How exactly do you misplace $29,342,391,393.66?

One Billion Dollars in $100 Bills - Jorge Giordani can't account for 29 of these.

This isn’t a massive, government-shaking scandal. But it should be.

That’s right, it’s the full, scanned version of the Fonden report we promised you two weeks ago: the one sent by Finance Minister Jorge Giordani, in response to a parliamentary question from UNT Assemblyman Carlos Ramos, which he leaked to our very own Miguel Octavio, of Devil’s Excrement fame.

Remarkably, this is the very first official account of Fonden’s yearly spending the Venezuelan government has ever provided. (As an added bonus, it includes details on Fonden’s smaller off-book-spending cousin, the Venezuela-China Fund, as well.)

For those of you who (inexplicably) aren’t as completely enthralled by Fonden as Miguel and I are, a bit of background. Fonden is the largest of Hugo Chávez’s secret, off-budget spending kitties – the première transparency black hole of Venezuelan public life today . For years, just about everything having to do with the fund has been shrouded in secrecy: how much money it spends, how projects are selected, who makes the decisions, and who responds for the results.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that Giordani’s written reply to Ramos’s parliamentary question raises many more questions than it answers.

The minister lists 140 projects funded by Fonden – everything from $3,049,253,714 (and 30 cents) for Alí Rodríguez’s Electric System Investment Plan to $1,487,531 (and 33 cents – always so precise, down to the cents!) for the Environment Ministry’s program of sewer and water clean-up.

There are 140 line items like that, and then the bottom line: $69,446,817,347 (and 24 cents!)

Problem is, if you take the sums assigned to each of those 140 projects and add them up, it only comes to $40,104,425,953.58!

In other words, Giordani’s sums are off by $29,342,391,393 (and 66 cents!)

Let’s be clear: I’m not using “sums” as some kind of metonymic stand-in for complicated financial maths. It’s very literally a sum, just addition. And he’s off by twenty-nine billion green lettuces!

What the heck is going on here?

Well – Miguel (and he’s going to be posting about this a lot too) calculates that the $69 billion figure is pretty close to the actual amount that, publicly available sources suggest, was deposited in Fonden through 2010.

My guess then – and it’s only a guess – is that $69 billion is that the totals Fonden has assigned aren’t far off from the $69,446,817,347.24 Giordani listed under “totals”. But apparently $29 billion of that isn’t really presentable in public, so when they went to disclose the project-by-project funding to the Assembly they scrubbed the spreadsheet of $29 billion worth of projects!

That $29 billion would then be a sort of Fonden-inside-a-Fonden, an even more secret and opaque section of an already deliriously opaque spending mechanism.

That the Constitution’s article 314 categorically bans any type of spending that hasn’t been approved by the National Assembly is one of those forgotten little trivia bits that ought to make this a system-shaking political storm but, somehow, doesn’t.

But, again, that’s just a guess. It could just be garden variety incompetence. Congressman Ramos – who deserves all kinds of props for running down these figures – has tabled an additional set of parliamentary questions, asking for clarification on the screwed-up tabulations from Giordani. We’ll certainly keep you posted.

One day, we’ll tell our grandchildren that we can remember a time when 42% of public spending was secret and they’ll be amazed.

And then we’ll tell them that the same reports that were tens of billions off in their sums were wrong down to the cent…and, well, they’ll just laugh at us.