This article first appeared on El Mostrador on November 30, 2021.
It was 2015 and the front pages of the newspapers were reporting cases of irregular financing of politics, involving tax crimes and laws tailored to certain companies. These cases shook public opinion, which led to the modification of the Electoral Law in 2016, establishing obligations and limits to the financing of political parties and electoral campaigns, which promoted transparency and greater control of spending.
However, six years after these scandals, we see how bad practices are still alive, and that there are always loopholes to circumvent the law or take advantage of its loopholes.
In August, the first alert was raised when the People’s List detected several millionaire bills and invoices issued by candidates’ relatives, in the rendering of campaign expenses for the Constitutional Convention. All of them would have been within the framework of legality, are even approved by the Electoral Service (Servel). But, as we have said on other occasions, not everything legal is ethical.
Only a few weeks later, Diego Ancalao’s presidential candidacy was rejected, after detecting more than 23 thousand signatures validated by a deceased notary. And while possible electoral crimes and falsification of public instruments are being investigated, this case showed us a new way of defrauding the system, although this time it did not materialize thanks to the timely verification of the Servel.
And recently, thanks to the work of Ciper Chile, we learned about the case of Karina Oliva and the alleged irregularities in her campaign expenses for the Metropolitan Governorship, among them, millionaire payments to seven advisors, including her ex-partner.
Oliva’s excuses ended up sinking her by justifying that the reimbursement from the Servel was used to pay for an eight-month campaign when the legal term establishes only 90 days. This generated doubts as to whether expenses were inflated due to the number of votes received, which would have exceeded the expectations of her command. For the same reason, the Public Prosecutor’s Office opened an investigation against him and the Servel filed a complaint before the Public Prosecutor’s Office to determine if there were electoral crimes.
At least his political conglomerate gave a good sign by withdrawing its support to his candidacy to the Senate as a categorical condemnation to bad practices, moving away from the corporate defenses to which we are accustomed. For their part, it was the tired citizenry who showed their support at the polls, leaving Oliva out of Congress.
But there are still doubts that affect citizen confidence. Will there be similar cases that went undetected? Will there be more misused public resources? These questions require answers, because, although we appreciate the role of investigative journalism for transparency and the right to information, it makes us question if there are exhaustive audits by the Servel. And with this, I do not want to question the work of this body that has excelled in carrying out democratic processes, but I do want to ask ourselves if they require more technical capacity or resources to strengthen their oversight work. This is essential to take care of our institutions, but also to protect the public faith.
On the other hand, there are flanks in the Electoral Law that must be addressed. One of them lies in the fact that electoral expenses can be rendered up to five days after the election, that is, when the candidate already knows the results and, therefore, can estimate the value he/she will receive a per vote, which may generate perverse incentives. At the same time, it is necessary to establish average market values, so that prices are not inflated and there is greater control of suppliers.
In this context, the candidacy of Franco Parisi adds to the uncertainty, since in an unprecedented way the former presidential candidate campaigned from abroad, did not set foot in the country for a single day, and, in addition, had a high and unexpected vote. The big question is about the money he will receive for expenses to be rendered and if in the future something like this will be allowed to happen again, considering that the conditions of someone who campaigns by Zoom are infinitely different from those of someone who does it in the field and is subjected to pressures such as interviews and live debates.
I cannot fail to mention the responsibility of political parties to check the background of their candidates and be the first to give signs of probity. In this last election, we saw how the former mayor of Coquimbo, Pedro Velásquez, had the option of reaching the Senate despite having a conviction for tax fraud -which at least he did not get-, or how the deputy Jaime Mulet achieved reelection regardless of the formalization for bribery that he will have to face.
Corruption and impunity have generated a crisis of confidence that we must reverse. And just as there is an urgent need for greater oversight of public spending, there is also an urgent need for greater prevention, so that even those who fly the flag of probity and promise a different way of doing things do not fall into temptation.
By Susana Sierra