Mandates for Change: Anticorruption and Latin America’s New Leaders

Left to right: Camilleri, López, Ulloa, Rósario (Elizabeth Belair / Inter-American Dialogue)

On May 23, 2019, the Inter-American Dialogue in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) hosted a panel called “Mandates for Change: Anticorruption and Latin America’s New Leaders” as the third and final installment of the joint Dialogue/IDB “Anticorruption, Transparency and Intergrity” Symposia series. The panel, featuring El Salvador’s Vice President-elect Félix Ulloa; Paraguay’s Minister of Finance Benigno López; and Brazil’s Minister of Transparency Wagner de Campos Rosário, was moderated by the Director of the Dialogue’s Peter D. Bell Rule of Law Program Michael Camilleri, and introduced by Dr. Lea Gimenez, Division Chief of the Innovation in Citizen Services department at the Inter-American Development Bank. 

Gimenez began by stating that, in Latin America, citizens’ confidence in governments is low. However, due to technological innovation, the rules of engagement have changed: citizens are no longer passive spectators of the ways in which they are governed,  allowing for an exponential increase for demand for information, accountability, and integrity, as well as delivery of basic services. This has also led to the increased adoption of access to information laws and the modernization and digitization of governments. Governments in the region now have an opportunity to place citizens at the center of policy and deliver more efficient and more effective governance, and modern anticorruption agendas will serve as an important part of that. 

Camilleri began by pointing out and apologizing for the lack of gender diversity on the panel, which was comprised only of men. He prompted each of the speakers to briefly summarize the plans of their administration to combat corruption.

Ulloa started by affirming the intention of President-elect Nayib Bukele to recover and better channel the government funds misappropriated due to the corruption of past administrations.  Corruption is not inherent to any one country, but affects them all: worldwide, according to some estimates, it costs about $30 billion dollars annually. El Salvador’s indicators are some of the worst in the region; according to TI corruption perception index, we are at place 135 worldwide, and it has one of the worst rankings for use of public funds. Three former presidents of El Salvador have been tried for corruption and related crimes. We are aware of this track record and so are making transparency and accountability key axes of our government. We want to increase citizen participation as well as digital governance in order to facilitate more transparency and verifiability, and being open to scrutiny by the citizenry. Our anticorruption strategy is centered around three main principles: prevention of corruption, which can be facilitated by e-governance tools as well as the designation of grand corruption as a crime against humanity, instead of just having the offenders serve a prison sentence; persecution of corrupt actors, which we will attempt to follow by creating a CICIES, which can take the lessons learned from CICIG and MACCIH and use them to help combat corruption in El Salvador; and qualification for and entrance into international anticorruption covenants such as the GAFI (FATF).

Rosário then commented that Brazil is in a very particular situation regarding corruption because Lava Jato exposed entrenched government corruption in an unprecedented way in the country. However, it also galvanized efforts by various state entities – the public prosecutor, the police, the justice system – to identify and combat corruption. The Bolsonaro administration has a packet of anticorruption proposals that it has presented to the Parliament. One has to do with introducing prison sentences for certain corruption cases. Another has to do with the criminalization of undeclared campaign finance donations, and, in that vein, beginning to regulate lobbying, among other things.

López began by emphasizing that in terms of economic development Paraguay has come a very long way since ten or fifteen years ago, when it was near defaulting. However, despite the near doubling of the middle class and sharp reductions in poverty, a persistent problem for Paraguay is money laundering and corruption. In this respect, the administration is focusing on reforming and strengthening the judiciary and increasing transparency. Another problem, not only for Paraguay, but for the region—is impunity for corruption. Paraguay has not had prominent corruption prosecutions such as Los Cuadernos in Argentina or Lava Jato in Brazil. We also have an ambitious digital agenda which we hope will increase human capital and transparency.

The discussion was followed by a question and answer session during which one of the questions asked was whether Ulloa sees lack of cooperation from different parties in El Salvador’s Congress to achieve Bukele’s anticorruption agenda as a potential challenge. Ulloa responded by saying that the relationship between the legislative and executive branches has always been a love/hate relationship, but that the 2018 legislative and 2019 presidential elections sent a clear message to El Salvador’s representatives that the people have embraced their right to choose and demand to be accounted to by their elected leaders. Legislators now know that in order to be re-elected in 2 years time, they need to be smart enough to support the citizen-centered proposals of this administration, rather than remain beholden to the agendas of political parties.  

Watch the full event recording here: