martes, 16 de julio de 2013

A three prong approach to the fight against Venezuelan corruption


In Venezuela today most of the fight against corruption is done at a conceptual level. Leaders say: We have a problem, we are willing to fight against it. It is harmful to the nation. We need transparent government and effective laws. It is, essentially, a rhetorical fight.

An effective way to fight corruption has to come down from the abstract. I think it should be approached in three parallel tracks, having different time frames and one common quality:

(1) A short-term, case by case approach; (2) A mid-term, systemic approach; and, (3), a longer-term, educational approach.  The common quality should be perseverance.

The Case by Case Approach

Corruption does not exist in a vacuum. It exists because A, B or C commit acts of corruption, particularly from a position of authority that gives them the opportunity and expectations of impunity. Their motivation is usually to make money, to increase their political power or to keep a bureaucratic position. (money does not have to be involved, although often this will be the case). In Venezuela, for example, we can make a list of, say, 100 persons in the current government who have been charged publicly with sharing one or more of these motivations:  Hugo Chávez, Nicolás Maduro, Rafael Ramirez, Alejandro Andrade, Tobias Nóbrega, Wilmer Ruperti, Diosdado Cabello, Jorge Giordani, Jorge Rodriguez, Pedro Carreño, etc. Investigative journalism such as the work done by Leocenis Garcia , or the work done by Cesar Batiz about the government contractor Derwick and Associates should guide efforts to go after the big fishes.

The systemic Approach

At the roots of individual cases of corruption there is, almost always, a systemic cause. The individual is corrupt because a system allows or, even, promotes him, her to be. I believe that the systemic corruption that has prevailed in Venezuela for the last 15 years has been due to a sociological phenomenon super-imposed on the traditional Venezuelan belief that to mismanage the resources of the nation is no crime. This phenomenon is one of getting even, of getting their share, by a group of people which had felt excluded from this possibility in the past. This group strongly feels that this is their turn at bat. As a result they feel they are not doing anything objectionable when they violate the laws to remain in power and/or abuse of the national property for their personal, family, or tribal benefit. To fight against systemic corruption it will not be enough to catch some big fishes but it is necessary to dismantle the system and this will take more time and should be done in parallel with the casuistic approach.

The educational approach

The structural solution to minimize corruption is educational. A country needs citizens, not simply inhabitants. A citizen is a contributive member of society, not a parasite. A citizen knows about duties as much as he knows about rights. Societies made up of citizens are on top of the list of countries where corruption is at a minimum: Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, Sweden. Societies where citizenship is poorly developed are notoriously corrupt: Venezuela, North Korea, Sudan, Somalia. To install in any country a factory of citizens is a long-term project but by no mean impossible. It has been done. A country with a critical mass of citizens will construct and preserve a system of institutional checks and balances that will make corruption an expensive endeavor. This is probably the essence of the matter: make it as expensive as possible for anyone to commit an act of corruption, let him, her know that there will be a steep price to pay in terms of direct legal punishment and/or moral censure.  

If the objectives are clear the strategies will follow, almost automatically.