Venezuela’s Reformed Communal Council Law Aims at Increasing Participation

On Tuesday the Venezuelan National Assembly passed a reform to the Community Council Law transferring the financial management of the councils from communal banks to finance commissions, and aiming to solve the problems that arose during the councils’ prolific expansion over the past three years.

By James Suggett - Venezuelanalysis.com

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Dario Vivas, President of the Citizen Participation Commission  (VTV)
Dario Vivas, President of the Citizen Participation Commission (VTV)
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Mérida, November 25th 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) -- On Tuesday the Venezuelan National Assembly passed a reform to the Community Council Law transferring the financial management of the councils from communal banks to finance commissions, and aiming to solve the problems that arose during the councils’ prolific expansion over the past three years.

Discussion of the law reform began early this year. The first proposal was submitted to scrutiny in 2,500 local discussion forums in which more than sixty thousand spokespeople from tens of thousands of existing community councils participated, according to the president of the National Assembly Commission for Citizen Participation, Dario Vivas.

The original Community Council Law was passed in 2006 and led to the emergence of tens of thousands of councils which succeeded in providing direct services to community members in need, such as home repairs, health care and food assistance. However, not all councils have achieved integral and sustained community organization.

According to the new law, community council finances will continue to come primarily from the government and state-funded foundations, but they will no longer be managed by communal banks that are governed by the Law on Cooperatives. Instead, an elected, five-member Community Financial Administrative Unit that is ascribed directly to the council will manage the funds.

The new law establishes more financial regulations so as to prevent corruption, and to assure that the financial officers “privilege social interest over accumulation of capital.”

In order to stimulate broader community participation, the new law establishes a quorum of 30% for the major decisions of the community assembly. It specifies that the elected spokespeople of the council are coordinators, not decision-makers, and it is the community assembly that approves the community development plans, to which the spokespeople are bound.

In addition, the new law establishes procedures by which the community assembly or the anti-corruption commission may revoke spokespeople’s mandates in response to corruption, electoral tampering, failure to strictly adhere to the community development plan, and other infractions. 

In contrast to the original law, the new law explicitly states that the community councils are to help promote new forms of “social, popular, and alternative economy” as well as tax-exempt productive enterprises of “social property, based on the potentialities of their community, oriented toward the satisfaction of collective needs.”  

The councils may also organize “socio-productive networks,” which represent the “integration of productive processes of the community socio-productive organizations,” in accordance with “new, sustainable relations of production, distribution, exchange, and consumption that contribute to the strengthening of popular power,” the law says.

In the legal definition of the community council, the reformed law says the councils will participate “in the construction of the new socialist model of a society of equality, equity, and social justice,” whereas the original law simply said “in the construction of a society of equity and social justice.”

The new law also adds several principles according to which the councils are expected to operate. These include democracy, national identity, free debate of ideas, humanism, collectivism, the common good, freedom, and the “the goal of establishing the socio-political basis of socialism that consolidates a new political, social, cultural, and economic model.” It also preserves the principles of cooperation, solidarity, transparency, honesty, efficiency, and gender equality which the original law stipulated.

With regard to the division of power within the councils, the new law adds a fifth branch to the original four branches. The original four branches include the community assembly, the executive unit, the anti-corruption unit, and the financial unit. The new fifth branch, called the “community coordination collective,” is charged with galvanizing community organization, informing and training community members, and coordinating with the local community-based “militias,” or army reserves.

Other minor changes include the lowering of the required number of families to establish a community council from 200 to 150, and more detailed procedures for community elections and the registration of councils, including restrictions on the reasons for which a council may be denied legal registration.

The law also establishes a formal “cycle” through which community council work is expected to pass. The cycle includes the “diagnosis” of community needs, the creation of a community development plan, the approval of the budget for the plan, the execution of the plan, and the process of collective vigilance to root out corruption and assure the fulfillment of the plan.

Existing councils have 180 days to re-register with the state under the new law, and communal banks must transfer their funds to the community council and dissolve within a month.