This article first appeared on El Mostrador on June 29, 2020.
Even in the worst of times, corruption does not rest. The pandemic brought with it much more than an unprecedented health and economic crisis, it also brought radical changes to our lives and we may never return to the world we left behind. This is detailed in Transparency International’s “Getting Ahead of the Curve” report, which warns of the possible trends that will be installed with the pandemic and its impact, the increase in corruption being one of them.
To begin with, we see a reversal of hyperglobalization, as most governments have acted as silos to deal with the crisis, resorting to extreme measures, including emergency funds, purchases of health and food supplies, increased telemonitoring and restrictions on freedom, while controls and protocols are relaxed, informal trade increases and reporting becomes more difficult, setting the stage for corruption.
Corruption scandals have already come to light in several Latin American countries, such as the overpricing in the purchase of fans in Bolivia, cost overruns in the purchase of ambulances in Colombia or the investigation of the governor of Rio de Janeiro for misappropriation of public funds in the construction of field hospitals. Just to give a few examples. And you may ask, what about Chile? In Chile we know little or nothing.
One of the problems we face as a country is that we talk little about corruption, which gives the misleading signal that it does not exist and that we are far from resembling countries where illicit acts are the order of the day. But in Chile, corruption does exist. We see it in far-reaching cases such as that of the LED lights and the municipalities or in facts that do not seem to be, but are, such as the change of line of business of certain companies to avoid quarantines.
Some of the reasons why we do not see corruption are due to the little social punishment we give to the corrupt and the fact that in Chile little is reported, either for fear of reprisals, because we do not find out (or do not want to find out) or because many organizations, public and private, do not have compliance programs that allow them to investigate irregularities that occur under their noses.
The latest Anti-Corruption Capacity Index (CCC) warns that the fight against this scourge has lost momentum in the region because countries have reduced their capacity to detect, punish and prevent it.
After the pandemic, the world will be more prone to corruption, so if we do not address this issue now, the outlook will not be very encouraging for the coming years. We can already see the foundations of a fertile ground for fraud, where anything goes to save business. In this reality, bribery for profit, diversion of resources to respond to emergencies, and protocol exits to achieve speed and effectiveness in processes are likely to proliferate, while there will be little room for control.
This is the first of a series of columns to encourage Chile to talk about corruption and to call on the private sector, especially, to prevent, denounce and protect those who denounce. It is time to move from words to deeds and confront corruption, to stop sweeping it under the carpet.
By Susana Sierra