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Venezuela's Hugo Chavez: The devil on the loose...

By Oscar Medina, El Universal

The report contains 169 pages with sufficient material to launch several investigations. The Barinas State is an orgy of public mismanagement. After examining the 2002 financial account presented by Governor Hugo de los Reyes Chávez -the father of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez-, the Comptroller's Office of Barinas State has delivered -for the third time- a report concluding that the administration of Barinas Governor is a compendium of violated laws, infringed procedures and suspicious pirouettes in accounting books. This is a document for posterity.

The fact that the report of the Comptroller's Office is disclosed so late this year seems to be a tradition. The father of the Venezuelan President -known among his fellow Barinas residents as "The Teacher"- is used to render his accounts late. In turn, the Barinas Comptroller's Office takes its time to process such a swamp. It is worth to clarify that the document showing the "happy" way the Barinas administration undertakes public management comes from a state agency, not from the so-called "dirty war laboratories" of the political opposition.

If the blurred figure that is supposed to head the Venezuelan General Comptroller's Office came to life, he could take a glance to the pages of this document and find some incentives to wake up from lethargy.

For example: the local government purchased three properties for donation to private foundations and bodies, as well as a new headquarters for the Legislative Council. The properties were purchased from the same seller under a controversial scheme: a 'visionary' individual purchased the properties, and several months thereafter the Barinas administration 'found out' that the buildings were ideal for its purposes, and paid a price much higher that the real value. The Comptroller's Office detected an overprice exceeding VEB 779 million (US$ 405,000) in these four operations.

But things get even worse: the Barinas State administration purchased the new siege of the Legislative Council on September 26, 2002, for VEB 603.5 million (US$ 314,000). In turn, the seller had purchased the building in April 2002 for VEB 185 million (US$ 96,364) from an individual that bought the property from the Bank Deposits Insurance Fund (Fogade) in December 2001 for VEB 180 million (US$ 93,750). Why does this property increases its value so fast?

For the third time

Governor Chávez financial accounts were already rejected in 2000 and 2001. Even though this time his financial account for 2002 has been technically disapproved, it is unlikely that the Barinas Legislative Council conducts the corresponding investigation. "The report of the Comptroller's Office was delivered via the Secretary's Office to the Legislative Council on February 17," explained parliamentarian Antonio Bastidas, president of the Comptrollership Committee. "But it was filed. I obtained the document from unofficial sources because it was not handed to us as set forth in the law. Pro-Chávez parliamentarians are the majority in the Legislative Council, and they do not dare to discuss the report for it shows that corruption plagues the administration of Teacher Chávez. In addition, the Comptroller's Office did not disclose the report to make the Barinas people aware of this situation."

The report concludes that most agencies in Barinas administration have repeatedly violated the laws on bidding, budget, treasury, internal controls, among others. The document adds that "there is no willingness from the corresponding bodies to enforce said laws, and in some cases the relevant officials are thought to ignore the valid regulations governing public administration."

The document points that the Barinas State administration uses "emergency decrees indiscriminately," and it "contracts obligations without sufficient budget availability." In addition, Governor Chávez administration "hides financial information when publishing financial statements, as it hides the records on transfers to subordinate agencies, and liabilities are not recorded." The report indicates that "there is a significant difference between the real funds existing in the reserves account of the Treasury and the figures reflected in the financial accounts, which could lead third parties to suspect a fund gap."

Almost VEB 7 billion (US$ 3.6 million) are believed to be lost in some "revolutionary" cloud. Such a huge numeric incongruity could be attributed to a "lack of planning, revision and follow-up of budget utilization," which results in a constant improvisation in the management of funds. For instance, the Barinas State administration contracted -via decree- obligations exceeding VEB 58 billion (US$ 30 million) "without having enough funds available," and it created 84 new budget items, which violated the Budget Organic Law.

According to Bastidas, said budget items exceed VEB 432 million (US$ 225,000), and "86 percent (of said money) was allocated to foundations and other organizations, but the most serious aspect is that the Governor's Office keeps no record or control over the final use of this money."

The Comptroller's Office stresses that, under the law, the Governor's Office has to utilize at least 50 percent of its budget (over VEB 117 billion -US$ 60 million- in 2002) in investment expenditures. The Teacher Chávez' administration spent 59.51 percent of its budget in investment in social and infrastructure projects. Nevertheless, Governor Chávez has not explained in what the funds were spent and how. Where could that money be?

In 2002, the Barinas Governor's Office managed a budget exceeding VEB 176 billion (US$ 91 million), a 22.6 percent increase as compared to 2001 budget. Apparently, the devil is on the loose in the land of the revolutionary Florentino (a character from the Venezuelan folklore President Hugo Chávez has selected for his electoral campaign vis-ŕ-vis August 15 presidential revoking referendum). Could a verse vanquish the devil?

ommedina@eluniversal.com

Translated by Maryflor Suárez



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