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HDI ranking: 71/187
HDI score: 0.748
The current Constitution of Venezuela, approved in 1999, provides a robust framework for participatory democracy and emphasizes human rights and citizen participation. However, in recent years the country has trended toward decentralization as the national government increasingly moves to consolidate power (ICNL, 2013).
Local governance at a glance
- Venezuela is composed of 23 states, one Federal District and 72 offshore islands.
- There are 335 municipalities, led by a popularly elected Mayor and assembly.
- The mayor and counselors for each municipality are elected by a popular vote
- The constitution promotes participation at the local level in the form of town councils, participatory budgeting, citizens’ assemblies and referendums (UCLG, 2010).
Civil society actors include
- El Programa Venezolano de Educación-Acción en Derechos Humanos (PROVEA) is a non-profit human rights organization working to ensure human rights for all and striving toward government accountability.
- The National Association of Civil Society Organizations offers a space for all organizations striving toward stronger participation and democracy to share ideas and partner with similar groups.
Capacity building institutions
- The government funded a surge of cooperatives in 2001, and Venezuela has seen an increase in self-reliant communities. A wide range of types of cooperatives exists, including artisan, security, cultivation, sanitation, community media, and women’s cooperatives. Cooperatives are given preference for government contracts, and these communities are also allotted 20 percent of the annual resources transferred to States and Municipalities (Venezuela Analysis, 2004).
- 70 percent of sub-national revenues come from transfers from the central government (IDB, 2012).
- Municipalities are dependent on national transfers and they receive on average 9% of the total central government expenditure. However, there are enormous differences among municipalities. Cities with industrial and commercial centers generate up to 98 percent of their revenues while rural municipalities depend almost exclusively on central government transfers (IDB, 2012).
- Situado Constitutional, is an entry in the constitution that mandates a transfer of 20 percent of ordinary fiscal revenues from the central government to local governments (IDB, 2012).
- Nearly half of the Government of Venezuela’s total revenue comes hydrocarbon sales. By law, the federal government must transfer 25 percent of the money from petroleum taxes to state governments. However, Revenue Watch Institute reports complaints that states that are not governed by the ruling party often do not see their full ration (Revenue Watch, 2010).
- By law states cannot levy taxes and have no borrowing authority, therefore their budgets depend almost entirely on transfers from the central government budget. Municipalities have limited tax authority but face institutional difficulties collecting some of these taxes. These differences in tax collection increase disparities among municipality service provision (IDB, 2012).
Key initiatives for participatory local governance
- In 1989, Venezuela moved toward decentralization with the direct election of governors and the creation of mayors (IDB, 2012).
- The 2005 Organic Law of Municipal Public Power mandates that municipalities divide up into civil parishes and other local organized structures in an effort to promote public participation (UCLG, 2010).
- The Constitution and the law have set up means for public participation to take place. At a local level these include: local public planning councils; open town councils (cabildos); the participatory budget; citizens’ assemblies; referendums; public consultation; amongst others (UCLG, 2010).
Challenges for participatory local governance
- A major obstacle to decentralization in Venezuela is a lack of accountability in government financial matters (UCLG, 2010).
- Although the central government has transferred resources previously included in the national budget, there are no operational criteria to determine whether those resources are enough to maintain levels of efficient services. In recent years there is evidence of a marked deterioration in public services transferred to the regions due to lack of funding, mainly in the areas of health and education (IDB, 2012).
- A decentralization trend has emerged. The central government has retaken the operations of ports and airports, which were previously decentralized, changed laws to redirect smaller transfer funds to politically influenced authorities, and diminished the role of the local police. Legislation was recently approved to create communes that could undermine the autonomy and authority of states and municipalities. In addition, due to the reduction of oil prices, increasing off-budget expenditures, and underestimation of fiscal revenues, central government transfers to the regions have declined, making the delivery of public services at the local level more difficult (IDB, 2012).
Recent posts on this website about this country:
List of sources (in order of citation):
UN Human Development Index, 2012: “Venezuela”
International Center for Non Profit Law (ICNL) 2013: “Venezuela”
United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), 2010: “Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela”
Venezuela Analysis, 2014: “Civil Society, Social Movements, and Participation in Venezuela’s Fifth Republic”
Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), 2012: “Sub-national Revenue Mobilization in Latin America and Caribbean Countries: The Case of Venezuela”
Revenue Watch, 2010: “Venezuela”