Archive for November 18th, 2010

The Chavez revolution does not even have the people to mind the store.

November 18, 2010

Many years ago (about 30), when I worked for the Government, I was supposed to get reimbursed for US$ 120 for some books I had purchased. Except that there was an error and I got one check, and one week later a second check arrived. I went to the cashiers office, where I worked, to return it and the lady (had to be a trusted employee given her position) told me literally: “Why don’t you keep it, if you don’t, somebody else will”

Having recently come back from studying abroad at the time, I was absolutely appalled by the response and it is still one of the most memorable memories I have of the culture shock I had upon returning to my own country. In fact, there was no procedure for returning money, apparently nobody ever did that, so I had to talk to a big shot in the administration of the institute in order to at least, have someone accept the returned check and give me a receipt for it.

It was the first of many lessons on how Venezuelans feel that somehow money is there to be grabbed, not be earned, and if somebody has money, it is likely to be because they got there first to grab it.

Which leads to the large quantity of graft and corruption levels we have. Unless somebody is watching, workers will try to grab what they think is there and there seems to be no moral dilemma in doing it. The only way to stop this is better education and better oversight. (And then some more education) Unless both are in place, people will not learn to separate what is ethical and what is unethical and in any case you need somebody to be watching, as the “honor” system simply does not work. Somebody has to be minding the store.

This has been the case for decades, which is what taught me that the less Government we have, the better. Not only is is difficult to be watching over everyone, but Venezuela simply did not have the people to run all of the things the Government wanted to run.

And then came Chavez promoting his so called XXIst. Century Revolution, which in order to run more things, needs more people. But the revolution also removed checks and balances, which allowed people to run amok, taking personal advantage of their positions and leading to the perverse misuse of Government funds as in the case of Maletagate, Pudreval and so may others.

In some sense, the basic precepts of Chavez revolution seem to be designed for a society whose citizens are different than the common citizen of Venezuela. Over the years, whether in the public sector or the private sector I have seen this pattern repeat, which is why I simply gasp at Chavez’ beliefs that people will run something honestly and efficiently just because they are good citizens. Remove the cops enforcing stop signs in the US and people will start running through them. Unfortunately it’s human nature.

These ruminations come to mind, because in the last two days we have had two scandals involving corruption in two of the most symbolic programs started by Hugo Chavez: Mercal and his Socialist Arepera.

The Arepera Socialista is the best case study, as it was announced with pomposity by Hugo Chavez, he promised he would build hundreds of them, but you can count them all with one hand. The project served its purpose, it has been forgotten. These areperas, are supposed to be a fairly symbolic project, because it is subsidized and attempts to sell a popular staple, competing with the “capitalist” establishments that supposedly rip people off.

Except that six of the workers of the arepera, were caught with their hand in the till, stealing money at the end of every day from the cash register, which was recorded in videos and they were arrested yesterday. Perhaps the most amazing thing is that it was not one or two workers but six. I have no idea how many people work there, but it seems to be a large number of unethical workers for a project so emblematic that I am sure would only hire “Rojo, rojito” workers who are rank and file members of Chavez’ PSUV.

The next day, a very similar event took place, when the human resources manager of Mercal, another emblematic project of the revolution and six workers were detained for running a parallel payroll to that of the Mision Mercal, which is supposed to sell cheap food to the people.  Besides this, they were handing out food stamps to people who do not work for Mercal and even travel expenses.

Unfortunately, what this shows is that the Chavez revolution can’t find the people to run or mind the store. From way at the bottom, arepera employees, or the bosses at Pudreval, Mercal and PDVSA, revolutionary ideals are set aside whenever money is left out in the open and without anybody watching. And the more the revolution wants, the harder it will become to control. Corruption is even a problem among the cops that are supposed to investigate and control such thievery and unethical behavior.

None of this is rocket  science. This was predicted by many as Chavez began his wildly uncontrolled expansion of the state in which more and more of the private sector is expropriated by the Government or new institutions are set up to compete with it. To make matters even worse, the Government does little to reward hard work and even loyalty. In the last efw days, we have seen protests by both Barrio Adentro and Mercal workers. They have not only not received any salary increases, inflation is up 25% so far in 2010, but they are owed benefits and some of the promised supplies to adequately do their jobs.

While at least in the two cases mentioned above, the police at least caught those involved in the rackets, I am sure that there are hundreds of others that go unnoticed every day. When Government officials are given such a free reign and nobody minds the store, such shenaginans will not only continue to continue, but will likely increase as the Government extends its reach way beyond its most basic capabilities.