Image credit: Transparency International - Photo: 2019

Corruption a Cause for Citizen Concern in Latin America and the Caribbean

By Kwame Buist

BERLIN (IDN) – In the last five years, momentum has been building against corruption in Latin America and the Caribbean. High-level politicians have been found guilty of corruption in Guatemala and Brazil, and a wave of legal action against the perpetrators of grand corruption has swept across the continent, including the Lava Jato – or “Operation Car Wash” – investigation in Brazil.

However, most of the region’s citizens think their governments are not doing enough to tackle corruption and that corruption levels have increased in the past 12 months across the region.

A new report from Transparency International shows that corruption is a major concern for ordinary people in 18 Latin American and Caribbean countries, with more than half of all citizens believing corruption is getting worse in their country and governments are not doing enough to tackle it.

The report surveyed more than 17,000 citizens in Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela.

Entitled Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) – Latin America & The Caribbean 2019, the report also shows for the first time that one in five people have been coerced to provide sexual favours (sextortion) in exchange for public services, like health care or education, or knows someone who has. Data also shows that 71 percent of people think that sextortion happens at least occasionally.

Equally troubling, says the report, one in four people has been offered a bribe in exchange for votes at national, regional or local elections in the past five years, with  65 percent thinking their government is run by and for a few private interests in a damning indictment of low trust in government. The offices of the president and prime minister, as well as members of parliament, are seen as the most corrupt group or institution by over 50 percent of people.

“Too often, presidents, parliamentarians and other political leaders act in their own self-interest, at the expense of the citizens they serve,” said Delia Ferreira Rubio, Chair of Transparency International.

“In a region where anti-corruption efforts are building momentum despite recent setbacks, citizens continue to demand more and better from their governments.”

People’s actual experience with bribery is also a matter for concern. According to the report, more than one in five people who access public services have to pay a bribe, which is equivalent to approximately 56 million citizens. Across the region, police are credited with the highest rate of bribery (24 percent), while other services like utilities, including electricity and water, close behind (19 percent).

On a bright note, the report notes that people are overwhelmingly positive in their desire to make a difference in the fight against corruption; 77 percent believe ordinary citizens can make a difference in the fight against corruption.

Corruption hinders economic growth and the delivery of public services, argues the report. In some cases, corruption even deprives people of their human rights and dignity, as when citizens are coerced to provide sexual favours in exchange for public services.

A lack of political integrity risks undermining democratic foundations in many Latin American and Caribbean countries, as can be seen in the abuse of electoral processes, such as vote-buying and the spread of fake news, and in the weakening of political institutions.

A growing distrust and disappointment in government has contributed to increasing anti-corruption sentiment across the region, but this is empowering populist leaders who frequently make matters worse.

To combat corruption and bribery, the report recommends that governments should ensure a transparent environment for elections, enforce sanctions against vote-buying and uphold and reform campaign finance regulations.

Governments are also called on to improve the transparency of political finance by establishing regulations, ensuring disclosure of incomes, spending, assets and loans of political parties or candidates on an ongoing basis, and publishing all information in a single online portal, in open data format.

To reduce enablers of bribery, especially in public services, the report says governments should make public services more efficient, invest in user-friendly online platforms to access services and streamline bureaucratic processes.

Governments are also urged to recognise sexual extortion as a form of corruption and take measures to reduce the culture of shaming and victim blaming that discourages women from reporting abuses. Justice systems should have the right tools to address sextortion cases and create safe, accountable, accessible and, most importantly, gender-sensitive reporting mechanisms.

On a bright note, the report notes that people are overwhelmingly positive in their desire to make a difference in the fight against corruption; 77 percent believe ordinary citizens can make a difference in the fight against corruption.

Ultimately, says Transparency International, people have the right to report corruption, demand that politicians act with integrity, and seize opportunities to actively shape the decisions and processes which affect their lives, families and communities.

“Corruption eats away at society and undermines institutions,” says Patricia Moreira, Managing Director of Transparency International. “Political leaders need to listen to the clear demands of citizens to tackle corruption and strengthen democracy.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 25 September 2019]

Image credit: Transparency International

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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