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CONGRESS MUST REVERSE DAMAGING LEGISLATIVE REFORMS THAT IMPEDE THE FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION IN HONDURAS

Public pronouncement of the Association for a More Just Society (AJS) on the reforms made by the Honduran National Congress to the Budgetary Law.

Tegucigalpa, Honduras. The Association for a More Just Society (AJS), chapter of Transparency International in Honduras, regarding the reforms made by the National Congress to the Budgetary Law through Decree 141–2017 of the General Budget of the Republic (Fiscal Year 2018), pronounces the following:

1. In the midst of the current crisis through which the political class has lost citizen trust, it is with great consternation and indignation that we observe the intention to manipulate the country’s laws in order to ensure impunity for any act of corruption past, present, and future that may occur in the management of public funds generated through our taxes.

2. We consider the country’s rule of law to be severely damaged by the approval of a legislative reform that requires the Supreme Auditing Court (SAC[1]) to carry out their administrative procedure as a prerequisite to the Attorney General’s office’s prosecution of any criminal action. The SAC’s procedures often take 10 years or more. This reform not only affects the constitutional mandate of the Attorney General’s office, but also the defense of State interests and property exercised by public prosecutors. In addition, Article 325 of the Honduran Constitution establishes statutes of limitations for civil and criminal actions carried out during the exercise of public office. Under these reforms to the Budgetary Law, criminal actions could remain in complete impunity.

3. The reform of Article 16 of the Budgetary Law allows members of Congress to “request, manage, receive, administer, and execute public funds from any source including third parties or decentralized agencies, intended for community development projects, social assistance, and the strengthening of governance and democracy”. This modifies the republican nature of the National Congress and the control of public spending, making members of Congress both administrators and executors of public funds, and putting them in the position of both judge and jury.

4. The addition of article 131-A to the Budgetary Law, referring to the liquidation of public funds for the execution of projects and social aid, in which the Supreme Auditing Court is ordered to carry out auditing and special investigation of all public funds managed “in the 2006–2010, 2010–2014, and 2014–2018 government administrations”, implies not only that members of Congress are protected from any criminal prosecution while their case is being reviewed, but also that any public servant, person, or legal entity who has requested, managed, received, administered, and executed public funds from 2006 until the current date will be protected during such investigation.

5. The approved reforms mean that people under open investigation may simply request that the Attorney General’s office suspend their investigative action as

long as criminal responsibility is not determined by the Supreme Auditing Court. For cases that have already gone through the judicial process, the legal representation of the accused may present an exception, given that the SAC is responsible for determining whether there is criminal liability. This would result in a dismissal and closure of the criminal process, allowing the accused to go free.

6. We regret that the reforms to the Budgetary Law have already had their first effects of impunity in the case of the “Red de Diputados[2],” where the judge, Alma Consuelo Guzmán, decided to refer the case to the SAC to carry out the respective investigations in order to determine criminal liability. This generates doubts about the true intentions of the members of the National Congress, who purport to be transparent and accountable to the SAC, but in the process, violate the principles of judicial autonomy and the constitutional power entrusted to the Attorney General’s office in Article 232 of the Constitution.

7. The reforms carried out in the Budgetary Law are open for an appeal on the grounds of unconstitutionality, which may be opportune to present before the Attorney General’s office in representation of the general interests of society and anyone affected, according to provisions in the Constitutional Justice Law.

In conclusion, AJS considers that the reforms to the Budgetary Law are a serious blow to the fight against corruption, a contradiction to principle of democratic representation through popular vote, a major setback for rule of law, and a usurpation of the institutionality of the Attorney General’s office. Because of this, we demand the immediate repeal of the reforms to Article 16 and the addition of article 131-A of the Budgetary Law. Likewise, we reserve the right to bring necessary legal actions and even look to relevant international agencies in the event that this situation is not resolved by the National Congress.

Tegucigalpa, M.D.C.; January 25th, 2018

[1] “Tribunal Superior de Cuentas”, whose functions are similar to the Government Accountability Office in the United States

[2] “Network of Congressmen”, a case alleging embezzlement by five members of Congress that was presented by the Support Mission against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) in December, 2017

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