MANAGUA – The Office of the Comptroller General is auditing the Sandinista government’s poverty reduction program, Hambre Cero, amid allegations of mismanagement that recently prompted the program’s director, Gustavo Moreno, to resign.
Moreno, who was also reportedly upset about budget cuts that will affect the program, announced his resignation two weeks ago amid allegations from leaders of the controversial Councils of Citizen Power (CPCs) that sickly cows were being given to poor farmers under his management.
The program, which is funded by the Nicaraguan government, Venezuelan aid and the Inter-American Development Bank, seeks to benefit 80,000 families living in extreme poverty and stimulate production by giving each family a cow, a pregnant pig, 10 hens and a cock, as well as seeds for animal feed and basic crops. In the long-term, the five-year program seeks to then organize families into profit-sharing cooperatives (NT, Feb. 13).
Moreno resigned after CPC leaders reportedly complained to Agriculture Minister Ariel Bucardo that cows being given to poor farmers were in poor health. The CPCs also said they suspected that private intermediaries were skimming off the top of the program and that Moreno was getting a cut, according to Moreno’s recent interview with the daily El Nuevo Diario.
The report from CPC leaders in León and Chinandega prompted Bucardo to request a the Comptroller’s audit on Jan. 31, according to Agriculture Ministry spokesman Lester Juárez.
The Comptroller General’s Office will audit $23 million in government contracts for the program, according to the government source.
“It’s necessary to do a whole investigation of the program’s execution,” Bucardo told government media. “We’re not persecuting anyone; what we want is to clear this up and to find those responsible for any problems.”
Bucardo also called for CPCs to “keep pointing out errors, because we’re obligated to respond, to clear up situations that aren’t correct.”
President Daniel Ortega created the CPCs in 2007, saying they are grassroots Sandinista organizations that will encourage “direct democracy” and give the poor a role in governance. Critics say the CPCs are para-state groups that take orders from the Sandinista leadership and undermine existing democratic institutions.
CPCs, critics claim, have substituted traditional civil society with official Sandinista groups, weakening citizen participation in government rather than encouraging it.n