Pink Slips for Congress

  • Written by  Marco Cáceres

Token as they may be, President Porfirio Lobo's austerity measures during the past week deserve praise. While the 11 percent cut in the salaries of Lobo administration officials earning more than Lps 50,000 (US$2,600) per month and the 20 percent reduction in the staffs of Honduran embassies and consulates -- about 68 layoffs from a diplomatic workforce of 340 people -- aren't going to make a big dent in Honduras' fiscal problems, they represent a visible signal that something is trying to be done to curve bloated government spending. 

It is unfortunate that the Congress has not fallen in line with this symbolic gesture, deciding instead to preserve the more than US$100,000 in annual compensation (US$51,450 in salary and US$52,500 in slush funds) each of its members receives from the bankrupt national treasury. It's too bad because it's not like the Diputados are doing a heckuva job earning their wages.

 

You would think that members of the Honduran Congress could at least be shamed into following the Lobo administration's lead. Not a chance. I mean, it's not like these guys and gals are burning the midnight oil or even working 40-hour weeks on behalf of their constituencies. ... Not like they're solving major problems or addressing complex issues by passing inspired, well-written legislation.

 

On the contrary, Congress has a well-deserved reputation for constant bickering, corruption, and incompetence. Just look back over the past two years and count how many times the body has had to rescind poorly-conceived laws that were vetoed by the President, or has passed poorly-written ones that are being side-stepped by clever people, or has sparked public outrage with laws in which the constituents were barely consulted or taken completely by surprise.

 

The fact is that Diputados in Honduras are not only overly paid for the less than average job they do, there are too many of them to begin with. For a country the size of Honduras (with a population of 8.2 million), and as poorly legislated as it is, 128 members of Congress is overkill; it should have no more than about 80-100.

 

Look at neighboring El Salvador and Guatemala, for example. The former has more than 6.2 million people and a 60-member Legislative Assembly, while the latter has nearly 15 million and an 80-member Congress. Both countries are far more orderly, better educated, and more economically robust than Honduras. If they can get along well with half or two-thirds of the Congressional representatives that Honduras has, then so should Honduras.

 

Costa Rica and Nicaragua also have smaller populations, but not by that much -- 4.8 million and 5.9 million respectively. They get along just fine with significantly less representatives. Costa Rica's Legislative Assembly has 57 members, while Nicaragua's Legislative Assembly has 90.

 

One of the most well-governed and economically successful countries in South America -- Ecuador -- has a population of about 14.7 million, and it makes due with 100 Diputados. Look at Israel; it has 7.8 million people and its Knesset has 120 members. If you can run a country like Israel with 120 legislators, then how do you begin to justify 128 Honduran Diputados? You can't. (8/20/12) (image courtesy Internet)

 

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Note: The author is the editor and cofounder of Honduras Weekly. He is an aerospace market analyst by profession. He was born in Tegucigalpa.

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