Honduras: time for anti-corruption reforms
The citizens of Honduras, as well as their regional neighbours in Central America, have high hopes as a new government under President Juan Orlando Hernández takes office this week. The nascent administration does not face an easy task. Honduras is one of the poorest and most problem-ridden countries in the Americas. It not only has one of the highest crime and murder rates in the world, but also has one of the region’s lowest scores in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index as well as in the Human Development Index.
President Hernández does not seem to shy away from these challenges. He rightly perceives corruption as a key underlying factor that perpetuates several of the structural problems the country faces. It is in this context that he sought input from Transparency International’s national chapter in Honduras, Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa (ASJ) and other civil society organisations, to support the implementation and monitoring of his anti-corruption plan. The plan will focus on five areas: health, education, security and justice, infrastructure projects and tax administration, as well as a cross-cutting approach to improve public procurement and human resources hiring and management.
– President Juan Orlando Hernández during his inauguration speech
To formalise the collaboration, Transparency International, ASJ and the President of Honduras signed a letter of intent highlighting the importance of tackling corruption, the need to establish partnerships between all sectors of society and the idea of a roadmap to guide the development of a clear anti-corruption strategy in the next two months.
– Carlos Hernández Martinez, Executive Secretary, ASJ
Two key issues for Honduras: basic social needs – health and education
Corruption affects most of Honduras’ institutions. However, the health and education sectors are particularly relevant in a country where 60 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line. Whether it’s the poorest shut out from school, exams for sale or money being siphoned off, the cost of corruption in education is high. Stolen resources from education budgets mean overcrowded classrooms and crumbling schools, or no schools at all. In Honduras, it tends to be the poor who suffer the most.
The case is similar in the health sector. For the more than 5 million Hondurans living in poverty, the Ministry of Health is their only option to access medical services and medicines. Making the best use of the medicines that are bought annually with US$24 million from the public budget should be a priority. However, ASJ and other civil society organisations have discovered corruption in the supply chain and distribution of medicines. In some cases, expired medicines were bought and given out. These are not only useless for the sick people they are meant to cure but, in the worst cases, have even caused deaths. Also, a scheme to steal medicines from the central warehouse was uncovered.
This is only one example of the forms of corruption that affect the poorest in society and serves as a reminder as to why both education and health need to be priorities of the new government and have a prominent place in its anti-corruption strategy.
Two issues that can’t wait: citizen security and justice
Being an important source and transit country for illegal trafficking of persons and a transhipment point for drugs and narcotics, disputes between rival cartels and gangs are the order of the day in Honduras. This has significantly contributed to a growing crime rate and overall violence in the country. San Pedro Sula, in northern Honduras, is the city with the world’s highest murder rate (187 murders per 100,000 inhabitants).
Corruption in the security forces, the police and the justice sector hinders effective responses to violence. Honduras struggles to tackle organised crime because the very institutions tasked with fighting it are weakened by corruption, leading to impunity and threatening democratic stability. This creates a climate of fear and lack of trust in security institutions.
Organised crime has been skilful in taking advantage of the institutional weaknesses of the police and the judiciary. The new government needs to urgently invest energies to change this situation. This is why the security and justice sectors have been identified as key components of its anti-corruption strategy.
The Central America and Dominican Republic Forum for Transparency
While the links between the security and justice sectors and corruption seem evident on the surface, there is a need to better understand the underlying elements that make it hard to eradicate the problem, particularly in Central America. The series of Central America and Dominican Republic Transparency Forums organised annually since 2011 by Transparency International looks for solutions to this challenge. The 2014 Forum, which follows up from the third edition held in Tegucigalpa, Honduras will take place in the Dominican Republic in summer.
A new way forward for Honduras?
Large-scale infrastructure projects and tax administration complete the five key areas of the new administration’s anti-corruption platform. These issues are affected both by corruption and to a great extent by a lack of modernisation. Our chapter will lead a local coalition of NGOs that will engage with the government and monitor the advances of the anti-corruption strategy. Capacity strengthening and frequent dialogue will be essential for the success of the initiative. Transparency International will assist its chapter in this endeavour, providing an international voice and strength when needed to guarantee that the collaboration with the government remains on the right terms and that the autonomy of civil society is not put at risk.
The new government has already shown strength and decisiveness in fighting corruption. In the third week of January, in a surprising and extremely fast process, the outgoing National Congress approved an information secrecy law that violated basic principles of access to information and transparency. As the congress members at the time were about to step down to allow for the newly elected congress to take office, this was widely interpreted as an attempt to fast-track a very controversial law, triggering public pressure under the leadership of our chapter. This led congress members to send the law back to a special commission to review it before moving forward with its approval. Just a few hours before the final decision in the Congress, the transition team of the President Elect took leadership and entered into dialogue with congress members, persuading them to change course. In the end, the law was not approved.