This article first appeared on El Mostrador on October 17, 2020.
Life in society has had to adapt to the new conditions imposed by the COVID-19 crisis. And precisely the speed of change requires new legislation and speed of action to deal with the emergency, which does not mean bypassing the established processes or rules.
Such is the case of Law 20.730, which regulates lobbying and the management of private interests before authorities and public officials, since its commitment to self-regulation has been insufficient in this pandemic.
This was demonstrated by an audit of the Council for Transparency (CPLT), which found that the hearings carried out telematically are not being registered, but only those in person, despite the fact that the regulation contemplates the possibility of videoconferences and, therefore, their registration is required.
In this regard, it should be stated that there have been numerous meetings and encounters between public and private sector representatives, of which we have no information whatsoever. This signal reinforces the citizens’ distrust in their government authorities and the business world, strengthening the feeling that things are arranged behind closed doors and behind people’s backs.
In this scenario, the Ethics and Transparency Commission of the Chamber of Deputies requested parliamentarians and advisors to apply the current rules on lobbying to the hearings they hold in different remote platforms, which have had an explosive growth in their use during the emergency. And although the same should apply to companies, there has been no pronouncement from the private sector, for example, from a guild or similar association.
Nobody expected to live in the midst of a pandemic or to have to spend most of the year locked up at home, but circumstances have made us learn to live this way, which does not mean changing the rules of the game or skipping them at convenience. And it is precisely required that companies and interest managers are up to the circumstances and do not excuse themselves in the “alleged” lack of specification of the law regarding the registration of virtual appointments, while reinforcing self-regulation for probity and transparency.
Thus, it is urgent to update compliance models and duplicate preventive protocols, in order to avoid the commission of crimes associated with the relationship with the authority, such as influence peddling, conflict of interest or bribery.
Today, the available technology invites to go a couple of steps further in transparency, since it allows a better traceability of the lobby and to leave a reliable record of the hearings through the recording. In addition, the lack of self-regulation that has been demonstrated during the pandemic has revealed the urgency of improving shortcomings that have been dragging on for years, such as the identification of lobbyists, their duties and objectives, and sanctions for non-compliance. In this context, failure to register a meeting held remotely is a breach of the law and should be sanctioned.
Thus, in the midst of the crisis, greater interaction between the private sector and the public world is entirely to be expected and necessary, but this common and reciprocal interest can also be contaminated by pressures and undue exploitation.
In the current context, society and its needs are advancing faster than regulations, so it is important that there is a fair balance to avoid taking the easy road, which is the one that usually leads to corruption, with the excuse of surviving in the midst of the crisis at any cost.
Extraordinary situations require extraordinary efforts and, although it is possible that periods of adjustment may be generated, it is important that there are signals from both the public and the private world, to avoid small loopholes that may hide their faults.
By Susana Sierra