Venezuela’s president is to seek decree powers to tackle the sleaze that sees his country ranked the ninth most corrupt in the world.
Nicolas Maduro, who was elected in April after the death of Hugo Chavez, is requesting fast-track legislative powers that will allow him to enact laws freely and without parliamentary debate, an ability traditionally reserved for periods of crisis.
“If necessary, I’m ready to change all the laws”, Mr Maduro said.
His socialist party holds 98 seats in parliament, and the president will need just one opposition vote in order to make up the two-thirds majority of 99 required to pass his request.
Mr Maduro campaigned heavily on anti-corruption policies in the election, and a number of low-level arrests have been made throughout state institutions since he came to power.
However, the president has come under fire for turning a blind eye to corruption within his own political camp, and many critics claim the country now faces more fraud than ever.
Eliver Solano, an officer at Venezuela’s national intelligence agency, said: “We investigate government corruption, but I have never been asked to look into anyone who is in favour with the Chavismo socialists.
“We are only ever instructed to investigate government opponents. We are used to bring down socialist opposition, rather than tackle corruption in earnest.”
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles said: “One doesn’t need decree powers to tackle corruption. This is simply a ruse to distract the Venezuelan public from his disastrous government.”
Mr Capriles narrowly lost the election to Mr Maduro, and continues to claim the presidency was stolen by “blatant electoral fraud”.
Tomas Guanipa, an opposition party spokesman, said: “The government will only allow investigation into its own members in order to stab somebody in the back.
“Hugo Chavez was a master of this and it’s a practice that has continued under Maduro.”
Mr Maduro’s critics, who the president regularly describes as “fascists”, see his request as a transparently cynical move to silence the opposition ahead of December’s municipal elections.
These results will be regarded by many as a national judgment on the socialists’ performance since the death of the charismatic former leader Chavez.
According to a 2012 survey conducted by anti-corruption body Transparency International, Venezuela is the most corrupt country in the Americas and ninth in the world.
Figures show 90 per cent of Venezuelans believe there is corruption in all state institutions, while 56 per cent continue to believe the government’s anti-graft policies are “inadequate”.
The country is also facing other problems. The inflation rate is over 40 per cent, violent crime is on the up and shortages of basic goods persist.
Those problems have loomed larger for the socialists since they now lack the charisma of Chavez as a figurehead.
Mr Maduro has yet to set a date for a congressional vote to award his powers, but given the socialists’ reputation for rapidly forcing bills through congress, he is likely to take his petition to parliament within the next two months.