This article first appeared in La Tercera on June 24, 2021.
The Americas Society/Council of the Americas (AS/COA) and Control Risks’ 2021 Anti-Corruption Capacity Index (CCC) revealed that efforts to tackle corruption are more necessary than ever. Already in 2020, this index had reflected a decline in the ability to detect, punish and prevent corruption, which was accentuated by the pandemic, especially in Latin America. In fact, 5 of the 15 Latin American countries evaluated registered significant decreases in their scores, with Brazil and Mexico registering the sharpest drops.
And despite the pessimism, there have been signs of hope in recent weeks. The current President of the United States, Joe Biden, released a memorandum in which he establishes the fight against corruption as a central national security interest, and in which he commits to promoting good governance, bringing transparency to financial systems, as well as preventing and combating corruption at a global level.
This memorandum provides a decisive fact: it is estimated that, in financial terms alone, acts of corruption subtract between 2 and 5% of the world’s GDP. And although this cost is not the same for all countries, the fact is that bribery, abuse of power, misappropriation, shell companies, laundering of illicit wealth, among other crimes, affect citizens’ trust, democracy, equity and undermine development efforts, especially in weaker economies.
Biden gave State agencies and offices 200 days to conduct an interagency review process and develop a presidential strategy to combat corruption, including actions such as modernizing and resourcing key agencies; proposing relevant legislation to Congress; vigorously enforcing the federal law requiring companies to report beneficial ownership to the Treasury Department; reducing offshore financial secrecy; requiring accountability; identifying and recovering stolen assets; and other measures.
This is excellent news for Latin America, both for its governments and for its companies, which will have to be alert and take care to prevent corruption, as the demands will be greater in terms of probity and ethical standards. Moreover, the strengthening of an already powerful law such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) will require compliance programs to be properly implemented, which will force them to be reviewed and updated, ensuring adequate resources in terms of budget and personnel in charge, in addition to checking the updated guidance of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Risk reassessments are also essential.
In the same vein, a few days ago the United Nations (UN) General Assembly Special Session on Corruption was held, in which a political declaration was approved as a roadmap to help countries combat bribery, money laundering and abuse of power, in addition to strengthening international cooperation.
On the other hand, the new European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), which will investigate and prosecute crimes involving European Union (EU) funds and taxes, began to operate.
Zooming in on Chile, we can rejoice that it ranks as the second least corrupt country in Latin America according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index and the CCC Index. However, the annual report of the Office of Institutional Integrity and Sanctions System 2020 of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), announced that it sanctioned three Chilean companies for corruption out of 51 sanctioned in the region.
Time goes by and we do not know more progress in relation to this matter in our country. Without going any further, in the last Public Account of President Piñera, we did not hear any proposal to address corruption -despite the fact that the cases investigated for this reason have increased-, nor about the state of progress of the anti-abuse agenda presented in 2019.
Hopefully, this global reactivation of the anti-corruption fight will raise the requirements and penalties, but let us remember that it is not necessary to impose stricter laws to start worrying about the control and prevention of corruption. While the tightening of regulations is an important push, the private sector must understand that compliance must be at the heart of its business, always linked to its purpose. Prevention is a duty beyond requirements.
By Susana Sierra