Despite ongoing political pledges by Colombian politicians to root out corruption, very little improvement has been seen in recent years, according to a new study.
Transparency International released its annual “Corruption Perceptions Index” today and it revealed that Colombia’s score has remained unchanged for three straight years. Going back further to 2012, over the past five versions of the analysis, the country has improved by a single point.
Its score of 37 on a 100-point scale (with 100 being perfectly uncorrupt) puts Colombia 90th out of 176 nations studied. Though 90th puts it around the middle of the rankings, the Berlin-based nonprofit notes that “anything below” an overall score of 50 “indicates governments are failing to tackle corruption.”
While not referencing the Colombian situation specifically, Transparency International listed the typical characteristics of nations that show such low corruption scores. “The lower-ranked countries in our index are plagued by untrustworthy and badly functioning public institutions like the police and judiciary,” wrote the organization.
“Even where anti-corruption laws are on the books, in practice they’re often skirted or ignored,” it continued. “People frequently face situations of bribery and extortion, rely on basic services that have been undermined by the misappropriation of funds, and confront official indifference when seeking redress from authorities that are on the take.”
Colombia Didn’t Regress
Though its score remains highly troubling, there is some mildly positive news to take away from the findings: Colombia is among the nations that did not regress in 2016. “More countries declined than improved in this year’s results, showing the urgent need for committed action to thwart corruption,” wrote Transparency International.
Colombia also remains ahead of many of its Latin American peers. Colombia’s 90th-place rank puts it in front of Argentina (95th), Peru (101st), Bolivia (113th), Dominican Republic (120th), Ecuador (120th), Mexico (123rd), and Venezuela (166th). It is notable, however, that the overall score differential between Colombia and all these listed nations (except for Venezuela, which received a scored of 17) was no more than seven points.
Moreover, the region does have two pillars of corruption fighting that cast a shadow over the rest of Latin America, according to the nonprofit. Uruguay finished 21st overall with a score of 71, and Chile was not far behind at 24th with a score of 66.
The top five countries in the study — Denmark (90), New Zealand (90), Finland (89), Sweden (88), and Switzerland (86) — all scored 86 or better. Canada led the Americas at 82, just ahead of the United States at 81.
Tangible Progress in Latin America
Transparency International did highlight two major revelations over the past year that illustrate the progress taking place in Latin America. “It is not always bad to have headlines about corruption,” stated the organization. “From the Panama Papers in April to the record US$3.5 billion Odebrecht settlement in Brazil in December, 2016 was a good year in the fight against corruption in the Americas. But there is still a long way to go.”
As 2016 came to a close, and again in early 2017, Colombia’s leadership has decried corruption. It repeatedly sold its unpopular tax reform, which raised rates just days before Christmas, by highlighting the included measures to fight tax evaders and improve vigilance against those profiting illicitly. The problem of Colombians shielding money overseas, in manners similar to those revealed by the Panama Papers, remains widespread.
Then, just this week, President Juan Manuel Santos signed an order, the Declaration for the Open State, to improve public sector transparency and curb abuses in government contracting. He also sanctioned a law establishing a new code of ethics for congress members, and both actions came after the nation established its Citizen’s Commission to Fight Corruption.
In announcing the new plans, the president also noted that,last week, a judge convicted nine former public tax collection officials at DIAN for embezzling tax refunds.
This follows earlier action to detain the two former public servants accused of taking the bulk of the $11.5 million USD in bribes that Brazilian firm Odebrecht admitted to paying to win infrastructure contracts in Colombia. Former senator Otto Nicolás Bula Bula denied the charges. Former transportation official Gabriel García Morales pleaded guilty.
Such actions, as well as the sweeping investigations that brought down Odebrecht and uncovered the Panama Papers, are welcome by Transparency International. But the group maintains that if Latin America wants to truly get beyond its chronic corruption, it must continue the fight.
“Even if 2016 marks the start of a shift towards more active enforcement by authorities in response to these public demands, there is still a long way to go,” stated the organization.