Colombia: President Santos’ Final Days in Office, Troubling Economic Legacy

Santos last days in office involved a flurry of decrees and appointments, as his critics express concern over the explosive growth of Colombia's public spending.

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Among Santos last actions as president, was a massive new outlay for more prosecutors and bureaucrats to oversee the peace process with the FARC (Twitter).

In his final days in office, former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos made appointments, issued decrees, and took other executive actions that have been criticized by Colombian society.

Just one day before leaving the Casa de Nariño, the ex-president authorized the creation of 218 new positions within the Attorney General’s Office. The sweeping action was taken in order to bolster fulfillment of the provisions of the post-conflict framework, in accordance with the peace process agreed upon between the Colombian government, and the Marxist guerrilla group the FARC.

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Under the auspices of Decree 1.512 of 2018, five positions were created for delegated attorneys, 12 positions for judicial prosecutors, 126 posts for advisers, 33 positions for university professionals, 14 posts for secretary, 13 presiding magistrates, 12 administrative assistants, one clerk and two citations officers.

“The Office of the Attorney General of the Nation has prepared a technical study with regard to the personnel needs required by the control entity to meet the functions related to the fulfillment of the provisions of the framework for the implementation of the Final Agreement for the Termination of the Conflict and the Construction of a Stable and Lasting Peace, and the implementation of the JEP (Special Jurisdiction for Peace), in accordance with the provisions of legislative acts 01 of 2016 and 01 of 2017,” reads the executive decree.

Santos also forayed into environmental policy, signing a Conpes (National Council for Political and Social Economy) document, which plans a national policy on controlling air quality. It establishes an investment of COP 16,637 million (approximately USD $6 million) in 2018-2019 for government efforts to prevent air pollution.

Express diplomatic appointments

The lame duck administration also made significant appointments in the diplomatic corps. Outgoing Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín appointed Juan Manuel Santos’ current press officer, Marilyn López Forero, as Colombia’s consul in the city of Barcelona, ​​Spain. Likewise, former President Santos, through the Foreign Minister, appointed Diego Mora, director of the National Protection Unit (UNP), as Colombia’s consul in Newark, United States.

Diego Mora was appointed to the post of council minister, and Marilyn López was appointed to the position of first secretary of Foreign Affairs. Yet another press adviser to the president, Jhon Jairo Ocampo, was also appointed to the Consulate in Spain, while three other Santos officials in the press department were also given positions in the foreign service: Pilar Acosta, Marcela Durán and Pilar Calderón.

Current Interior Minister, Guillermo Rivera, was also proposed as the next Colombian ambassador to Chile in Duque’s administration.

Evidence of undeclared funds in the Santos 2010 campaign

Despite having finished his term, the controversy over possible undeclared funds during Santos’ campaign is still a concern. The National Electoral Council (CNE) has ended the official investigation, however, the electoral authority could still establish that there was an infusion of undeclared campaign funds that bolstered his presidential bid. Such allegations have long dogged the Santos administration, with funds supposedly contributed by disgraced Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht and the Colombian securities firm Interbolsa.

Despite having ended the investigation, the CNE has asked the Colombian Congress to continue to investigate Santos with regard to irregularities in the financing of his campaign.

Roberto Prieto, former Santos campaign manager, acknowledged receiving the sum of USD $400,000 to produce 2 million posters. These funds came from Odebrecht. Colombian legislation prohibits foreign investment in electoral campaigns, and also sets strict campaign finance limits, which the Odebrecht contributions may have surpassed.

Similarly, Rodrigo Jaramillo, former president of Interbolsa who is currently being held in prison, revealed that his firm gave USD $150,000 to the campaign, a payment that was not reported.

Unfinished infrastructure projects: Comptroller General

The Comptroller General of the Nation, Edgardo Maya, publicly referenced a series of infrastructure projects that remain uncompleted; this will represent a major challenge for the incoming administration of Iván Duque. Maya, who monitors use of public resources across the country, cited a long list of unfinished works in several regions.

He singled out the Meta department, on Colombia’s eastern plains, where COP $105.000.000 worth of projects remain uncompleted. Another troubling case involves the Ranchería dam in La Guajira that has thus far cost more than $640.000.000 COP. The project was intended to provide a reliable supply of drinking water to the region, but as of yet, it has not yielded any potable water.

Another pressing infrastructure project is La Linea tunnel, an ambitious new highway tunnel, which will link the mountainous departments of Quindio and Tolima, cutting through the Central Cordillera of the Andes mountains. Thus, far more than $2 billion COP has been invested in the project, and its completion timetable still remains unclear.

Troubling economic legacy: Growth in Santos’ public spending was unsustainable

The comptroller also noted some worrying statistics with regard to Colombia’s public debt in 2017: it reached COP $516.59 billion, equivalent to 56.6% of GDP. This is certainly a concerning development for Colombia, which has had a history of fiscal prudence.

Comptroller Maya pointed out that if the necessary measures are not taken to reduce expenses and increase public revenues, the degree of investment in Colombia’s external debt would be put at risk and its cost of financing would increase.

According to the latest survey conducted by the National Consulting Center (CNC), the former president leaves power with 50% of Colombians viewing him unfavorably.

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