“Municipal corruption is already systemic”

“Municipal corruption is already systemic”
“Municipal corruption is already systemic”

Much of the agenda of the president of the Council for Transparency (CPLT), Bernardo Navarrete, has been focused on giving workshops on transparency and probity to municipal officials and mayors in different communes of the country. This in a context of municipal corruption that he describes as “systemic,” and that represents an important political and institutional challenge in an election year.

In conversation with The counter, Navarrete points to the need to make serious decisions that allow changing the local government model, such as – for example – separating the political and administrative functions of the figure of the mayor. He also warns about “more than 300 public integrity measures. “A huge forest of laws that no one knows very well how to apply.”

-With all the data on the table regarding the complaints and cases opened for corruption in different municipalities in the country, what is your assessment of the levels of municipal corruption in Chile?
-Today we are in a scenario about which no one worried in time. We have eight institutions that have directly to do with the integrity of the State: the State Defense Council, the CMF, the Comptroller General of the Republic, the Comptroller’s own anti-corruption brigade and so on. Is there interagency cooperation? No. All these institutions generate a database, let’s put the logic of a pool, and I throw all the data into the pool. Who is using that to make decisions of a political, economic, social nature, even intelligence, police control?

We are talking about the Comptroller’s Office telling us that 70% of Chileans believe that public officials are corrupt, or the latest Criteria Research tells us the same and raises the figure, or the Center for Public Studies tells us that the fifth concern of Chileans is corruption. Well, we must also think that the first is public safety. And between corruption and public security, the distance is very small.

So, something that seemed like it was not an issue for Chileans, today it is and we have to collaborate. As the Transparency Council we are collaborating with the municipalities, because they are the main service window of the State and there is a cascading effect of corruption cases where the criminal prosecutor has generated a lot of information. The National Prosecutor’s Office, but also the Comptroller’s Office, that is, all the organizations that have to supervise tend to conclude the same thing: there is corruption in the municipalities. It could not be said from these data that this is something episodic, this is already systemic.

We go to the municipalities, we deliver a previous database which is the Constitutional Organic Law of Municipalities, which precisely describes what the different departments and directorates of the municipality must do, and we ask them to fill it out considering the perception that they may have of the possibility of corruption within its directions, high, medium or low. And the second question, obviously associated with the first, for the directorates and departments, are the possibilities of capture by criminal networks.

-What reception have you had in the municipalities with which you have been able to work so far?
-Very good, we have done it with eight municipalities. We are talking about Puente Alto, Peñalolén, La Reina, Puerto Williams, Arica, La Serena, Coquimbo, Vicuña and Rapa Nui. Because sometimes we leave aside the municipalities that make up non-continental Chile.

First we do a comparative analysis of the international evidence, this break between international and national perception. But also that they take charge of what Chileans are saying about them, where 70% perceive them as corrupt officials. Because ultimately institutions are what people do and define the order of the people. So, finally I explain to you the results of your commune compared to the other seven, and see what there is, what you can do about reducing the possibilities of risk and capture due to criminal roots.

-You have raised the need to “seriously” modify the institutions and the government model that currently governs the municipalities. Let’s delve into the proposal to separate the political and administrative functions of the mayor.
-The mayor is the closest thing to a king in the territory. And you can understand why people also want a face, they don’t want a machine. And that’s the mayor. The mayor in Chile falls within what are called strong leadership models, because they fulfill two functions. First, channel the political system, but at the same time, administer the municipality as head of service.

So what has happened? The hypothesis is that within a systematic situation of corruption, serious decisions must be made. And in my opinion, we must change the model, that is, separate the function of political representation – in which the citizens delegated the sovereignty of the commune to him, therefore, managing all those demand needs – from what It is the figure of head of service or administrator. Which can perfectly be the elected municipal administrator, or appointed or by competition.

In short, we have to separate the two functions or, if not, we will continue with the same thing. It is important to keep in mind that not because we have more anti-corruption institutions or because we do what we are doing much better will reduce corruption. That is not true. What we can do is go to the territory and convince the mayors, but also understand that we need to modify the model. This is an Anglo-Saxon model, a service provider. And as I just mentioned, the main service window of the State.

So, let’s not continue talking about more laws. We have more than 32 laws on public integrity in Chile. There is the National Public Integrity Policy with more than 211 proposals, the Jaraquemada Commission on Foundations, with 46 proposals. In other words, in less than eight months we have in practical terms more than 300 public integrity measures. A huge forest of laws that no one really knows how to apply.

And the other thing, key to this, is impunity. I explain to the mayors that corruption equals monopoly. They are a monopoly in the territory, but also in some communes they are the main employer, the one that most influences the economic and social development of people. Additionally, mayors have a lot of discretion when it comes to implementing public spending. So, corruption equals monopoly, more discretion, less transparency. What are we worrying about? Why don’t we look at the discretion you have for public spending? Why don’t we look at the discretion to select who to participate with? What to deliver and what not to deliver? That is also somewhat the function that we are doing as a Council.

-Is there any other modification that in your opinion is important to discuss?
-First we have to debate the scope of the extensive legislation for public integrity, which does not work. That’s for now. Having a general rule of transparency for the three organs of the State, this was proposed by the government program of the current President Gabriel Boric. That is, a general rule for the Central Government or the Executive Branch, but also for the Legislative Branch and the Judicial Branch. I think that would help us all understand the process. Because we cannot only concentrate on the municipalities, only on the Central Government, only in the case of foundations, etc.

As I said recently, also change the local government model. But also, for example, study very carefully the Municipal Probity Law that is currently under discussion, and we hope that it will come out of Congress soon. This law focuses on the Control Unit or the Control Directorate within the municipality, an enormous number of functions. But what is going to happen, and as usually happens in all these legislations, is that a new function is transferred to a municipal manager, but without resources or personnel. Because in the new standard the amount of records and controls that they will have to do far exceed what they already have.

Here no one trusts the municipalities, the Executive, the Judiciary, we do not trust our institutions. And when we don’t trust, we don’t listen to them. We are not willing to play by their rules. That leads us to a situation where the social capital that we understand is key, that is, I do not need a million laws to act correctly, that is what the administrative statute says, loyally, for example. I have all the instruments, but let’s worry, for example, if I am going to have a transparency or anti-corruption law at the level of subnational governments, in this case the municipalities, that it be operational, that it be logical. Because, if not, we are creating legislative bodies that regulate the public function and will be impossible to practice.

-We are precisely in an election year, what should be the standards to take care of the institutions by political parties, beyond what is legal? For example, the current mayor of Coronel is up for re-election despite the fact that he is being investigated for cases of municipal corruption.
-It is the million dollar question, this is the question even more important than the modification of municipal institutions. What is the ethical standard that parties have to designate their candidate? The other big question, perhaps even more important, is why voters vote for the one who is being accused, or audited by the Comptroller General of the Republic with clear corruption defects.

So, sometimes we put a lot of emphasis on the law and we forget that these mayors are elected. There is a process of delegation of sovereignty, where I transfer to a third party, in this case the mayor, a unique power to govern ourselves in the commune. That is already an issue that we have to take seriously as a society, something happened to us that we are legitimizing behaviors that are ethically, morally reprehensible and punishable in the case of law. And, of course, we justify sanctioning enemies, but not friends.

I believe that, as Carlos Peña said very well in a conference, we do not have a common moral language. And by not having this language, we are experiencing corruption. In Aristotelian logic, corruption is the breakdown of that which unites us, that which gives us meaning to the whole. Today we are more in the logic of Machiavelli, who defined corruption more from the normative point of view, from the point of view of enrichment. But sometimes it is worth remembering that corruption is the breakdown of something that gives us meaning, and that is common to all of us. And what is common to all of us is trust in the institutions, which are literally on the ground. If any foreigner’s question is how that country works, where the majority of Chileans do not trust their institutions.

 
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