Interview with Delia Ferreira, Chair of Transparency International, regarding the progress made in Latin America to fight corruption and the ongoing challenges, among them reducing the effect of this scourge on the female population
Delia Ferreira, Doctor of Law from the Universidad Complutense in Madrid, has been the top adviser to the Argentinian Congress and an adviser to the country’s Auditor General’s Office. She chaired the Argentinian chapter of Transparency International (TI), was a member of its International Board and in 2017 was elected chair of this NGO. She is the author of numerous publications on democratic culture, political institutions, parliamentary ethics, political party funding and election systems, among other topics of public interest.
She granted us an interview in Buenos Aires when the workshop ‘Anticorruption and gender dialogue: an analysis of the gender dimension in the fight against corruption in Latin America‘, organized by EUROsociAL+, was held in the Argentinian capital.
How far does corruption have different effects on women?
An important sector in which a gender difference can be found is in relation to access to services and allowances that are linked to petty corruption. This is because women are responsible for caregiving tasks and, therefore, we are the visible face that is requesting the aid, because poverty has been feminised and the poorest sectors are those that need the cooperation of the state in the provision of those services.
Another factor that specifically punishes women, or does it in a more substantial manner, is the area of “exchange currencies”. In many cases of petty corruption, sexual favours are demanded or they give rise to situations of harassment in which women are the victims twice over.
The corruption barometer, which is one of TI’s measuring tools, shows that, in the region, areas of public policy like health, education and social plans are perceived as being the most corrupt or the most prone to corruption, and these are the areas that are clearly linked to caregiving tasks and requesting allowances. So, corruption has a different effect on men and women.
The other two areas of the state in which different effects can be observed are the police and the courts. When the police and the courts are affected by corruption, the women who have to turn to them in cases of discrimination, domestic or gender violence, rape or harassment face the fact that, when they defend their rights in an area dominated by corruption, instead of finding protection and a guarantee of these rights, they end up being victims.
Recently, an Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre (ALAC) was opened in Chile with the support of EUROsociAL+. What value does this centre have for allegations of corruption and how is it going to serve as a link between the state and the public?
ALACs already exist in our chapters in over 60 countries. The idea of these centres is to support the victims of corruption or those who know of cases of corruption and want to report them and do not have the legal or judicial support needed to do so. The ALACs have allowed us to trigger claims of corruption in many countries around the world, because it is no longer an individual citizen but an organisation that is linked with the Public Prosecution Service and can channel the complaints and follow them through.
In many of these countries what we have are agreements with their bar associations that allow us to have top-level legal advice from lawyers who work on the cases pro bono and provide, through the ALACs, the contact with those who want to go to court and don’t know how. Also, these ALAC centres have provided us with a great deal of information on how corruption operates in the countries, direct, first-hand information that would have been difficult to gather otherwise, since corruption operates in total secrecy, receipts are not handed out for corruption except in exceptional cases in which a record was kept of the accounting, as happened with Odrebrecht, which had a section of the company devoted to these structured operations.
What are the challenges for international coordination in the fight against corruption from examples of global institutionalised corruption like the Lavo Jato case?
Large-scale corruption, like the Lava Jato case, poses different challenges for justice than the cases of corruption that we had seen previously, however big they were in monetary terms, because this is a global phenomenon and therefore requires a global response and cooperation, not only at the country level but also between all agencies. This is one of the problems faced by the justice system when it wants to investigate these cases. Not only access to banking information, tax information, information on the money laundering organisations, which should be far easier for the judges and prosecutors who are investigating, but also the need for international cooperation.
This is why the procedural rules must be changed in many countries and the international conventions on fighting corruption must be altered, because we are continuing to face this type of problem in a situation in which the money is moved from one country to another with a computer click, in a question of seconds, and disappears off the radar. Here, we are confronted with the same mechanisms for dealing with the government as we had in the 19th century: the judge prepares an official letter that goes to the government, the government sends it to the government of another country, which sends it to a judge, and that judge says that he lacks a detail and returns it, and months go by, if not years, before the information is obtained. Also, if the money moves from one country to another, or from one social structure to another, or to another fiscal paradise in a matter of seconds, it is impossible to follow its trail, which is essential for investigating corruption.
How can we bring about a cultural change in our societies regarding the phenomenon of corruption, so that it stops being seen as a natural phenomenon?
The fact that corruption is normal is a central problem in our societies. Corruption appears when it is installed structurally as the normal way of doing business or to get aid or whatever you need from the state in the way of services. This is a problem that has to do with rebuilding certain agreements about the basic values of a society. For years these agreements have been broken and the understanding about what was good and what was bad in societies. Even if one analyses what the perception of a very small child is about what is fair or unfair, it’s much clearer that the perception that this child is going to have will permeate social criteria down the years. We must work strongly on education, on discussing over again what is acceptable and what is not, because, when corruption becomes the norm, there is no longer an effective antidote, because in the fight against corruption the partner that we really need is a society that is mobilised, citizen by citizen, aware of what should be allowed and what should not. Conditions must be created to promote or channel that social energy.
Borja Díaz, técnico senior de Gobernanza Democrática / Senior Officer of Democratic Governance. EUROsociAL+