Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos dismissed criticism that he exchanged budget allocations and government jobs for support of his re-election campaign, stating that this process is normal and “happens in all democracies,” local media reported on Tuesday.
Following Colombia’s Inspector General’s call for an investigation of the president over claims of election fraud, Santos spoke on Caracol Radio to defend his actions — insisting that these meetings and exchanges are an intrinsic part of the Colombian government, and of democracy in general.
Ordoñez claims that Santos has capitalized on recent meetings with mayors and governors by offering them budget allocations and government positions in exchange for political support.
At the heart of the accusations is the issue of “mermelada,” or corrupt processes wherein politicians receive large amounts of funding from central government under the guise of legitimate projects, which can then be used for vote buying. Mermelada also refers to immaterial capital such as a promotion.
In an exclusive interview on Caracol Radio, Santos made three points in defense of “mermelada,” and his administration’s investment of public funding.
Secondly, Santos insisted that “the principle that a parliamentarian can suggest or divert part of the [governmental] budget to his or her region is a sound, valid principle, and happens in all countries and in all democracies.”
“In this government, the ‘mermelada’ is social investment,” Santos said, noting that his administration has managed to allocate resources “as never before to invest in regions.” As a result of this social investment, he concluded, the number of Colombians living in poverty has dropped by 2.5 million, and those living in extreme poverty by 1.3 million people, while the economy has grown without an increase in inequality.
The president added that during his term “resources have been invested with controllers put in place by the government to manage” the distribution of resources to the regions, but did not specify who or what entity was in charge of oversight.
Santos noted that even the Inspector General acknowledged that “mermelada” practices are normal and that one should not confuse the direction of resources to specific regions with the theft of public property.
In April, the Inspector General’s Office commented that the questionable buying of political support by distribution of government jobs and contracts — reportedly rife during March’s congressional elections — was legal.
Now, in May, the Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez has asked for a government commission to investigate President Juan Manuel Santos for wrongfully using his position to gain political support for his reelection campaign as reported by national media on Monday.
The Inspector General also opening a preliminary investigation against several senators for what he claims is illegal campaigning for the incumbent president.