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“The problem is the sustainability of anti-corruption efforts”
Stefan Sprinckmöller
11/26/2015
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Interview with Dr. José Ugaz, President of Transparency International — Part II

This is the second part of the interview with the Peruvian jurist José Ugaz, President of Transparency International (TI), an organization that seeks to combat corruption worldwide, granted to Stefan Paul Sprinckmöller Alayza, Latinamerica Press collaborator. In this part, Ugaz notes that anti-corruption efforts must be systemic and institutionalized so that they can be sustained over time, adding that an effective anti-corruption strategy involves an end to impunity.

What is required to prevent and combat corruption?
We need many things. I think an anti-corruption strategy for the level of problems we have has to involve breaking down impunity. Those who commit acts of corruption must suffer the consequences. They have to go to jail, they must be punished financially. Robert Klitgaard [former professor at Harvard University] says that a good strategy must begin with “frying some big fish”. There have not been many “big fish fried” in our history. Therefore, I believe that the breakdown of impunity as we have discussed at TI is a priority, and we are working on that. What is happening in Brazil, what occurred in Peru in the 2000s, and there are some other examples in the world of how corruption is being faced.

What is happening in Guatemala with the CICIG [International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala] is very interesting. Guatemala is the only country that has a sort of international prosecution that was placed by the United Nations, at a very high cost, but it was necessary because the levels of impunity in Guatemala were unbelievable.

The CICIG has investigative police from around the world. It is a big team and has achieved very important things, like getting the vice president to resign [Roxana Baldetti resigned on May 8] because the existence of a massive tax fraud scheme was revealed. Months later, this led to the resignation of the president [Otto Perez Molina resigned on Sept. 3]. A corruption scheme was also discovered in the social health system, which has already led to 36 deaths to date.

So, there are some examples in the region that are encouraging by showing how corruption can be tackled and deliver results. I believe Brazil now is the best example.

Unfortunately this is often because of individual actors, because there is a good prosecutor who has the courage, bravery, and independence to do, for example, what the Brazilian prosecutor is now doing. In Peru, did it a system that worked. Unfortunately the problem there is the sustainability of the effort.

The problem is sustainability because if these efforts rest on individuals and people, tomorrow this good prosecutor leaves or is fired or something happens to him, and there is very likely to be a reversal on corruption. The corrupt will always react, and therefore there is a permanent push to advance.

Hence, anti-corruption efforts must be systemic and institutionalized to be sustained over time. Else, what happened to us in Peru could happen. We had a very successful and vigorous anti-corruption process, I would say, but while the political will lasted. But as political will waned, we obviously lost capacity to react and today we are again drowned in corruption.

If there is no renewal of the political class, if the structures are not changed, if there is no adequate leadership to make the changes required, then we’ll keep going around the same thing and biting our tails.

What role does the citizenship, the society as a whole, play in anti-corruption efforts?
Where justice does not work, we are now proposing that there should be social sanction. Many times we see in our countries that nothing legally happens to the [corrupt]. They are unpunished, and they are even shown as models of social success and appear in magazines as successful entrepreneurs, people who have fortunes, good homes, beach houses, luxury cars, etc. And nothing happens. What we are trying to do now is generate reaction in society for these people to be pointed out, be named, and be socially isolated and punished. There are some very interesting examples already taking place in some parts of the world.

For example in Mexico, ever since [photojournalist] Ruben Espinosa and four women were killed, people are taking to the streets. For a while now Mexico has already exploded and is out of control. Nadia Vera, one of the women killed along with Espinosa [last August], was an anti-corruption activist and was murdered for pointing out the corrupt ties of the governor of Veracruz. That unfortunately has to happen for people to mobilize in Mexico. In Brazil, there are many demonstrations at the moment, people reacting against the corruption schemes that are emerging in the investigations. In Venezuela, despite the harshness of the regime, due to the problems of food shortages there are also reactions that are denouncing corruption. People are increasingly mobilizing. I think social networks help with that it.

In Peru, not long ago [in July 2013], when some authorities were chosen with a corrupt arrangement under the table, that was called the “repartija” (carve-up), young people mobilized, took to the streets and managed to block that decision, and the government had to backtrack.

I do believe in the value and strength of public opinion’s reaction and society in general.

In many cases, media investigations have revealed major corruption scandals, as in Brazil, Guatemala, Peru. Do you think the media should take a more proactive approach, to propose or provide some sort of solution or alternative to corruption?
The traditional and new media, the social networks, I think are key to an anticorruption strategy, a more effective fight in this issue. From my experience in Peru, much of what was achieved was through the alliances we created with investigative journalism; here we have very good investigative journalists. They did their job, they had the information, and what we did was to partner with them. They gave us the information, we analyzed it and took it to the legal system, and that allowed us to arrest people, recover money, learn things not previously known. Ironically in Peru, at the same time, we had this media called “prensa chicha” or tabloids which had been captured and bribed by Fujimori-Montesinos.

So the two sides of the coin are clear: the press can be a key strategic ally in the fight against corruption, but if it is misused, it can also be a very clear enemy of this process because information is power. And if the media makes its services available to the common good, this will translate into positive power, but if that service is used for private interests of a few corrupt people, then it will be a negative power.
—Latinamerica Press.


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José Ugaz (Photo: Proactivo.com.pe)
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