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Chávez' spoiled kids

By Oscar Medina | El Universal

14.11.04 - The Electoral Power is a top priority in President Hugo Chávez' revolutionary agenda. The top electoral bodies' moves have allowed Chávez' administration to keep up a democratic appearance. Therefore, the National Electoral Council (CNE) has anything it wants.

Comparisons are always hideous, so let's get into the facts: amid the euphoria that followed the victory of President Hugo Chávez-backed candidates in recent regional and local election -held in October 31-, the National Assembly's Finance Committee, in a very generous and swift move, passed some 20 additional loans amounting to VEB 1.9 trillion (US$ 991 million). The funds are earmarked for paying a Christmas special bonus to public workers, while VEB 254.8 billion (US$ 133 million) are to increase allowances for governors' offices and mayors' offices nationwide. (Will public funds be delivered to the regions this time for sure?). Other VEB 73.4 billion (US$ 38.3 million) will be used to buy motorbikes for the heroic National Guard, as well as to pay for a "modernization" plan being implemented by the Defense Ministry. Besides, other VEB 76.8 billion (US$ 40.1 million) are to pay 10 helicopters Venezuelan Vice President José Vicente Rangel bought during his visit to Russia. So far so good, but the hideous comparison is as follows: out of the abovementioned US$ 991 million, merely US$ 78.1 million have been earmarked for the Labor Ministry to pay pensions overdue since 1992.

It is hard to understand why the retired people have to wait 12 years to collect a pension, or why only now VEB 130.9 billion (US$ 68.3 million) have been earmarked to pay a debt with university teachers that dates back to 2003, or why "emergency boards" have to be established to make the government disburse funds for public health care centers -cut off from funds because of political reasons. Why it all happens in a country where money for specific purposes flows swiftly and timely?

The Electoral Power is a conspicuous example of the priorities the revolutionary government of President Chávez has. Jorge Rodríguez' and Francisco Carrasquero's CNE was granted a VEB 150 billion (US$ 78 million) budget in 2004 to complete their mission at the CNE, and they invested more than US$ 100 million in the magic electoral solutions of IT firm Smartmatic and other IT artifices.

Under a previous board of directors -the one that approved a consultative referendum on President Chávez' mandate that was never carried out-, the CNE was denied any funds. The present CNE, whose automated crafts have taken Chávez supporters to claim victory once and again, never gets a no for an answer -just like ruling party MVR top leader William Lara when he files any claim with the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ). By June 2004, the CNE was granted VEB 300 billion (US$ 156.4 million) and up to October 19, according to the National Assembly, the top electoral body received VEB 534.7 billion (US$ 278.7 million) in additional loans.


Insatiable, the CNE always wants more. Besides entering into a service agreement with questioned Smartmatic -without a bidding-, during the regional and local election, the CNE spent more than US$ 25 million in services from telephone firm Cantv; US$ 20 million for satellite transmission of data from fingerprint capture machines, and other US$ 15 million to purchase other 3,500 automated voting machines from Smartmatic. In total, they have spent 60 million greenbacks in a process in which most Venezuelans did not and do not believe -not to repeat the commonplace that the October 31 election saw "a historical abstention rate."

Rodríguez, a psychiatrist, has still another mission to complete -with help from Smartmatic-, to have Hugo Chávez re-elected in 2006.

So, this spoiled public power is asking for more. Under 2005 budget, the CNE has requested over VEB 984.2 billion (US$ 513.1 million), including "ordinary resources for the operation of this agency, and the resources necessary to carry out any scheduled electoral processes," namely, elections for National Assembly parliamentarians, town council members and parish boards.

In order to move forward with automation, the CNE estimates it will need VEB 183.1 billion (US$ 95.6 million), out of a VEB 366.2 billion (US$ 191.2 million) item for electoral processes, including VEB 25 billion (US$ 13 million) in productivity bonuses.

New headquarters

Besides, the Electoral Power no longer fits its current headquarters. In the draft 2005 budget, the directors of the CNE say they need a new building, claiming that "insecurity is a permanent threat around the place (where the CNE headquarters are located now), while utilities, such as electricity, water, and sewage have collapsed."

The illustrious electoral arbiters do not want to continue working in these poor conditions, and therefore they have asked for VEB 66 billion (US$ 34.4 million) to purchase a fitting base of operations. They are also requesting VEB 1.5 billion (US$ 783,290) to purchase land and build regional headquarters nationwide.

In October, the National Assembly passed an additional credit for the Electoral Power amounting to VEB 224 billion (US$ 116.9 million) "earmarked for the technological modernization that is necessary to guarantee electoral processes in every phase." In this case, technology meant vehicles, as VEB 5 billion (US$ 2.6 million) was devoted to purchase new cars for the CNE.

Apparently the CNE officials like to have a new car every year: they are asking for a further VEB 4.3 billion (US$ 2.2 million) to purchase brand-new vehicles. Under the 2005 budget Finance Minister Tobías Nóbrega submitted to the National Assembly for approval, VEB 376.2 billion (US$ 196.4 million) are requested for "non-distributed assignations" to the CNE. This represents money the top electoral body is to manage without previously specifying how it plans to spend it. Given the facts, it is easy to predict that the Electoral Power is to end up obtaining anything it wants and more, and it may even reach VEB 1 trillion (US$ 522 million).

Translated by Maryflor Suárez

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