Honduras is among the poorest and most violent countries in the world, with more than half of the population living below the poverty line and the highest homicide rates in the world. Honduras has also become a major transit point for illicit drug trafficking and is plagued by widespread corruption, criminal activities and impunity. The Central American nation is struggling to improve the lives of its citizens.
Corruption affects all areas of people’s lives and is a result of widespread nepotism and clientelism, entrenched organised crime activities, and political corruption. The latest Latin America Public Opinion Project survey shows that 79.7 per cent of citizens surveyed perceive corruption in the country as extremely high.
First signs of progress
President Juan Orlando Hernández took office in January this year and has proven that he does not shy away from the challenge of tackling corruption. His administration’s work has already shown some first results: he has brought back, on paper, the importance of governance to sectors highly infected by corruption. Possibly the main concrete achievement his government has had in the fight against corruption has been the dismantling of the corruption network in the Honduran Institute of Social Security.
Nonetheless, Honduras still needs a systemic approach to dealing with corruption if it wants to create structural and sustainable change. This change must happen at all the different bureaucratic levels and the rule of law must prevail.
The importance of cooperation
To prove that the first signs of progress are not mere window-dressing initiatives and that the government is really willing to fight corruption and to uphold the rule of law and the principles of transparency and accountability, President Hernández sought input from Transparency International and its national chapter in Honduras, Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa (ASJ) to support the implementation and monitoring of his anti-corruption plan.
The plan focuses on key areas that are vital for a better future for all Hondurans: 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.
It is in this context that this week, Transparency International’s Chair Huguette Labelle, ASJ’s Chair Carlos Hernández and, President Hernández signed the Collaboration and Good Faith Agreement for the promotion of transparency, the fight against corruption and the strengthening of the integrity system. Transparency International and ASJ will be responsible for tracking the progress and monitoring the degree of implementation of the government’s commitments in the agreement. Every three months the results will be made public to ensure further citizen oversight.
– President Juan Orlando Hernández
– Huguette Labelle, Chair of Transparency International
– Carlos Hernández, Chair of ASJ
Through the signing of the agreement our aim as civil society is to ensure progress in the promotion of transparency and the fight against corruption as well as ensuring that the anti-corruption plans stand up to public accountability.
Despite some advances, there is still much more left to do. Corruption is a key underlying factor that perpetuates several of the structural problems the country faces.
What’s at stake
Corruption in Honduras affects many of the country’s sectors and institutions. However, one of the biggest areas of concern is corruption within the security forces and the judiciary, which enables organised crime activities and perpetuates a “culture of impunity” in the country.
Homicide levels are alarmingly high: according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Global Study on Homicide, the country’s murder rate was at 90.4 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2012. Gangs terrorise urban populations, and the state’s own security forces have yet to rid themselves of corruption and abuse. Due to the institutional weaknesses of the security forces and the judiciary, witnesses and victims do not trust them and do not come forward to testify. Murderers and criminals usually manage to get away with their crimes.
Emigration due to violence
Violence in Honduras has reached such unbearable levels that it has become a growing cause of emigration, most recently seen in a surge of unaccompanied children arriving at the US-Mexico border resulting in a humanitarian crisis. Hondurans represent the largest number of unaccompanied minors arriving at the US border. Fifteen times more children leave nowadays than five years ago. Alarmingly, while many Hondurans leave due to violence, deportations from the US feed the ranks of gangs and other organised criminal groups.
Another area where corruption has terrible effects on the lives of people is the health sector. Recent scandals in the health sector have shown the human side of corruption, when medicines and medical assistance were not available for the sick and most needy due to corruption.
Taking action against corruption in the health sector
In March 2013 ASJ uncovered that millions of dollars’ worth of medicine were being siphoned off from the state-controlled Almacén Central de Medicamentos (Central Medicines Warehouse), possibly to be sold on the black market. Now the government is taking action to better manage the purchase and distribution of medicines. Read more about the case here and here.
To ensure these positive developments result in sustainable change, ASJ signed an agreement with the Ministry of Health this week to implement Integrity Pacts in the procurement of medicines, medical equipment and services. This will be a key milestone for the country and will hopefully mean less expensive and better medicines for all Hondurans.
Integrity Pacts are a tool for preventing corruption in public contracting. They help save taxpayer funds and ensure that public works are delivered efficiently, and stave off avenues for illicit gain. Integrity Pacts have been applied in more than 15 countries and 300 separate situations. For example, in Mexico, “social witnesses” have overseen more than 160 contracts worth US$62 billion.
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