Maduro’s Through Saluting this Stinkin’ Flag!

For years, Venezuelan budgets have been a "saludo a la bandera" - a purely pro-forma affair. Now Nicolás Maduro tells us he can't be bothered to do even that.

For years, Venezuela’s national budget has been nothing more than a saludo a la bandera — a mindless formality with no real relationship to the way the state raises or spends money. As anyone who follows these issues understands, the the real action is in the off-budget funds, PDVSA’s social budget, the “additional credits”, the State-owned enterprises, the regional governments: a whole grab-bag of no-audit/no-oversight spending black holes that are the hallmark of Bolivarian fiscal management.


Now that the majority of Parliament is in the hands of the opposition, Maduro’s putting us on notice: his budget-submitting days are behind him.

So getting too worked up about the budget is probably malversar your arrechera. That said, in 1999-2015, the president has nonetheless dutifully presented a stack of documents labeled National Budget to the National Assembly year after year. Article 313 of the Constitution says he has to, and, with the majority of Parliament in the hands of chavismo it was all a matter of la señal de costumbre.

Now that the majority of Parliament is in the hands of the opposition, Maduro’s putting us on notice: his budget-submitting days are behind him. He’s through salutin’ that flag. 

In Cadena de Radio y Televisión today, Maduro let us know the rules are about to change: “I am going to sign a letter to our legal consultant Elvis Amoroso right now to consult the Supreme Court in order to maintain the constitutionality and legality of the country, as the National Assembly has held the court’s rulings in contempt ( …) and I need the 2017 budget to be approved making sure nothing is stopped… I need the Supreme Court to tell me what to do about the national budget”.

“I have in my powers the Economic Emergency Decree,” Maduro added, “and can declare its [national budget] approval by way of decree… but I need an opinion and a firm, clear, constitutional, legal decision of the highest level to avoid any mistakes”.


Look, Venezuelan budgets have never been a reliable guide to how the government plans to raise and spend money the following year.

In other words, Maduro is asking the Supreme Court’s good graces to skip GO! and keep collecting -or creating?- monopoly money to spend as he wishes. And the TSJ being the TSJ, its eventual ruling is in about as much doubt as whether with this next scheme the coyote will finally catch the roadrunner. (Spoiler alert: bájate de esa nube.)

Look, Venezuelan budgets have never been a reliable guide to how the government plans to raise and spend money the following year. We know that. (And about the marco plurianual del presupuesto — remember that?! — the less we say the better.) Still, though, you flip through the little blue book in vain looking for that one article so aggressively clear that even this TSJ can’t rule it says the opposite of what it says. Today, we found out 313 ain’t it…

Public Spending surpassed the budget by 108% in 2014 and by 192% in 2015, thanks to créditos adicionales, a constitutional get-out clause that has been wrongfully used to make the budget into little more than an advisory document. In 2016, knowing the opposition majority of the National Assembly would probably block most of the requested créditos adicionales, Maduro allocated additional resources through the three Economic Emergency Decrees approved so far and between January and September 2016 exceeded the national budget by more than 100%.

Even though Maduro and his team have always spent our money at will, they keep on trying to make it look legitimate and constitutional. Honestly, it’s hard to tell why. Who exactly is this mythical public out there that would be outraged if Maduro just published a budget by decree but whose concerns would be met if the TSJ says publishing a budget by decree is a-ok? Do those people actually exist? Where?! Maybe in Narnia.

In any case, realizing that the budget would go through a tough review by the opposition majority of the National Assembly, Maduro decided to just skip the hassle and leverage the Supreme Court to sidestep the whole troublesome affair.

The national budget should be the nation’s central financial planning tool. Instead, it’s a joke: a fig-leaf draped haphazardly over an increasingly arbitrary public sector spending framework. Maduro doesn’t want a budget, he wants a cuaderno de pulpero. And without any type of budgetary constraint, inflation will just keep on soaring to infinity and beyond.

 

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