This article first appeared on La Tercera on November 20, 2020.
Trust is a basic value in human relationships. To gain it costs time and facts; to lose it, it only takes a second. And this is what is happening today in Chile.
For many years we were a country that believed in its institutions, that was gradually moving towards development and that watched from afar the corruption that plagued neighboring countries.
However, in 2011 the La Polar case broke out, one of the biggest financial scandals in the country up to that date, and which surprised the public. But the bubble finally burst in 2015 when a series of major frauds began to be uncovered, such as those of the Army, Carabineros and the illegal financing of political campaigns through ideologically false ballots, to name a few facts.
Confidence began to crumble, as did the idea that the jaguars of Latin America were not affected by corruption. The feeling of injustice, impunity and inequality increased, at the same time that respect for institutions and authorities was lost.
The great danger of this is that it leads us to the vicious circle of distrust, in which we see abuses of power, irregularities and corruption on a daily basis. Unfortunately, this leads citizens to generalize and put all institutions and companies in the same bag, with little ability to distinguish those who do care about doing things right.
And this happens because in Chile – beyond the justice dictated by the courts – there are often no exemplary punishments, in which the corrupt are isolated or blocked. On the contrary, they continue giving interviews in the media and even running for public office. Many continue in their circle of friends as if nothing had happened, protected and unchallenged.
The pandemic has not facilitated the path to recovering trust either, since there has been little margin for action and control. In fact, the Fiscal Observatory pointed out in its July report, the little progress in the transparency of spending to face the emergency, as well as the lack of data regarding resources and funding sources. In this sense, good news was the announcement by the Ministry of Finance (after a harsh report by the FNE) to modernize and improve the public procurement system, in order to improve transparency and avoid micro-corruption.
The low confidence in the midst of the health crisis was also revealed in the Icreo 2020 study by the Almabrands consulting firm, released in October, which measures the confidence of Chileans in companies and organizations, revealing the loss of legitimacy in politicians and government institutions, giving greater confidence capital to companies, as well as demanding a more challenging role from them.
Our society is asking for change, it is demanding probity and transparency, and has shown that it is not available for abuses and false promises. So it is time for companies to take up the challenge of recovering that trust, helping citizens to believe again and, at the same time, allowing us to grow in an inclusive manner and move towards a true democracy, whose basis is public faith. People expect real signals and not to keep hearing about scandals that go unpunished. This only increases the idea that justice depends on who it is applied to.
It is time to take action, to condemn corruption without nuances and to stop hiding behind phrases such as “the law does not require me to do it” or to justify ourselves by repeating that “everyone does it”. Today, companies, public institutions and those who hold positions of power must demonstrate that they are committed to a real change, making their purpose known to society and the environment. This will be the only way to level the playing field and make a quantum leap in the recovery of trust.
By Susana Sierra