385 Airplane rental
L. 1,565,436 Jewelry
L. 780,000 Caretaker for Cafe, his horse
L. 400,000 Fuel for helicopter rental
L. 280,000 Stereo for his personal vehicle

L. 228,330 Oil paintings
L. 102,204 Supplies, etc., for Cafe, his horse
L. 97,974 Wine
L. 50,255 Cigars
L. 40,000 Sculptures
L. 20,515 Motorcycle repairs

According to the audit results, the millions in personal expenses are irregular, including an even L.1,000,000 which was designated as food baskets, but included no supporting documentation.

Sr. Sagastume confirmed that these personal expenses have nothing to do with the ongoing investigations of the irregular use of public funds for the cuarta urna project, currently estimated at some L. 600 million. (See also articles on corruption.)

Zelaya's administration was criticized constantly for the waste of public funds in spite of preaching austerity which he never personally practiced. The Casa Presidencial budget was increased from L. 4.5 million in 2007, to L. 7.2 million in 2008. Despite his claims that no public official would earn more than L.60,000 per month, Zelaya's own salary was L. 97,500. Additionally, his wife Xiomara Castro was paid a salary of L. 80,000.

L. 123 million converts to approximately US $6.5 million
L. 600 million converts to approximately US $31.7 million

Amount of US aid terminated US $30 million.

Number of families who could have been fed and housed for a year with L. 723 million: 10,954 (using minimum wage)

This spending was going on while hospitals were without medicines, schools were without books, teachers were going without pay, just to name a few better uses to which the money could have been put.

Puts it into perspective, doesn't it?

Update: Sr. Sagastume has since received death threats against himself and his family.

Related newspaper articles (in Spanish):

Proceso Digital
El Heraldo
La Tribuna
AFP article
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