Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro has announced a series of reforms to the system of state-run social programs, known as “missions”, in order to improve their reach and performance.
Key initiatives include unifying the missions’ administration, merging programs with similar aims and beneficiaries, and passing a law to ingrain the mission system into the nation’s legal framework.
Maduro said the reforms would be carried out this coming month to unify the missions into an integrated national welfare system.
“I’m going to declare June the month of the National System of Missions and Great Missions. The whole month is going to be dedicated to launching, re-launching and widening the spectrum of benefits for the Venezuelan people through the missions,” he said last week on his radio program Contact with Maduro.
The first missions were launched by former president Hugo Chavez in 2003 as programs funded by oil income and aimed at directly addressing the various social needs of the population. They sought to guarantee free medical attention, widen access to free education, and eliminate hunger and illiteracy.
Later programs have been added to the system, such as public housing construction, social welfare payments, employment and cultural programs, anti-crime strategies, and an animal welfare scheme. A total of thirty seven missions are currently in operation.
Critics have either labeled the missions as “populist” and designed to buy the political support of the poor, or as ill-thought out “largesse” in public spending. Supporters meanwhile point out that both government supporters and opponents benefit from the missions, and that the programs have improved the quality of life of the nation’s majority.
Nevertheless the missions’ popularity has meant that the conservative opposition now rarely dare to criticise the programs publicly. Further, the missions have been hailed as one factor behind the reduction in household poverty, which fell from 55% in 2003 to 27% currently. The country has also been praised by various United Nations organisations for achieving several of the Millennium Development Goals early.
President Maduro announced last week that the missions will now be overseen by a unified Administration and Direction System in order to reduce bureaucracy and corruption. The system will also help families find out what missions they are eligible to benefit from.
The missions themselves will be grouped into seven areas for sub-administration: education, public health, labour, social security, food, basic services, and housing and security. Each area will be overseen by a specific government ministry.
As part of this change, missions with similar aims and beneficiaries will be merged, also with the aim of increasing efficiency. For example, all programs focused on child and family wellbeing will be fused into a new program called Homes of the Nation.
The Venezuelan president argued that the mission system was at the heart of the country’s development model. As such, in addition to “ending poverty and misery”, he said that overall aims of the mission system were “the construction and generation of a new socialist model”, “to convert Venezuelan into a productive economic power”, and “to contribute to peace and life”.
“The missions and great missions acquire the character of building a socialist society…I convoke all mission members to go from simple beneficiaries to protagonists in the construction of socialism,” Maduro exhorted to listeners.
Finally, Maduro announced that he will use presidential powers to pass a law to grant greater legal protection to the mission system. The law will have “organic status”, meaning that it will enjoy the same legal power as the national constitution and can only be reformed or annulled by a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly.
The president argued this was necessary because, “The bourgeoisie want to torpedo [the mission system] in any given moment”.