Nepotism and patronage in Salvadoran government
One of El Salvador's large periodicals, El Diario de Hoy (EDH) has been publishing a series of articles about nepotism in the country's Legislative Assembly. EDH reports that "The Legislative Assembly appears to be the ideal place to get a job for friends and for the members of the political party." Their reporting found that 1239 patronage job positions were under the control of the policial parties in the Legislative Assembly, more than the total of non-partisan jobs.
EDH also found that many of the jobholders do nothing, or only work on party activities, for their salaries. The examples included (a) a gynecologist with a full times practice, who has a full time position sponsored by a party in the Assembly for $500 per month; (b) a dentist with a full time practice in Morazan department, far away from the capital in El Salvador, with an administrative position in the Assembly for $700 per month; and (c) a lawyer with a job on the Assembly payroll as a motorist for $1000 per month.
And many of these patronage jobs in the Legislative Assembly go to family members of the deputies:
There are cases of parents who have one, two or more children working in different dependencies of the Assembly. The most representative case is that of the wife of a deputy who has three brothers (a man and two women), a brother-in-law, a nephew, a daughter-in-law and the brother of one of his brothers-in-law on whose salaries the State disburses $ 16,300 per month. Their salaries range between $ 1,500 and $ 3,500.
According to EDH, persons holding these patronage jobs receive approximately $1.4 million per month in salaries, and when you add end of year bonuses, the annual outlay in these jobs controlled by the political parties approaches $20 million.
One deputy owns a private school in the capital. He has two of the school employees on the payroll of the assembly. A third person who would eventually be hired by the same school has a high-paying job in the Assembly earning $3000 per month.
The paper's reporting also described the payments being received by Cristina Lopez. Lopez had been a deputy in the Legislative Assembly from the PCN party but lost in the 2018 elections. That did not keep her from receiving a salary, however. EDH's reporting showed that she has been living outside of the country in the United States for more than a year and still receiving a salary as an employee of the Assembly. For her part, Lopez took to Twitter, and did not deny that she had received a salary without coming to work, but said she was not the only person from PCN who was doing so.
In addition to the nepotism series in EDH, El Faro recently ran a story focused on Guillermo Gallegos, a leader of the GANA party. (GANA was the party on whose ticket Nayib Bukele ran for president). Gallegos is a deputy in the Legislative Assembly and former president of that body. El Faro found eleven different relatives of Gallegos are working working for the Legislative Assembly with salaries ranging between $600 and $3000 per month.
Conflicts of interest in hiring are not just found in the Legislative Assembly. The online periodical RevistaFactum ran a story this week about Nayib Bukele's appointment of businessman Salvador Gómez Góchez to the head of the government agency Promotor de Exportaciones e Inversiones de El Salvador (PROESA). Nayib Bukele and his wife are the godparents of one of Gómez Góchez's children. Gómez Góchez was also a major backer of Bukele in the Salvadoran diaspora, helping Bukele raise support and money in California. According to Factum, Gómez Góchez lacks the university degree required under the regulations of PROESA to be its president. At PROESA he is in charge of an agency providing financial incentives to businesses wanting to invest in the country.
His wife, Cristy Elizabeth Asencio de Gómez, was appointed by Bukele to lead a unit of the government with a $2 million budget called "Social Benefit" directed towards improving the quality of life for citizens of El Salvador. According to Factum, she is also the sister of Erick Vega, a businessman in Alba Petroleum, the Venezuela-linked firm which had loaned Bukele $1.9 million in 2013, and is currently being investigated for money laundering.
Nepotism and conflicts of interest in hiring also exist in other branches of the government of El Salvador. There have been allegations of nepotism in the court system, and the past human rights ombudsperson (PDDH) of El Salvador, Raquel Caballero de Guevara, was sanctioned for hiring and promoting two step-daughters within her office.
Stories about political patronage and nepotism are nothing new in El Salvador. And because "everybody's doing it," there seems to be little incentive or interest to actually clean up the practice. Offering government employment to friends and relatives after gaining power is endemic to El Salvador and contributes to a government where the best-connected, not the best-suited, get jobs. When people do not even show up to perform those jobs, that is corruption which should be prosecuted. Yet even if appointing a family member to perform a job is not illegal, it undermines the faith of citizens in their government. It's no wonder that the political parties and the Legislative Assembly have the lowest levels of trust in opinion polls.