"Robust and reliable institutions are required to confront and curb corruption"Carmen P. Flores
Jorge Jaraquemada, a lawyer by profession and Executive Director of the Jaime Guzmán Foundation of Chile, was President of the Council for Transparency of Chile for a number of years, an organization created to guarantee citizen access to public information. He continues on the Council as a member. Author of publications and regular columnist of their national press.
Jorge Jaraquemada/Photo https://www.youtube.com/watch?
What has the inception of the Council for Transparency meant in Chile?
The Council is the guarantor of the Right of access to public information and has come to fill a relevant institutional vacuum, making it possible for people to become aware that by exercising the Right to know about public acts and decisions they are carrying out social scrutiny. It is a quite relevant part of their role as the general public. Progress has been made in these ten years in establishing a culture of transparency that, with increasing strength, is permeating the different public institutions and generating a critical general public. However, at the same time it has been highlighted that for transparency to have a relevant impact on our society, it is an effort that has to be systematic and maintained over time.
What steps have been taken?
The Council is a significant part of a set of institutional reforms that aims at the modernization of the State that seeks to establish a government closer to the people, facilitate the relationship of people with the State, improve the management of public services, professionalizing the bureaucracy state and achieving a more robust and transparent State. It is significant to emphasize that this design is complementary and that it does not do much good if we move forward in isolation incorporating a reform here or another there. It has to be part of a vision in which there is clarity about what the State intends to advance towards.
What is the situation of corruption in Latin America?
Unfortunately, Latin America in general shows quite worrying levels of corruption. In our subcontinent, there are a series of circumstances that weaken institutions and tend to naturalize informal relationships that favour corruption, such as economic instability, low government efficiency, low democratic participation and dissatisfaction with democracy, low levels of trust, weakness of the rule of law, institutional fragility and even episodically the eruption of populism.
In Latin America, countries such as Uruguay and Chile, with low levels of corruption co-exist with extremely high ones, such as Venezuela and Haiti.
Which country is making the most effort in the fight against corruption?
It seems to me that Colombia has taken the anti-corruption fight quite seriously, understanding that the corrupting power of drug trafficking, mainly, has to be neutralized and then be able to build institutions that allow the country to advance in its development.
Is the fight against corruption lost?
No. Even though there are countries where corruption has become systemic and, therefore, quite difficult to eradicate, it seems to me that it is still possible to reverse the situation. It can be extraordinarily difficult, take time and probably require an international collaborative effort with those countries where corruption has become endemic but, just as the world made progress towards democracy and the free market, isolating totalitarianism and state intervention, so I think we can move forward as regards probity. In fact, the political and economic freedom provided by democracy and free markets are powerful filters against corruption.
What specific phenomena of corruption continue to affect European political systems?
Although several countries in the European Union have a modern regulatory system in the area of probity and access to information, there are still cases of corruption that affect certain countries. For example, recently in France we could see that two presidential candidates were accused of misuse of their assignments as parliamentarians (Francois Fillon, in the National Assembly and Marine Le Pen, in the European Parliament). The response in this country was the correct one when pushing for a regulation that would correct these practices through the so-called Policy Moralization Law, published last year, and which should serve as a standard to avoid cases of that nature in the future.
In Spain there are allegations of irregularities that affect political parties and could affect their legitimacy.
Without going any further, just over a month ago the President of the Spanish Government was dismissed by Congress as a result of acts of corruption by which several members of their party were condemned by the courts. Spanish legislation on access to public information is relatively recent (it dates from 2013) and the culture of transparency, as an instrument to combat corruption, is only just beginning to become widespread there.
What factors influence corruption?
There are a number of factors that favour corruption. In my opinion, the main ones are the opacity or lack of transparency, weak enforcement and accountability of the authorities, the absence of a public service based on merit, state inefficiency, excessive regulation of markets and high margin to exercise personal preference in the adoption of economic decisions, the lack of punishment of corrupt acts and the lack of political will to stop them. The consequence that these circumstances cause is an environment conducive to corruption that conspires against good government and democracy.
Is corruption in Europe greater now than in the 80s and 90s?
Any empirical statement of such a nature faces measurement dilemmas. There is no doubt that today's European regulation to deal with the phenomenon of corruption is much more demanding than what existed in those decades. In those years, this phenomenon strongly affected countries such as Italy or Spain, so they had to update their legislation on the matter.
At the regional level, the European Union issued a regulation in 2001 regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents, granting a mechanism to access all the information coming from European institutions.
This regulation, together with the other regulations on the matter, undoubtedly contributes to reducing corruption, or at least having better social control tools to prevent and control it. The foregoing implies that the exercise of the public function is carried out in accordance with the law, reducing arbitrary spaces and affecting the incentives to commit acts related to corruption.
How did the corruption cases of the 80s and 90s impact political and economic Europe?
All acts of corruption prompted new regulatory schemes. In this regard, conditions were created for European civil and political society to become aware of the legislative challenges in matters of probity and access to public information. For example, together with the Treaty of Lisbon of 2007, the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the European Union came into force, which incorporates the right of access to information as a fundamental right. The greater the degree of transparency in public work, the lower are the risks of corruption and in that Europe has given significant signals from the order that governs them at the supranational level.
And what about the role of institutions in the corruption situation?
Institutions have a key role in the fight against corruption. Robust and reliable institutions are needed to confront and curb corruption. That is to say why the weakness that political institutions present in most Latin American countries in recent decades is worrisome, although with some exceptions, and the low levels of credibility they have among the general public. Therefore in my opinion, the best way to deal with corruption is with an approach to the modernization of the State, in which the generation of trust and institutional strength are central objectives.
What role does society at large play?
The role of civil society is fundamental, since it is one of the sources of control over the acts of those who exercise public functions and carry out social control of the authorities. Accordingly, authorities have to be held accountable to the general public for their management, and therefore we need that it has the possibility of exercising an effective examination regarding the exercise of public powers and the proper use of public resources. In Chile, the exercise of the right of access to information has been a tool used by the general public and by civil society organisations, requiring different types of information to public bodies and thus fulfilling their supervisory role.
How should we act when faced with corruption?
Corruption is an evil that affects all democratic states and its consequences reach everyone and weaken public institutions. Accordingly, both regulation and sanctions for such acts have to be appropriate to deter acts of corruption and allow control over the use of public resources. From the Council for Transparency, we have supported the revision of the legislation on this subject, with special focus on transparency and access to public information, to empower the citizenry. Within the framework of the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the publication of the Transparency Law, we have an excellent opportunity to modernize this regulation and adapt it to the challenges that face us today and that will arise in the future, to contribute to the public task of curbing corruption in our country.