Late last night, the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ) issued a ruling granting Maduro the ability to present the national budget before the Sala Constitucional [Constitutional Chamber] of that same body, allowing him to completely bypass the National Assembly and effectively putting an end to the legislative branch in Venezuela.
Article 187 of the Constitution outlines the National Assembly’s roles in the Venezuelan state. Its primary roles can be placed into two broad categories: passing laws and overseeing the country’s finances. Part of the latter involves debating and approving the national budget each year. According to Article 187(6) of the constitution, the National Assembly must:
Debate and approve the national budget and any law concerning the tax system and public funds.
Aside from being mandated by the Constitution, presenting the budget for approval at the National Assembly adds a layer of transparency and accountability to the way that the country spends funds. When legislators debate the budget, they can propose amendments to spending that are reflective of the needs of the constituents.
The TSJ’s ruling is based on two findings main findings. The first is the need to maintain “the functioning of the state”, since it is possible that the National Assembly would have voted to reject the first budget Maduro proposed to the legislature. The second is the fact that the TSJ found the National Assembly in contempt over previous rulings dealing with three opposition deputies from Amazonas, and at the same time declared every future act of the National Assembly null as long as it involved the three Amazonas deputies. As a result of these two main findings, the TSJ ruled that Maduro must present his budget for next year before the Constitutional Chamber.
The TSJ is made up of 32 judges who sit on six Chambers. The Constitutional Chamber is the most powerful one, since it rules on matters pertaining to the Constitution.
Accompanying the ruling was a press release from the TSJ, which reads:
In the face of the pressing need to fulfill the judicial process associated with the national budget, and of the duty to adhere to the principles of separation and balance of powers, and with the goal of maintaining the functioning of the State, the guarantees to fundamental rights and the constitutional order, the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ) has declared that the national budget will be presented by the President of the Republic before the Constitutional Chamber, under the norms of a decree that will have the range and force of law.
The decision is also based on the contempt that a majority of deputies currently in the National Assembly maintain with respect to the TSJ and the Constitution, as well as [with respect to] the State of Exception and Economic Emergency, which was declared constitutional by the [Constitutional Chamber] in ruling No. 810 of September 21 2016, which was requested by the President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro Moros on October 3, in adherence to the provision found in Article 252 of the Civil Procedure Code.
Finally, the ruling finds that the national budget decree will by placed under the control of the Constitutional Chamber of the TSJ, in adherence to the provisions found in sections 3 and 4 of Article 336 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela as part of a set of guarantees found in the [Constitution] without prejudice to the [power] attributed and inherent to the Civil Power and the social accounting in this respect.
The full ruling can be found here, in Spanish.
Constitutional Lawyer: TSJ Ruling Evidence Venezuela is a Dictatorship
Constitutional lawyer Jose Vicente Haro told El Nacional today that last night’s ruling by the TSJ is “clear” evidence that Venezuelans are living in a dictatorship. Haro also said that in his opinion, the TSJ’s ruling violates at least the following Constitutional articles:
- Article 187: Grant the National Assembly the power to debate and approve the national budget.
- Article 312: Mandates that the national budget “will be presented to the National Assembly”.
- Article 313: Mandates that if for whatever reason the president does not present the national budget before the National Assembly, the last year’s budgets will remain in effect until such a time as he or she presents the new budget to the national Assembly.
- Article 314: Mandates that “no expense whatsoever” may take place if it has not been presented to the National Assembly.
- Article 315: Mandates that the national budget must be presented in a “clear” way, meticulously outlining all expenses, and that the executive branch must present an account of how it spent the previous budget’s money before the National Assembly.
Haro also said:
There is no democracy in Venezuela, and the TSJ’s Constitutional Chamber has taken it upon itself to practically leave us with a Constitution.
Carreño: National Assembly Not Needed to Run Country
PSUV deputy Pedro Carreño weighed in on the TSJ’s ruling yesterday, suggesting that it was further evidence that the National Assembly is not necessary for the running of the country. Carreño said that as long as the National Assembly continues to operate in a null state, the TSJ somehow “acquires its powers”, thus making the legislative branch wholly unnecessary.
Maduro Set to Approve Budget on Friday, Leads Crowd in Insulting Allup
During a speech at an event in Caracas today, Maduro said that he would submit the 2017 budget to the Constitutional Chamber of the TSJ on Friday. He made the announcement by saying:
The highest Chamber in the TSJ issued a ruling yesterday. So, after discussing the budget tomorrow, I will… approve the national budget [on Friday] and I will give it to the Supreme Court.
On September 1, Maduro drew widespread condemnation from opposition politicians and supporters for calling Allup a “motherfucker” during a televised event in Caracas. During the event today, Maduro led the crowd in a bit insulting Allup once again, saying:
Either I say it or you say it: Ramos Allup is an old man, but he’s a…
Maduro paused after saying “he’s a…”, at which time some in the crowd yelled “motherfucker!”.
Isturiz: Currency Exchange Controls Are Political – Not Economic – Measure
Vice-President Aristobulo Isturiz said yesterday that Venezuela’s restrictive currency exchange scheme is not at all based on economic considerations, but rather a fear that “they will overthrow us” if the system is not in place.
While Isturiz did not explain exactly who he meant by “they” or how exactly easing currency exchange restrictions would result in the government’s ouster, he said:
If remove the currency exchange [system], they will overthrow us. The currency exchange [system] is a political measure, not an economic measure. That’s the truth and we can’t allow ourselves to be overthrown, [or] be killed because we have to keep our promise with our people and Chavez and the people are the same [sic].
Venezuela has a multi-tiered exchange system that is strictly controlled by the government. Anyone wishing to purchase (for example, U.S. dollars) must go through the DICOM/DIPRO system. The DIPO rate is set at Bs. 10/US Dollar, and is reserved – at least on paper – for businesses wishing to import or purchase raw materials for the food and medical industry. The DICOM rate is free-floating, and is currently trading at Bs. 660.90/US Dollar. Anyone not able to access currency through this system must rely on the black market, which is currently trading at Bs. 1,134.93/US Dollar.
This multi-tiered exchange system is extremely prone to corruption. Anyone with access to the DIPRO rate may buy US dollars at the Bs. 10 rate, and then immediately re-sell those same dollars at the black market rate for tremendous profit.
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