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Progress in the fight against corruption
José Pedro Martins
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Strengthening of new mechanisms and tools of citizen action against corruption allows consolidation of democracy.

Brazil has been widely covered in the international press during 2015 due to the actions it has taken against corruption in the public sphere. The most notable case is the so-called Operation Lava Jato (car wash), which began with the investigation of an illegal currency trafficking ring but ended up uncovering a network of corruption involving former directors and executives of the state oil company, Petrobras, and large construction companies. Operation Lava Jato is run by public prosecutors, the Federal Police and the Federal Court of Paraná. Directors and executives of some of the largest Brazilian companies have already been arrested as a result of the investigation.

In fact, the impact of Operation Lava Jato was only possible because there has been a large mobilization in Brazil against corruption since the beginning of XXI century, although some seeds had already been planted in the 1990s.

In fact, one such milestone was the 1993 launching of Citizen Action by sociologist Herbert de Souza, known as Betinho, who worked for the fight against hunger and poverty in the country. The campaign had broad national impact and introduced ethics to the debate. It was increasingly clear that corruption in the public and private sphere is incompatible with building a just society.

Citizen Action was very fruitful. Inspired by the organization, several organizations were created for the defense of ethics and social justice. In 1998, the Ethos Institute for Business and Social Responsibility was created under the leadership of businessman Oded Grajew in order to promote socially and environmentally responsible corporate behavior.

The fight against corruption has become the banner of the Ethos Institute. In 2006 was one of the creators of the Business Pact for Integrity and Against Corruption, with partner organizations like PATRI Government Relations and Public Policy, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the World Economic Forum and the Brazilian Committee of the Global Compact. The Business Pact also received the support of the Brazilian Association of Advertising Agencies and the Ford Foundation.

When a company becomes a signatory to the pact, it assumed various commitments, such as to discuss Brazilian law against corruption among its officials and stakeholders, aimed to full compliance. Other commitments include to repudiate any form of bribery, working for legality and transparency on political campaign contributions and to ensure information transparency and cooperation in investigations when needed. The Ethos Institute member companies or signatories of the pact, in general point to the measures taken against corruption in the respective year in their annual sustainability reports.

Business corruption
The Business Pact was instrumental in the National Congress’s adoption of the Business Anti-Corruption Act, which came into force in January 2014. Before the law enactment, only individuals could be held accountable for corruption in the corporate environment. Under the new law, companies and corporations also can be held accountable for corruption. The law establishes penalties such as a fine of 20 percent of the gross revenue of the company and, depending on the case, even the dissolution, suspension or banning of the company’s activities. Moreover, when the company is penalized, its name is recorded in the National Registry of Sanctioned Firms (CNEP). There also is the National Registry of Companies Committed to Ethics and Integrity (Pro-Ethics Company), the result of a partnership between the Ethos Institute and the Comptroller General (CGU), which recognizes and disseminates actions of companies committed to the promotion of transparency and ethics.

“The benefits of a socially responsible business sector are not limited to the market. On the contrary, [these benefits] reach the entire social fabric, setting an example and encouraging other actors in the construction of a full, transparent and fair society,” says Henrique Lian, former Executive Director of Communication, Marketing and Institutional Relations for the Ethos Institute.

There have also been important steps taken against corruption in the public sphere. In 2004, the CGU developed the Transparency Portal of the Federal Government, with free access, which publishes on the Internet all federal government spending on public works, services and purchases. The portal allows the daily monitoring of the federal government’s budget and has been used by the civil society and the press to disclose government actions.
As a result of the Clean Record Movement, in which several civil society organizations participated, in 2010 came into force Complementary Law 135, known as the Clean Record Act. This law stipulates that politicians who have been dismissed, have resigned to avoid impeachment or who have been convicted cannot run for elected office for eight years.

Among other tools to ensure transparency in public administration, the Law on Access to Information, which guarantees citizens the right to request information from any public body in Brazil, went into force in 2011. In 2012, Brazil hosted the International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC), the world’s leading event on the topic.

However, Brazil still has a long way to go in fighting and punishing corruption. In the 2014 Corruption Perception Index, published by Transparency International (TI), Brazil appeared in 69th place out of a list of 175 countries. While it has held the same position for four years, suggesting stagnation in fighting corruption, in reality actions against corruption are happening in an unprecedented way in Brazil’s history. TI’s ranking — which has a score of 0-100, 100 representing low corruption and 0 representing high corruption —, lists Denmark as the most transparent country, with 92 points, while Brazil received 43 points, one more than in 2013.

Citizen mobilization
A 2010 survey by the Federation of Industries of São Paulo (FIESP) revealed that corruption leads to diversion of between R$40 billion and R$65 billion (approximately between US$10 billion and $16 billion) of public money each year in Brazil. More current studies may indicate an increase in these figures.

In that sense, it is essential to continue the relentless battle against corruption because the diversion of public money means fewer resources to finance important social projects. In this regard it is essential to promote social mobilization in the 5,565 Brazilian municipalities.

One example of social mobilization is the Our Cities Network, a network of social mobilization in several Brazilian cities that seeks to promote citizen action and control of public management and spending at the municipal level. The network is already present in cities like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the leading cities of Brazil, and also in large, medium and small cities like Curitiba, Recife, Porto Alegre, Campinas, Ouro Preto, Garopaba and Blumenau.

“Laws against corruption emerged in Brazil following the citizen mobilization in the streets, demanding transparency and ethics,” recalls Helen Whyte, from the My Campinas Network, to Latinamerica Press. Whyte mentioned the mobilization of June 2013, which brought together thousands of people in the streets of several Brazilian cities. It was after this mobilization that the Business Anti-Corruption Act was approved.

According to Whyte, social mobilization and networking, using tools such as the Internet, will strengthen citizenship and the struggle against corruption.

“Popular participation, along with knowledge of the law, can contribute greatly to further reduce corruption,” she adds, noting that with the strengthening of social control, governance and the private sector will become increasingly more transparent and driven by ethics and social justice.

In terms of improving social control, municipal councils, which proliferated in Brazil since the adoption of the 1988 Constitution, play a very important role. These councils are organizations that bring together representatives of civil society and city government to discuss the city’s environmental, educational and cultural policies as well as contribute to further transparency in governance. Municipal councils are increasingly present and strong in Brazilian cities.

“Municipal councils have an important role in the consolidation of democracy and social control function,” tells Ailton de Souza to Latinamerica Press. De Souza is a professor at the State University of Mato Grosso do Sul and has for years been researching the new instruments of participation and social control in Brazilian municipalities.
— Latinamerica Press.


Citizenship demands that corrupt politicians do not run for public office. (Photo: cocalcomunitario.blogspot)
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