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What a shame! So honest we thought we were, and it turns out that there are too many bad apples in the drawer. “The citizenry has in its hands the key to turn the circle from vicious to virtuous”, say the authors of this book that should leave with red ears those who have had their hands in other people’s drawers… and those who did nothing to prevent it.
Tamara Agnic and Susana Sierra, both commercial engineers with a powerful curriculum, launched their book “Corrupción a la Carta. Las malas prácticas sobre la mesa” (Corruption on demand. Bad practices on the table), which takes the mask off so many criminals with collars and ties who lead a life of a tycoon with ill-gotten money.

The wrongdoers act out of greed, stealing tax money, receiving bribes, accepting invitations and onerous gifts, agreeing to fictitious price increases, passing spurious laws, and creating speculative funds to capture naïve savers. The tricks are numerous. All of them yield immense profits. It is outrageous. High-level public officials (civilian and uniformed), parliamentarians, and company executives have fallen into this trap.

Strong opinions

The subject addressed by Agnic and Sierra is of such relevance that 37 personalities, from President Michelle Bachelet to former presidents Sebastián Piñera, Ricardo Lagos, and Eduardo Frei, gave their testimonies to the book. Fernando del Solar (Nestlé), Peter Hill (Chamber of Commerce), Jorge Carey (lawyer) and Jorge Awad (businessman), Central Bank advisor Rosana Costa, and Senator Carlos Montes, among others, participated from the private sector.

There is no doubt: that this work is supported by weighty opinions. Lawyer Juan Ignacio Piña, former president of the State Defense Council, at the official presentation of the text said: “If we want to talk seriously about corruption, we have to take into account the corruption linked to the private sector (…) if we are going to take this seriously, we have to take into account that corruption is not a phenomenon that can only be attacked legally (…) We need lucid confidence, with a certain dose of skepticism”, said Piña.

At the same time, economist Fernando Coloma, former Superintendent of Securities and Insurance, said: “Beware of falling into the ethics of convenience… When one wants to be ethical out of convenience and not out of conviction. Therein lies the approach of compliance and integrity (…) It is not about doing well because it is convenient for me, it is about doing well”, he emphasized.

President Bachelet, who was unable to attend the event, sent a note in which, in addition to recognizing the merit of the authors, she pointed out that with efforts such as those in this book, and with the contribution of all, “we will be able to advance towards the construction of a more democratic society, in which its citizens have confidence in their institutions”.

Your two and two more

The authors, after their research, conclude that corruption is no longer perceived as a problem exclusive to the public sector. “It is impossible to deny that companies, as social actors of great importance, have a responsibility that they cannot ignore…They certainly cannot disengage themselves from society to pursue only the enrichment of their owners and executives. In short, they cannot operate with their backs to the public”.

Sergio Espinoza, who is a director of Egmont, a group of financial intelligence agencies, told the authors: “For the classic example of corruption – bribery of public officials to obtain illicit benefits – to be fulfilled, the participation of private agents is necessary”. That is, there are always two involved: the one who offers the bribe and the one who accepts it.

Certainly, this investigation mentions cases such as that of the deposed senator Jaime Orpis, for Corpesca; former president Piñera, for LAN Argentina and Natalia Compagnon for Caval. These three characters are associated with the term “corruption”. The same happens with the Penta and SQM scandals.

The collusions of pharmacies, chicken, comfort paper, La Polar, and Alberto Chang’s scams are also mentioned. The list is long. But the “ordinary” citizen is not spared either. Francisco Gazmuri, director of the Association of Entrepreneurs, speaks of those who boasted of having bought American Airlines tickets when they made a mistake in the prices and Juan Ignacio Piña of those who daily travel without paying in Transantiago or those who obtain false medical licenses. “It is a problem with cultural roots,” he says.

Shameful numbers

Among the relevant figures cited by “Corrupción a la Carta” there are many that are worrying: 8 out of 10 Chileans consider that “we are a corrupt country” and 7% say they have paid a bribe to facilitate a procedure.

Between 2012 and 2015, the perception that public bodies are very corrupt has increased from 15% to 57%, “in three years!”, exclaim the authors.

A study by KPMG – the leading forensic services (financial crime investigation) firm – says that 65% of fraudsters are employees of the victim organization and more than 21% are former employees.

Of the fraudsters who were employees, 38% worked at the organization for more than 6 years. Four out of 10 fraudsters have a good reputation.

The authors

Susana Sierra is a commercial engineer with a degree from the PUC and an MBA-UC. She has taught “Business Creation” and “Practical Entrepreneurship” at the Universidad de Los Andes and is co-director and professor of the Diploma in Compliance and Good Corporate Practices at the PUC Law School, which is oriented to reflect and deepen in the subjects of corporate responsibility, free competition, and environmental regulation.

Sierra points out that many of the laws on probity have been issued “after scandals; this shows that we are always being reactive or hoping that legislation is everything. When we think about corruption with name and surname, we don’t think about what can happen to us, that’s why we don’t think about the solution.”

Tamara Agnic is a commercial engineer from Usach with an MBA from Adolfo Ibáñez University. She was superintendent of Pensions (20142016), before that, between 2009 and 2012, she was the director of the Financial Analysis Unit, a decentralized state agency whose mission is to prevent and deter economic crimes. She is currently a director of the aforementioned KPMG.

For her part, she comments that in these matters “we have to work together, the public and private sectors, and collaborate mutually”.

Both agreed to share with Cambio21 the ideas and conclusions contained in “Corruption a la carte”.

1. According to the research: where are there more bad apples? In the public or private sphere?
More than making a ranking between the public and private sector, the important thing is to be clear that any field can be developed acts classified as corrupt. What is important is that we are aware, not only as individuals but also as a society, that the problem exists, that it is among us and that, therefore, we have the responsibility and duty to protect ourselves by exercising the actions that are within our reach to hinder the existence of incentives that push us to commit improper actions. When we talk about bad apples we mean that we always see the speck in someone else’s eye, but we do not recognize that it can happen to us.

2. We thought we were free of this plague. When did we begin to lose our innocence?
We live in a world where the development of technology and communication channels allows us to have at our fingertips an almost infinite amount of information. Therefore, it is this circumstance that today makes us more aware and knowledgeable of the existence of this scourge called corruption that threatens and inhibits the development of economies. Corruption has existed since man has walked the face of the earth, but it has been mutating and things that in the past were considered normal, today are intolerable.

3. Who can put a stop to this evil: the government, the parliament, the judiciary?
Everyone must put a stop to it. The moment we understand that everyone has the power to say NO, or the power to denounce, is how we can create a virtuous anti-corruption circle. Many times we hide behind “I can’t do anything”, but if everyone does their part, we can stop it.

4. What can citizens do?
Citizens hold in their hands the key to turning the circle from vicious to virtuous. In the conclusion of our book “Corruption à la Carte. Las Malas prácticas sobre la mesa”, we say it clearly enough: we all have to do our bit. The difference may be in the strength we have to transmit and defend our convictions not only with words but also with actions. We want to infect all those who read us and that they, in turn, infect others… and so on, all of us doing the “right thing”.

5. Are there classes on business ethics in commercial engineering schools?
There are, but that is not enough. Nor are there enough of them. We must add up all the initiatives.
Many times we think that education is the solution, but the problem is that when people act corruptly, we justify ourselves by saying that it is for the greater good, therefore everything taught lasts very little. There is a clear dissociation even between what is thought and what is done since short-term incentives seem to be greater.

6. Do business organizations have candles at this funeral?
Of course, especially in the sanctioning role of its members, if certain behaviors are applauded or not given importance, they are implicitly saying: that what you are doing does not matter, as long as you are doing well, providing jobs, and being profitable.

7. How are we doing about the Latin American neighborhood?
According to measurements on corruption perception, our country is better positioned as one of the “least corrupt” in the region, but that is not a consolation prize, we live in a globalized world, and our companies may also be committing these practices abroad.

8. And how are we in the OECD in terms of corruption?
One of the benefits of belonging to the OECD is that we have stopped comparing ourselves only with the region. Now we compare ourselves with the developed countries, forcing us to aim for higher and more demanding standards.

9. Were you surprised by the Carabineros case?
Just as we have pointed out that no country is exempt from corruption, and no organization made up of people is free of it. The Carabineros case, more than surprising, should lead us to learn lessons. To the importance of putting in place adequate controls and incentives that do not trigger the “gene” of corruption. Unlike what happens in practice, the greatest controls should be placed in the positions of greatest trust, where the anomalous situations of greatest impact are usually forged.

10. In your opinion, which would be the 5 to 10 most relevant corruption cases known in Chile?
All of them are relevant. From the smallest to the largest, because once the seed is planted and germinates, it becomes more difficult to eradicate it. Let’s not forget that corruption is not only associated with money but also with the improper use of power, even if it is not aimed at enrichment.