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FRANCESCHI: Venezuela: How could such a rich country become so poor (Part II)

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By LUIS FRANCESCHI
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In 1950, Venezuela was the world’s fourth-wealthiest nation per capita. Today, this same country has by far the highest misery index score. The minimum salary is just below $6 per month and a loaf of bread goes for $3, if at all found. No food is being produced, farms have been abandoned, factories have closed and services have collapsed.

What caused such a mess? Why such hyperinflation? Why was the currency so badly devalued? Then President Hugo Chavez had nationalised the oil business; he had full control of PDVSA, one of the biggest and most successful oil companies in the world.

Mr Chavez also nationalised the biggest mineral corporations. This is not a small feat. Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world, with a lifeline to export oil for 300 years without fail.

Apart from oil, Venezuela is one of the biggest producers of coal, bauxite (with reserves of more than 5 million tons), iron ore and gold, with the second-highest gold reserves in the world.

Venezuela also owns around 50,000 tons of untapped uranium reserves, and there are fears of an undeclared Iranian presence in such mines…not to mention the public presence of Russia and China in the gold, bauxite, coal and diamond mines.

Mr Chavez also expropriated banks, food factories, land, buildings, farms… Additionally, he had full control of the Supreme Court (which in 18 years has never issued any firm decision against the socialist government), the electoral commission, the Office of the Public Prosecutor and Parliament, until 2015 when his successor President Nicolás Maduro lost the House to a united opposition. Communism had failed in Russia, Cuba, Vietnam, Eastern Europe… These countries had promised to deliver happiness at a price they could not afford. This botched dream turned their governments into repressive systems where lies dominated the mass media; where every failure, every theft and every death would find justification in the promise of a better future.

The same should not happen to Venezuela. Chavez knew he was different; he had everything in his favour! He was one of the most charismatic leaders in modern politics. He had a monopoly on power and his decisions went unchallenged. He had a never-ending God-given income. He could afford an expensive type of socialism, something never seen before in world history. With such a fortune at his disposal and less than 30 million inhabitants under his care, he was almighty.

Though he was not particularly handsome, his nerve and tough talk would make his followers fall into ecstasy. Mr Chavez called his governance model ”the 21st century socialism”. In his mind, his plan was perfect. He has a gross income higher than Iran, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Hungary, Singapore, Kuwait, Malaysia, Qatar, Egypt or Luxembourg.

Some thought he was a passing cloud, an empty-headed revolutionary. They were wrong. He was shrewd; he knew how to control and manipulate the crowds. He had a plan and went ahead to colonise all possible institutional checks and balances.

At some point, Venezuela was grossing around $109.5 billion (Sh10.95 trillion) per year just from oil, without including any other form of trade like gold, aluminium, iron or any other commodity.

Just compare this to Kenya’s 2018-2019 budget. We predicted a revenue of Sh2.9 trillion, where Sh1.9 trillion is to be raised from taxes and the rest (Sh1 trillion) is supposed to be raised from domestic and external borrowing, including international loans.

What went wrong and why? We could produce a litany of mishaps in the conceptualisation of Mr Chavez’ economic, social and governance model. But there are three outstanding factors. First, nepotism coupled with a deep disdain for competence or knowledge. Second, a dysfunctional and unsustainable economic model, and third, the rejection of the rule of law as an essential pillar of democracy.

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At the sunrise of Mr Chavez’ revolution there were some brilliant minds committed to excellence. As years went by, and particularly after an attempted coup, these brilliant minds were systematically replaced by the president’s relatives, close friends and in-laws, regardless of their professional experience and ethical standards.

This is how Mr Jorge Arreaza, son-in-law of Hugo Chavez, became the current Foreign Affairs Minister, and Maria Gabriela Chavez (Chavez’ daughter) was appointed ambassador of Venezuela to the United Nations. One of Maduro’s in-laws is the president of the National Social Security; and Maduro’s son (Nicolasito) became a Member of Parliament and head of the ‘sistema’, a beautiful world-renowned musical programme that turned several million children into professional musicians. The ‘sistema’ is now dead. It turned out that Nicolasito had never studied music or music management and cannot play any instrument.

Ms Delcy Rodriguez, current vice-president in Maduro’s government and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, has a brother, Mr Jorge Rodriguez, who was vice-president before her, and who is now the Minister for Communications.

The wife of Mr Diosdado Cabello, the strongest man behind Mr Maduro, is the Minister for Public Works, and before that she was the Minister for Tourism. Diosdado’s brother was the head of the revenue authority, Minister for Industry, head of Caracas’ airport and president of the practically defunct national air carrier. There are many more examples, and sadly, none of these people hold the best credentials for such positions.

DYSFUNCTIONAL ECONOMIC MODEL

Mr Chavez did not need the private sector, so he choked it out of existence. The government could produce or import. Eventually, the government did not produce; all those expropriated factories and farms were abandoned, burnt or grabbed. All parastatals became a liability and corruption rocketed to the moon. The ransacking had begun. It created a new class, the ‘boli-bourgeoisie’ (boli for Mr Chavez’ Bolivarian revolution, named so after the independence 18th century hero, Simón Bolívar).

The government had enough money to import, but corruption, greed and gluttony ate everybody’s food and when oil prices collapsed government imports stalled. Hunger struck!

The wrong approach to currency exchange controls created a huge liquidity problem. The government did what it used to do in the bonanza days and it printed money. The more it printed, the more the inflation became, until things went out of hand. It is forecasted that inflation in 2019 will reach 10 million percent.

The biggest drama is that the government is in denial, and it does not allow the importation or donation of food and medicine. The result is disastrous: famine, death and total collapse of services, including water and electricity.

REJECTION OF THE RULE OF LAW

During a conference in Europe, I met a high-ranking Venezuelan judge. After a few beers, he confided to me, ”we have to call the presidential palace and ask for instructions before deciding any political case”. The result is clear; the government loses no case in Venezuela. In 2017, the Supreme Court declared Parliament and all its resolutions since 2015 null and void (when the opposition won Parliament by a clear two-thirds majority). Later the Supreme Court suspended its decision, but recently reaffirmed it.

The same happens at all levels of jurisdiction; there are more than 890 political prisoners in Venezuela, not counting some 1,000 army officers. After all, justice is on sale.

How can this nightmare end? Can Mr Maduro put things back together? Who is Juan Gerardo Guaidó and where did he come from? Is he a self-proclaimed lunatic? A true president or a puppet of the West?



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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