Among the Latin American officials tarnished by corruption allegations in recent years is Otto Pérez Molina, who resigned as Guatemala’s president amid a bribery scandal in 2015.

Recent years have brought unprecedented levels of attention to corruption in Latin America and the Caribbean, with heads of state in countries large and small removed from office amid allegations of bribery, self enrichment and mismanagement of public funds. However, advocates for increasing transparency and fighting corruption worry that superficial changes and isolated high-level prosecutions do not get to the deep and structural safeguards needed to tackle the problem in 2017 and beyond. Is the popular and political will to address graft and corruption waning? What concrete steps should be taken to increase transparency and advance integrity in societies across the region? What successful innovations are emerging that point to a brighter outlook for the battle against corruption?

Laura Gaviria Halaby, global head of Citi Fintech Acceleration: “The search for a new paradigm of integrity is top-of-mind for Latin America’s political and economic leaders. Information and communications technology (ICT) may not provide a magic bullet, but it is arguably the most powerful tool in the integrity tool kit. Over the last decade, governments across the region have launched an increasing number of e-government initiatives to enhance the efficiency and transparency of public administration and to improve interaction with citizens. Yet, technological innovation to tackle corruption remains in its infancy. A new initiative, led by Citi in collaboration with its public and private sector allies, seeks to accelerate technological innovation and provide public sector entities with access to tech innovators and their cutting-edge ideas and solutions to increase transparency and efficiency. To start, Citi is crowd-sourcing descriptive ‘pain points’ that guide tech innovators toward targeted areas where integrity issues are of greatest concern. The goal: bring financially responsible digital solutions to the public sector that will support more stable economies. The digital world of the future will increasingly be networked, open and collaborative. Open Application Programming Interface tools that enable software systems to communicate will increasingly become the norm, with the opportunity to take an app-store approach to technology solutions that solve government problems. This connected world, when bolted to the ‘Internet of Things’ through a trillion sensors, will take transparency to new levels. These connected technologies will change the development landscape, as they have the potential to extract the manual processes, paper documentation and cash from development flows. When the last mile is made digital and transparent, and information and money can flow freely both ways, the spotlight on the entire digital chain will be bright and the myriad of corruption flash points will become muted.”

José Antonio Muñoz, founding partner at Muñoz Global in San José, Costa Rica: “The general perception seems to be that nothing has changed with respect to corruption in recent years. However, there has been a voluntary acceptance of standards and due process by the business community in Central America. It formally renewed its commitment to respect the law and procedures, and now aspires to comply with international standards. It is our belief that this attitude will permeate into the public administration, which with time will align itself with the standards of the business community. Moreover, civil society has appreciated that public marches and protests can have a significant impact on the government. The ongoing initiatives to promote better-informed campaigns based on more specific knowledge of the rule of law and how it should function will keep momentum going within society. A number of welcome initiatives have emerged in the region in recent years. The Costa Rican government subscribed to the Open Government Partnership in 2012 and recently developed an app helping to denounce illicit trade. Honduras and Guatemala became members of CosT, an initiative facilitating transparency and accountability in the construction of public infrastructure. Such transparency-promoting initiatives have a strong potential to reduce corruption. Nevertheless, there are further means of addressing the issue. Introducing a conditionality of loans on enforcement of FCPA standards and introducing similar standards in placements of corporate securities on stock exchanges is one of them. Another proposition involves a deployment of border and customs technology, which would serve both security and anti-corruption purposes.”

Nicolás Mariscal, member of the Advisor board and chairman of Grupo Marhnos in Mexico City: “In the case of Mexico, significant progress has been made with the new National Anticorruption System. This set of laws and agencies was created at the request of more than 630,000 citizens. The budget allocated to it, as well as the technical resources and its powers, make it an advanced model in the region. In addition, Mexico has joined open contracting. Under this method, all stages of government procurement and detailed information about them are posted on the Internet. Under these standards, recommended by the OECD, the work of the new Mexico City airport is being carried out. It is noteworthy that this technology is playing a crucial role as a tool to combat corruption. Intelligence systems are already in place to detect unusual transactions. In a few years, governments will have large interconnected intelligence systems that will detect abnormal transactions, tax evasion and all kinds of corruption. Of course, all this must be backed up by a clear rule of law in which the law is enforced. Latin America needs a change in this direction. The culture of corruption is going to be eradicated as legality progresses, and impunity is not an option.”

Ben Raderstorf, program associate in the Peter D. Bell Rule of Law Program at the Inter-American Dialogue: “One of the biggest challenges with fighting corruption is that impunity is an inherently opaque phenomenon. Graft, fraud, abuse of power and bribery all aim to be invisible, making it difficult—if not impossible—to precisely target whether the landscape is improving, and if so, at what rate. This also means corruption has a certain lag time when it comes to public perception. Transparency and accountability measures (like those implemented in almost all Latin American countries since 1990) can take years to bear fruit, and when they do, the resulting scandals create false impressions that ‘corruption is worse than ever.’ As such, assessments on the current state of corruption should be taken with a dose of skepticism. That said, there is still evidence that progress is being made in most countries. Criminal cases continue to make headlines across the region as investigations and plea deals regularly unearth new misdeeds. If nothing else, this ‘throwing the powerful in jail’ has a welcome chilling effect on future corruption, making leaders more nervous about the legal and electoral costs of illicit activity. Still, prosecutions are only one side of the anti-corruption coin. The other component—preventative measures to deter future graft and bribery—is more difficult and more important. This is where Latin America (with a few exceptions, Chile above all), continues to lag behind. Governments across the hemisphere should design new, tech-intensive mechanisms to force transparency in personal and campaign funds, oversee procurement and contracting procedures, and protect independent judiciaries and prosecutor’s offices.”

Maria Velez de Berliner, president of Latin Intelligence Corporation: “The anti-corruption movement is the most effective tool for getting rid of business competitors or political opponents. Not that those who have survived are blameless. The anti-corruption forces will grow until the new groups are in government or in influential positions in private industry. Once there, there seems to be no reason why these new groups will not resort to the corrupt practices they deplored and condemned. It will be only a matter of time. Corruption, grand or petty, has been a cultural characteristic of the region since colonial officials institutionalized it. Driven by expediency, transparency is situational in Latin America: you scratch my back; I scratch yours; and we keep quiet, as long as we each get what we want or need. Every Latin American knows there are laws galore against corruption in every country. What is needed is the exception: judges who enforce the law, without fear of death or retribution; and, public and private officials who make abiding by the law the central tenet of their performance. Lasting anti-corruption efforts will take the courage of a prosecutor like Sergio Moro in Brazil; a Colombian Supreme Court that dares to increase the jail sentence of a powerful politician, Samuel Moreno; or the fearless steadfastness of the anti-corruption agency in Guatemala that keeps bringing corrupt officials before the law. Most importantly, it will take the long-lasting pressure of civilians who, truthfully, are fed up with corruption, not because it has kept them outside the trough, but because they believe that only non-corrupt societies can provide the opportunities for advancement and personal and communal security for which they long, and which corruption has for centuries denied them.”

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