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El Salvador: Citizen Reactions to disclosure of wages in the Legislative Assembly

Sigfrido Reyes- the representative of the Farabundo Martí Liberation National Front (FMLN) who has recently assumed the presidency of the Legislative Assembly- took an unexpected step on February the 5th. He ordered, as one of his first actions in the presidency, to issue the Nº 515 legislative decree [es] which encompasses the Minimum wage law and legislation. The disclosure of this law  not only allows people to be informed about the different wages of the main authorities, but they can also see the wages of assistants, drivers, office boys, a person who performs several activities including simple maintenance work, etc. This has opened a Pandora's box [es].

Nonetheless, the list just provides the wages of the professions established in the Law of Wages. Most of the Assembly employees work under contract, that is to say, they are not formal state employees, but they work under a contract the is renewed regularly. The wages below are an example of the wages included in the Wage Law:

… Sueldos en US$ Dólares
11 Asistente: $2,049.09
12 Colaborador de Departamento IV: $2,029.14
13 Motorista V: $1,528.57
14 Colaborador de Departamento IV: $1,500.00
15 Colaborador de Departamento IV : $1,328.40
16 Colaborador de Relaciones Públicas III: $1,328.40
18 Auxiliar Contable III: $1,265.00
19 Secretaria IV: $1,214.70
20 Secretaria III: $1,193.57

…Wages in US Dollars:
11 Assistant: $2,049.09
12 Department assistant IV: $ 2,029.14
13 Driver V: $ 1,528.57
14 Department assistant IV: $ 1,500.00
15 Department assistant III: $ 1,328.40
16 Public Relations Assistant III: $1,328.40
18 Accounting Assistant III: $ 1,265.00
19 Secretary IV: $ 1,214.70
20 Secretary III: $ 1,193.57

This has triggered a wave of outrage among citizens and the Salvadoran blog community who have immediately criticized the representatives of the Legislative Assembly, widely known as the “Fathers of the Nation.”

Paolo Lüers, from the Siguiente Página blog [es], writes a thoroughly ironic letter [es] to the president of the Legislative Assembly, Sigfrido Reyes, asking “formally” for a job as an adviser, and if this is not possible, at least a job as a “driver III” ($2.113.57).

Yo me conformaría con este sueldo, ya que supera lo que ahora gano escribiendo columnas para dos periódicos. No tengo idea qué hace un Motorista III para que le paguen mejor que a un médico, un director de escuela, un periodista, o un inspector de la PNC.

I would be fine with this wage since it is more than what I earn writing articles for two newspapers. I have no idea about what a driver III does to get a better payment than a doctor, a school principal, a journalist or a PCN inspector.

Júpiter, a collaborator from the Blogotepeque blog, writes a post called “Legislative Assembly Wages: corruption, nepotism and political machine” [es] in which he conveys his total discontent about what he considers a barbarity: having drivers and assistants earning more than a good lawyer, a doctor or an engineer.

Los salarios hablan por si mismos, motoristas y ordenanzas ganando más de mil dólares, que barbaridad! ¿Cuánto gana un doctor, un abogado, un ingeniero después de años y años de estudios universitarios? ¿Qué dice el Ministro de Educación al respecto? Cuál es el incentivo entonces que tienen los jóvenes para estudiar si gente sin estudios tienen un salario más alto únicamente por los contactos que tienen. ¿Cómo podemos confiar en nuestros diputados si viven en un pantanal de la corrupción?

Those wages speak by themselves. Drivers and assistants earn more than a thousand dollars. For God’s sake! How much do a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer earn after too many years studying their degrees? What does the Minister for Education say about it? How can we encourage young people to study if people who do not have a degree earn more just because of the contacts they have? How can we trust our representatives if they live deep in the dirty swamp of corruption?

Ernesto Rivas [es] joins the outraged citizens, in a post called “¡Ay, esos manirrotos diputados!” [es] which was published in his blog Conversaciones con Neto Rivas. He points out that now that Sigfrido Reyes from the FMLN assumed the presidency “the best kept secret until now starts to unveil, the generous wages that are paid…”

El nuevo presidente y ex vicepresidente de la asamblea Sigfrido Reyes dijo que la Junta Directiva no ha autorizado ningún sobresueldo y que la única persona facultada para autorizar ese tipo de sobresueldos ha sido el presidente de la Asamblea Legislativa, en una clara referencia a Ciro Cruz Zepeda, el malo de la película.

Esas son las maniobras sucias que se dan a diario en el augusto cuerpo. Otra, igualmente común maniobra, es que el diputado que consigue un hueso para un su chero le cobra un porcentaje mensualmente, que puede ser hasta un 25 por ciento del salario.

The new president and former vice president of the Assembly, Sigfrido Reyes, asserted that the Directive Board has not allowed any wage over the standard amount of money and the only one person responsible for authorizing those kind of wages was the former president of the Legislative Assembly, Ciro Cruz Zepeda, the antagonist of this story.

Those are the dirty strategies that are daily devised in his immaculate body. Another common strategy is that the representative finds a job for someone that charges a monthly wage, which could be up to 25 percent of the salary.

Jjmar, from the Hunnapuh-Comentarios [es] blog, thinks that even though the legislative budget does not have money wasted, irrationality and dishonesty, [es] it must be pointed out that this is only the tip of the iceberg since the distinguished Legislative Assembly just represents 1% of the national budget, whereas the Supreme Court of Justice has 6%, and the 93% left goes to other local and state authorities including the Executive power and its ministries. According to Jjmar, the first step that should be taken is approving a Transparency Law, then establishing austerity measures, after that, fixing and establishing the wages of the three powers -Executive, Legislative and Judicial systems- within the standard amount, and lastly, transforming the Court of Audit into a real supervision authority, not in an organization used as a shield against citizen inquiry.

Con estos elementos, como mínimo, se puede iniciar un proceso que nos lleve a racionalizar el gasto público, volverlo más eficiente y centrado en las necesidades fundamentales de la sociedad y manejado con honestidad y transparencia. La tarea es grande y no se puede realizar sin la participación ciudadana.

With those elements, a new process that rationalizes the public expense by transforming it into a more efficient one can be started, so that it can focus on the basic needs of society, managed with honesty and transparecy. It is a great task that cannot be carried out without citizenship participation.

Carlos Abrego [es], in his blog Cosas tan pasajeras [es], thinks that a Transparency Law will be passed but that it will come out tarnished, since both President Mauricio Funes and the representatives of FMLN promised several times honesty in their administration. But corruption was unveiled and now they do not know how to calm down citizens. On the one hand, Funes asserted that he needed a year to pass the Transparency Law. On the other hand, Sigfrido Reyes complains about the media, which does not stop talking about the wages over the standard amount and the wasted money in his organization. From now on, he has promised a “friendly administration” with the other parties. He will also try to avoid making more uncomfortable disclosures as he did before. Carlos writes:

Para denunciar y tomar medidas a fin de que este desfalco acabe, se necesita honestidad, integridad y valentía. Pero nuestro nuevo presidente de la Asamblea tiene la misma mano que el presidente de la República, que aseguraba que la suya, su mano, no iba a temblar y que castigaría a los corruptos. Luego Mauricio Funes se nos enfermó, tiene olvidos constantes y le ha entrado una tembladera en las manos, que para qué les cuento. Hace una semana cuando felicitó a Reyes tal vez lo contagió… El caso es que Reyes no quiere hablar de los carros, de las múltiples prebendas de los diputados, esas cosas, para nuestro revolucionario, son nimiedades, él prefiere “una agenda positiva del futuro”. ¿De qué futuro positivo podemos hablar, si se cimienta en tanta corrupción y tanta pudredumbre?

It is necessary to be an honest, brave and upstanding person in order to denounce those irregularities and take steps to end with this embezzlement. Nonetheless, our new president of the Assembly has the President's same hand, who asserted that his, his hand, would not tremble and that he was not going to doubt when punishing corruption. But then, Mauricio Funes got sick, he often forgets what he says and now you cannot even imagine how his hand trembles to punish corruption. It seems that he infected Reyes when he congratulated him a week ago… The point is that Reyes does not want to talk about cars or about the advantages of being a representative. Those things are not important enough to our revolutionary. He prefers to talk about “a positive agenda for the future”. What kind of positive future are we talking about if it is based on so much corruption and rottenness?

These are some of the reactions that brought about the wages disclosure of the Legislative Assembly. Nowadays, citizens want to know more about how the authorities spend the money of the taxes, an issue that was considered as a taboo years ago.

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