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Why do municipal governments need oversight?

There are different reasons that municipalities are labeled as centers of corruption. For example, we hear through the media of projects that are overvalued, awarded as political favors, or that salaries and stipends are increased. Facing this panorama, what can the general population do? Oversight is one option.

Based on the politics of corruption, which has increased in recent years as those in government abuse their power over State resources, it is important to increase the number of internal checks in place to diminish the risk of and counteract bad practices.

The objective of government oversight is to verify that public management is efficient, effective, and transparent. It is important to know that local governments include 340 municipalities, and for these to provide services to the population, they need public funds. To carry out their function, communities receive funds from different sources in the central government, as relying solely on local taxes and other sources of income would be challenging.

According to Article 9 of the Municipal Code, “The Municipal Council is the superior collegiate organ of deliberation and decision making on local matters, whose members are jointly responsible for said decisions.” Councils, in their role as highest municipal authority, have numerous powers, ranging from administrative matters to deciding public policies. Because of this, efficient administration of both time and resources is crucial for the successful carrying out of their obligations. In this sense, actions of the Council should be rooted in efficiency, efficacy, and transparency.

According to the Ministry of Public Finance, on July 14, 2022, the 340 municipalities received the following amounts: Q300,902,089.96 of Constitutionally mandated funding; Q370,493,301.71 from Peace VAT; Q35,604,607.96 from motor vehicle taxes; and Q17,999,999.30 from petroleum taxes. In total for the month of July alone: Q724,999,998.93. The City of Guatemala received the most funding of all municipalities: Q25,684,088.05. Quetzaltenango earned Q7,132,635.09 that month.

Furthermore, we have to consider transfers made to the 22 Departmental Councils for Urban and Rural Development (CODEDE). According to the digital source el Diario and a publication from elPeriódico, in 2022, Congress assigned 3.8 billion Quetzales to the CODEDEs. These are coordinated by governments and made up of the mayors of each district.

When dealing with thousands of Quetzales, there must be oversight of public funds, and the entity with the Constitutional authority to be in charge of said oversight is the Comptroller General. This is not to say that we must limit the oversight conducted by collectives or social groups, including municipal commissions for social audit. Oversight must be technical and objective, based in good practices, and within the framework of current legislation.

For public oversight to be carried out correctly, it is of vital importance to audit the financial resources assigned to municipalities and the CODEDEs, especially because these can present public works projects to authorities as necessary.

Oversight is auditing and reviewing decisions and actions that people working in the government take, evaluating their management and accomplishments. Through oversight, projects, public works, debt, payroll, and stipends, among other things, are evaluated.

There are two types of oversight: horizontal oversight (of one public entity by another) and vertical (of the government by the governed—of the authorities by the citizens). Social audit is not a substitute for oversight conducted by State institutions, but it can help to prevent corruption and improve the quality of public management through citizen participation.

Civil servants, when representing the people who elected them, are responsible for guaranteeing the transparency of public management through the reporting of information. However, when it comes to civil servants who abuse the power that has been given to them, it is very common to find that they ignore their responsibility to make these report to the general population. Because of this, the best tool at the population’s disposal is citizen oversight, demanding transparency through the Public Information Access law.