Imagine Venezuela but with 30,000 fewer police officers and maybe an extra point of GDP in deficit. It sounds absurd, but some new legislation is trying hard to get us there.
Recently, the National Assembly held the first reading of a Social Security for Police Officers Bill aiming to improve police living standards and to make the profession more attractive. The bill would allow police officers to retire after 15 years of service and create a special Fondo Régimen Prestacional de los Servicios y Beneficios Sociales to be managed by a certain-to-become-a-corruption-cesspool Instituto Nacional de Seguridad Social del Policía, modeled on IPASME or IVSS.
The new institute would provide things like medical services, scholarships for policemen and their children, funeral expenses, and other benefits. One clause establishes the right to access health-insurance services, although it is unclear if it so as a complement or alternative to the services mentioned above
The bill envisages the creation health care centers specially for policemen and special benefits that the government must abide with such as bonuses for marriage, birth of a son or daughter, standardized uniforms endowments and travel allowances, among others.
First things first: do cops need better conditions? Definitely. According to some estimates, the country needs about twice as many police officers as it now has. Recruiting enough qualified new people into such a high risk profession is impossible unless you offer them a proper deal.
But the bill put forward by UNT’s Delsa Solorzano in the Interior Policy Committee of the National Assembly is very much not the way to get there.
A whiff of Armed Forces envy hangs over the bill.
Unlike economics, law and order policy is dimly understood even by the experts. Politicians go out of their way to avoid dealing with the problem and leave it in the hands of the military and the government. This is true on both sides of the aisle: just think how seldom you hear an opposition mayor or governor discuss law enforcement in any kind of depth.
But with the public more aware than ever over the cruel reality police officers face as they try to fight armed gangs, dying by the hundreds each year, the time is ripe for a debate.
A whiff of Armed Forces envy hangs over the bill. If the FANB have their own Social Security Institute, Bank, Television, Oil-Company, Hospitals, Universities, and they don’t even have to go fight choros on the street, but just prepare for war in a country that has never gone to war. So it seemed only fair that —finally— Police Officers would get some of the same perks.
So, why not start by dealing with the terrible, borderline-subhuman conditions policemen work in?
The bill now making its way through the A.N. is absurd economic terms: just parallel health structure it would require would break the bank.
The bill now making its way through the A.N. is absurd economic terms: just parallel health structure it would require would break the bank. What’s worrying is that our politicians have learned nothing from the chaos, disorder and disappointment that the traditional Social Security System (IVSS) leaves in its wake.
Neither have they learned the lessons from a similar law implemented by the Education Ministry: the sadly infamous IPASME. The new project for the police copies the same failed structures and features of IPASME and the IVSS and imposes a heavy budgetary burden not only on the national government but also on the states and municipalities that are already in the verge of bankruptcy. Are we really sure that a new public health organization can do the job that IVSS has failed at?
We know the public health-care system has completely collapsed —nothing new here— yet a major feature of the law is the creation of more state-owned health centers.
The sad reality is that nobody trusts public hospitals in Venezuela. When public sector unions go to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement, the first thing on the agenda is the HCM — the private health insurance component. It makes sense. Why get a gunshot or appendicitis treated in at the hideously under-resourced public hospital at El Llanito if you can do so at the gleaming private Centro Médico Docente La Trinidad?
Worse yet, the bill does nothing to address the biggest problem cops face: housing. Is Fuerte Tiuna just for military officers? Come on! That has been one of the major benefits of the military in the Chavez-era. If you are making the similar laws as chavistas, you might as well get right the few things it got right. Policemen and their families are logically scared living in the same barrios as the malandros they have to fight. Just recall the 17-year old son of a Policaracas Police Officer that was killed in El Cementerio purely because his dad was a cop.
But where the bill really fails the test of common sense is where it sets the retirement age after only 15 years of service. Amazingly, time spent training at the police academy counts towards that total. This means that someone who went into police academy at the age of 18 could retire with full benefits at the ripe old age of…33.
If the bill becomes law, according to MP Franklin Duarte’s estimate, between 20 and 30 thousand officers would be entitled to retire early. At a recent debate on the law he argued, lamely, that they would not leave service because “they know things are going to change in Venezuela”.
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Financially, just assume that person lives up to, say, 75 years of age. This means that for 13 years of service (the first two are spent at the Academy) the state has to pay wages for 42 years. The State will be maintaining the person more than three times the time he served. Seems a difficult promise to keep up with. And the police service would be perpetually deprived of experienced cops.
When asked in a public consultation about the financial viability of the proposal, Solórzano told the audience that “if the government has money to buy tanks and 400K go to Cuba, then it should have for this law. That’s not my problem.”
Chamo, Tomás Guanipa and Solorzano must be sharing economic advisors.
This bill shows dramatically that our political leaders have yet to learn from our mistakes. Proposals are put forward with a view to political gain, totally divorced from any serious feasibility or medium-to-long term impact study.
Public safety is in everyone’s mouth but in nobody’s hands. I wanted to believe the opposition would be different, but I can’t. After five years without being able to pass any legislation, one would expect professional, innovative and sound proposals, not improvised bodrios. We cops were expecting Nutella and we got Choconut.Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.