Photo: Tony Hernández

Under the maxim “Consolidating dialogue,” Presidents of the Provincial Assemblies of People’s Power and that of the Isle of Youth Special Municipality recently met in Havana, to address a broad agenda of issues which, on the first day of discussions, included details concerning the organization and realization of the fourth and last round of accountability reports by delegates to their constituents, as well as actions being undertaken by the permanent commissions of the Cuban National Assembly in all the country’s municipalities, to verify that agreements approved by the body are being implemented, especially those related to the country’s economic plan and 2017 national budget.

The event, which took place in one of the halls of the recently restored Capitolio building, was presided by Esteban Lazo, President of the National Assembly of People’s Power (ANPP), with the participation of Gladys Bejerano, comptroller general and a Council of State vice president; Ricardo Cabrisas and Ulises Rosales del Toro, both vice presidents of the Council of Ministers; Lina Pedraza, minister of Finance and Prices; in addition to Ana María Mari and Miriam Brito, ANPP vice president and secretary, respectively.

As had been previously announced, the round of accountability reports by delegates to their constituents will take place from April through May, except in Guantánamo, where they are being held this month. Participants at the meeting stressed the importance of adequately preparing reports, to clearly outline actions being taken to benefit the population, and address the basic motivations behind proposals made by citizens.

“It’s not a question of waiting six months to resolve many of the complaints that should never have arisen if relevant bodies had ensured efficiency in both production and services, which is their chief mission,” stated Miriam Brito.

Meanwhile, the President of the National Assembly added that while analyzing proposals, delegates must study all issues in detail and work closer with neighborhood People’s Councils.

As such, the presidents presented Esteban Lazo with reports on the current situation regarding proposals by the population, responses to which were included in the 2016 economic plan, but for various reasons were excluded from this year’s plan, and established a timeframe in which to present possible solutions, or a credible explanation as to why the issue in question cannot be resolved in the short term.

“We must explain to the people why it has not been possible to resolve certain concerns, we cannot allow the people to be uninformed of the problems we face,” stated Lazo.

For her part, deputy Ana María Mari Machado, ANPP vice president spoke about the public debates which took place nationwide, to discuss the Cuban political system, an initiative promoted by the Young Communists League and which saw the participation of deputies.

Mari Machado explained that the encounters, which were initially geared more toward the youth, were expanded to be held in other settings, noting that over 18,000 citizens have participated in the 131 meetings which have taken place to date.

Regarding such efforts she also mentioned the “X Cuba” app for android cell-phones and available to download from the National Assembly website, which represents a useful tool to learn more about the island’s political and electoral system.

Highlighted during the meeting were economic and financial difficulties, while the guide presented by the Comptroller General of the Republic, to aid presidents of provincial and municipal assemblies when managing and auditing local budgets, was described as very useful. The document will not only help delegates identify ambiguities, but is above all designed to prevent irregularities, and serve as a guide to support communication by those responsible for carrying out such tasks.

The aim, noted Gladys Bejerano, is to provide presidents of local people’s power bodies with a tool for regular auditing and local budget control, in the form of a basic guide on how to organize and plan their work, containing a group of initiatives which can be further developed as they are applied, and centered on the need to, first and foremost, carry out preventative actions and create a culture of discipline, responsibility, transparency, accountability, and administrative honesty.

“In order to change the current situation in regards to budget control,” stated the Comptroller General, “It is important to pay special attention, first and foremost, when selecting, training, and advising managers, staff members, and specialists, with the aim of achieving broad participation within an adequate environment of control, which reflects the clear vision of our National Hero José Martí, when he stated, “Budgets are the life of the peoples and the axis around which all the country’s other deeds are attached and move.”

“I strongly relate to this,” stated Lazo Hernández, “because I am one of those people who believe that one of the defects of our work is that we create lots of guidelines and procedures, but fail to adequately train those responsible for implementing their content. Commonly, when shortcomings are identified, it is verified that everything was laid out in the documentation and norms, but wasn’t taken into account.”

According to the President of the National Assembly, the guide must be sent to all local bodies, including People’s Councils and work commissions. “If the municipal assemblies approve their budgets, then they should be very familiar with, and know how to control them,” he stated.

Participants also undertook a thorough analysis of a series of key issues, which require systematic and affirmative action on the part of provincial presidents, noting that if the desired outcomes fail to be achieved through one method of control, then another must be sought.

These matters included the rational use of energy; re-treading of tires and recycling materials; local production of construction materials; the water infrastructure program and confronting water usage violations; the construction and repair of housing, including the production of roofing, plus the eradication of earth floors and precarious living conditions; the building of older adult community centers; the eradication of illegalities related to urban planning and the illegal construction of dwellings and structures to house animals - which contaminate water supplies, and have a negative impact on the environment.

The meeting concluded with a review, by Lina Pedraza, of shortcomings in the payment of fines and income taxes to local bodies, as well as efforts to combat impunity in this area, in which the National Revolutionary Police have played an important role.

She reported that at the end of last year, 142,000 fines were levied, amounting to 22.8 million pesos, but a lack of rigor in following up on fines after they were issued was identified.

The Minister noted that not enough is being done to address the issue of citizens under-declaring on their tax returns, and illegal activity associated with the private sector, noting by way of example, that over a period of six months, 17 million pesos in outstanding fines or taxes was recovered from 10,171 debtors.

Finally, Esteban Lazo stated, “After two days of discussions, analyses, observations, agreements, and work, we have concluded the agenda; go back to your territories imbued with great strength and spirit to work decisively, succeed in each of your tasks, and ensure that what has been discussed here today reaches every last citizen.”