Situation in Guatemala - November

María Isabel Bonilla, CIEN (Guatemala)
Maria Isabel

Tropical storm ETA lectured public administration officials and the general public once again: we simply are not aware of the country’s vulnerabilities country when facing climate change and therefore lack the necessary tools, logistic and funds to adequately prevent, aid and rebuild the country.


The fact that we do not have efficient systems for procurement, financing, overseeing or contracting in times of emergency, only manage to increase the deficiencies of such systems and we are then forced to apply conditions of exception in order to provide more discretion and swiftness when making decisions.


The State of Public Calamity decreed in moments of emergency- such as the one experienced during the COVID19 pandemic and tropical storms in November of 2020- constitute a necessary measure to safeguard people’s life and their assets, at the cost of temporarily sacrificing individual rights.


However, it seems that the costs and lessons from the pandemic and tropical storms are sufficient to convince politicians or its citizens regarding the need to revise, modify, and streamline the public administration systems. Neither does it fully convince everyone about the urgency of changing the view on the use of public assets -such as radio-electric frequencies- in order to improve the wellbeing and development of the majority of Guatemalans. In other words, its seems that the impacts from 2020 simply will not improve public policies.


This was observed in the discussions held on the budgetary income and expenditures bill for 2021. This bill was hastily discussed that needed to be finalized before the end of the month.


Just like in other opportunities, the approval of said bill was delayed, discussed behind closed doors and discussed up to early hours of the morning on the 30th, without fully knowing the entirety of the contents of the bill, and with changes in program and project financing. 2020 transpired as a normal year without alterations with a defunded budget approved that required obtaining loads to pay salaries and did not even include basic programs to address the chronic mal nutrition, the reconstruction of communities or programs for economic reactivation, among other blunders. This spurred protests against such approvals, which caused violence by protesters and authorities.


The pressure generated by the citizens stumped the approval of the national budget, as well as the budget for congress for 2021. This forced a discussion on the current budgetary collection to be applied next year. We hope that the lessons learned from the unfortunate experiences brought by the COVID19 pandemic and by the tropical storms in November – including the limitations on exercising our most basic rights – will be taken into consideration when designing a better future in 2021 and in years to come.