EL ESPECTADOR, September 12, 2021
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
When political power is exercised on the basis of egos and arrogance, institutions will suffer. After the fiasco of the Ministry of Technology, Information, and Communications (Mintic in Spanish) with a contract for the installation of Internet access in schools, Minister Karen Abudinen resigned just before being censured by Congress. In the process, she, the President, and the members of the pro-administration coalition left behind a series of phrases and attitudes that sent a warped message: politics in Colombia has turned into a personality game where the country’s welfare is not a priority. It was the same with the appointment of Alberto Carrasquilla as President of the Bank of the Republic. The Iván Duque administration appears disposed to let us know about the errors committed by its officials, but they don’t care how serious are the fiascos that they precipitated; they don’t deserve consequences of any kind.
An administration entrenched in itself is nothing new; that’s obvious. When EL ESPECTADOR asked President Iván Duque about his appointments of his friends and close staffers to the control agencies, one of his answers was to recall that something similar was done by the administration of Juan Manuel Santos. And that’s true. In fact, we could go farther back and find that the incumbent Presidents defended their ministers tooth and nail, without caring that there were good reasons to expect political responsibility from them. In Colombia, the powerful don’t resign out of honor and respect, but rather because they are losing the support of their allies in the administration. Is that the only way to do politics in this country?
Alberto Carrasquilla had a conflict-ridden and blundering turn in the Treasury Ministry, to the point that his tax reform bill unleashed one of the strongest protests in the country’s recent history. He resigned, supposedly, in recognition of the government’s debacle, but in just a few months he was appointed by the Duque administration to the board of directors of the Bank of the Republic. This process is similar to that of Minister Abudinen, who, in spite of the evident negligence in her management of the Ministry, she was bolted fast to her job under the bizarre theory that it’s not a political responsibility to admit a mistake and step down, but rather to remain indefinitely. Her defiant speech to the Congress, along with smiles and odd appeals to Barranquilla pride, will live in history as one of the exhibitions that was most representative of the phenomenon that we have been describing.
The problem is that the impulse to take a defiant attitude, almost collegial, comes from the most important position in the country. President Iván Duque said, “Oven-roasted Minister is Colombia’s favorite dish. They think Colombia’s problems can be solved with somebody’s head on a platter.” That characterization of the reality is not acceptable. Demanding a resignation as an act of respect for Colombians, for public resources, and for the legitimacy of government institutions is not a popular and vengeful act, but rather the very least that can be asked in a democratic society. Is this a solution to the country’s problems? Of course not. But to stubbornly hold onto an official who has demonstrated negligence and is suspected of a fraudulent act will not accomplish that either. What a timely resignation would accomplish is to tell Colombians that the legitimacy of our institutions is more important than egos and personal ambitions.
This is not a trivial matter. In order to survive, a democratic government has to make it clear that no one is above the law. That includes recognizing that all of the officials are public servants, called to comply with higher standards of behavior. They are just birds of passage that, if they go wrong, should not be protected at the expense of the government they represent. Governments that provide this example strengthen democracy. Those that don’t, increase distrust.