TSJ to citizens: the State's too busy to be accountable

At the center of this case is an irregular purchase of medicines from Cuba made by former Health Minister Maria Eugenia Sader, formally charged for embezzlement.

As Venezuela currently faces a major shortage of medicines (with, literally, deadly consequences), a related case of corruption involving the purchase of large amounts of medicine from Cuba moves ahead. The case was the reason behind a controversial, little known decision by the TSJ’s (Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice) Administrative Chamber last week.

A few years ago, the Health Ministry bought large amounts of medicines from Cuba. This caught the attention of the Comptroller General’s Office. In an internal report made public in 2011, they found that the Ministry got way more medicines than they required, and therefore many of those supplies simply expired without been used.

Several NGOs requested more information from the Health Ministry, without getting any answer. So they went to the TSJ three times between 2012 and 2013 to try and force the Ministry to give them some form of response.

After months and months of waiting, the highest court denied the four NGOs‘ request, but in the meantime, it also did away with Article 28 of the Constitution, the one regarding access to public information. Here’s the opinion of justice Emiro García Rosas, who wrote the decision:

In the criteria of this court, requests like this one, where the party pretends to gather information over the activities the state does or wants to do to obtain an end … go against the efficiency that must prevail in the Public Administration … given that if it’s true that every person has the right to make requests to public institutions and get a timely response, yet that right cannot be abused in a way that obstruct the normal functioning of the administrative activities … which would have to dedicate time and human resources to explain the large amount of activities that must be made in service of the collective, which it would also put an unnecessary and heavy burden on the justice system…”

Too legalese for you? I’ll put it simply: “How dare you to ask the state to tell you what it’s doing? The state is too busy working for your benefit, and you want to waste their time and efforts? Your request is worthless, and you should feel bad for even bothering us with this.”

Lack of access to public information in Venezuela has been on its deathbed for quite some time, but this decision covers its dozing head with a pillow.

In the meantime, the case that started this whole issue has not been solved. As a matter of fact, it has continued at a healthy pace. Yeah, the person who was Minister at the time has been charged, but I won’t be surprised if she’s left off the hook or just given a symbolic slap on the wrist. Who knows what internal chavista/Cuban power plays are at work here?

Speaking of the state’s efficiency, the TSJ made its ruling almost TWO YEARS after the original request.