This article first appeared in El Mostrador on May 16, 2020.
Whenever I mention the word bribery in front of friends, relatives, or company boards, they look at me with horror. They imagine -somewhat incredulously- that it is a crime far removed from reality and even from themselves, and that if it happens in Chile, it would be in other spheres.
Paradoxically, in the last weeks, we have known two controversial cases with the word “bribery”, which show us that this crime may be closer than we think. On the one hand, there is the case of the former executive president of Codelco, Nelson Pizarro, who is accused by the CDE of allegedly exerting pressure so that the company Indak, whose owner is a partner of Pizarro’s son, was directly contracted in the Salvador Division of the state-owned mining company. At the same time, the latter acquired – one month later – a piece of land in Chicureo for $ 75 million, a price much lower than the market value.
On the other hand, there is the case involving the company Itelecom and the municipalities of Iquique and Chillán (so far), for alleged corruption in millionaire bids for the change of LED lights in both communes, and in which have been involved, among others, the owner and members of the company, councilmen, the municipal administrator of Chillán and even the judge of the Local Police Court of Pemuco.
These cases show how simple and easy it is to fall into the crime of bribery. On the one hand, it involved the acquisition of a house at a price that was barely less than its fiscal appraisal, and on the other hand, it involved money to municipal officials to award bids.
Most companies are born for a good purpose and not to do evil or commit crimes there are always exceptions, as in all cases of organized crime. But going back to the bribery cases, I do not believe that neither the company of Nelson Pizarro’s son’s friend nor the LED lighting company was born thinking that they were going to win bids based on bribes. So, what happens? On the way, sometimes greed appears, incentives arise to skip processes and fall into crime, and at the same time, they self-justify certain actions.
For the same reason, companies must understand their fundamental role in preventing corruption through the implementation of adequate controls, especially in supplier and commercial policies and processes, as these are by far the riskiest areas.
If municipalities had strict control protocols, the story would be very different. Without going any further, the mayor of Providencia, Evelyn Matthei, in 2017 left without effect a tender for lighting fixtures when she had doubts, because of the 11 companies that bid, 10 had been disqualified for not complying with technical aspects, which makes us think that the bases were tailor-made for the company. We cannot continue appealing to intuition to avoid corruption crimes, but rather we must establish strong controls and denounce unclear facts.
If we move to the private side, compliance cannot remain as an island within the organizations, each area must understand that it has responsibilities, only then a culture of doing things right will be created. Given this, the board of directors has a key role in crime prevention, focusing not only on measuring results but also on how they were achieved.
To the above, we must add that we are currently living during a pandemic and it is precisely in periods of crisis that controls are weakened, as companies relax many measures and actions in the face of uncertainty. At the same time, in the face of lower cash flows and fewer customers, companies can offer strong incentives to their executives to achieve results.
Therefore, this is the precise moment to review and evaluate how solid are the controls that have been implemented within the organizations or if they were a mere ornament to comply. Corruption will never cease to exist and cases such as that of the former Codelco executive or the LED lights will continue to occur. The important thing is that we stop seeing bribery as a crime that “does not happen in Chile” and remember that preventing and/or reporting in time can make the difference.
By Susana Sierra