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Colombia’s “Development Plan” Heist

By: Javier Garay - @Crittiko - May 19, 2015, 7:46 am
Más allá de la propaganda optimista, los planes de desarrollo no han sido eficaces (Ola Política)
Colombia’s development plans have consistently failed to achieve their stated aims. (Ola Política)

EspañolLast week, Colombia’s Congress approved the National Development Plan, with all the key policies promised in the lead up to elections, now to be implemented over this four-year term.

The first concern to stand out, however unbelievable it may seem to readers, is that Colombians tend to hold several false beliefs: that development can be achieved through state intervention, and that to secure the latter, exhaustive state planning is needed. Furthermore, that a candidate’s proposals are by their own definition the right ones to spur growth: you just have to put them on paper, ram legislation through Congress, and they will not only implement themselves but will also be effective.

Such beliefs demand blind faith from the citizens, without logic or evidence to back them up.

On the contrary, a cursory look at our history gives the lie to this blind credence. Central-planning strategies has been going on since at least the 1970s, when the Misael Pastrana administration (1970-74) inaugurated the country’s first development plan.

Astonishingly, every four years a new one is approved, only to never be completed nor achieve its stated goals: Colombia is still an underdeveloped nation, despite 40 years of “development planning.” What further evidence do adherents need to acknowledge this strategy has been a failure? Only dogmatism can explain it.

Of course, the mass of believers in the efficacy of such plans are ordinary citizens, not politicians. The latter are quite aware of the results. They are neither naive nor well-intentioned; politicians very rarely are, and Colombian politicians are in a league of their own.

We have to seek the reason behind the perpetuation of this practice elsewhere. On the one hand, the plans allow the executive to evade political control from Congress with ease. Checks imposed in Colombia are insignificant anyway. Colombian congressmen are guided by one sole principle: to funnel state funds towards those who vote them into office and into their own bank accounts.

The point is that the development plan speeds up approval. Every administration must have one by law, and it must be passed before a strict time limit. Therefore, even if congressmen and the executive fight over issues, the bill eventually gets signed into law. Development plans thus turn out to be very useful for governments, regardless of their inability to live up to their name.

The incoming administration details everything they intend to do and where taxpayers’ money will go during the next four years. Coherency is not a requirement; anything the government comes up with can be included and justified as necessary for growth — the growth of politicians’ and their friends’ bank accounts, of course. It’s crony capitalism, pure and simple.

What was evident with last week’s plan in particular were the loopholes it created to allow politicians to steal from citizens. Public servants are now doing what they do best: confusing citizens. They defend the plan on two fronts: either the new taxes are not really new, or they are required for the “greater good” of the country (that is, for their own).

Keep in mind that the Colombian government has announced a “structural” fiscal reform, due before the end of the year. In other words, a new tax hike on workers and businessmen will serve to finance whatever the sitting president wants. As expected, it will do nothing to foster much-desired “development.”

As a result, these plans benefit society’s parasites — politicians — and their crony friends, who are anything but entrepreneurs in the true capitalist sense. They are “political businessmen” who usurp money from hard-working Colombians, unable to profit from the privileges bestowed by the government. It’s a constant bottom-up redistribution of wealth, the very negation of progress.

So why call them development plans? To befuddle citizens and to keep the faith alive, no matter how absurd the name and the reality behind it.

Translated by Daniel Duarte.

Javier Garay Javier Garay

Javier Garay is a professor at the Externado University of Colombia. He has written two books on international issues, such as development, after his doctoral dissertation focused on the same topic. Follow him on Twitter @crittiko and through his personal blog, Crittiko.