The Constituyente before the Constituyente: Maduro’s Rule-by-Economic-Emergency-Decree

The Constituent Assembly’s sometimes portrayed as a strange new autocratic departure. In fact, when it comes to spending and anything related with the economy, Maduro been ruling on his own for ages.

The National Constituent Assembly (ANC) likes to portray itself as the new sheriff in town. Public opinion has accepted the notion that there was some semblance of rule of law still hanging on until the ANC was convened and started ruling by decree.

This is… how to put this? Bizarre. Somehow, we’ve all collectively forgotten that Maduro has been approving a new Economic Emergency Decree every 120 days. Maybe because it’s a little wonky and a little recondite, public opinion never really grasped what this actually meant. But let me break it down for you: Maduro’s been ruling by decree since January 2016, when his very-unconstitutional-yet-unstoppable Economic Emergency Decree was first handed down, before being renewed five times.

People maybe haven’t quite grasped it — but Maduro’s been ruling by decree ever since. All kinds of new rules have been rammed through under cover of the decrees. In fact, under the first four Economic Emergency Decrees and their respective extensions, enforced between January 2016 and mid-May 2017, Maduro signed 148 Presidential Decrees.

One hundred and forty eight!

Of these, 80 (54.1%) were used to assign additional resources without needing the approval of Créditos Adicionales by the National Assembly, allocating a whooping Bs. 4.08 trillion in 2016 and close to Bs.717 billion in 2017.

Just to be clear: virtually none of it is being invested. 92.7% of the resources assigned in 2016 and 84.5% of the resources assigned between January and mid-May 2017 covered budget shortfalls related to staff costs, raising public administration salaries, Cestaticket and social security (IVSS) pensions.

Though the decrees are supposed to address the “economic emergency”, just 12.1% of the decrees signed in 2016 even claim to seek to promote economic activity, the supply of basic goods and even social programs. In the first five months of this year, only 7.3% of Maduro’s decrees met this very loose standard.

We’ve all collectively forgotten that Maduro has been approving a new Economic Emergency Decree every 120 days.

Instead, Maduro’s largely used them to bypass the National Assembly’s power to control public spending. He’s used his emergency powers, for instance, to approve the National Budget for 2017. Through the fourth emergency decree Maduro even expropriated the Venezuelan Industrial Consortium of China Technology, Civetchi, C.A. And though he didn’t need the emergency decree for it, Maduro used it to show-off and appoint Ricardo Sanguino as President of the Central Bank.

The extension of the fifth economic emergency decree is currently in force and it has become a blank check… almost literally. All during the campaign, election and first weeks of the ANC on the job.

Maduro signed 56 presidential decrees between mid-May 2017 and September 4th of 2017. Of these, 49 (87.5%) allocated additional resources totaling Bs. 10.44 trillion, Bs. 9.56 trillion (91.6%) to cover budget shortfalls related to staff costs, raising  public administration salaries, Cestaticket and social security (IVSS) pensions.

These 49 decrees — signed checks, so to speak — represent 93.6% of the total additional resources allocated through the economic emergency decrees in 2017. Even with four months to go till the end of year, the Bs. 10.44 trillion allocated are 2.7 times those allocated in 2016, 1.23 times the budget for 2017 and almost 3 out of 10 Bolivares circulating in the economy (M2) -as of August 25th, 2017.

Also, the sum of the 2017 National Budget and the additional resources allocated through economic emergency decrees between January and September 4th of 2017 totalled Bs. 19.64 trillion, equivalent to 6 out of every 10 Bolivares circulating in the economy — as of August 25th, 2017. This total is, in turn, 3.5 times the one registered in 2016.

The ANC may seem like the new boss, but checks are still being signed by Maduro.

Anabella Abadi M.

Economist. Married to a Maracucho. Loves horror films and writing when she can't sleep.