This article first appeared in La Tercera on June 01, 2020.

Covid-19 came to alter our lives in every way. The plans, strategies, and objectives of many vanished in the blink of an eye and had to be reoriented to avoid great damage. Let’s face it, no one imagined witnessing a tragedy such as the one we are living through and, therefore, no one was prepared to face it.

In this, the virus has been transversal. It has affected us all, even large companies that until mid-March were operating with a certain degree of tranquility (or at least with greater certainty) and were aiming their efforts at the goals they had set.

Therefore, in this process of transformation and adaptation to the new scenario, the interaction of the private sector with the public world is expected and necessary, since all the actors of society have the task of articulating and coordinating measures to face the health, labor, and economic challenges of the pandemic.

Precisely, and according to an article published in La Tercera, this public-private linkage grew during April under the framework of Law 20.730, which regulates lobbying and the efforts that represent private interests before authorities and public officials.

It is very positive that the public opinion can know the hearings that our authorities hold with executives of companies and industries in crisis today. Likewise, companies should use this law to declare their actions and leave a record, to protect themselves against any compliance risk. Additionally, they must redouble their preventive protocols aimed at avoiding the commission of crimes associated with the relationship with the authorities, such as influence peddling and bribery.
We also know that in crises there are emergencies. But this cannot be an excuse to bypass the rules and use any of the loopholes in the law to our advantage. We must not give in to temptation and, for example, pick up the phone or send a WhatsApp to present interests or request steps to a minister, superintendent, or mayor, among other authorities. Companies today have Public Affairs areas or hire external services dedicated to this. Whatever the model, their work must be regulated by procedures clearly defined by their compliance, comptroller, audit, and/or legal teams.

Today, Law 20.730 has an imbalance in the obligations of the parties, with greater requirements for government agencies and not for lobbyists. A key issue at this point is the absence of a single public registry of persons and companies engaged in interest management. Nor do they have sanctions if, for example, they do not register on the current platform or do so in a category that does not correspond.

The authority may also be tempted to circumvent the law in periods of normality or emergency. For example, the regulation does not consider registration of cases in which an invitation is made to a company or organization to a meeting, or if this meeting is held in a place that is not a government agency. This also happens if the authority is contacted in passing by a lobbyist during a field activity or a seminar.

But I insist, the pending advances of the law cannot be an excuse. Today, companies have a transparent mechanism to report their actions to the public. A crisis cannot be a justification to avoid legal frameworks and protocols. Neither in lobbying nor any other matter.

By Susana Sierra