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During the coronavirus pandemic, we must act together to protect life-saving resources from corruption

By Bruno Brandão and Eduardo Bohórquez, Executive Directors of TI Brazil and TI Mexico

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Transparency Int'l

In Latin America, as in much of the world, it is already clear that tackling the COVID-19 pandemic is the greatest challenge of an entire generation. Every government, business, civil society organization, and citizen has a role to play in the collective effort to save lives and mitigate the harmful consequences of the worst economic crisis in history.

In the face of this calamity, the anti-corruption movement faces perhaps the greatest challenge of the last three decades. The crisis is pushing governments to make extraordinary public spending commitments, and controls on that expenditure have rarely been as relaxed. To save lives, the fight against corruption has never been more urgent than at this time.

Every dollar, reais or peso saved from corruption and misuse will make a difference in addressing the emergency. At a time of immense political stress, every decision taken by our political leaders, civil servants and business leaders must be transparent and accountable if it is to make a difference in the preservation of rights, freedoms and, without exaggeration, lives.

The Transparency International movement has international cooperation and humanitarian aid in its DNA. We emerged from the experience of our founders, who saw the draining of international aid resources through corruption, and their vision was to support local communities to organize themselves to achieve social control of what was rightfully theirs. In the middle of a global pandemic, we cannot allow those lessons to be forgotten.

As a truly global movement, with a presence in over a hundred countries, we are positioned to provide coordinated responses to this essentially transnational threat. Now is the time to contribute all our experience in the fight against corruption to fight for the rights of people during the pandemic. Transparency and integrity have never been more important in public life.

Last week in Latin America, we launched an anti-corruption guide for emergency public procurement, identified and denounced attempts to weaken access to information laws, and established a task force composed of 13 Latin American national chapters to follow up on regionalized action in the context of the pandemic.

In our first reflections, we identified three anti-corruption priority areas in the region and, probably, elsewhere.

Address emergency public procurement risks: mitigate the opportunities for embezzlement and misuse of resources in procurement under special dispensation regimes.

Promote and conduct Intensive, real time, public oversight of social rescue packages and economic stimulus measures that will reduce the risk of corruption, state capture and political manipulation of urgent economic measures (including direct income transfer, special lines of credit, tax benefits and the general increase in public spending on expansionist fiscal policies). These actions have to provide public assurance that groups with privileged access do not capture undue benefits to the detriment of public interest, and widening inequalities

Secure legal and institutional frameworks for access to information, accountability and civic space: defense of legal guarantees and mechanisms for access to information, accountability and space for civil society against emergency measures that undermine these and other pillars of democratic regimes.

Civil society organisations need to act with urgency and in a highly coordinated manner. But it is also necessary to act with wisdom and sensitivity in the light of the complexity of what we face.

It is essential to recognize the need for measures that facilitate public procurement processes, and release additional resources for emergency responses to health and economic calamities. Yet it is critical that governments adopt safeguards that aim to optimize the use of resources and ensure that they effectively reach those who need them most, without further increasing inequalities and the burden on those who will most suffer the impact of the crisis.

There are enormous challenges and pressures on public administrators, and to respond effectively to this crisis will need the support of all in society. We can best achieve this by strengthening transparency, integrity and accountability to stimulate public trust, which in turn fosters the unity we so desperately need to face the crisis. Taking an approach of limiting information and opaque processes will only lead to distrust.

As Transparency International, our immediate contribution has to focus on the wellbeing of people. We believe that can be done in a way that ensures a better world, one with more solidarity and justice, emerges from this crisis. This, after all, is what moves us every day in our fight against corruption and its harmful consequences for people everywhere.

Bruno Brandão and Eduardo Bohórquez, Executive Directors of TI Brazil and TI Mexico