Mérida, July 15, 2008 (venezuelanalysis.com)– Last Friday, Venezuela’s top anti-corruption official, Comptroller General Clodosbaldo Russián, presented a revised list of people sanctioned for corruption during their terms in public office and who have been disqualified from running for office in the upcoming regional and local elections.
In both the former list, which contained nearly 400 names, and the revised list of 272 names, more than 52% of those disqualified did not sign the 2004 petition for a recall referendum against President Hugo Chávez, while less than 48% did sign the referendum, according to the Venezuelan newspaper Últimas Noticias.
This revelation comes amidst claims by opposition groups that the disqualifications are a form of political persecution executed by Russián, who, according to former opposition presidential candidate Manuel Rosales, is “a puppet of Chávez.”
3,000 opposition activists marched to Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) Saturday to demand that a series of top opposition candidates, including the current mayor of the wealthy Chacao district of Caracas, Leopoldo López, be taken off the comptroller’s list.
“We have already seen Comptroller Clodosbaldo Russián retract more than 200 disqualifications…this shows the legal and moral weakness of the comptroller’s position,” declared opposition leader and ex-wife of President Chávez, Marisabel Rodríguez, during the march.
In response to this, Russián said the list had been shortened because some of those who were originally disqualified were later found to have already completed the period of restriction from public office imposed by comptroller sanctions in previous years, so they are now free to be candidates for public office.
A former opposition candidate for mayor, Oscar Pérez, argued Saturday that the constitution does not give the comptroller the power to disqualify people from candidacy. “Article 42 and 65 of the Constitution are very clear, only by way of definitive judicial sentence can the political rights of a citizen be suspended,” said Pérez.
Article 42 of the Venezuelan constitution states, “Citizenship or any other political right may only be suspended by firm judicial sentence in the cases determined by the law.”
Article 65 states, “Those who have been condemned for crimes committed during the exercise of their functions, which affect the public patrimony, cannot stand for office in any popular election for a period of time, fixed by the law, until the completion of the sentence, and in accordance with the gravity of the crime.”
Russián, in response, pointed out that Article 25 of the Venezuelan Constitution establishes three types of sanctions for public officials guilty of corruption, specifically “penal, civil, and administrative responsibility, according to the cases.”
Articles 93 and 105 of the Organic Law of the Comptroller of the Republic, passed by the National Assembly in 2001, establish that the power to “declare administrative responsibility,” “impose fines,” and “impose sanctions,” including the temporary disqualification from public office, “will correspond in an exclusive manner to the General Comptroller of the Republic,” the comptroller explained.
According to Russián, the disqualifications from social and civil rights referred to in Article 42 of the Venezuelan Constitution are penal and civil sanctions, which “are totally distinct from what the comptroller can impose in the administrative way, which is only and exclusively the restriction from exercising public functions.”
In an interview with the Bolivarian News Agency, Russián said that corruption cases handled by the Venezuelan Comptroller’s Office satisfy the requirements of United Nations International Organization of Supreme Auditing Institutions (INTOSAI), an international government auditing NGO with special consultative status in the United Nations, and the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption signed by member countries of the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1996.
Moreover, Russián lamented that most of the public officials who have received administrative sanctions from the Comptroller’s Office contest the extent of their sanctions before the Supreme Court, but do not contest the administrative infraction for which they are sanctioned, which the comptroller called “the most grave thing.”
In response to criticisms by the Venezuelan Episcopal Church that the disqualifications “muddle” the political climate, Russián reaffirmed that the disqualifications are administrative measures to ensure honesty in public institutions and asked church officials not to forget “the commandment that we shall not lie or bear false witness.”
After publishing the revised list of disqualifications Friday, Russián assured that “for now, the Comptroller will not issue any more disqualifications,” so that the National Electoral Council (CNE) “can work with the needed anticipation” as political parties finalize their lists of candidates for the elections, which are scheduled for November 23rd.
The majority of those disqualified are ex-legislators sanctioned for mismanagement of funds, but the list also includes an ex-comptroller, an army Admiral, a public university official, mayors, governors, and employees in public institutions, according to Últimas Noticias.
In order to determine whether those disqualified were among the nearly 3 million Venezuelans who signed the referendum against Chávez in 2004, Últimas Noticias consulted the list that was originally published on the personal website of National Assembly Deputy Luis Tascón. In 2005, Tascón was brought before the Supreme Court and also called upon by President Chávez to “bury” the list after it had been allegedly used as a political blacklist, despite Tascón’s stated intention of determining whether names had been fraudulently added to the list.