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Fat Cat Politicos in Colombia Have Never Had It So Good

By: Javier Garay - @Crittiko - Sep 28, 2015, 3:32 pm
Attorney General Montealegre has no intention of explaining how he used Colombians' money. (Colombiana de Prensa)
Attorney General Montealegre has no intention of explaining how he used Colombians’ money. (Colombiana de Prensa)

EspañolIn Colombia, we suffer from a bloated, interventionist state, whose expansion chips away at our economic and political rights every day. On top of that, we don’t have any real means to stop it or even slow it down.

In previous articles, I’ve described the government’s wasteful spending on public relations, its perverse legal system, and even the curious removal of Bogotá’s mayor.

The powers that be can do as they please in Colombia. Public opinion still supports them, and there is no way to keep them from advancing their agenda.

With that in mind, I have yet another scandal from my country to share.

Attorney General Eduardo Montealegre has been Colombia’s highest-profile prosecutor yet, eager from day one to give statements to the press. Once comfortable in his position, he began using the media to notify defendants of new proceedings.

Soon after, Montealegre then began taking advantage of his academic background, his supposed extensive legal knowledge, and his status within government to opine on every issue in the country, even when it had nothing to do with the judiciary.

While this initially sparked some criticism in Colombia, it was mostly written off as a partisan attack, and, like most other substantive matters in the country, the issue was never really debated. Colombians tend to think that the way an official manages his post is his own business, and it is exactly this sort of leniency that paves the way for further abuse.

In 2014, then Vice Minister of Justice Miguel Samper Strouss granted the attorney general the authority to establish contracts at his sole discretion, and this is when the scandal truly began.

According to Colombian media, Montealegre hired several different individuals and companies between 2012 and 2015 to do research and analysis work on behalf of the Attorney General’s Office to the tune of COL$44 billion (US$15 million). One renowned political scientist signed a contract for more than COL$4 billion ($1.5 million), and apparently the work was not up to par.

Renowned journalists, friendly judges, and even the vice minister who granted Montealegre such authority in the first place, all signed lucrative contracts with the attorney general.

The scandal continues to heat up, but it seems like it won’t go beyond a few media headlines and expressions of outrage by the public. Colombian legislators have requested that the attorney general be served a citation, so he can be called to explain the contracts to Congress. However, Colombian law apparently prevents the Congress from forcing the attorney general to explain himself.

Consequently, Montealegre rather shamelessly announced recently that he won’t be complying with any citation.

No one has since come forward to propose that the appropriate authority hold Montealegre accountable, nor has anyone argued that the reform granting the attorney general such power be rolled back. Therefore, despite the shameless waste of taxpayer money, Montealegre will probably end his term without a care, and continue to hire whomever he pleases. What’s worse is that his successors will likely do the same.

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Holding high office in Colombia means you are given carte blanche, regardless of excess or abuse. The legal system in this country is not built on principles that favor a peaceful society, individual freedom, or the recognition of civil liberties, but instead on rules that create and perpetuate privileges for the political elite.

In Colombia, the state does not serve its citizens; it’s the other way around. Justice is not based on the law, but rather works as a tool to take revenge on political enemies, benefit friends, and get rich.

Adding insult to injury, the Juan Manuel Santos administration has tried to force the public to relinquish a greater portion of their income. Officials tell us that they will put the funds to good use, but we all know it will end up in the pockets of politicians and their cronies.

This is how Colombia fuels the predatory state and thwarts entrepreneurship. And then we wonder why there’s so much poverty and inequality in our country.

Translated by Vanessa Arita.

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.