Fighting corruption

Stabroek News
September 7, 2000

Recent accusations of rank corruption in the Argentine Senate, which began with anonymous charges, have so shaken that establishment that four senators, none of whom was named in the scandal, have voluntarily offered their resignations.

According to Reuters reports, the federal judge investigating the allegations said that he had "coherent, grave and precise evidence that bribes were paid." It was alleged that the senators took bribes from government officials to pass labour market reforms in April. The reports said that there had been numerous corruption scandals in Argentina over the years but that politicians had become expert at deflecting these charges and at closing ranks to defend their own. Argentine President Fernando de la Rua has vowed to take a hard line on corruption, promising to wield a scalpel and cut to the bone to rid the senate of that festering sore.

In the Dominican Republic last month, former president Salvador Jorge Blanco had a corruption case against him dropped on the order of the current Head of State, President Hipolito Mejia. Jorge Blanco had been found guilty of misappropriation of government funds during his 1982-86 term in office, and sentenced to 20 years in prison and ordered to pay a fine and restitution amounting to some US$8 million in 1991. However, he had only served two months of his sentence, before he was granted an amnesty and has been awaiting his appeal hearing ever since. A member of that country's judiciary has dubbed the order to drop the case a severe blow to the fight against corruption. President Mejia has promised to eliminate official corruption.

In Guyana, there have been claims of abuse of tender board procedures and favouritism in the awarding of contracts. However, though President Bharrat Jagdeo has pledged to stamp out corruption and has exhorted citizens to report any evidence of this, few whistleblowers have come forward, mainly because of Guyana's culture of secrecy. Allegations of corruption by government officials which extend beyond the cocktail party whisper, mostly land on the rumour mill where they are passed from individual to individual and nothing is done.

Transparency International (TI), an international organisation set up to empower civil society to participate in efforts to fight corruption, offers ways in which individuals and groups can act to help stamp out corruption. Since discussing corruption is no longer taboo, TI's suggestion of open and public debate on how systems can be made more transparent and accountable is certainly applicable here.

It also recommends making public complaints when one sees corruption occurring, i.e. breaking the culture of secrecy, but entreats whistleblowers to be certain lest they damage people's reputations.

The media, too, are invaluable in helping to eliminate graft. Journalists have sources through whom they can get hold of official information and present it to the people affected, for example who was awarded which contract for how much and why. They can also investigate the cocktail party whispers and letters to the editor and publish the findings, outing under-the-table transactions. However, the most effective tool by far in this fight against corruption is the passing of freedom of information legislation, which would benefit both the media and the public at large. Those elected to govern at next year's polls must make this a priority.

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