Why Colombia’s State Council shut the door for Bogota’s Mayor

(Photo: De Frente)

A decision by Colombia’s State Council to void an appeal that would have suspended the sacking of Bogota’s mayor does not mean that Gustavo Petro will have to leave office immediately, though it once again bashes the mayor’s hopes of revoking the decision made by the Inspector General’s Office last December.

Following five days of delays, Colombia’s State Council turned down magistrate Guillermo Vargas Alaya’s 170-page argument. Their reasons? That the inspector general had legitimate power to fire the mayor, and that the writ of protection was not what Petro’s lawyers should have chosen to protect him as it was the wrong judicial measure for this specific case.

Nevertheless, the 14 to 11 vote by the magistrates of the council will not actively rid Bogota of their both loved and criticized mayor, as there are still a multitude of legal proceedings in the works which are delaying his December dismissal over a failed attempt to reform the capital’s trash collection system.

The appeal had been presented by State Council magistrate Ayala in support of a previously rejected writ of protection – a separate recourse that any citizen can submit to defend their human rights and which must be examined by a judge within 10 days.

MORE: Colombia State Council rejects dismissed Bogota Mayor’s appeal 

The aim of Ayala’s appeal was to put on hold Petro’s dismissal and 15-year ban from public office while the State Council further investigated the mayor’s case in court. In so doing, Petro’s constitutional rights as a democratically elected official would be protected.

So why was the appeal rejected?

Fundamentally, the council deemed the recourse to a writ of protection as inappropriate. It stated that the mayor should have opted for other types of appeal against administrative decision like that of Ordonez, such as a “process of invalidation and restoration of rights.”

This process could have been set in motion from the moment in which the decision by the Inspector General’s Office (IGO) had been confirmed. It would have ideally provided Petro with urgent cautionary measures, and would eventually have to be decided on by the same State Council.

PROFILEGustavo Petro

For the council, whether or not Petro truly merited his dismissal over what many people qualify as an albeit serious but not criminal administrative oversight, was overshadowed by the constitutional right of Ordoñez to sack him.

By Colombia’s highest set of laws, the inspector general has the right to dismiss Colombian public officials. Whether or not his decision must be justified according to the terms of the constitution, which outlines that the official must be in “violation of the Constitution or the laws,” seems to be more of a political rather than legal debate.

Not the end of the road, yet

The next immediate step will be for the former President of the State Council Alfonso Vargas to write up a similar report confirming the court’s verdict, which will in turn be debated and voted on before being set in stone.

Three hundred writs of protection still stand between Petro and the exit doors of Bogota Town Hall, all of which will have to pass through the Supreme Judiciary Council in the same way. In any case, these will delay Petro’s dismissal until they have all been seen to.

These writs have already resulted in the administrative court of the state of Cundinamarca ruling in January that Process remain in office at least until the completion of a separate referendum ion April, which was proposed months before the IG’s decision and which will see Bogota’s citizens decide whether or not Petro should be ousted.

MORE: Bogota Mayor should stay in office until end of impeachment referendum: Court

Ayala’s voided argument had been based in the illegitimacy of the IGO’s formal accusation, which was considered insubstantial and in negligence of Petro’s basic rights and therefore null in justifying the mayor’s sanctioning.

A likely option is that Petro’s defense will appeal the State Council’s decision to the Constitutional Court. It could, and probably should, also start a “process of invalidation and restoration of rights.” This would act in favor of the mayor if it is proven that the “administrative act [dismissal by the inspector general] violates the norms in which it should be founded,” or that it overstepped its limitations.

PROFILE: Alejandro Ordoñez

In conversation with Colombia Reports last month, former Constitutional Court magistrate Alfredo Beltran stated that Petro’s failed reformed to Bogota’s waste disposal services was not a penal offence — which would justify Ordonez’s disciplinary actions — but a less serious administrative error.

This would not, according to him, be sufficient to oust Petro.

MORE: Petro vs. Colombia — can international bodies save Bogota’s mayor?

Still pending, furthermore, is the appeal brought by Petro before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which could also set in place precautionary measures in his favor.

The mayor himself, however, seemed more skeptical about the power of the justice system in saving him.

“The last defense left for Bogota Humana [Bogota city’s government project] is that the people itself rise up,” Petro tweeted.

To top it all, campaigns have already begun for the entirely separate referendum promoted by Party of the U representative Miguel Gomez. If enough people in Bogota vote “yes” to Petro’s removal from office on April 6 — which is reasonably unlikely — then any decision by the country’s courts will be insignificant, and Petro’s time in Colombia’s second highest office will be over.

MORE: Bogota mayor impeachment campaign begins weeks before referendum


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