A Modest Proposal for Strengthening Anti-Corruption Efforts in Honduras and the MACCIH
THE ABRUPT RESIGNATION of Juan Jiménez as the head of the OAS-led anti-corruption mechanism in Honduras known as MACCIH has been unsettling and disruptive to its important work. In light of the resignation, two senior members of the MACCIH’s investigative team have left as well. Progress underway on important corruption cases involving current and former Honduran authorities will inevitably experience delay. Furthermore, hard-won public support for the MACCIH and Jiménez’s leadership is being eroded.
The situation calls for thoughtful but decisive action on the part of OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro to make sure the momentum on anti-corruption cases is not lost.
The situation calls for thoughtful but decisive action on the part of OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro to make sure the momentum on anti-corruption cases is not lost. Early signs suggest that Almagro is moving quickly to assess the situation left by Jiménez and determine next steps. An OAS mission was in country February 22 and 23.
Whatever caused the breakdown in trust and confidence between Almagro and Jiménez, it is important to move past it quickly to strengthen the MACCIH’s mandate and role in Honduras. Three important issues must be addressed to ensure this is an opportunity for improvement and does not devolve into another anti-corruption charade. The Honduran people and U.S. taxpayers deserve better than that.
Strengthen and elevate the role of the Mission’s spokesperson to create a Chief of Mission position.
One of the early battles in formulating the MACCIH’s mandate was over its leadership. A more conventional organizational chart would include someone with clear leadership authority much like Commissioner Iván Velázguez at the CICIG in Guatemala. At the time, the Government of Honduras (GOH) argued for a flat structure with four units, or “components”: preventing and combating corruption; criminal justice reform; electoral and political reform; and public security. Additionally, a spokesperson would be designated and have “general responsibility for the MACCIH’s activities…”
The government’s position prevailed and no Chief of Mission position was created. Juan Jiménez was appointed spokesperson and served as head of the Unit on Preventing and Combating Corruption. Additionally, Secretary General Almagro named Jiménez his personal representative to the MACCIH. It was Jiménez’s responsibility to provide the Secretary General and the OAS Permanent Council regular progress reports.
While there are risks in having one head of mission—especially if that person proves ineffective—the outcome in the specific case of the MACCIH was that the Unit heads did not collaborate and coordinate effectively, and in some very damaging cases worked at cross purposes. If these Unit heads shared a common vision and common agenda then the structure might potentially have worked, but they did not and the MACCIH’s effectiveness has suffered as a result.
Almagro created further confusion in the structure when he announced in a letter to the Honduran government in late January that he was appointing former Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom as his special emissary to open talks with the government around the work of the MACCIH. It was not clear if this was an attempt to further undermine Jiménez or to strengthen the MACCIH’s mandate, but ultimately it contributed to Jiménez’s resignation. Ironically, Colom was never able to take up his new role as he was charged by Guatemala’s Attorney General and CICIG in a corruption scandal of his own stemming from his time as President.
Given the current state of disarray and discord, it is important for the OAS and the Honduran government to ditch the four-headed monster structure with a spokesperson, and revert to a more conventional institutional arrangement.
Given the current state of disarray and discord, it is important for the OAS and the Honduran government to ditch the four-headed monster structure with a spokesperson, and revert to a more conventional institutional arrangement. To avoid further and future discord and inefficiency it is essential for the OAS and Honduras to agree that there should be a Chief of Mission and a central coordination point for all.
Establish clear criteria for the next head of MACCIH.
Simultaneous with structural change, the OAS and GOH should agree on a set of objective qualifications and a transparent merit-based process for selecting the next head of mission. It is vital that he or she has a demonstrated track record of political independence, practical experience dealing with high level corruption cases, strong management skills; and both international and domestic experience maneuvering in highly complex situations. One of the appealing elements of Juan Jiménez’s qualifications was that he had been a Cabinet Minister during the post-Fujimori period in Peru and dealt with serious and high-level corruption cases. Someone with similar experience along with significant management experience within the global system would be very welcome.
Some have argued for a person with a strong record as a prosecutor or judge. This would be important and has contributed in great part to the success of Iván Velázquez, but it is not the only qualification. Equally important is the person’s political independence, track record of leadership in fighting corruption, and management ability.
Traditionally, these kinds of decisions take place behind closed doors and in backrooms where the public has no voice. Yet these decisions have a direct impact on the public and, in this case, the Honduran people. Why not try something innovative that provides for some public examination of top candidates? This would not mean campaigning for the position, but it would allow Hondurans and the international community time to examine the candidate’s record of accomplishment. If, for example, the finalist is an Argentine, why not allow time for Argentines who know this person to express an opinion?
Alternatively, the Secretary General could name a panel of notables to compile a list of qualified candidates from which he would nominate a finalist to present to the Honduran government for confirmation. Or a group of civil society representatives from multiple sectors could vet and rank the candidates much like is already done for candidates to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights. The Secretary General could then select from the list of previously vetted and qualified candidates.
Whatever the process, it is time to open it up to careful scrutiny to ensure the person chosen has broad public support and is not just the result of a closed-door political negotiation.
Whatever the process, it is time to open it up to careful scrutiny to ensure the person chosen has broad public support and is not just the result of a closed-door political negotiation, which has become all too common throughout the region.
Strengthen the independence of the MACCIH.
One of the GOH’S chief complaints about Jiménez is that he did not give them advance warning of his public statements. Presumably, they would like a chance to either dispute his findings or prepare a public response. This is, of course, normal for all governments and authorities. They want to know what is coming. But the MACCIH’s credibility is largely based on its independence—not its ability to ingratiate itself with the government. Preserving and strengthening the Mission’s independence is vital.
BEYOND THE CHALLENGES faced by the Secretary General and the MACCIH, the Government of Honduras also faces significant choices. President Juan Orlando Hernández faces serious political challenges given his controversial reelection and serious public discontent with corruption within the political class. The question is whether he will simply close ranks and govern from limited political space, or whether he will be bold and become known as the Honduran president who led the fight against corruption by strengthening MACCIH and supporting an independent Attorney General, thus winning back the public support he needs and wants.
 See the formal agreement between the Government of Honduras and the Secretary General of the Organization of American States at http://www.sre.gob.hn/portada/2016/Enero/19-01-16/Convenio%20FINAL%2019%2001%202016.pdf
About the Author
Latin American Program
The Wilson Center’s prestigious Latin American Program provides non-partisan expertise to a broad community of decision makers in the United States and Latin America on critical policy issues facing the Hemisphere. The Program provides insightful and actionable research for policymakers, private sector leaders, journalists, and public intellectuals in the United States and Latin America. To bridge the gap between scholarship and policy action, it fosters new inquiry, sponsors high-level public and private meetings among multiple stakeholders, and explores policy options to improve outcomes for citizens throughout the Americas. Drawing on the Wilson Center’s strength as the nation’s key non-partisan forum, the Program serves as a trusted source of analysis and a vital point of contact between the worlds of scholarship and action. Read more