This article first appeared in La Tercera on July 20, 2021.
Corruption often occurs right under our noses, but we do not realize it, because we do not see it or we are not aware that something irregular is happening. In addition, it is difficult to measure it, because there are several behaviors that can be classified as corrupt. For this reason, it is not easy to know all the corruption that occurs around us.
However, there are those who have seen it up close and have preferred to remain silent. Some have chosen to turn a blind eye to avoid getting into trouble, because they feel that there are no guarantees to denounce it safely, and others see a certain normality in some breaches of probity, since the idea that anything goes in order to survive has become widespread, even more so in a period of pandemic where individualism has been exacerbated. This makes it difficult to face the problem, since as long as there are people willing to endorse corruption, the fight against it becomes more difficult.
On the contrary, when someone dares to say no, we can turn around and unmask an act of corruption. This was done in 2012 by the owner of the restaurant El Otro Sitio and a businessman from Patronato, who denounced the then Director of Works of the Municipality of Recoleta, who asked them for a bribe to regularize the construction of their premises. These complaints triggered an investigation that later resulted in the well-known Ceresita case, in which the company paid bribes of more than $20 million to the Director of Works.
Among the most recent cases, we can mention how the suspicions of irregularities made the mayoress of Providencia, Evelyn Matthei, desist from the bidding of LED luminaries, since she felt pressures from the Seremi de Energía towards the company Itelecom. Later, the magnitude of this corruption scandal in which 25 municipalities in the country are being investigated became known.
These examples show us that corruption is often stopped (or discovered) when someone said no. In this line, it is necessary that the necessary tools exist to facilitate the denunciation and that it does not mean a heroic act for those who dare to speak out. One of these tools comes from the bill that protects the anonymous whistleblower, which is advancing in the Senate and has until July 29 to receive indications. Although it is a great step forward, it still needs to be strengthened. In addition, the Financial Market Commission (CMF) issued a General Rule that regulates the new figure of the anonymous whistleblower in the companies supervised by the CMF.
At the private level, the company also plays an essential role in encouraging whistleblowing and prevention. The report “Good intentions, Bad outcomes?” of the World Economic Forum highlights the importance of implementing a culture of integrity that incorporates ethical dilemmas for employees, in order to train them in relation to the law – in this case the Criminal Liability of Legal Entities – and in the organization’s own compliance program. In this way, workers are confronted with possible situations and analyze the various ways to act in the face of them, in addition to giving them the security to speak out without fear in case they become aware of bad practices.
And although there are fundamental legal tools, it is also important that there is a “social condemnation” of the corrupt person, and that his actions are not justified because of who he is. We have seen situations like this on several occasions, for example, when a politician is found to be corrupt and his entire party comes out to defend him, without waiting for the investigation to be completed or for the courts to pronounce themselves. Another recent example is the case of the inoculation with a third dose of the vaccine against Covid by the president of the board of directors of Clínica Las Condes, where we have not yet seen the rejection of this practice by his peers, but we have seen the justification of why he did it. It is also worth mentioning that two of the seven directors requested an extraordinary session to deal with the issue, and that the president of the doctors of the clinic resigned, saying she felt ashamed of the situation. Likewise, 40 physicians of the facility expressed their dismay. It is also worth remembering that the case came to our attention thanks to a nurse who dared to report the incident and was fired from the institution.
As we know, corruption does not rest and even less so in the convulsed period the world is going through. And while local and global laws and the internal regulations of each organization advance, it is important to dare to say no to corruption and take a step towards development.
By Susana Sierra