"Corruption can only be contained with pressure from civil society"

Round Table in Brazil to mark the International Day against corruption assesses priorities in changes to counter corruption

Prominent members of the Brazilian Legislative, Judicial, Executive branches, as well civil society representatives, also from the media and faith-based organizations, came together on December 12th to discuss how to prevent and counter corruptive practices in Brazil. The public round-table to mark the International Day against Corruption was promoted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) in Brazil, in partnership with the University of Brasília (UnB).

Facing the problem

General Comptroller Office minister, Jorge Hage, said that Brazil is not paralyzed in the fight against corruption. "Today, we have been facing corruption like never before. Now we have instruments to assert how the public budget is spent. This shows not only efficiency, but effectiveness." 

Ricardo Young, president of the Ethos Institute for Private Social Responsibility, stressed that "a number of corrupt officials have suffered no penal actions until today. Impunity of one of the worst problems in Brazil." Young stressed that "no one could possibly talk about efficiency or effectiveness when there is so much impunity. Corruption is an assault to democracy." He also stated that "there are people who offer and people who accept bribes, for example. For that reason, it is crucial to involve and work with the private sector. Business companies are also perpetuating corruption. That is why UNODC, UNDP and other partners created a Pact for Integrity Against Corruption in the private sector. We must find these practices, in business management, that appease corruption", he added.

Corruption: a risk to democracy

Miriam Leitao, one of Brazil´s most important journalists, believes that this is one of the most serious signs a State can give to the market. " In general, when the government holds public procurements, it sends a message to effective enterprises, with the best available product at lowest prices. On the other hand, corruption calls out for collusive players, corrupt enterprises. This is a lethal message. It undermines trust in institutions and in the market and deforms regular production techniques. The Globo TV columnist stressed that the higher cost of corruption was the mistrust in the democratic institutions. "I have experienced life under a dictatorship. I know how much it costs to have a closed Congress. What frightens me the most is to see the youth losing its confidence in democracy. This is why it is crucial to revert this situation."

Putting and end to political immunity

Gilson Dipp, Minister of the Superior Justice Court of Brazil (STJ, in Portuguese), believes that the Judicial branch´s functions could be better defined in combating corruption and money laundering - crimes that run more profit than illegal weapons or drug trafficking. "Basically, the Supreme Federal Court and Superior Justice Courts have the attributions to be guardians of the Constitution and of regular laws, respectively. We should not need to judge crimes and acts of improbity from MPs with immunity. In this sense, the immunities have to be revised".

MP Paulo Rubem Santiago, coordinator of the Parliamentary Front Against Corruption stated that "corruption staggers the State, because it allows a parallel one to govern." He proposes structural changes. "The President of the Republic should not nominate Judges of the Supreme Federal Court and Superior Justice Courts. The Judiciary needs its independence in order to be efficient, fair and clear." To Santiago, there are factors that enhance corruption in Brazil. Among them: immunity to judges, public prosecutors and MPs, the existing budget programme, the present non-profit organizations, which may lead to nepotism or special favours, and protection of personal relationships.

Everyone´s responsibility

To Giovanni Quaglia, UNODC Regional Representative for Brazil and South Cone, "it is most important that each and every one fights corruption in their daily practices. It is not only a responsibility of the government and companies that participate on public procurements. Each one, on an every-day basis, makes personal decisions. Everyone is responsible for their own acts and their consequences." This year´s international slogan for the UNODC campaign is Corruption: your NO counts".  Quaglia added that the " a culture of Legality must be enforced, instead of a culture of corruption. This legality culture favours trust among citizens and in institutions, government, and the market." 

Professor Ricardo Caldas, member of the Institute for Political Science of UnB, mentioned a survey that shows that only 10% of Brazilian citizens trust the National Congress. Furthermore, more than 50% had no idea of what the National Auditing Agencies did. In addition, only 7% had participated in local communal organizations at least once in their lives. On the other side, most individuals, according to his research, believe that corruption can be fought, mainly with the support of the media and civil society.

More social control

Gil Castelo Branco glimpses a future with more NGOs, as the one he works at, Contas Abertas - Open accounts, in Portuguese - that demonstrate and teach the public how to understand and control the national budget. "The problems of impunity and ineffectiveness of the Brazilian Justice system destabilizes anticorruption attempts. As Prof. Caldas´ research showed, Brazilians believe that we can overcome corruption, but we will only do this when we have society's participation."

Juliete Gaasenbeek, from the Christian Movement Against Corruption, said that corruption reveals the loss of moral values of our society, government, companies and, also, members of religious groups. "We need to bring back essential values to society. Faith-based organizations have play this crucial role. Furthermore, women should be stimulated to participate in movements against corruption."  

A date to be practiced every day

The event was part of the celebrations of the International Day Against Corruption, 9th of December, date of the signature of the UN Convention Against Corruption (2003). On occasion, more than 110 countries signed the Convention, which entered in force, on December 14 of 2005, after achieving a minimum number of ratifications. 

In Brazil, the Congress approved the full text on May 2005 and by January it was valid as an ordinary national law. 

The UN Convention Against Corruption is the most complete and far most important international hard law instrument on the subject. It encourages social control on government budget, lays down guides for cooperation on retrieving cash embezzlement, sets as crime: bribery, money laundering and other crimes linked to corruption. 

Corruption: every NO counts

The central theme to UNODC`s campaign this year is "Corruption: your NO counts". The main goal is to create a new culture of legality, by saying NO to bribery offers; to getting the best out of every single situation; to money laundering; to buying goods without receipts in order to get discounts; or, to every other practice that contributes to corruption.

The World Bank estimates that, every year, over US$ 1 trillion are used every year in the entire globe - especially in bribery.