The Guatemalan Congress made it more difficult this week to hold politicians accountable for their campaign finance management.
On Wednesday, it voted on two “urgent” decrees to change the country’s national penal code. During the first vote, 107 congress people, out of 158, voted in favor of making it more difficult to investigate and prosecute elected officials for illegal campaign finance spending. The decree reads that campaign accountants are fully responsible for any irregularities or illicit use of campaign funds.
The second vote, won by 106 votes, would lessen the maximum jail time for those convicted of campaign finance fraud from 12 to 10 years, and make it possible for them to avoid prison time by paying a fine. The congress said these changes were made to “decrease overcrowding in jails.”
These votes come two days after the legislature blocked the U.N. International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala from investigating Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales’s for an unaccounted US$825,000 he spent during his 2015 presidential election campaign. The congressional vote Monday essentially made the president immune from the commission’s investigation.
The same commission, in place since 2009, is designed to increase political transparency and decrease political impunity in Guatemala. It is currently investigating the president’s son and brother on corruption charges. Morales tried to declare the commission’s director Ivan Velasquez,non grata and have him removed from the country in late August.
The move was stopped by the supreme court. Guatemalan political scientist Ricardo Barreno stated that congress is highly fractured and that these votes on Monday and Wednesday indicate a temporary and precarious coalition among members. He added that congress voted to protect the president in order to use this as leverage and possible “blackmail” for votes in 2018.