In Venezuela Incumbent’s Advantage Means Public Spending Announcements

Hugo Pérez Hernáiz and David Smilde

Yesterday we mentioned the significant incumbent’s advantage accruing to the office of the presidency. Most analyses of this advantage in Venezuela focus on the use of state media and obligatory broadcasts (“cadenas”). But other forms of incumbent’s advantage such as inauguration of public works and special budget announcements get less attention. Indeed in Venezuela inauguration of public works and announcements of new spending plans in course of campaigning rarely turns heads.

As mentioned yesterday, Venezuela’s electoral law provides scarce controls on such activity insofar as it is entirely vague on when an incumbent candidate is acting as a candidate, and when as holder of elected office.

Socialist Party (PSUV) candidate Nicolás Maduro is taking full advantage of this ambiguity. The following is a list of the announcements made by Maduro since the official start of the campaign on April 2. These are not campaign promises, which are a legitimate part of campaigning, allow the voter to know what a candidate plans to do if elected and can later be used to hold him or her accountable.

Rather these are announcements of government expenditures that Maduro has approved as an elected official. Just to make clear that the following reports are not based on distortions from the opposition media, all of the following links are to official state media.

April 2. In Sabaneta de Barinas, President Chavez’s hometown, Maduro announced he had approved Bs.51.8 million ($8 million at the official exchange rate of Bs.6.3 per dollar) for the enlargement of the local hospital, the construction of a baseball field, a new avenue, and a high school.

April 3. In Merida, Maduro announced government resources for the construction of a bridge over the Chama River, the refurbishing of the city’s mountain cable-car (a local tourist attraction currently inoperative) and of the local airport.

April 4. In Valencia, Carabobo, Maduro announced the local hospital, which he admitted had been abandoned by the State, would receive Bs.150 million (around $24 million) for reconstruction and an annual budget of up to Bs.250 million ($40 million).

April 4. In San Carlos, Cojedes, Maduro announced he was approving infrastructure, agricultural, housing, and health projects. He declared: “I’m going to leave these budget notes here approved and signed, so that these six projects can get started.” Amounts approved for these projects were not specified.

April 5. In Maracay, Aragua, Maduro announced he has approved more than Bs.240 million ($38 million) for refurbishing of roads in that State.

April 5. In San Felix, Bolivar, Maduro announced approval of funding for two highways, a new hospital, and running water facilities.

April 6. In Puerto Ayacucho, Amazonas State, Maduro announced he has approved Bs.100 million. ($19 million) For the creation of a public Special Corporation for the Development of Amazonas (Corporación Especial de Desarrollo Integral del Amazonas). He also announced the approval of unspecified resources for the construction of a local hospital.

April 7. In Acarigua, Portuguesa, Maduro announced he approved Bs.78 million ($12 million) for the construction of the road Turén-El Jobal-Santa Cruz, and Bs.50 million ($8 million) for the road connecting Biscocuy-Raya de Guárico. He also announced the approval of unspecified resources for finishing the highway connecting La Flecha-Turén.

April 7. In San Juan de los Morros, Maduro announced he was approving Bs.220 million ($35 million) for an aqueduct that would take water from the Camatagua dam to El Sombrero, thus ending the water shortages of the region. He additionally announced Bs.5.000 million ($794 million) for an agricultural project in the area and for re-asphalting local roads.

April 7. Addressing supporters in San Fernando de Apure, Maduro announced he had approved Bs.80 million ($13 million) for finishing the construction of a new maternity hospital for the region and improvements for the bridge over the Apure River. He also announced the approval of a project for the “recovery” of the Camaguán aquifer and the finishing of 10,000 houses now in construction.

April 8. In Nueva Esparta State. Maduro announced the approval of Bs.60 million for finishing the construction of the Juan Griego-Pampatar highway. He also approved Bs.50 million ($8 million) for the construction the “Sports City of Margarita.”

April 8. In Charallave, Miranda, Maduro announced several projects that will be funded such as cultural and recreational facilities, the construction of a highway, a building for a local campus of the government university system UNEFA. He also announced he had approved Bs.540 million ($86 million) for the development of the basin of the Tuy River.

April 10. Coro, Falcón, Maduro says he has approved Bs.160 million bs. ($25 million) for road construction for the State of Falcón.

April 10. In Barquisimeto, Lara, Maduro announced he has approved Bs.96 million Bs. ($15 million) for re-pavement of roads and avenues of the city, and Bs.69 million ($11 million) for the refurbishing of the road Lara-Trujillo.

It should be emphasized that this is largely a non-issue locally. In an oil country like Venezuela, politicians are seen as elected spenders. In the eyes of average folks, the more politicians spend, the better they are doing their job. Local spending announcements are about as controversial as a US congressional representative announcing pork-barrel spending in his or her district.

Nor is this the exclusive domain of the PSUV. The opposition engages in the same tactics when they run incumbents.

The point is that in a country that is led by public spending and has weak electoral supervision, incumbency is especially advantageous.