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Expert: Education, Law Reforms Can Stop Corruption

July 16, 2004

“DEMOCRACY is not an antidote forcorruption.”Dr. Jorge Malem, law professor at theUniversitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona,made this bold statement at the SecondNational Conference Against Corruption inSan José June 29.There, experts took aim at everyone’sfavorite target, government corruption, andaired their complaints and ideas to an audienceof about 200 politicians, reporters,business executives and others.“Countries that have been democraticfor a long time will have a certain level oftransparency,” Malem said, which explainsthe lack of transparency in CentralAmerica because many countries haveendured long dictatorships, civil war andelection-time violence.ROXANA Salazar, president of CostaRica’s chapter of the non-governmentalorganization Transparency International,and the organization’s vice-presidentMario Carazo, expressed disappointmentwith the country’s current political climate.“The lack of commitment and dedication(to fight corruption) from our authoritiesincreases doubt and fosters indifferencein the population,” Carazo said.Salazar pointed to President AbelPacheco’s recent dismissal of the OmbudsmanJosé Manuel Echandi’s yearly “Stateof the Population” report that decried thelack of government transparency. Echandi’sreport derided the government for violatingthe people’s right to access to information,and Pacheco attempted to discredithim by saying the ombudsman has politicalambitions (TT, June 18).MALEM, the invited speaker, suggestededucation and institutional reform asstrong remedies for dishonesty in government.He endorsed democracy, but not as asolution, rather as a condition in whichsolutions can be found.In the fight against corruption, democracyhas a role, he said. “Citizens have a fundamentalduty to use their votes adequately.There are many cases of very corrupt governmentsthat were elected into office.”The vote, however, is not the decidingfactor.“People learn from their leaders,” hesaid. “When leaders are corrupt, peoplelearn corruption.”Corruption imposes poverty, inefficiencyand injustice, he continued, and itthrives where there is inequality in powerand finances.“THE role of impunity is very important.If the corrupt are not punished, thenbreaking rules doesn’t have a price,” he said.Corruption is not confined to governmentsand the powerful, the conference’sspeakers stressed.Corruption rears its head on familynights at the local soda, for example, whenthe cashier asks whether the customerwould like to pay with or without a receipt.Paying without a receipt saves thebother of paying sales taxes, but, as OmbudsmanEchandi pointed out in his openingaddress at the conference, the governmentis in debt and needs that money.CORRUPTION is not just an aspectof underdeveloped countries, Malem said.It extends around the globe. One of themore corrupt countries, he told The TicoTimes, is the United States.“In the United States there is corruptionin business, in the judicial branch,there is corruption at all levels. Now thatU.S. businesses are entering Iraq, younotice the direct connections between themand the government.”Considering that the United States hasbeen a democracy for more than 200 yearsand there is a strong system of education inplace, what could be the problem?“It is not a good example of a democracy,”Malem said. Leaders are elected by30% of the voting population, and someelections are not quite clean, Malem said,pointing to the past presidential election.“CORPORATIONS control powerat all levels – one has doubts about themagnificent democracy of the UnitedStates,” he said.Transparency International officials andMalem both cited Finland as a model ofhonesty in the public and private sectors.“It is one of the countries that have thesmallest amount of corruption, and it’s notsurprising that it also has the best educationsystem in the world,” Malem said.Education has advantages over traditionalweapons against corruption such asprevention, control and punishment, hesaid, because it is cheaper and has othereffects that are also valuable.Malem said he recommends a kind of moraleducation to supplement traditional technicaltraining, as a way to help quell corruption.

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