Washington, D.C.—On October 16, the National Congress of Honduras approved a variety of measures that make it gravely difficult to investigate crimes of corruption in the country. These problematic measures include the reactivation of the Departmental Social Fund, which allows members of Congress and public officials to receive and execute public funds for social works, and the restoration of congressional immunity for crimes related to legislative functions.
“The approval of these initiatives represents a serious regression in the fight against corruption in Honduras and calls into question the government’s commitment to the fight against impunity,” said Adriana Beltrán, Director for Citizen Security at WOLA.
Among its changes, decree 116-2019 of the Departmental Social Fund grants the Superior Court of Accounts (Tribunal Superior de Cuentas, TSC), entity responsible for ensuring the proper use of state assets and resources, a period of 3 years to audit funds; a period during which said officials may not be investigated nor charged by the Public Prosecutor’s Office for improper use of resources. Additionally, if the TSC determines that the funds were improperly used, those responsible will have a period of 4 years to reintegrate such funds before they can be criminally charged by the Public Prosecutor. Last year, the Congress attempted to legislate a similar change through the Budget Law, which was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Justice.
These dispositions are highly concerning, since the misappropriation of public resources processed through the Fund has been the target of several investigations of the Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) and the Special Prosecution Unit Against Impunity for Corruption (UFECIC). These investigations include a case of the network of members of Congress accused of having illegally appropriated public funds through an NGO for social projects, or the case known as “arca abierta” that involved several current and former members of Congress in the misappropriation of resources from the Presidential House, the National Congress and the Secretary of Finances, among other cases.
“Measures such as the Departmental Social Fund Law clearly seek to hinder and frustrate the investigations of the UFECIC and the MACCIH and the efforts to combat impunity in the country,” said Beltrán. “We support calls to declare the Law unconstitutional and we hope the judiciary swiftly comments on these matters.”
The Departmental Social Fund Law is not the only recent attempt to erode the fight against corruption. The National Congress also approved decree 117-2019 of the Organic Law of Legislative Power to restore parliamentary immunity for matters related to its legislative functions. Last May, Congress approved a new Penal Code (Decree 130-2017), containing reduced penalties for public administration crimes, which is scheduled to take effect on November 10 of this year.
“Today, while the links between politics and organized crimes in Honduras are increasingly evident, it is more important than ever to protect and strengthen anti-corruption initiatives like the MACCIH,” said Beltrán.