Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos signed a law Tuesday that promises more development money for the country’s poorer regions, partially fulfilling a long neglected requirement of the Colombian constitution.
The bill will distribute large sums of money from districts rich in resources to poorer ones for development. Santos’ law will create “special investment zones” which will funnel money into districts that suffer from comparative economic disadvantages. The Caribbean Coast, which received only $5 billion in royalties over the past decade, will receive $15 billion over the next decade under the new law.
The transfer of funds pleased Gonzalez Dias, governor of Cundinamarca, who called the law a “breakthrough” that will generate employment and development in Colombia’s poorest districts.
Santos was careful to emphasize that all of the new money would go to legitimate construction projects for the people, particularly in the Caribbean and the South were numerous corruption scandals have been uncovered.
The head of state said that the $15 billion dollars headed to the Caribbean would not be used to “payroll super-governors or super-assemblies” but would go directly to the people, adding that, “The money will go directly towards the investment, to the competitiveness (of the district), and towards generating employment and reducing poverty.”
Historically the bill marks a new attempt to direct money from Bogota and other wealthy areas to less developed areas.
The new law partially fulfills a 20-year-old mandate in the Colombian constitution that required the Colombian congress to create a law regulating how districts can combine to form developmental regions. Articles 306 and 307 of Colombia’s 1991 constitution permit districts to form developmental regions with their own autonomy and finances and require Colombia’s congress to pass a law which would determine the powers of these regions and to what extent they would have access to federal funds. For 20 years Colombia’s congress has struggled to fulfill this duty.
Regionalization laws have been voted down at least 19 times before the current proposal was finally signed into law.
Santos’ bill stops short of creating permanent political regions between districts and instead permits the federal government to licence regions to work on particular construction projects. This compromise was met with mixed reactions by Colombia’s district governors, some of whom expressed pleasure at their increased powers while others complained that the law fell short of the autonomy they felt was promised by the constitution.
The law authorizes the government to cede control of construction projects to such organizations, temporarily giving them access to federal money. It will regulate how districts will receive money from the national royalty fund, which is charged with distributing federal money to the provinces.
The Regionalization Law allows two or more of Colombia’s districts, or states, to cooperate on the planning and execution of regional construction projects. The two districts could form an organization that could issue debt, collect royalties from the federal government, and authorize construction contracts for projects in their region.
Many districts have announced their intention to form regional groups. The Carribean coast has long desired to form a region, and Cauca, Valle de Cauca, Narino and Choco in the south have expressed their intention to form a region as well.