Today’s guest post is from a Guatemalan official who, due to the sensitivity of his/her government position, prefers to remain anonymous:
In Guatemala, the Attorney General plays a central role in the efforts to counter corruption. Guatemala’s 1993 constitutional reforms put the AG in sole control over the Public Ministry, the nation’s principal law enforcement institution. These constitutional reforms also gave the AG substantial autonomy: The Public Ministry is ensured financial and administrative independence, and the AG has control over the Public Ministry’s personnel and policies. Although the President has the power to appoint the AG, the President must choose a candidate from a shortlist of six candidates chosen by a Nominating Commission composed of the President of the Supreme Court, the Deans of the Guatemalan Law Schools, and two representatives of the Guatemalan Bar Association; this process is designed to produce qualified candidates for the Office and reduce the President’s ability to select a loyalist crony. Additionally, the AG serves a fixed four-year term in office and cannot be removed before the expiration of that term unless a court has determined that the AG has engaged in criminal wrongdoing.
The AG’s power and independence can help in the fight against high-level corruption by powerful political figures, as was demonstrated by the Public Ministry’s investigation into graft allegations against then-President Otto Perez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti—an investigation which ultimately led to their resignation, prosecution, and incarceration (While this investigation was prompted and supported by the then-operative International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, known for its Spanish acronym CICIG, CICIG lacked unilateral prosecutorial authority, and the AG’s decision to pursue cases against the most powerful elected officials in the country was crucial.) Unfortunately, while the AG’s power and independence enables the AG to be an agent of positive change in the fight against impunity, those same factors mean that the AG can also be an obstacle to change. Guatemala has learned this the hard way under the current AG, Consuelo Porras.
When Porras took office in 2018, many people, both inside and outside Guatemala, believed that the country was reaching a turning point in its fight against corruption and impunity, and expectations were high. But her time at the Public Ministry has been a disappointment. Many regard her tenure as head of the Public Ministry as one the reasons why Guatemala’s anticorruption movement has faltered; overall, she seems to favor maintaining economic and political status quo, and a return to “business-as-usual.” Not only has she failed to provide bold leadership in the Public Ministry, but her policies have undermined the independence and effectiveness of Guatemalan law enforcement authorities. Worse still, there are allegations that she is personally involved in wrongdoing—and these allegations are credible enough that the U.S. government placed her on the “Undemocratic and Corrupt Actors” list and revoked her visa.
Guatemala’s recent experience raises important questions about the costs and benefits of giving one unelected official so much power over criminal law enforcement. But while it might be wise to examine the constitutional and statutory provisions regarding the AG’s powers at some point, right now Guatemala faces a much more pressing issue: the selection of a new AG. Porras’s tenure is coming to an end, and the selection process is underway; the President will appoint a new AG next month. Whoever the President selects will play a crucial role in determining whether Guatemala’s stalled anticorruption efforts can get back on track.
Whoever the new AG might be, there are three things that he or she can and should do to restore hope in Guatemala’s fight against corruption and impunity: Continue reading