“It isn’t surprising, but it is offensive”: ARENA mayors increase their own salaries
Scandals have erupted in the municipal governments of several cities led by the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party in recent weeks, drawing criticism from residents, legislators and even President Mauricio Funes himself.
On October 7, the recently-elected ARENA mayors of Mejicanos and Ilopango sparked public outrage when they announced that they had approved salary increases for themselves and their city councils, the very bodies charged with passing such measures. It then came to light that the mayors of Soyapango and Apopa had done the same. All four municipalities have historically been governed by the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) party, but were won by ARENA candidates in the March 2012 elections.
While the primarily working class residents of these four San Salvador suburbs are still reeling from the impacts of the 2008 economic crisis and its aftermath, the raises announced in Mejicanos amount to an additional cost of $16,000/month for the municipal budget, or $172,000/year, with Mejicanos Mayor Juana de Pacas increasing her own monthly salary from $1,900 to $4,000. Former Mayor of Mejicanos Roger Blandino Nerio, who actually lowered his monthly salary by $200 when he took office in 2006, expressed indignation: “For this, social programs and projects are being cancelled. These people are tearing down [community programs] that cost a great deal to build.”
The municipal raises drew further condemnation as ARENA representatives in the Legislative Assembly have been demanding austerity measures from the executive branch. In fact, their legislative group recently demanded a 10% spending freeze in the 2013 National Budget before they would vote to approve payment on a debt acquired during the administration of their own Francisco Flores. In the end, they did not even vote to approve the budget, though four of their representatives did, sparking a schism in the right-wing party.
President Funes chastised the ARENA mayors, saying that “this is not the moment to be handing out bonuses or to be increasing salaries, at least in the public sector.” He added, “The mayors, independent of their party, who have made the decision to increase their salaries or to increase the salaries of their municipal councils, should analyze the situation that the country is in.”
Following the public outcry, de Pacas has since announced that while she will maintain the raises for her councilors, she would reverse her own salary increase. But despite demands from the press and the public, de Pacas has refused to provide documentation of the reversal. Mayor Elías Hernández of Apopa also announced that he would revoke raises approved for himself and Apopa city councilors in May. Mayor Salvador Ruano of Ilopango and his municipal council have publically denied the raises they approved upon assuming office. A number of ARENA-governed municipalities, including Ilopango and Soyapango, now stand in violation of the Access to Public Information Law, refusing to make information regarding municipal salaries, budgeting, and expenses available to the public despite repeated petitions.
“All of these characters are children of Norman Quijano, he proposed and accompanied [their candidacies]” said Blandino Nerio, referring to the San Salvador Mayor who is also ARENA’s presidential candidate for 2014. “It isn’t surprising, but it is offensive,” added the former Mejicanos Mayor. In addition to recent violent eviction of thousands of street vendors from downtown San Salvador, Quijano has drawn fire for dismissing some 850 workers in the first year of his term, and the recent purchase of a $112,000 armored vehicle from an unregistered dealer using municipal funds.
Blandino called the scandals engulfing the newly-won ARENA municipalities “a political lesson for the citizenry,” warning that the controversies demonstrate what right-wing governance would look like should Quijano win the Presidency in 2014.