53 thoughts on “David Smolansky: Visionary or Lumpia-Smoker? You be the judge.

  1. Governing by referendum doesn’t attract me. Among other things, those who set out the available choices are given great power, but power which is relatively invisible. In the meantime, though, does Hatillo want more free big screen tvs paid from taxes, or underground repairs to the aging sewage system, due to break apart in five years? Let the people decide!

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    • I believe the idea of an “electronic government” is fantastic! I’ve been advocating something like that for years. If the problem is that “those who set out the available choices are given great power”, then the solution is pretty simple: again, the people should set out the choices. How? Well, nothing prevents a bunch of people from getting together to discuss that…

      In any case, even if “those who set out the available choices are given great power”, it is still much less power than just doing stuff without asking.

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  2. Only about half a lumpia.
    From the point of view of transparency: simply clicking on a form to decide where the money goes is not very transparent either. If there were a way to make sure only people in the municipio vote and they vote only once, it would be fine.

    As a Belgian citizen I have an ID that I can use to identify myself with a card reader.
    With that I can see my tax profile (although, alas, not decide where the money goes),
    submit taxes, see my health security records and so on.
    Venezuela – as far as I know – doesn’t have even the infrastructure for people to carry out bank transactions in Venezuelan banks with the security of an electronic token as you can do elsewhere.

    What I think El Hatillo can and should easily do with the current infrastructure:

    1) make all forms available online (to print out and so on)
    2) introduce a system to do online identifications by use of token (just as I said, like banks do):
    you have your card and a card reader, the system asks for your code and a response to somethingg – this is only worth it if you are really paying taxes
    3) publish online every single contract of 5000 Bs or above (the sum is just an example).
    4) offer a mail box for suggestions.

    Apart from that El Hatillo should think about some open standards for municipality interconnection whereby municipality authorities can exchange certain types of information.
    But this is a delicate issue because of data security.

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    • We have an electronic identification system also in Sweden and everyone with a bank account has one or you can have a Swedish ID if you don’t have a bank account (like there is one person that does not have one here). The system is evolving so good and so fast that now there is a smartphone app that is substituting the use of the card reader. It’s pretty convenient. This system is use for things like: declaring taxes, changing your address or claiming government benefits. It is necessary to implement a system that guarantees that only Hatillanos are deciding how their money is being used.

      I think the main idea of transparent government is the first step to vanish corruption. The government talks so much shit about “contraloría social” but I can check behind a fence if they are building a metro station but I cannot check if actually Odebrecht got the money or not. I will be really happy if at least that part of the plan is successfully implemented.

      The other part, the deciding how to spend the money, I think the video can be a bit misleading. It basically shows a Amazon website and you click “spend”. People should not decide “how much money”, that is why you have experts that make budgets for projects. But I think the people should be able to express their opinion, even with an Internet vote, if they think something should be done or not. Maybe some one wants to build a highway, but then the highway pass just next to my neighbourhood and then I don’t want to wake up at night with the cars. Then this types of things make politicians realise “Hey! We need to appropriate money for noise protection”.

      I think it is a nice idea that needs to be polished, get it concrete and solve the security issues.

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    • I think the issue of authentication is not much of a problem. I mean, if you can attach the distribution of your taxes to payment I would imagine only people from El Hatillo would be willing to participate. Think of it this way: you go to the website, the website tells you that you owe BsF. 5,000 and gives you a bunch of sliders on how to distribute that money- much like https://www.humblebundle.com/ does to distribute payment across participants- then your influence is tied to actually paying taxes, the BsF. 5.000 is alloted in the way you told it once you pay.

      In this fashion, if people wanted to “vote twice” on how to allocate the funds, they’d have to pay taxes twice, if they want to influence El Hatillo while not living there, then they have to contribute monetarily.

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  3. I find this is mostly in line with current trends. In San Diego, Carabobo; Sucre, Miranda there are neighbor assemblies where the mayor listens to the people and money is allocated for their main concerns. They usually call this Presupuesto Participativo or Participative Budget. I see this as shifting that participation online.

    And all government administrative process in Venezuela could use less queuing and more clicking.

    With all the funny business El Hatillo has had with zoning, be it from corruption or just “misunderstandings”, Transparency seems like a good way to go.

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  4. The idea of simply deciding complex issues which require expertise and study by mayority vote is absolutely irresponsible and demagogic . the best example is california where the referendum style of governance has lead to decisions which are incongrous ( every body wants to eat the cake and eat it too without realizing that you cant have it both ways) and which have contributed to the horrible financial woes of this very rich state. The advantage of representative govt is that you delegate to people who are supposed to know the study and taking of decisions which you as private individual dedicated to your own private affairs are not competent to take .!!

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      • There are only two tiny cantons in switzerland with a combined population of some 24.000 who still practice the cantonal assembly system , all others have abandoned it !! it isnt practical . Please someone read Hayek on the subject of the irrationality of decisions taken via a popular mayority vote . More accountability via the review of public decisions ( before and after) by Independent experts panels is fine , but decision making via popular referendum has many limitations , among them that few people have the brains or training or objectivity or can take the time to really study and understand difficult problems and make wise decisions regarding them !!

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    • I agree. Big lumpia. Governments have to govern for all, not just the majority, and sometimes governing requires making hard decisions which may initially be unpopular, or may be unpopular period. The idea of tens of thousands of people micromanaging government is insane. Moreover, the type of people who will invest the time to do that will select for crazy busybody internet surfers and tinfoil hat folks.

      I am all for transparency…but that is another issue altogether.

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      • The most effective participatory democracies have a large affluent educated and informed middle class. In that regard, how does Venezuela rate?

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  5. Slightly off topic: The first, non-lumpia part of the video seems like it was written about Baruta, where they really go out of their ways to make it impossible to pay your taxes. Actually, to do any bureaucratic procedure at all.

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  6. No issue at all with Smolansky’s main message in that he wants a municipal government that listens to to voters. I thought that was the point of having a democracy.

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    • if you stop and think about, El Hatillo would be the second most adequate municipality to have a lumpia-smoking mayor – the first being, of course, Costa de Oro in Aragua (or wherever it is that Cuyagua sits)

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  7. I can imagine how it could work. The government still selects which projects to put up as options. Until the budget is met, it remains an option. People keep voting with their dollars on their preferred project. When the budget is met, it gets done, and it stops being an option. Many internet startup systems work that way and are more successful than many older methods.

    I don’t like that it seems like those who pay more taxes get more voting influence.

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    • Its exactly as you mention in the first paragraph.
      Concerning the last idea, I would love if people feel empowered when they pay their taxes. That THEY are making something happen. Technically, it is true what you say. However, I prefere to think that everybody has the same power, and that is to choose where THEIR money goes

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      • Nice that you think that way, but there is no denying that where the rich put their money, the project budgets that the rich prefer will be filled sooner, so the rich will have MUCH greater power, as far as guiding the nation. I would prefer if the setup were that people vote on their preferred projects, irrespective of the amount of money. This way, people are still choosing where THEIR money goes, but also where everyone else’s money goes, which is even more empowering, and more just.

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  8. I think it’s great. Any time a politician puts out an ad that has *content* to it and elevates the discourse, that’s a good thing.

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  9. im an hatillano and i think smolansky’s idea is good although it may be hard to pull off. i applaud this effort to create a new collective local awareness about governance. this is precisely the role of the true leader, letting your voters decide or opine on particular projects rather than having a caudillo showing the way.

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  10. Not totally unheard of. Most Aldermen in Chicago have people within their own part of the city come up with projects that will get funded through the city’s program to fund Capital Projects chosen by each Alderman. It’s a fascinating process of indivudals putting together business cases, impact analysis and mini-campaings in preparation for a community vote on how the resources will be invested. I think this is actually a great idea for a Municipality like El Hatillo (from which I hail), and I totally agree that the Alcaldia is one of sketchiest in all of Metro Caracas. Last year the entire Municipal Police stopped doing patrols because all their units were being repaired. It happended, for real.

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  11. I’m in favor of anything that eliminates stupid government lines to accomplish the simplest tasks.

    As it stands now we have to stand in line every month to pay Seguros Social & Banavih.
    I’ve managed to get Corpolec & CANTV paid on-line but still have to stand in line to pay HidroCaribe. Their office has a nice sign saying you can pay through their website but the website doesn’t work.

    Then we have to pay our accountant to line up for the mayor’s office, Inatur & Saime with a list of guests every 15 days.

    All of these things could easily be done on-line.
    It’s so inefficient!

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  12. Which countries in South America allow online banking at more or less secure levels? (using security tokens and the like)
    Why isn’t there a public movement to demand this in Venezuela?
    How many million of man hours get lost in Venezuela because of the current situation?

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    • In Brazil you have everything you can dream of; tokens, security certificates etc. Of course this is because there’s so much fraud that the Brazilian banking system has been forced to become one of the most advanced in the world.

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    • Online banking in Venezuela is not perfect. But I don’t think that is the obstacle in this case, is not unmet security requirement but rather business who don’t use it. Nowdays we can transfer VEF from any Venezuelan Bank to another with a minimal comission (VEF 1,60) and it is cashable in maximum 1 working day, Banco del tesoro allows people to pre-load the data before opening an account to streamline the process. Granted it could take less time to process money transfers, more operations could be streamlined through online banking (opening/closing account, adding a co-signer, updating information, etc) so that visits to the bank are made optional or reduced in length.

      There are several services one can pay from online banking like SENIAT national income tax, phone bills, power bills in some cases, and bills from some other companies. But the company is the one who has to sign up for it. Like POS terminals, there are merchants who don’t accept payment with debit cards simply because they haven’t requested it from their bank.

      Incidently Banco de Venezuela under the Chaverment implemented a non-token digital certificate for any non-consult operation. It wasn’t well received because it was a pain in the ass to set up when people wanted to transfer something as simple as half a lunch bill. A token based certificate would have been more cumbersome since the hardware/drivers aren’t common in Venezuela.

      The plan to massify digital certificates goes through the cédula electrónica (electronic ID card), it would be cards with chips that would allow signing up in governement services and providing a valid electronic signature. But SAIME is unable to advance on this project becuase there are two factions obstructing each other: the ones who want the system design by a Cuban state company (even though Cuba doesn’t have an electronic id card for its people) and a proposal made by an Asian company (I think it was South Korean).

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  13. I think the idea of some sort of voting on how to spend the taxes is both unnecesary and unpractical, I believe a mayor should know what he has to do and what are the needs for his municipality, of course he needs feedback from the people but he should be able to take the best decisions with the limited resources he has and should be judged by the decisions he makes, not some teenager with a cellphone or laptop.

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  14. First, this idea of open government (both in transparency and development) is not new to Smonlansky. I think it is great that he is pushing for it, and like JC says, elevating the debate.

    I don’t think the idea is to push the ENTIRE municipal budget trough this, but a fraction of it. Why not let people decide if they prefer a park or a futbol court? I think it is great.

    The idea doing some kind of crowd governance. Kinda like what happened with http://www.kickstarter.com/

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  15. Smolansky: Right now, we don’t manage the budget. But I propose to do it in this way.
    Others: I’ll find the money…even if I don’t manage the budget (how?, it doesn’t matter).

    Smolansky 1, Others 0.

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    • Oh, my God! I see Elias Sayegh is a “misionero católico”. ????
      I wonder if the guy would prohibit sexual education in school

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      • Yes! Let’s insult half the forum for no specific reason!

        Anti-catholic bigotry…that never gets old!

        And no Kep, it’s not any more unacceptable when followed by four question marks.

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        • Francisco,
          I think it is a very legitimate issue to question whether candidates that pour too much religion into politics, whether that religion is Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Judaism or even, yeah, Atheism (which is just another belief).

          We have managed to keep in politics people who have such conservative attitudes that Pope Francis would role his eyes about. That’s one of the reasons why Venezuela has such a record percentage of teenage mothers and the like. And yes, I am aware of all the efforts by many – albeit not all- high ranking Catholic priests in and around Caracas to prevent sex education and family planning as normal now in really developing or developed societies in the last 60 years (as opposed to others who are then usually sent to the mosquitos, still like in the times of Humboldt, and very few mavericks).

          I think the vast majority of Venezuelans, whether they are very religious or not, are fed up with a “more conservative than the Pope” attitude towards societal matters.

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  16. Local democracy? Great.

    Are Hatillanos up for the task? Not so sure. Their reaction to the Plan San Antonio fiasco -which, admittedly, was due to the most daft councilmen ever- was irrational. Instead of putting the councilmen to task and promoting alternate ways to make El Hatillo sustainable, they just decried the whole thing, even as their municipio is constantly on the brink of bankruptcy and needs more tax revenue. And the candidates, instead of saying how they would solve such a glaring issue, just cried foul too.

    I applaud Smolanky’s effort, but I believe he overestimates his voters.

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  17. I find it completely inappropiate to even consider asking the very despective question if David is a lumpia smoker. Initiative such as his can certainly allow for the creations of governments that make data-driven decisions based on what is more important for people. It’s implementation is far from unreachable, and would actually create prescedence for the creation of very much needed citizens databases that if done right could provide the state incredible savings as a whole when you factor in all the time that can be saved. I think is refreshing to see how new leaders can abstract themselves from the incredibly ridiculous political discussions that take place every day in Venezuela, and for once propose experiments that can take a small bubble in Venezuela such as El Hatillo to the level of societies that enjoy the highest standards of living in the world.

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    • The only problem I see is with 1) data security (in Venezuela?) and 2) reliable digital identification for e-voting on the different subjects (and then, as some other people say here, one needs to firstly cover some needs like maintenance before deciding what money goes to the rest). One of the things he didn’t seem to have mentioned but is more feasible than others – perhaps I didn’t catch it – is how to make a transparent platform when it comes to bidding and the like. And that is definitely easier to implement than other items.

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