Regional analysis by Alejandro Urizar and Luciana Torchiaro
In the last few years, Latin America and the Caribbean made great strides in the fight against corruption. Laws and mechanisms exist to curb corruption, while legal investigations are advancing and citizen anti-corruption movements are growing in many countries across the region. However, according to the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2017, the region continues to score poorly for corruption. How can we explain this contradiction?
Building a foundation for anti-corruption
In recent years, the region experienced solid increase in laws and institutions that promote transparency and accountability in the public sector. For example in 2016, Chile passed a law on public probity that prevents conflicts of interest in the public sector. Similarly, the Bahamas recently passed a law on access to public information and Guyana created transparent mechanisms for public procurement. In addition, in Jamaica, a consolidated anti-corruption agency formed to conduct investigations.
High profile investigations
Progress continues across the region with the investigations of several high profile cases of corruption. For example, the Odebrecht case resulted in sanctions for businessmen and political figures at the highest levels in Brazil, Ecuador and Peru because of their involvement with bribery and illegal funding in exchange for public contracts. In Guatemala, the attorney's office and the International Commission against Impunity (CICIG) is currently investigating politicians and businessmen for cases of corruption, including illegal funding by current President Jimmy Morales. In addition, investigations into the former president of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli, also advanced considerably.
Has anti-corruption stagnated?
While progress has been made to combat corruption in several countries, there are still no overarching policies in place to address the historic and structural causes of corruption throughout the region. Countries that prioritise anti-corruption and create national policy through consensus and public and political participation are better positioned to make a significant qualitative leap forward. Conversely, those countries that do not prioritise corruption issues in this way may lose ground from year to year.
Has the region come to a standstill in the fight against corruption? Not definitively, but it is vital to promote an integral approach that tackles key structural issues, including political funding, public procurement and the strengthening of independent, strong, and flexible legal institutions.
A call to action
This is a crucial election year in several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Candidates and political parties have an important opportunity to include strong anti-corruption components in their electoral proposals and platforms to promote structural change. To truly improve anti-corruption efforts in Latin America and the Caribbean, governments must foster political will and demonstrate a sustained long-term commitment to anti-corruption reforms.
Image: Jaime Spaniol
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