A new year is ahead of us, and with this a new opportunity to make what is right and prune practices that ought to be illegal. Whether in Romania or Brazil, within FIFA or across nation-States, corruption has eroded the integrity of bureaucracies and societies everywhere. The success of the fight against this evil will depend on the effectiveness of anti-corruption prosecutors and projects, and on the monitoring capabilities of an organised civil society which I have briefly discussed in a previous editorial of this magazine. These are difficult times and we must look for safe haven in transparency, accountability and righteousness.
Back in November 2015, Victor Ponta resigned as Romania’s prime minister after the anti-corruption authority accused him, among few other domestic politicians, of having committed fraud, money laundering and other acts of corruption before holding office. The prosecution of these crimes in Romania is leaded by the DNA, a resolute agency with a conviction rate above 90%. The kind of support that Romanian citizenship gives to the DNA (60%) could also benefit many other Latin American nations, such as Brazil and Mexico, which are dealing with endemic corruption. However, authorities would have to pursue illegality and impunity with the best of their abilities if they ever pretend to increase people’s trust in anti-corruption efforts. The adequacy of current anti-corruption projects will be tested in the months to come and challenged by the reluctance of wrong practices to disappear.
Given the disenchantment with political parties, a slow or stagnant economic growth, the failure of justice systems or merely as a consequence of many other socio-political reasons that escape to the scope of this article, it is a fact that corruption has eroded democracy in Latin America. According to the Latinobarómetro 2015, an independent report that analyses the development of democracy, economy and society in eighteen nations within the region, just 37% of Latin-Americans are satisfied with their political regime. Specifically in Mexico, almost 80% of the society is disenchanted with democracy. This rate of satisfaction is the lowest in the region. Dissatisfaction could be better described as a symptom of a bleeding democracy.
Political parties in the Americas have rested under the shade of opacity and bribery for a while, and policy actors have found difficult to stay out of scandal. Just to put an example, on early December 2015, the Congress of Brazil opened the impeachment proceedings against President Rousseff, years after the Mensalão scandal, a mechanism by which resources of the state-run oil company Petrobras were used to pay bribes, went public. Given the circumstances, leaders and members of different political parties, including Rousseff’s Workers’ Party, have been under scrutiny. As by 2014, through the investigations of the prosecutors, twenty-five officials have been convicted, including former President Lula da Silva’s close chief-of-staff José Dirceu. Anywhere, a good prosecution should be the natural path towards transparency and accountability. Eventually, these two, will spill over the socio-political structure and positively impact in the satisfaction with democracy and elected leaders.
Things need to move forward and policy actors have a busy year ahead. Just in Mexico, fighting corruption would be a major challenge, if certainly not the only one. Before May 27th 2016, two general and more than twenty secondary laws are expected to be approved by the Congress. The legislation would define the attributions of the institutions, within the framework of the constitutional amendments that gave origin to the National Anti-corruption System (NAS), which are supposed to lead the fight against all acts of corruption. Scepticism describes the feeling of a nation where almost 95% of these crimes remain unpunished. According to Integralia*, in more than twelve states out of thirty one political entities, 87% of the citizenship still believes that corrupt conducts are frequent or very frequent. Moreover, as discussed by scholar María Amparo Casar (IMCO*), 83% of the population believes that the NAS will help few or nothing to combat corruption. It is a fact that secondary laws must address the inadequacies of the justice system, the weaknesses of prosecution and low conviction rates, but mostly important, as depicted by Edna Jaime –Executive Director of México Evalúa*– they must be preceded by a model of public policy. Otherwise, it exists the risk of having just a symbolic legislation and, consequently, a NAS without teeth.
Scepticism does not mean there has not been some progress. In the past few days we have witnessed the case against Arturo Escobar, a leader of the Green Party (PVEM), who was accused by a specialized prosecutor, the FEPADE, of allegedly covering up irregularities during the mid-term elections of June 2015. Further investigations are being conducted, however, the fact that a politician was forced to leave office due to FEPADE’s allegations and public opinion, is a good start for Mexico, where prominent political figures have appeared to be immune to justice. Whether through an active participation in the Open Government Partnership, chaired by Mexico in 2015, a well-planned anti-corruption project, further autonomy to anti-corruption agencies, or by mean of an enhanced prosecution that has proven to be effective in Rumania, Brazil and the Escobar’s case; 2016 brings some hope to many of us committed to transparency and accountability. A new year brings the possibility of championing justice, empowering an independent prosecution against all acts of corruption, increasing people’s trust in the authority and of stopping the bleeding of our democracy. In sum, there is much to be done, but also the will to do it right.
* Mexican think-tanks