Family affairs

True story accompanying image

In an effort to stamp out nepotism in local government, Guatemala passed a law in 2002 making it illegal for mayors to employ family members in public office. But one citizen could see that this wasn’t being enforced. Juan* had reason to believe that his local mayor had hired around 10 relatives, including his wife, sons and daughters.

Juan took his concerns to his local Controller General Office, which audits the assets, expenditures and payrolls of public officials and institutions. Here Juan was reportedly told that pursuing the case was unlikely to bring about change, and that he would only be putting himself at risk in doing so. Juan also approached his local journalists’ association, which refused to help for the very same reason.

Upon reading about our chapter in Guatemala, Juan turned to them for help. On Acción Ciudadana’s advice, he wrote to the mayor’s office, requesting copies of its employment contracts. The office allegedly ignored Juan’s request, so Acción Ciudadana contacted them again, and this time they provided the documentation.

Juan returned to the Controller General Office but says they refused to accept the contracts as proof of nepotism, claiming they had checked the payroll at the mayor’s office and found no one related to the mayor on it.

At this point Acción Ciudadana decided to take the case to the capital. They helped Juan report his findings to the Controller General Office in Guatemala City, and later followed up with them to ensure that they conducted an audit of the mayor’s office in his home town.

While this was a positive step, it brought Juan some unwanted attention. On route to the Controller General Office, he claims he was pulled off a bus by armed men, bundled into a car and driven into the forest, where he was robbed and told to abandon the case. On a separate occasion, Juan reported being confronted by men with guns, who threatened to kill him if he continued to cause trouble.

But Juan bravely stood by the case. Following their investigation, the Controller General Office called for the removal of the mayor’s five closest relatives from office. To ensure that the mayor would comply, Acción Ciudadana took the story to the local media. Five of the relatives soon stepped down.

* Names have been changed

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