Anticorruption: A Political Facade

arturo-100x100by Arturo Mendoza

In politics as in international relations, it’s important to understand the messages that lie behind the smiling faces and shaking hands that we watch through the telly. It’s not easy to admit, dear reader, that these images tend to distort reality. In this regard, the UK Anticorruption Summit and the impeachment procedures that obliged Dilma Rousseff to leave the presidential palace in Brazil mustn’t escape to an exercise of coherence and rationality.

Coming from a country that, according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, is perceived to be highly corrupt (2012-2015), I’ve carefully listened to experts, members of the civil society and other policy actors on the policies that could root out corruption for real. You’ll probably not be surprised to read that summits, coffee breaks, scandal and political circus aren’t included on the list.

On the 12 of May, an unprecedented Anticorruption Summit took place in London. It was a novel occasion for world leaders from 40 nations, the World Bank and the IMF to draw an action plan against corruption and obscure offshore finance. The acknowledgement of corruption ‘at the heart’ of world’s problems and the willingness to tackle corruption by pointing out the ‘misuse of companies […] to hide the proceeds of corruption’, among other actions, were necessary.

Nonetheless, there’s a gap between intention and action, and a global statement will not prevent corrupt individuals from hiding assets in shell companies from one day to another. There are specific issues (exchange of information, law enforcement, reform to justice systems, etc.) that still need to be properly addressed between and within states.

Behind the political curtain, it’s worth stressing that the event was hosted by David Cameron, embroiled in scandal and disgrace after the Panama Papers, a leak of millions of files from a law firm’s database (Mossack Fonseca), went public.

It holds true that the Prime Minister extended the invitation to the summit before he had admitted to have profited from his father’s offshore trust and in advance to his comments on Afghanistan and Nigeria. Calling these nations ‘fantastically corrupt’ was disrespectful and lacked of basic decorum.  After all, Cameron’s remarks didn’t really change the fact that only 11 heads of state were planning to attend the event.

Even more contradictory was the discourse of integrity and transparency within jurisdictions that, according to The Economist, account ‘for between a quarter and a third of global offshore activity.’ It is well known that the City and British territories are the final destination of the benefits of the few (multinationals and corporations) at the expense of the many. According to 300 economists that wrote a letter to world leaders on this matter, poor countries are the ‘biggest losers’ of secrecy, ‘missing out on at least $170bn of taxes annually’ (Oxfam).

The Panama Papers, and in certain way the summit, revealed the interests that haven’t prevented the growth of tax havens in the UK, Europe or elsewhere. Who’s to blame? The ‘fantastically corrupt’ countries or those who have benefited from dirty money for years? Corruption is a global disease. Up to this point, staring at each other, in silence and complicity, some losers and beneficiaries are equally guilty.

Let me be clear. It’s not my purpose to attack or defend any person at all, but rather to stress the existence of double standards everywhere. From the UK to Brazil, masses don’t really assess effective policies against networks of corruption because they are blinded by anticorruption fiction tales.

President Rousseff, re-elected by the people of Brazil in 2014, ‘was suspended from office and will go on charges of manipulating the country’s finances to gain electoral advantage’ (The Guardian). Now, here’s the predicament. She was succeeded by Vice-president Temer and will be trailed by members of the Senate that are under investigation for corruption. Moreover, a former minister’s conversation that was recently leaked, revealed a plot to oust the left-leaning president. The impeachment was clearly politicized and driven by interests that defiled its purpose. Now, it’s hard to believe that justice and accountability are truly in the interest of the multi-partisan Congress.

People of Brazil, tired of corruption and angry about the poverty in which they live, went after the big fish and claimed for her head. But, will this anger towards the political class is going to evaporate with the Workers’ Party out of power? They must realise that beheading the Executive will not wash away all the dirt under the carpets of the Senate and the interim government.

So, let’s us talk about anticorruption non-fiction tales. The resilience of an independent and special prosecutor in Rumania. The autonomy of an UN-backed commission in Guatemala that opened investigations against drug trafficking and racketing. The grass-root drive in Mexico that demands new disclosure rules to all public servants (of assets, potential conflicts of interests and paid taxes), the creation of anticorruption courts to oversee administrative faults, among other five initiatives or reforms to existent codes. These are commendable efforts to dismantle networks of corruption. The above mentioned cases transcend to political interests and erode the core of corruption itself. I’m (perhaps naively) convinced that a time will come when anticorruption masquerades and political executions in the squares wouldn’t be more than memories of the Middle Age.

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