Conservatives Evaluate the Liberals
The general secretary of the Conservative Party shared with envío his evaluation of the first one hundred days of the Liberal government, as well as some of his recent experiences as the National Assembly.
I want to evaluate these first 100 days of the liberal government in the name of a Conservative Party that is, thankfully, no longer managed from a desk in Granada.
• The President's defenders say that we citizens are analyzing his government as if he has already been in power five years. However, we believe that 100 days have been enough to indicate what we will see in the next five years. We Conservatives have analyzed this sample 100 days and we do not find one positive point.
• For us these 100 days have been a continuation of Arnoldo Alemán's electoral campaign. And just as he presented no program in the campaign, he has governed with no economic program in these 100 days. That's why he introduced the tax reform bill "with urgency." He doesn't have an economic plan and he's desperate to find the 700 million córdobas that he needs and doesn't know where to find. Despite such serious problems, today, for example, President Alemán was on Radio Corporación all morning. What's a President doing chatting on radio when there are thousands of problems in this country to be resolved? What does he do? He continues his campaign.
• In his campaign promises, Alemán said he was going to create jobs, but in 100 days what he has created is unemployment. I have with me some documents from the minister of INRA [the Agrarian Reform Institute], who sent a memorandum to his vice ministers saying that no personnel could be fired without his authorization, but he received a response from one of them saying that the attitude of not firing people was "to be an accomplice of the Sandinistas." In reality the layoffs haven't affected only Sandinistas or supposed Sandinistas. The [Ministry of] Education delegates in Ciudad Darío, Tuma-La Dalia and San Rafael del Norte are Conservative Party members. They were told to sign the "red book" and when they refused, were fired. In San Rafael del Norte, the delegate was a teacher with a Masters degree and even so she was fired... Irresponsibility is combined with unemployment. A very serious case: the great majority of the 512 people laid off from the Supreme Electoral Council were technicians, trained people, who had specialized for many years. What kind of continuity will there be in the unfinished process of issuing ID/voter cards to all citizens?
• How much has it cost the country to organize its diplomats and foreign service? The new government has fired 99% of Nicaragua's ambassadors. One reads La Gaceta and of 12 pages, 10 are cancellations and new appointments or personnel for the foreign service. How much has that decision cost this poor country? We've lost not just accumulated experience but also money with the costs of bringing back and sending out so many people. The government speaks of austerity and the President was seen on television cutting up officials' credit cards and, supposedly, forbidding cellular telephones. But in only the first 100 days of government, five of the President's closest officials spent 65,000 cordobas on cellular phones.
• If this government had wanted to, the first thing it should have sent to the National Assembly "with urgency" was the Civil Service Law, so that public offices are filled according to professionalism, not appointments. That way we could have capable people and not loyal politicians. But regrettably, in Nicaragua political jealousy takes priority over the common good.
• Mr. Alemán promised foreign investment in large quantities, but nothing has been seen yet; no relevant foreign investment has yet been seen "above the table." Even worse, the new tax bill takes away all incentives to foreign investment, making it the same as for national investors, who live here and are obliged to invest here. The government isn't seriously promoting investment. I know some Mexican businesspeople who work in the health sector and came to invest in Nicaragua. I accompanied them to the Center for Export and Import Promotion, but they left disappointed in the person who met with them. We asked for an appointment with the secretary of the Ministry of the Economy's National Investment Commission. He said he was busy and couldn't meet with them, so we asked for an appointment with the health minister. When there was no response after a week, we asked to see the vice minister and met with him immediately. When these Mexicans began to explain their project-they wanted to install a laboratory and a factory to produce medicine-this man, without even letting them speak, said to them: "Why not import steel? I know there's plenty of steel in Monterrey. Put in a foundry! Or why not plant citrus in Río San Juan? Or else, look, I studied in Mexico and I like Mexican food a lot, and here in Managua there aren't very many Mexican restaurants; why don't you start one?" Are those investors going to return to Nicaragua with government officials like that one?
• President Alemán spoke of the rule of law in his campaign. We think the President's rule of law is a rubber band that he stretches or shrinks according to his personal interests. There's the case of the closing of Channel 6 and firing of all its workers, over 100. The Court had no choice but to declare the firings unconstitutional, but Alemán wanted to close it because he already has buyers for Channel 6 in Miami. The same thing will happen with Radio Nicaragua because he already has a buyer, also in Miami. It's true that the investigations into the selling procedures that took place in the privatization of the sugar refineries, into the CONAZUCAR corporation, are very necessary to analyze. But the President talks mainly about annulling the sale of the Victoria de Julio plant. Why? Because that plant already has buyers. What kind of rule of law is that?
• I began to work as a consultant to the National Assembly's Economic Affairs Commission not because of political commitments, but because of a desire to participate and offer my experience and knowledge to some degree. Now I realize that's almost impossible. In the new style of government, which is to legislate "with urgency," the Assembly Commissions do virtually no work at all.
• According to the Constitution, the National Assembly is the first branch of the Republic and is independent. In the last government, the Assembly was accused of being a Persian market for buying and selling government positions rather than a legislative forum. Despite this, that National Assembly maintained its independence from the executive branch, at least until the famous Framework Law.
• Today's Assembly has no independence. Alemán has guaranteed himself a number of loyal votes to approve or reject whatever he wants. The National Assembly directors have no independence. Each week the Assembly President crosses the street to the President of the Republic to consult the Assembly agenda. What is the exclusive right of the Assembly, to decide the legislative agenda, has now become an executive right. The Assembly board meets regularly with Alemán. At first, all board members went to those meetings, but José Cuadra, from the Conservative Party, is no longer invited. Only him. They don't want to hear a discordant voice, because those meetings are for Alemán to orient the Assembly votes. Cuadra is second vice president of the board and is told nothing; he has to be almost like a detective to look for information, because the rest of his colleagues on the board hide information from him.
• There is also a lack of pluralism in the Assembly's daily functioning. Use of the floor by representatives is regulated by a computerized system. But the only one who sees the screen where representatives ask for the floor by pressing a button is the Assembly president. Not even the rest of the board sees that screen. It has been customary for the Assembly president not to give the floor to anyone who will criticize the government or who wants to present new bills. Given the pressure against Alemán's methods, however, the representatives who oppose this government have decided to dedicate time in each session to politically attack it. They have also managed to present interesting legislation. But if these bills aren't part of the executive agenda, if they're not of interest to the Liberal Alliance, there's no point in presenting them. The board must pass the bills to the Commissions, and if they aren't passed, they are shelved.
• The Assembly isn't working well. Of the 93 representatives, 60 have never spoken. Many sleep; a representative can be making an important speech and 20 or 30 representatives are smoking and talking in the hallways. The age problem is also distressing: among the 42 Liberal Alliance representatives, only one is under 30. The others are at least 50 years old. It's not that older people don't have rights or that we don't want to take advantage of their experience, but this is a country of young people, young people with a very important historical experience, which the youth of many countries don't have and the adults of this country don't have. How will people who are 70 and 80 years old legislate well for youth and for children? How will the youth find valid speakers among these representatives?
• The only laws that are approved, the only ones that are even voted on, are those of interest to the President of the Republic. And they are put through with urgency. It's true that the Constitution gives the President the right to send bills to the Assembly with urgency, but President Alemán has abused this faculty, taking advantage of the dependence he has created in the Assembly board. With this abuse of the urgency procedure, the Assembly's legislative faculties are being annulled, because the Assembly leadership only awaits the President's bills. Other bills and projects don't count. In the Economic Affairs Commission alone a hundred bills have not been discussed.
• A key moment in the National Assembly in these 100 days was the discussion of the 1997 budget bill. It was passed to the Economic Affairs Commission, where many observations were made that were not taken into account by the Liberal majority. It was my job as consultant to explain to the Commission president the many articles in the bill that went against the Constitution. His response to me was, "That's why we are the majority!" The Liberal majority approved it, but to what purpose if then the President of the Republic didn't have the budget law published? Among the many illegalities and arbitarities that have been committed in these 100 days is this one: the country is operating in total anarchy in public finance terms, because the budget law hasn't been published and the deadline for publishing it has passed. The Assembly president could legally have published it, but he didn't because he wasn't given permission...
• There was a serious incident on that occasion: 910 million "ghost" córdobas were found in the budget bill. This led to some of the most heated discussions in the Assembly. The government had tried to introduce those millions in the budget bill as a supposed debt that the Central Bank has with foreign creditors. The Economic Affairs Commission requested explanations from the Central Bank president, but he didn't explain, and the money remained in the budget. Conservative Party representative Noel Vidaurre got hold of the report about this supposed debt and learned that one of the creditors listed was the Rosario Mining Company, which was owed 25 million córdobas. In the report from the General Treasury of the Republic, however, that debt was shown as already paid by previous governments. Other debts also appear that were already paid by previous governments, to the tune of 910 million córdobas. Those who are more trusting think that this is a demand from the IMF to keep the money in reserve. But those of us who are more cynical believe that this is the amount that the Liberal Party needs to invest in the 1998 Atlantic Coast elections to "win" them.
• Things have not gone well for Nicaragua in these 100 days. As long as the President gives public opinion no other option than to recur to violence to be heard, there will continue to be social chaos in the country. As long as there are no programs to help alleviate people's desperation-and we have seen no real social benefit projects in these 100 days-there will be social upheaval and will continue to be chaos, because people are tired of being cannon fodder. As long as the President continues to act in an authoritarian and centralist manner, making everything be approved directly by him, even the naming of a ministry doorman, there will continue to be chaos in the country. As long as the property problem is not resolved, and not just with laws but in an integral fashion with land and credit security, technical assistance and minimal market guarantees, we will continue living in chaos.
• Hopefully the protests of the barriers have led the President to reflect and to decide to work for the country's good. Political creeds must be left to one side, because in the long term a bad government drags us all down with it, large, medium and small. And a good government benefits all.