From email@example.com Wed Jul 19 13:48:43 2000
Copyright 2000 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Central American Parliament, Victim or Villain?
By Néfer Muñoz, IPS,11 July 2000
SAN JOSE, Jul 11 (IPS) - The Central American Parliament (Parlacen) has come under fire for devouring 20 million dollars a year while coming up with few, and non-binding, results, and for providing immunity from prosecution for politicians accused of corruption.
The regional body is facing one of its worst crises since its creation in 1991, caught up in a debate on one side of which are lined up those who would like to see it completely dismantled, and on the other those who argue that it should be salvaged, but overhauled.
Critics charge that the Guatemala-based regional forum has turned into a huge bureaucratic apparatus with no power, because its resolutions are non-binding.
Other analysts say it has failed in its mission to integrate the region, since Costa Rica decided not to take part on the argument that it spent a lot and provided few results.
"Parlacen has been the victim of a lack of political will on the part of governments in the region, which have lacked a clear vocation for integration," Luis Guillermo Sol¡s, with the non- governmental Foundation for Peace and Democracy (FUNPADEM), told IPS.
Sol¡s said many of the lawmakers sitting on the regional parliament were important legislators in their own countries, but failed to push through laws and reforms aimed at strengthening the regional integration process in Parlacen.
Parlacen, one of Central America's main regional bodies, is comprised of 20 lawmakers from each of the member countries: Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama and the Dominican Republic, as well as Taiwan, an observer nation.
Sol¡s argued that Parlacen was necessary, but that Central America's leaders should first determine what kind of integration they want, in order to clearly define the functions of the regional parliament.
In late June, Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo suggested that Parlacen should be dismantled due to its "ineffectiveness and high cost."
Those who agree with Portillo say the regional parliament, which has an annual budget of 20 million dollars, is a heavy burden for Central America's flagging economies.
Analysts also contend that it has become a refuge for politicians involved in corruption scandals, providing immunity from prosecution for many former presidents and vice-presidents, who become ex officio members of Parlacen once they finish their terms.
Several proposals to salvage and reform Parlacen have recently been set forth. Costa Rican foreign minister Roberto Rojas proposed that the body become a "parliament of parliaments" -- in other words, that it consist of lawmakers already serving in the national legislatures of member countries.
Rojas said that would ensure that the legislators would meet only periodically, which would cut costs.
Another initiative came from former Honduran president Jos Azcona, the current president of the political commission of Parlacen, who urged the member governments to approve the Fourth Protocol on Integration, in order to make the regional parliament's decisions binding and enforceable.
Honduran analyst Jorge Ram¢n Hern ndez-Alcerro told IPS that the controversy was one more reflection of the crisis plaguing the System of Central American Integration (SICA), many of whose institutions have failed to measure up in the 30 years since the regional integration process got underway.
Critics of the region's system of integration charge that the hurdles and lack of coordination -- not only facing Parlacen but other regional institutions as well -- are a consequence of the lack of a political force heading integrationist efforts.
Countries outside the region have warned against the idea of dismantling the regional parliament, which they say would send a "bad signal for democracy" in the eyes of Europe and donors in other regions.
"I believe that whatever decision is adopted, whether that Parlacen be maintained or that it be replaced by another mechanism, must take into account the need for those who assume those functions to be granted rights and authority," Dieter Konig, the head of the European Union delegation to Costa Rica, told IPS.
Konig said Parlacen has failed to function because the member governments have not given it the power to enforce its decisions, and "no congress in the world exists if it lacks clearly defined rights" and authority.
[c] 2000, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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