Archive for December 19th, 2006

The new Social Services Bill: Proving common sense is the least common of all senses

December 19, 2006

I have been meaning to discuss the new “Social Services Bill” approved by the Venezuelan National Assembly last week, but the topic has so many edges to it, that I wanted to think a little before tackling it. In brief, the National Assembly last Thursday approved a Bill which will make it obligatory for any Venezuelan between the ages of 15 and 50 to provide five hours a month of free “social” service for a total of two years.

Before we start, I need to make clear that this law, when The President signs it and becomes effective does not apply to me, so it is not as if it bugs me that I will have to do this, since I have no vested interest in it.

Perhaps my biggest objection to the Bill is simply that I have a hard time imagining in what mind it can possibly fit the idea that something like this will work in a country, which is practically dysfunctional in most areas. Instead of trying to get an ineffective Government to work in areas which are critical such as health care, housing and the like, the members of the National Assembly (I can’t insult them, it would be illegal!) approve the creation of a bureaucracy under the name of INASES, which if read in English, the last part of the acronym would describe them rather well. This new institution will be in charge of making sure that some 15 million people do monthly, free, community or social work, which is so broadly defined, that almost any activity would fall under its definition. More bureaucracy, more Government workers, which next time the economy takes a downturn, will see their salaries destroyed.

As if this was not sufficient, the Bill also mandates the creation of “networks” for social service. Every institution, be it public or private, will have to have its own “network” of people who will elect a Board, which will coordinate the activities, plan and coordinate them and report top INASES every three months and “reward” those that do a good job.

There will be sanctions; those that do not comply will have to pay an amount to be determined by INASES in regulations to be issued in the future. The fines will be deducted from your salary or you will pay them with service, just in case you don’t have a job. (Meant to be a joke!)

Now, my first objection is why it should be free. Who gave the Government power to “use” us, at no cost? They already throw away our money in their harebrained projects. People doing their military service get paid. Students providing service under the new community service law get paid. People who serve in juries get paid. People who participate in handling the vote in elections get paid. Under which part of the Constitution or the law for that matter, is the Government allowed to dispose of our time at no cost? Thus, just on these bases I not only disagree, but I strongly object to the Bill.

A secondary aspect of this is that this will have a negative impact on voluntary social services across Venezuela. Since your “organization” will tell you what to do, if you do something else voluntarily, which actually happens quite a bit, then you will have to comply with the mandatory service at the expense of the voluntary one.

But let’s look at the reality of Venezuela. We live in a country where 50% of the people are unemployed or are part of the informal economy. Of the other half, a full 30% barely makes a subsistence salary and even among those employed, the purchasing power of their salary is low, due to years of inflation and devaluation. (A recent university graduate makes $10,000 a year if he or she is lucky to get a job). Add to this that most families are headed by single women who receive no aid from the father(s) of the children. To make matters worse, those that have formal or informal jobs spend an average of over two hours in traffic to get to and from work daily and most work six days a week. Thus, to spice up their already crummy life the Government is going to force them to spend five hours a month doing unpaid social service and they will likely have to pay their own transportation, pay their meals away from home, get some family member to take care of the kids while they are away and the Government will pay them absolutely nothing for their inconvenience and taking the little free time away from them. You have got to be kidding me!

And then we come to Venezuelan Ingenuity, locally known as “Viveza Criolla” (Loosely translated as “Creole sneakiness”). You have created a system, which is decentralized to supervise a system of social work by everyone within the organization, where you work or where you live. What will stop them from simply filling out the paperwork and signing off on everyone and going off to drink some beers, going dancing (cultural?) or playing baseball? Or how about charging for certifying you did the work? Or how about choosing a “soft” activity for everyone to fulfill the job?

After all, the definition of the activities is as follows: I) Improvement of schools, health care facilities, plazas, parks and gardens ii) “Self-construction” of family housing iii) Elaboration, conduction, execution and evaluation of community plans iv) Elaboration, conduction, execution and evaluation of cultural activities. (Define cultural!) v) Social support with priority for kids, adolescents, seniors citizens, people with drug problems, handicapped, families of the victims of crime. And vi) promotion of activities that create social consciences and more sensitivity towards social activities.

And then we come to the political angle. Everything tends in the end to be political for Chavismo. Thus, expect “networks” to be created to promote Chavista candidates or causes, political campaigning and the like. Or to squeal on their neighbors, who are not loyal. Or who speak badly of Huguito. Or on those who lie about their “revolutionary” spirit and commitment. Or just to watch and spy on them. All for a “social” cause.

In the end the possibilities are as endless as the level of incompetence of those that thought of this Bill. These are the same people who are already changing the Constitution they wrote, only six years after they did it. Who have yet to even issue the laws and the regulation that same Constitution mandated. Who have tripled the number of employees of the National Assembly, while its output has dwindled to historically low levels. Who have given up their right to inspect and supervise how the Government spends. Who believe that laws fix all of the problems of a society and a country. Who unconditionally accept what the Supreme Autocrat says. Who have quadrupled their salaries and given themselves huge bonuses in the name of the “revolution” and because they truly “care” for the people.

The same people who simply have no clue at all…and this Bill proves it.

Because common sense is the least common of all senses.