September 21, 2008

The Negotiations Move Ahead in Bolivia

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The negotiations between the central government and the opposition, embodied by the Prefects of Santa Cruz, Beni, Tarija, Sucre and representatives of the major political forces with representation in Congress, are moving ahead. The latest word is that they are close to an agreement on the devolution to the Prefectures of tax revenue coming from the natural gas exports (IDH). This tax revenue had been taken away from the regional governments with the argument that the funds were to finance a pension scheme for seniors, called Renta Dignidad (Dignity Rent). The government as well as the opposition are in agreement in principle. They agree the pension scheme should remain in effect. They also agreed that the Prefectures should get back some or all of the revenue taken away. However, that is it. That is the agreement. The details of how to keep financing it need to be worked out.

Most likely, in my opinion, some part of the IDH will still be used to finance the pension. The rest, will have to return to the regional governments. That is a compromise I see coming up. Morales has no other argument to keep those revenues. At least, non that I know of.

The most difficult agreement will be on the kind of autonomy to design and whether this will mean a change on the text of the Morales' constitution. In principle, all of Morales' bases (supporters) are against any change on the Oruro constitution. But, when the details are worked out on the autonomy issue, it might be necessary to modify some of the text. Of course, the government might also offer to instate another law ironing all the details, but I really doubt the opposition will take this because it will mean they'll have to trust the government once more. I don't think the opposition is ready to trust the government.

Going into a bit more detail, some of the tricky issues are the kind of competencies each level of government will get. More specific, in what areas will the regional governments have complete discretion and in what others will there be shared responsibility. When you take a good look at the Santa Cruz statute, the list of attributions is very long. In some areas, it takes the central government, or shall I say national government this time, out of the picture. One of these areas is the police. In Santa Cruz, the police is dependent of the regional government and not from the national government any more. This is just to illustrate the kind of issues we are talking about here.

One potential problem I see here is the absence of the municipalities. Considering this level of government received a great deal of autonomy through the decentralization process, the kinds of things being negotiated currently, at times, touches on some of the competencies the municipalities have. I am fairly sure that after some compromise reached by the two parties negotiating now some one will shout foul. That seems to be how things are done in Bolivia.

The only hope is that the people who are negotiating are keeping this governmental level in mind. Otherwise, it would be a step backwards for the decentralizaiton process.