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Central American University - UCA  
  Number 221 | Diciembre 1999
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Nicaragua

Governance in Nicaragua

Statements and declarations have rained down in response to the sentencing of Agustín Jarquín, Comptroller General of the Republic, and his subsequent imprisonment. This statement by Carmelo Angulo, the United Nations Development Program's representative in Nicaragua, is especially worthy of attention because of the issues he raises and the proposals he makes.

Carmelo Angulo

The United Nations Development Program in Nicaragua (UNDP) has insisted in recent years that governance and the fight against poverty are central elements to achieving sustainable, people-centered development, just as important as macroeconomic stability.

At first glance, governance may seem a vague term. A worldwide consensus has been developing, however, that defines it as the set of values, laws, institutions and rules of coexistence that permit a society to peacefully resolve the tensions and conflicts of interest that can arise among the branches of the state, between them and the citizens, and within the private sector itself.

Governance includes good government, understood as transparency and efficiency. It also includes a rule of law that establishes balance and independence between the branches, a justice system that is independent, professional and accessible to all, and the instruments needed to monitor and oversee the use of public goods (comptroller's offices, superintendent's offices, public defenders' offices, etc.). Other essential elements of governance are the search for social cohesion, citizen participation and decentralization, as goals that foster equal opportunities, and policies based on social consensus, since they permit more rapid development and make it more harmonious.

Governance is thus an inclusive process that does not just concern the efficiency, legality, legitimacy or transparency of government administration. It also includes a constructive relationship between governors and the governed; an equitable, balanced division of attributes and domains among institutions; and a collective will to make our societies more just.

In countries like Nicaragua, that have gone through long, painful periods of confrontation and are making a transition to models of stable, peaceful coexistence, governance is a long and difficult process. By improving governance, a society can move from the basic structures of formal democracy to full democracy, in which laws are not only enacted but also strictly enforced, in institutions and in people's daily lives. This requires a substantial amount of generosity from everyone, a spirit of dialogue. Above all, it requires an ability to look to the future without personal interests and prejudices, in order to create a nation not only young in age but also eager for profound changes. Institutions must be more at the service of people than of specific political options.

This is what the majority of Nicaraguans and the international community expect, based on the commitments assumed by the government and civil society in the Consultative Group meetings in Geneva, Washington and Stockholm. At those meetings, there was discussion of the need to transform the country into a more just, competitive and efficiently governed society. In that context, and with all due respect, I would like to suggest some ideas that may help us think constructively about the kind of organized leap that would allow us to use this moment as an opportunity for all:
1. One thought would be an ad-hoc meeting of the heads of the branches of state and of the institutions in charge of evaluating and supervising the use of public goods, to seek the political and budgetary commitments that will allow them to mutually strengthen their institutions, fully recover their constitutional powers and eventually create mechanisms for inter-institutional consultation and collaboration, like those that exist in other countries.

2. The government could launch an all-out fight against corruption with the greatest possible support, in accord with the commitments assumed in Stockholm. This effort should produce not only legislation but also a system of controls, indicators and sanctions, so that ethical principles may be combined with precise, verifiable mechanisms for public purchases, the contracting of credit, the barring of presents to government officials, required annual probity declarations, and the citizenry's access to justice through a law permitting individuals to file suit against the government. Establishing a professional civil service system would expedite and provide the necessary continuity for these efforts.

3. Recognizing the dialogue now underway between the country's two leading political forces, the agenda could be enlarged to include strategic development issues, and to involve other key sectors of national life. Diligent, effective use could be made of new or already-existing forums for consultation and concertation, such as the National Council for Sustainable Development and the National Council for Economic and Social Planning.

In these forums, it would be much easier for the institutions, acting respectfully within a legal framework, to find an equitable solution to the delicate case of the Office of Comptroller General, which hurts Nicaragua's image and endangers an institution that is essential to making democracy credible.

Perceptions, which count for a great deal all over the world, make it difficult to assimilate the image of a comptroller in prison, because independent of any error or crime he may have committed, what is being judged is an attitude that some citizens and donors have viewed as an independent one that promotes transparency. Nor is it easy for the government and other citizens and donors to accept attitudes that can be interpreted as electioneering, coming from an organ of control that is supposed to be neutral and impartial in the political game.

It would thus seem necessary to restore the constitutional powers and proper functions to each institution responsible for guaranteeing the rule of law. If the profile of any institution needs to be redefined, this should be done in a way that strengthens its operational capacity and independence.

The difficulty of achieving this is what concerns the international community, which has been working with the Nicaraguan people and institutions through various channels for over two decades. It is often forgotten that behind the donors are societies, organized groups and NGOs of various kinds that contribute to the development of faraway countries with their taxes and voluntary contributions. These people exert pressure within their own countries to demand efficiency and transparency in the use of resources.

The path of debt relief and the path toward achieving greater independence from external cooperation are parallel, although some sectors question this. The condoning of Nicaragua's foreign debt is a prerequisite to its economic independence. Coming to an agreement with the international community on the HIPC [Highly Indebted Poor Countries debt-pardoning initiative] although not an easy path in the short run, can lead not only to the substantial and definitive reduction of debt payments but also to the fresh resources needed to make the profound political and social transformations that broad sectors of society are demanding. Governance, presented in Stockholm as the centerpiece of transformation, thus becomes a guarantee of stability, since it strengthens institutionality and judicial guarantees, helps reduce inequalities, and improves Nicaragua's competitiveness. There is a symbiotic relation between governance and poverty reduction: governance favors the fight against poverty as much as the reduction of poverty facilitates governance.

The international financial institutions and the agencies of the United Nations System, which answer both to the states that are aid recipients and to those that are donors, have a responsibility to offer ideas and instruments that can restore confidence among Nicaraguans and between Nicaraguans and the international community, so as to appropriately focus and advantageously fund the major transformations demanded by Nicaragua's five million people for the coming century.

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